Is­sue is sys­temic racism, not a spe­cific word

By any def­i­ni­tion, we have a se­ri­ous prob­lem, writes Aye­sha Chaudhry.

Vancouver Sun - - OPINION - Aye­sha Chaudhry is Canada Re­search Chair of re­li­gion, law and so­cial jus­tice and as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor of gen­der and Is­lamic stud­ies at the Univer­sity of B.C.

Re­cently I ap­peared be­fore the stand­ing com­mit­tee on Cana­dian her­itage, which is hold­ing hear­ings in re­sponse to the pass­ing of M-103 this year. The hear­ings are os­ten­si­bly about sys­temic racism and re­li­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion, but some on the com­mit­tee seem un­aware of this.

What should be an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into sys­temic hate in Canada of­ten feels like a ref­er­en­dum on one word in M-103: Is­lam­o­pho­bia.

From the start of the hear­ings, wit­nesses have weighed in, with the ac­tive sup­port of some com­mit­tee mem­bers, about whether Is­lam­o­pho­bia ex­ists, where the term came from, and whether it is an ap­pro­pri­ate term of art. Per­haps, some have of­fered, we should in­stead use the term “anti-Mus­lim.” Per­haps we should dif­fer­en­ti­ate between hate di­rected at Is­lam and hate di­rected at Mus­lims. Per­haps we should be fo­cus­ing less on Is­lam­o­pho­bia and more on Mus­lim ex­trem­ism and rad­i­cal­iza­tion.

Each of th­ese the­o­ret­i­cal for­ays into the tech­ni­cal­i­ties of a sin­gle term rep­re­sents a theft from the task of com­bat­ing sys­temic hate, which is the man­date of the com­mit­tee.

Sys­temic hate is not bound by tech­ni­cal­i­ties, and it is not re­stricted to any group. Rather, it is a form of hate that has come to be en­shrined in the in­sti­tu­tions of a so­ci­ety, silently shap­ing the at­ti­tudes and be­hav­iours of nu­mer­ous mem­bers of the pop­u­la­tion.

Peo­ple do not re­al­ize they are be­ing shaped by sys­temic hate, whether that takes the form of misog­yny, racism, re­li­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion, or some­thing else. We may not think of our­selves as sex­ist, yet we reg­u­larly pay women less. We may not think of our­selves as racist, yet In­dige­nous peo­ple and Black Cana­di­ans are over­rep­re­sented in our pris­ons and un­der-rep­re­sented in po­si­tions of power.

The same goes for Is­lam­o­pho­bia. Most peo­ple do not con­sider them­selves Is­lam­o­pho­bic, and be­lieve they can dif­fer­en­ti­ate between the re­li­gion, Is­lam, and its ad­her­ents, Mus­lims. But when hate is sys­temic, it does not ac­com­mo­date our self-im­age or make neat bound­aries between Is­lam and Mus­lims; hate is not that so­phis­ti­cated.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2017 poll, 46 per cent of Cana­di­ans have an un­favourable opin­ion of Is­lam, and a 2016 poll found more than half of On­tar­i­ans — 55 per cent — be­lieve main­stream Is­lamic doc­trines pro­mote vi­o­lence. Th­ese num­bers are deeply wor­ry­ing be­cause they de­scribe a per­va­sive cli­mate of fear and loathing that does not stop where a re­li­gion ends and its ad­her­ents be­gin. In re­cent polls, 43 per cent of Cana­di­ans say they hold a neg­a­tive opin­ion of Mus­lims, more than half — 52 per cent — be­lieve Mus­lims can’t be trusted, and 42 per cent be­lieve dis­crim­i­na­tion against Mus­lims is “mainly their fault.” It is not an ac­ci­dent th­ese are al­most the same per­cent­ages as those who hold neg­a­tive opin­ions of Is­lam.

In light of th­ese per­va­sive at­ti­tudes about Is­lam and Mus­lims, it is un­sur­pris­ing that between 2012 and 2015, hate crimes against Mus­lims in­creased a stag­ger­ing 253 per cent.

That is not be­cause of lone in­di­vid­u­als, but be­cause sys­temic racism has en­cour­aged about half of the Cana­dian pub­lic to fear Is­lam and Mus­lims, with­out need­ing to dif­fer­en­ti­ate between the two. Sys­temic Is­lam­o­pho­bia helps us un­der­stand why peo­ple with Mus­lim names have a harder time get­ting jobs, why they are po­liced at a higher rate, and why one-third of Cana­di­ans be­lieve it is “un­ac­cept­able” for their chil­dren to marry Mus­lims.

It is ugly, it is shame­ful, and it is sys­temic when close to half the pop­u­la­tion of one of the most peace­ful na­tions on Earth hates the sec­ond­largest re­li­gion on Earth and its ad­her­ents. That hate con­sumes all of us, the hated and the haters. And such hate re­sults in dis­crim­i­na­tion that harms our ci­ti­zens and weak­ens our demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions.

It has been deeply painful to watch the com­mit­tee’s hear­ings about sys­temic racism and re­li­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion de­volve into de­bates about tech­ni­cal terms, and to watch dis­cus­sions about Mus­lim Cana­di­ans, even when we are the vic­tims of vi­o­lence, re­volve around Is­lamic ex­trem­ism and rad­i­cal­iza­tion.

For the sake of our ci­ti­zens and the fu­ture of our democ­racy, I hope the re­main­ing com­mit­tee hear­ings will fo­cus on in­ter­ro­gat­ing the ways in which sys­temic racism struc­tures our so­ci­ety, priv­i­leg­ing some while dis­en­fran­chis­ing oth­ers.

Only by rec­og­niz­ing how we are all com­plicit in sys­temic racism and re­li­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion, by look­ing at our sys­temic problems square in the eye, can we be­gin to think about ad­dress­ing and elim­i­nat­ing sys­temic racism and re­li­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion.

If we look away, if we squan­der this op­por­tu­nity, then we know for sure; the prob­lem is not the term “Is­lam­o­pho­bia.” The prob­lem is us.

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