Right-Wing Extremism and Canadian National Security Policy Both Embrace the Image of the ‘Muslim Threat’
Describing the Quebec mosque shooting as ‘senseless’ avoids the connection between extremist violence against Muslims and draconian national security policy, says Azeezah Kanji
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown.
On Saturday, the bodies of two of the victims slain last week at a mosque in Quebec City were repatriated to their native Algeria. Thousands of people attended the funerals on Thursday of three of the men who were killed. Six people total were murdered and 19 others were injured on January 29th when a gunman opened fire at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre during evening prayers.
Police originally detained a man named Mohamed el-Khadir, but ultimately determined that he was “just a witness”. The only suspect of the shooting is 27-year-old Alexandre Bissonnette who later surrendered to police. Bissonnette is a French-Canadian political science and anthropology student who has professed his support for American President Donald Trump. Advocacy groups say that he is known for his extremist, far-right views. Bissonnette has been charged with six counts of murder.
Joining us today to discuss the implications of the killings and the wider context within which they have occurred is Azeezah Kanji. Azeezah is a lawyer, author and director of programming at the Noor Cultural Centre, based in Toronto.
Azeezah, we’re happy to have you here on The Real News.
AZEEZAH KANJI: Thank you for having me.
KIM BROWN: Azeezah, first off, let’s talk about the media coverage of what happened, both from the U.S. and the Canadian media. At least here, on the American side, Fox News erroneously and some say even deliberately reported that the shooter was a person of Moroccan descent. They even reported that he yelled “Allah Akbar” before opening fire. This, of course, is obviously not true, false, and Fox News actually had to delete a tweet that they had posted about the Quebec Islamic Centre shootings under pressure reportedly from the Canadian government. What have you heard about this?
AZEEZAH KANJI: The immediate framing of Mohamed el-Khadir as the suspect in the case rather than actually being a witness to it was one manifestation of a very rampant form of right-wing Islamophobia that we’ve seen in which acts of mass violence that are represented as terrorists are immediately ascribed to Muslims.
But we also saw another, I think, more subtle form of Islamophobia in the mainstream Canadian media coverage of the shooting in the Quebec mosque. At least initially, John Doyle from the Globe and Mail remarked that the CBC on Sunday night, when the details about the shooting were being revealed, that The National, which is the CBC’s premier evening news program, continued to air a pre-taped segment. They didn’t even go live really to cover what was happening on the ground, in stark contrast to the way that other incidents represented as acts of terrorist violence have been covered in Canadian news that happened not even in Canada but in the U.S. The Boston Marathon bombing, for example, was really given a very intense amount of coverage in Canadian media in a way which was in stark contrast to the… in the instant coverage of what was going on on Sunday night as the details of this horrific act of violence were being revealed.
So, I think that we see many forms of Islamophobia, not just in the shooting itself, but also in the way that it was covered by right-wing media outlets like Fox News, but also in media outlets in Canada that are represented as not being right-wing, but rather as being centrist and mainstream. Even there, we can see how Islamophobia devaluations of Muslim life were present in the initial coverage.
KIM BROWN: Indeed. And Azeezah, you recently wrote an article titled “We Need to Understand Islamophobia in Order to Address It”. Now, in that article you write that attacks such as the one on the Islamic Centre last week are not isolated, “senseless incidents”. Instead, you argue that such assaults are “a grotesque and extreme extension of the logic that has demonized and dehumanized Muslims since the launch of the War on Terror.” Can you please explain what precisely you mean by that?
AZEEZAH KANJI: Canadians tend to see ourselves, particularly in contrast to Americans, I think, as being very multicultural, as being very open to diversity, as really celebrating diversity. And this image of ourselves has been reinforced by the election of Justin Trudeau who parades himself as a champion of multiculturalism and tolerance and diversity. And yet, in his response to the Quebec shooting, Justin Trudeau was hailed for labeling the act a terrorist incident but at the same time he also called the act senseless in a way which really disavowed the systemic, structural Islamophobia that has permeated Canadian, not only media rhetoric and national security, but also has been embedded in national security laws and policies, particularly since 9/11, but even before then.
And there is a long record of Islamophobia being used to implement more and more draconian counterterrorism laws, not only under the Stephen Harper Conservative government, which was notorious for politically manipulating Islamophobia, but even before the Conservative regime, in the immediate post-9/11 Liberal regime, as well as now with the Trudeau regime that’s come into power.
And we’ve seen the way that the image of the Muslim enemy has been used to pass counterterrorism laws that really infringe on basic rights and freedoms. For example, in 2014, a law was passed called the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act which permitted citizenship, Canadian citizenship to be stripped from dual nationals who are convicted of a terrorism offence anywhere in the world and sentenced to at least five years imprisonment, which is an extremely low threshold. And all of the targets for citizenship stripping were Muslim.
Now, the Liberals have repealed this law, but there are still a host of other counterterrorism laws and policies which are in place. For example, Bill C-51, the 2015 Antiterrorism Act, which was passed with support from the Trudeau Liberals really increases state powers of security and surveillance. For example, it permits CSIS, which is the Canadian security agency, to disrupt domestic laws and international laws, including our constitutional Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It permits them to violate these laws in order to disrupt terrorist threats, which is really a vast increase in the amount of powers that are allocated to our security agencies in the name of national security.
And the way that this is justified is really by promoting a narrative which frames Muslims as the primary terrorist threat that is facing Canada. For example, Public Safety Canada reports, CSIS reports, RCMP reports, all of them focus almost entirely on Muslims and Muslim groups as the main domestic national security threat to the nation, entirely overlooking the threat posed by white supremacists and right-wing extremists, which we now know, following the Quebec shooting, that these actually are a serious threat. But because the ideologies they espouse are in many ways continuous with the narratives of Muslim danger, that have really permeated Canadian national security policy, the danger that they pose has been overlooked.
KIM BROWN: Well, listen, we’re going to take a quick break. We’re going to come back and resume our conversation with Azeezah Kanji discussing the attacks on the Muslim Centre in Quebec City, where six people were killed, and the broader conversation about how Islamophobia manifests itself in Canadian government policy and in the media, as well. You’re watching The Real News Network.