Who poisoned the body politic?

No doubt the dominant issue on most Albertans’ minds today is this awful, historically unprecedented heat. But perhaps not if you’re a Muslim woman. Then you might have a more pressing concern.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims revealed yesterday that, in a continuation of the pattern of rising violence against Muslim women in this province, on Sunday night a man opened fire on a woman wearing hijab in Edmonton in a drive-by attack. She escaped with her life, thankfully, but as I’m writing this no suspects have been identified. The woman did not recognize her attacker, and in the dead of night—the attack occurred just before midnight—it’s unlikely the attacker could have identified her. All he would have seen was her hijab.

The Edmonton Police Service predictably released a statement yesterday affirming that “there is no indication, at this time, that it was hate-motivated.” Classic. In contrast, the hate crimes unit has already been called upon regarding the vandalization of a statue of Pope John Paul II at the Polish Catholic Church.

And I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is part of an escalating pattern. The last reported attack was only six days ago, in Calgary, where a young South Asian woman was chased and physically attacked by a man yelling slurs in the middle of the day. And just two days prior in St. Albert, a man screaming racial slurs attacked a woman wearing hijab, knocked her to the ground, and then attacked her sister and held her at knife-point. The man escaped and the St. Albert RCMP have not found him. In March, a woman in hijab was attacked in Prince’s Island Park in Calgary by two men who tore her clothes and beat her while yelling racial slurs. The list goes on for a while.

This sort of violence is what researchers call stochastic terrorism. Nobody’s directly organizing it—instead the provocateurs broadly send out a diffuse call to action, and most people ignore it, but here and there a “lone wolf” decides to go for it. And that’s how you get your Christchurch mosque shootings, your Quebec City mosque shootings, and so-on. It’s very difficult to root out because you can’t reliably tell who in the massive audience is going to be the one to pick up a gun or attack someone on the street. And it’s very difficult to render justice against the people sowing the seeds, because they can simply say, “hey, no sane person would think I’m telling them to go hurt people!”

Muslim-Canadian advocacy organizations are calling for immediate government action. The NCCM would like to see, at the federal level, an immediate national summit to address the rising violence against Muslims, and in the wake of Sunday’s attack is calling for a similar tête-à-tête here between cities and the Alberta government. Progress Alberta broadly supports these calls to action and I would advise you to sign the petition calling for the federal summit and contact your MLA and your mayor’s office regarding the provincial call.

But I suspect that the NCCM feels somewhat constrained. They are the representatives of the minority that is presently under attack—I doubt that they feel they can be very aggressive. You and I may be more free in what we can do and what we can say.

Canada has always been deeply rooted in white supremacy but the vicious hate against Muslims specifically is a more recent development. We all know the story by now of what happened in America: after 9/11, then-president George W. Bush engaged in a war of aggression against Iraq over weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist. The American cultural establishment was turned into a machine that churned out violent propaganda against Muslims. And just as that seemed to be finally letting up, after almost two decades of the foul stuff, Donald Trump rolled in to run an electoral campaign so Islamophobic that even Stephen Harper might have been a little uneasy.

We didn’t go to that war in Iraq, but the conservative movement here takes its cues from the American one. Anti-Muslim political messaging continued to pile up until the federal Conservatives’ disastrous 2015 campaign, when disgusted voters decided they’d had enough of a party that was calling for restrictions on Muslim garb, snitch-lines against their ‘barbaric cultural practices,’ and demonizing our fellow people. And even after they got their booties handed to them in a bucket, the conservative movement continued to play with this garbage.

In 2017, a Liberal MP put forward a private members’ motion, M-103, urging the government to do more research on anti-Muslim violence and on policies that might reduce it. The Conservative Party opposition campaign against this little, relatively-symbolic proposal was absolutely filthy. Four leadership candidates (Kellie Leitch, Chris Alexander, Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux) made appearances at a Rebel Media rally that claimed the motion was an attempt to create “sharia law” in Canada. Erin O’Toole whined that it was an attack on “free speech.” Rona Ambrose—who a lot of folks out there think of as one of “the good ones”—decried even using the word Islamophobia in the bill. And Rebel is far from the only media outlet to get into this mess; the much more significant Postmedia network (which now owns most of the big city newspapers in this province) went hard on it too.

To this day misinformation and conspiracy theories around M-103 are all over at far-right rallies and events. And the media outlets and many of the MPs who spread these lies and whipped those people up are still right where they were in 2017, getting paid. Nor I can neglect our Premier, Jason Kenney, who was an actual architect of the niqab ban and who was a big part of that snitch line campaign. Real Kenney trivia heads might remember the time he posted a photograph of a Muslim religious ceremony and called it an ISIS training session.

The NCCM can’t say it but you and I can say it. The problem is the conservatives. The people—the specific, nameable people—who have been engineering the atmosphere of anti-Muslim hate in Canada that has led to this violence are all still here. They all still have influence, authority, and platforms, and it’s time for that to stop.

We can’t put a cop on every corner. Nor would we want to. What protects us from violence from our fellow residents on this land are our shared bonds, the social ligaments that bind us all together into one body. The conservatives deliberately tore those apart. And as long as they continue to poison the body politic it will not heal. It’s time to clean out the wound.


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