The Quebec City Attack Is Not Surprising

Shooting at Quebec City mosque follows years of fear-mongering about Muslims in Canada
Centre culturel islamique de Québec vice-president Mohamed Labidi cries at a press conference with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, left, and Quebec City mayor Regis Labeaume, right (Jacques Boissinot / The Canadian Press).

Centre culturel islamique de Québec vice-president Mohamed Labidi cries at a press conference with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, left, and Quebec City mayor Regis Labeaume, right (Jacques Boissinot / The Canadian Press).

On Sunday, six people were killed and 19 were wounded after a gunman opened fire on worshipers at a mosque in Quebec City. This hate crime against Muslims should not be a surprise. It is an escalation of a growing Islamophobic atmosphere in Quebec and Canada. For years, prominent politicians at both the provincial and federal level have fear-mongered about Muslims. At the same time, hate crimes aimed at the Canadian Muslim community have become increasingly common.

In 2013, the governing Parti québécois proposed the Quebec Charter of Values. The charter would have banned public sector workers from wearing “conspicuous” religious garb. Its proponents portrayed it as a necessary measure to indiscriminately protect Quebec secularism from religious symbols. However, because only some followers of some religions wear “conspicuous” religious symbols — like hijab-wearing Muslim women for example — it was widely seen as discriminatory. Not only were inconspicuous Christian crucifix necklaces exempt from the proposed ban, the not-so-inconspicuous giant crucifix on the wall in the Quebec National Assembly where the charter was proposed was also somehow exempt.

The Charter of Values was never implemented because the Parti québécois (PQ) lost the 2013 provincial election to the Liberal party who opposed the policy. Although the PQ’s attempt to exploit anti-Muslim bigotry to their advantage was unsuccessful, this strategy has been a reoccurring element of Canada’s politics in recent years. Last summer Coalition avenir Québec leader François Legault advocated outlawing the “burkini” — a policy implemented in some French towns last summer that gave the term “fashion police” a new, all too real, meaning after absurd photos of French police forcing women to strip went viral.

The Conservative Party took the PQ’s Islamophobia to Canada-wide audience in 2015. The Conservative government spent $421,840 in court fighting a Muslim woman’s right to wear a face covering at a public citizenship ceremony. In an apparent attempt to distract from their governmental track record, the Tories turned the “niqab debate” into an election issue. Not content with limiting themselves to policing what Muslim women wear, they also promised a “Barbaric Cultural Practices” hotline, apparently for “old-stock” Canadians to report on their Muslim neighbors. Like with the PQ, the Conservatives’ xenophobic tactics were unsuccessful but they were enough to decimate Quebec public support for the New Democratic Party, whose leader Tom Mulcair unequivocally denounced the Tories’ niqab ban.

In both the Quebec and Canadian elections, the winning Liberal parties opposed blatant anti-Muslim discrimination. However, in both cases, the xenophobic campaign rhetoric from the second-place parties emboldened anti-Muslim bigots and helped normalize Islamophobia in the general public. During both campaigns there was an upsurge of verbal and physical attacks on Muslim women.

The Centre culturel islamique de Québec, the mosque where the shooting took place, had already been the target of Islamophobic abuse. Swastikas have been drawn on the outside of the building. In June, during Ramadan, a severed pig’s head was left on the mosque’s doorstep. Also last summer, a pamphlet alleging the centre was connected to terrorism circulated in the neighborhood.

Islamophobia-exploiting politics is still alive and well in Canada. Some Conservative party leadership candidates seem convinced its a winning strategy. Kellie Leitch with her promise to screen new immigrants for “anti-Canadian values” is the most obvious example.

Islamophobic thinking is not limited to Tory leadership contenders. Even Justin Trudeau, the West’s new poster boy of liberalism and tolerance, has not been immune from indulging in anti-Muslim stereotypes that assign guilt by association. His Liberal government’s Syrian refugee resettlement program originally excluded straight, single males. The rationale Trudeau used for this discriminatory policy is the same one that’s used to justify any and all Muslim bans — that these people, based not on their individual deeds but on their immutable group identity, are too dangerous to allow into the country. Although the outright ban was soon lifted, the program still discriminates against straight, single males. This policy says as much about the Canadian public as it does about the Canadian prime minister. Trudeau likely implemented the policy to minimize opposition from his right but he has been allowed to continue it with impunity because of the lack of opposition from his left.

Canadian politics does not exist in a vacuum. Foreign influences have fueled the growth and normalization of Islamophobia. The deterioration of political discourse in the neighboring United States, like most societal trends there, has impacted Canada. This is the unavoidable consequence of sharing a border with a country that has a population ten times bigger than yours — and is also the world’s cultural hegemonic power. In French-speaking Quebec, France also has a similar influence. The influence of both these countries — specifically their ascendant right-wing populism — soon became apparent in the case of the Quebec mosque shooting. The shooter was a vocal supporter of both US President Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen, leader of the France’s far-right Front national. The Globe and Mail reports he became active online as an anti-immigrant polemicist after Le Pen visited Quebec City in March.

On Monday, Conservative leadership hopeful, Micheal Chong, drew a direct line between divisive political rhetoric and the Quebec shooting. In a thinly-veiled denouncement of Donald Trump and his imitators like Leitch, Chong tweeted: “This mosque attack is no accident: It’s a direct result of demagogues and wannabe demagogues playing to fears and prejudices.”

In a society where fear of Muslims is widespread and many political leaders stoke and exploit this fear for political gain, it is not surprising that some unstable individuals will act violently against Muslim people.

Hopefully, the disgusting massacre in Quebec City will cause political leaders (and followers) to think twice before they stoop to the seemingly easy but potentially horribly costly tactic of fear-mongering about marginalized groups of people.

It is not enough to condemn this attack now. That’s easy. We must remain vigilant, and do our best to fight against Islamophobia and hate even when this crime has receded from the news cycle and become a distant memory. Let’s be clear: this is not a matter of being “politically correct.” It is not even a matter of being polite to our neighbors. It is a matter of life and death.

News // Canada / Gun Violence / Islamophobia / Politics