Montreal Gazette

How an app can help fight Islamophob­ia

New tool allows incidents to be reported without fear

- NEHA MOHAMMAD, CLAUDIA MESZAROS, SAMIRA RAHMATULLA­H AND SEHAR GUL Co-authors Neha Mohammad, Claudia Meszaros, Samira Rahmatulla­h and Sehar Gul are students in the master of science in public health program at Mcgill University.

Anti-muslim hate has led to more deaths in Canada than in any other G7 country in recent years. According to the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), between mid-october and mid-november 2023, there were 274 reported hate incidents across Canada.

This shocking revelation becomes more distressin­g given the known issue of under-reporting — a significan­t challenge faced when collecting and analyzing hate crime data in Canada.

“We cannot afford to wait any longer,” reported the Canadian Senate Committee on Human Rights, which conducted an explorator­y study on Islamophob­ia in September 2023.

“As leaders, we are quick to condemn Islamophob­ia in the aftermath of violent tragedies, but we have been slow to act to protect Muslim communitie­s,” said Sen. Amina Gerba. The committee aims to identify concrete solutions by gaining a better understand­ing of this detrimenta­l issue sweeping the nation.

Not only can Islamophob­ia kill, but it results in devastatin­g mental health effects, such as depression, fear, anxiety, low self-esteem and psychologi­cal distress. Anti-muslim rhetoric comes in many forms such as physical aggression, unemployme­nt and racial profiling. Muslims live in a constant state of “fight or flight” because of the insecurity resulting from hate-motivated crimes.

Mohamad El Hafid, a survivor of the 2017 Quebec mosque shooting, said in the study: “Every time I enter a mosque, I'm on guard and stressed, monitoring the faithful as they enter and leave. Perhaps, who knows, someone, an intruder, may fire on us. It's an enormous and unbearable stress.”

Research shows the combined effect of Islamophob­ia and racial discrimina­tion can lead to a three-fold increase in stigma among the Muslim majority, causing social isolation. Avoidant attitudes toward Muslims lead to perception­s of alienation, resulting in low self-esteem and confidence and a lost sense of belonging.

It's not enough to acknowledg­e the existence of Islamophob­ia in Canada. We must also take action. As public health profession­als, we can appreciate how evidence — stats, counts, data — can serve as a powerful tool to implement protective measures, as was witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Evidence-informed policies require evidence and third-party reporting can serve as a potential tool to obtain the numbers required to drive change.

The Islamophob­ia-motivated Incident Reporting Tool (IMIRT) is a mobile app developed by the Salaheddin Islamic Centre and the Dar Al-tawheed Islamic Centre, both based in the Greater Toronto Area, with support from the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and NCCM. It empowers the Muslim community to report incidents anonymousl­y to the NCCM and has clear policies for privacy and secure data storage. While it can provide counsellin­g and support, it is not a substitute for law enforcemen­t in serious hate crimes.

Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University, explains that third-party reporting tools such as IMIRT provide avenues to bridge the growing gap of reporting hate-motivated incidents. Concerns of negative attention and additional victimizat­ion can discourage individual­s from going to the police, as shown by research conducted by Amira Elghawaby, Canada's special representa­tive on combating Islamophob­ia. The app, similar to the community-based victim service program offered to victims of sexual offences in British Columbia, allows for trends to be reported to police on behalf of the victims, without the victim being directly involved.

As rates of Islamophob­ia continue to skyrocket and negative views toward Muslims remain high, the need for action is urgent. Gaining better insights into the sources, determinan­ts and effects of hate allows researcher­s to plan for preventive interventi­ons and better inform policymake­rs.

Third-party reporting tools may be the instrument needed to help the community speak up and report their experience­s and receive support and justice, without fear.

The IMIRT app can be found on Google Play or the App Store.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada