PRO: From the most anodyne of motions comes the most hysterical of responses
By: BENJAMIN SHINEWALD
SPECIAL TO THE CJN
Never have so many been so agitated over an issue so trifling.
Private member’s Motion 103, introduced by Liberal backbencher Iqra Khalid, simply calls on the government to fight racism and religious discrimination. It is non-binding and would have zero effect on Canadian law. One single word in the motion, however, is sending many atwitter: “Islamophobia.”
One might think, in this period immediately following the unspeakable massacre at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec, that our leaders would approach this motion with decorum and humility. But politicians and activists can resist a wedge issue about as well as a chain smoker can resist one more drag – they know their choices are deadly, but satisfaction is for today and consequences for tomorrow.
And so, from the most anodyne of motions comes the most hysterical of responses: we can’t support it, critics say, for the motion could outlaw legitimate critique of Islam, give Muslim Canadians special rights and bring sharia law to Canada. This, in response to a milquetoast motion explicitly aimed at recommendations “better reflect[ing] the enshrined rights and freedoms in the Constitution Acts, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” You just can’t make this stuff up.
‘CIJA is twisting itself into a pretzel
to oppose this motion’
Now, the motion is not perfect. Irwin Cotler, the former Liberal minister of justice, suggests replacing “Islamophobia” with “anti-Muslim bigotry,” since “Islamophobia” has varying meanings. But in politics, compromise is frequently the only way to advance the common good. And Cotler beautifully demonstrates this principle – that the perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of the good. He has told me that while he’d prefer different wording, he also prefers the current draft over nothing at all.
So did the Conservatives – at least until a few months ago. In October, the House not only approved a different motion “condemning all forms of Islamophobia,” but it did so with unanimous Conservative support.
What has changed? Well, today the Conservatives are deep into a leadership campaign and several candidates appear to have coldly calculated that the path to success lies not in moderation and thoughtfulness but in extremism and recklessness.
These candidates know the math: Ezra Levant’s Rebel Media has unambiguously become the Breitbart of Canada, spewing divisive, mean-spirited and fact-defying opinions, and motivating large numbers of Conservative voters. And so, several Conservative leadership contenders try to outdo each other in a race to the bottom, with barely concealed dog whistles and virtue signals. The more antipathy these candidates generate vis-à-vis Muslims, the more Rebel votes they get. It’s as simple as that.
‘nothing of any consequence hangs on this non-binding, private member’s motion – with the exception of our collective dignity’
As a result, some Conservative leadership candidates are opposing M-103 not because they really believe the hokum that they claim underlies their objections, but because it provides a useful foil to win over highly motivated and intolerant voters.
Either way, it is, well, Islamophobic.
Things are now spinning out of control. Recently, a handful of rabble-rousers with signs reading “Muslims are terrorists” and “Ban Islam” descended on the mosque I walk past each day on the way to work. After the Quebec massacre, there were handwritten messages of support, love and hope taped to the mosque’s front door, but these thugs tried to block worshippers from getting to it, evidently unaware that they were proving Khalid’s point.
Khalid herself is now under police protection, having received messages so disturbing that she read a selection out in the House of Commons (“____ you gently with a chainsaw, you camel-humping terrorist incubator ______.” And it goes on from there.)
So what should our community do? We should support the motion, if for no other reason than there is nothing to oppose.
While neither B’nai Brith Canada nor Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center had taken a position on it as of this writing, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has. After staying silent on October’s unanimously supported Islamophobia motion, CIJA is now twisting itself into a pretzel to oppose this one. Forced to choose between supporting the most disagreeable Conservative leadership candidates, condemning racism and Islamophobia or simply staying silent, CIJA, perhaps unsurprisingly, chose the Conservatives.
And it went further. In a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger-type statement, CIJA pitted Khalid against “individuals and groups of goodwill.” It also released its M-103 statement the day after Khalid read out the “camel-humping” messages in the House, but didn’t even acknowledge that ugliness or her vulnerability. We deserve better, and so does Khalid.
It’s not rocket science. Canadian Jews should support M-103, plain and simple. And there is one more thing we should do. We should all chill out. After all, nothing of any consequence hangs on this non-binding private member’s motion – that is, with the exception of our collective dignity.
