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Heritage Committee hears testimony on Islamophobia

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA (CCN) — Fireworks erupted during the Heritage Committee’s study of Motion M-103 over the definition of Islamophobia.

“Muslims who have formed an organization called ‘Muslims Against M-103’ believe that Canadian MPs — pardon the expression — are getting the wool pulled over their eyes,” Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress, told the committee.

On the Indian subcontinent, the word Islamophobia is roughly translated to mean “enemies of Islam,” he said, noting it is usually paired with a word translated as “friends of Islam.”

Thousands of Muslims, in addition to other minorities, have been killed around the world in that region, in Darfur, in Syria and elsewhere because Islamists have designated them enemies of Islam.

Fatah contended the label “Islamophobia” had been introduced to target Muslims like himself who criticize Islamism, a political ideology.

“The primary purpose is to drown out our voices when we denounce polygamy, female genital mutilation, child marriage, honour killings on jihad, racial discrimination which is pervasive wherever Islamophobia is banned,” he said.

Those like himself who fled the Muslim world to “escape the tyranny of falsely being called Islamophobes” now find “enemies have hunted us down” because of “gullible and well-meaning non-Muslim MPs,” he said.

Fatah argued it is “impossible” to arrive at a definition of Islamophobia, “because the moment you will start to speak the truth, you will be called a racist. It’s a dead end.”

Instead, he argued for the study to focus on discrimination and attacks on Muslims, rather than on Islam, because Islam and Islamism, as ideas, should be open to criticism.

The Heritage Committee study opened Sept. 18 with testimony from Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, who had introduced Motion M-103, which passed last March.

M-103 gained traction after the Jan. 29 mosque shooting in Quebec, when Alexandre Bissonnette killed six and injured another 19 Muslims while they were praying.

During debate on M-103 earlier this year, Khalid and the Liberal government resisted Conservative efforts to define Islamophobia, nor did the Liberals support a Conservative motion that condemned systemic racism and discrimination against Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and other religious communities.

However, on Sept. 18, Khalid said she hoped the Heritage Committee study would look at “all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination in Canada”; find the best ways to collect and interpret hate crimes data, and find the best ways to reduce or eliminate racism and religious discrimination.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May told the committee she had never seen “such fomented anger, concern and misconceptions” on any motion like that on Motion M-103.

“I put to you that I have told my constituents there’s no way Motion 103 is going to limit free speech, there is no way Motion 103 is going to bring in shariah law to Canada, and there is no way Motion 103 is going to place Islam as a more protected status than other religions,” May said to Khalid, who agreed there were “a lot of misconceptions.”

“There is no legislation from my end that is going to come out of this,” she said. “It is really up to the committee to decide which way to go.”

But testimony from Michel Juneau-Katsuya, president and general director of Le Groupe Northgate Corp., showed some would like to see more restrictions on freedom of speech and prosecutions.

Juneau-Katsuya told the committee the big concern is domestic terrorism caused by the so-called alt-right. In Quebec, right-wing nationalism is exacerbated by what he called “trash radio.”

When asked by Liberal MP Arif Virani if The Rebel Media and sites like it were “amplifying the message of the extreme right on the anglophone side,” Juneau-Katsuya replied, “Absolutely.”

Juneau-Katsuya also said a Tweet Virani quoted that said shortly after the mosque shooting: “Alexandre was not alone and had a Muslim accomplice, his Muslim accomplice has been made a state witness to avoid any talk of Muslim-on-Muslim terror” should be “denounced, and if possible, prosecuted because here this is defamation.”

The author of the Tweet was Tarek Fatah, who said he would not correct the Tweet because he was responding to what had been reported by newspapers at the time.

Peter Bhatti, chair of International Christian Voice, an organization that advocates on behalf of persecuted religious minorities in Pakistan, has also opposed the motion. Bhatti was scheduled to appear before the Heritage Committee on Sept. 27.

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