Islamophobia, The Left and The Canadian State

In George W. Bush’s address to Congress on September 20, 2001 he said, "They [the terrorists] hate our freedoms – our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other."

In the weeks following this speech, I suppose the American president concluded, "if the terrorists hate us because we are free, then they will hate us less if we are less free." It certainly seems as if he put that bizarre conclusion into practice.

Within 50 days of 9/11, the American Patriot Act was in effect and within 100 days, Canada’s Anti-Terrorist Act was approved by Parliament. And we Canadians put the same spin on the legislation as our American neighbors, implying that any negative criticism of it would be considered "unpatriotic." Sadly, security had become incompatible with liberty.

Today, as we approach the fifth anniversary of 9/11, each of the basic democratic freedoms I shared with you in George Bush’s words has been severely compromised.

For Muslims in Canada, freedom of religion is less assured today than it was five years ago. Just because they are Muslims, many have been victimized by security certificate investigations, which allow authorities to detain anyone indefinitely. Others have been placed on no-fly lists or no- passport lists – often without their knowledge, until the day they need to travel or renew their documents. Moreover, these lists are made up by civil servants, not by the courts.

Muslims in Canada today suffer from more discrimination and more harassment at schools or in workplaces than before 9/11. The government and media have shown that they couldn’t care less.

Young Canadian Muslims — especially women wearing the traditional Hijab headscarf, or other distinctive Islamic clothing – are made to feel like strangers, foreigners and aliens in their own country.

Hate literature against Islam and Muslims is on the rise, with statistics showing that Muslims are replacing Blacks and Jews as the number-one group victimized by hate and vandalism in Canada. But very little has been offered through government programs to educate the general public, or to make any impact in the school system.

Canadian Muslims are this country’s largest non-Christian religious group, numbering some 750,000. About half of us are Canadian-born and the rest are immigrants from more than 50 countries in Africa, Asia and Europe.

Anti-Islam in the Canadian media is alive and well. You have only to glance at summaries of The Canadian Islamic Congress’s annual research report on the subject to see that the National Post is the worst offender; unfortunately, other major papers in this country are not far behind.

More than half of the print and broadcast news media in Canada are owned and controlled by one family. Most of the post 9/11 Canadian media did not object to the compromise of Canadian civil liberties, to the war on Iraq and George Bush’s lies about it, or to the sending of Canadian troops into Afghanistan. Almost none did investigative reporting on any of these three subjects. There is an alarming connection between this concentration of ownership and editorial integrity. So much for freedom of speech!

If anything good came out of 9/11 and the events that have followed over the past several years, it has been a noticeable increase in grassroots political activism; such a public groundswell of opinion has not been seen since the Vietnam War era.

More than 20 million people across the globe demonstrated in the streets just before the American invasion of Iraq in March, 2003. And every year for the last four, anti-war demonstrations have shown growing solidarity with the Palestinian people. More demonstrations and protests are being mounted every year against the injustice and greed that are fuelling the current globalization movement – a system that benefits only 20% of the world’s population.

Now, for the first time in history, the political left is working with conservative Muslims on issues of social justice and with the long- term goal of building a world that lives by peace, through justice. Communists, Marxists, socialists, and nationalists are working with civil libertarians, liberals, and conservatives to achieve this urgent goal together.

The events of 9/11 were co-opted by the Bush administration as a thin pretext for an all-out war against civil liberties at home, combined with a brutal war of aggression against overseas nations. This domestic and international campaign has been mounted on a scale not seen since Hitler’s Third Reich, and has been done in the face of a largely unaware public. To truly fight the menace of terrorism and to spread justice with democracy, our leaders must move with an informed public on their side.

Take Iraq three years after the American invasion. Life for most Iraqis has degenerated into abject misery: personal security is non-existent; the country has spiraled down from full employment to 80% unemployment; one of the best education and health care systems in the region has all but disappeared and functions at less than third-world standards.

Meanwhile, educated Iraqi professionals are being assassinated, or forced to emigrate. All of this adds up to nothing less than the slow but sure ethnic cleansing of an entire people. And this is what the U.S. calls "liberation"??

On August 29, 2002 George Bush offered us yet more words to live, or die, by when he explained what distinguishes Us from Them: "See, we love –” we love freedom. That’s what they didn’t understand. They hate things; we love things. They act out of hatred; we don’t seek revenge, we seek justice out of love."

When you hear such words from the President of the United States of America, you cannot help but fear for the future of planet Earth.

But I am still hopeful that the left will soon unite in a determined pursuit of global justice. There is not a moment to waste.