Benjamin Shinewald is a former CEO of Canadian Jewish Congress.
CON: The motion would elevate acts against Muslims to a special level. And, what does “Islamophobia” mean, anyways?
By: MICHAEL DIAMOND
SPECIAL TO THE CJN
On the surface, Motion M-103 would seem to be a reasonable response to a marked increase in anti-Muslim sentiment, triggered in large part by events and sentiments occurring outside our country. Despite the extreme hyperbole south of the border and a slew of reports coming out of Germany, France, Belgium and Sweden indicating the challenges those countries are experiencing, not to mention the ongoing chaos in the Middle East, we in Canada have done a relatively good job of maintaining our composure, being civil and not attacking or escalating. A good example of these values in action were the seven groups of mostly Jewish Canadians in Toronto who formed rings of peace around mosques in the wake of the horrific attack in Quebec City. This is as it should be.
‘If Parliament wishes to study the application of our existing hate laws…it should do that. But we should not elevate one group above all others’
Not being a Muslim, I cannot testify to the extent to which members of that group of Canadians are feeling uncomfortable, marginalized or under attack. The only measure we have is reported racist attacks, and, based on those metrics, Jews have been by far the victims of the highest number of racist attacks for decades. In 2014, the most recent year for which we have data, there were far more anti-Semitic incidents than incidents affecting Muslims.
Recent reports of extreme anti-Semitic statements made by Canadian imams in Toronto and Montreal, combined with offensive pamphlets at Western University and several universities in Alberta, and a “punch a Zionist” tweet by a student councillor at McGill University, suggest that anti-Jewish racism continues to rise. Plus, let’s not forget other Canadian groups – blacks and indigenous people being two – that also deserve attention.
And yet, the government is considering passing a motion that would elevate acts against Muslims to a special level – more important, apparently, and due more care and protection than other races or religions. The motion also uses the term “Islamophobia,” a term that is not well defined. Some describe it as an “irrational fear,” while others define it as a “fear.” The difference between the two is significant. And at any rate, can you really prescribe against fear, irrational or not?
Lest you think this is strictly a left-right political issue, the use of the word “Islamophobia” is also considered problematic by many on the left.
Writing in the leftist Dissent magazine, Michael Walzer argued that “many leftists are so irrationally afraid of an irrational fear of Islam that they haven’t been able to consider the very good reasons for fearing Islamist zealots – and so they have difficulty explaining what’s going on in the world.”
By all means, if Parliament wishes to study the application of our existing hate laws to today’s environment, it should do just that. But we should not elevate one group above all others while doing so.
‘there remains a need to… understand how Islam is used by some adherents to support activities inconsistent with Canadian values’
Moreover, a similar motion offered as a compromise by the Conservatives, but with references to Islamophobia removed, was voted down by the Liberal government. At the same time, a group of Liberal Muslim and Jewish MPs put out a statement that is essentially consistent with the motion they had just voted down!
The Liberals will likely pass M-103, with its reference to Islamophobia, in April. The consequences to the Liberal party of having it fail would be politically challenging, given its large Muslim constituency. In doing so, they will make it clear that their objective was to elevate Islam in the discussion – there can be no other conclusion. Still, there remains a need to actively discuss the impact of radical Islam and to understand how Islam is used by some adherents to support activities that are inconsistent with Canadian values.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), an organization that is not prone to unnecessary hyperbole, has taken a strong stand against M-103. Apparently CIJA’s attempts to encourage a wording change with the presenter of the motion, MP Iqra Khalid, were unsuccessful. Indeed, my biggest disappointment with this motion is best expressed in a recent statement by CIJA CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel: “The irony of this whole episode is that an initiative that could have served to bring communities together has become the agent of alienation and dissonance. It needn’t have been so.”
Hatred of any group in a society is problematic. Certainly, we Jews understand that.
But this effort to cater to Muslims alone has already had a negative and polarizing effect. It will be critical that Canadians focus carefully on what transpires next. A motion is not law, but it begins an important process. And what comes of that process could weaken the fabric of our society and divide us, instead of pulling us together. In these tumultuous times, much care is required.
Michael Diamond is a business consultant, entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist. He sits on or chairs several boards and committees of a number of non-profit organizations.