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The government still refuses to provide the full definition for reasons which are unfathomable, other than the current thinking it is playing identity politics.

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Human rights marchers now protest anti-Muslim actions and hate as a central cause, under the label of Islamophobia. (Photo FightIslamophobia.ca Facebook page)

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A few days ago, I came across a report that purports to analyse the data generated by a 2020 survey on the subject of antisemitism.

In this context, the writers note that an EKOS poll conducted in 2018 found that 57% of Canadians feel that Islamophobia is an increasingly disturbing problem in Canada.

I find this fact troubling in the context of the Canadian values, which as an immigrant and member of a minority group, I strongly share and support; namely those that cherish multiculturalism and within it, diversity of religions, cultures and inclusion.

The term “Islamophobia” has been and continues to be a controversial one in that to date the definition of the term has yet to be firmed up and finalised by the commanding authoritative consensus of Canadians or for that matter of the Canadian Muslim communities.

In its 2018 budget, the federal government announced its intention to formulate its anti-racism strategy.

The Federal approach to this definition is set out in the government’s publication Building a Foundation for Change: Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy 2019-2022 (“strategy”). This document needs to be read together with the document published  contemporaneously by the Government of Canada titled  Anti-Racism Action Program (“ARAP”) , and the pre-existing document titled Community Support, Multiculturalism and Anti-Racism Initiatives (CSMARI).

The Anti-Racism Action Program is “intended to help address barriers to employment, justice and social participation among Indigenous Peoples racialized communities and religious minorities… ARAP will also prioritize projects that target online hate and promote digital literacy…”

According to Pablo Rodriguez, Minister of Heritage at the time and now Government House leader,  the strategy fulfils the key recommendations  of the  2018 report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage titled Racism and Religious Discrimination  including Islamophobia in response to the Parliamentary motion M-103, which the Prime Minister  put through the House of Commons after defeating the procedural  motion of the Official Opposition. They had simply sought the M.P. who tabled the motion to provide a precise definition of the term “Islamophobia” – and she refused to do so.

According to a statement issued by the Minister’s office, “[the strategy which will cost $45 million] helps advance the government of Canada’s vision of fostering and promoting a more inclusive and equitable country for all Canadians.”

Strategy defines Islamophobia as follows:

“Includes, racism, stereotypes, prejudice, fear or acts of hostility   directed towards individual Muslims or followers of Islam in general. In addition to individual acts of intolerance and racial profiling. Islamophobia can lead to viewing and treating Muslims as a greater security threat on an institutional systemic basis.”

This definition is beset with so many problems and consequently does not commend itself to be adopted as national consensual definition.

– The first problem, a serious one with the definition is that it is open-ended. It merely includes certain things, but fails to provide the rest of it.

– The second problem with the definition is redundancy: surely if one is a Muslim, his religion is Islam then ipso facto he is a follower of Islam.

– The third problem is the rather unrealistic nature of the definition. It is hard to imagine how a person in fear of some people would want to commit an offence against them.

– The fourth problem is the failure of the definition to capture and respect the essence of term.

In this instance, the definition ignores the central notion of phobia. A phobia is not merely a fear; it is an irrational fear, and since it is irrational it is a self-induced one. 

The government cannot have it both ways; namely, retaining the term while defining it in a manner that does not correspond to its essence.

Nevertheless, the government still refuses to provide the full definition for reasons which are unfathomable other than the current thinking that the government is playing identity politics.

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When the Muslim communities and the Muslim members of our society have to deal with hate crimes of various kinds, playing identity politics strikes me as the wrong remedy for the problem. 

Looking at the matter from a different perspective, surely, in the light of the fact that the irrational fear the “Islamophobes” is “directed” towards Muslims or followers of Islam in general, then the ensuing “acts of hostility” or “state of mind” claimed to be captured by “racism, stereotypes and prejudice”, are merely the by- products of the irrational fear.

In the premises, surely if we can devise an effective strategy to cure or successfully repress such fears, then the problem of Islamophobia will be resolved.

At all events, one cannot be held guilty of a hate crime when he/she is behaving in an irrational manner, as this type of behaviour negates the existence of mens rea the proof which is required in order to convict the accused.

Further, I cannot fathom by any stretch of imagination what racism has got to do with Islamophobia since Muslims belong to different races including the currently much maligned white one. More importantly and rightly so, Muslims in Canada do not define or identify themselves as a racialized minority, visible or otherwise.  The definitional problems of the term Islamophobia are further compounded by the fact that the term has not been defined in identical terms across provincial and even municipal boundaries. 

B'nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn pictured with Pablo Rodriguez, then-Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism, and then-MP Michael Levitt at the 2019 announcement that the Trudeau government was adopting the IHRA working definition of antisemitism (Photo B’naiBrith.ca)

Finally, as yet, no one has managed to provide an operational definition of the term that is consistent with a number of fundamental freedoms such as the freedoms of thought, belief, opinion and expression including the freedom of the press enshrined in Section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Having been at the receiving end of antisemitic remarks and abuse, I fully sympathise with the plight of our brethren in the Muslim community who experienced and will likely continue to experience abusive treatment from those among the compatriots who, for whatever reason, to put it mildly, do not care about religious and cultural freedoms, diversity and inclusion.

In the premises, I consider the formulation and enforcement of a national operational definition of the anti-Muslim hate to be essential to the well-being of our Muslim compatriots.

In this regard, and for my part, I verily believe that the core IHRA definition of antisemitism with the substitution of the word Muslim for the word Jewish will serve the Muslim community very well.

The definition then would read:

“(for lack of a better term at the moment), Islamophobia is a certain perception of Muslims, which may be expressed as hatred toward Muslims. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of Islamophobia are directed toward Muslim or non-Muslim individuals and/or their property, toward Muslim community, institutions and religious facilities.”

As to the possible illustration of this definition with examples, I fear whoever sets out to formulate these will have a mighty struggle to get rid of the devils in the details between those who practice Islam and those who think, talk and act as holy crusaders of their rights and freedoms guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Being an optimist by nature, I hope that the parties at play will engage in the dialogue in good faith with the aim of finding the right balance. Failure to do so, will hurt the Canadian society’s paramount values and will do no good for the safety and security of our Muslim compatriots.

Doğan D. Akman is an independent researcher and commentator. He holds a B.Sc. in sociology, an M.A. in sociology/criminology and an LL.B in law. He held academic appointments in sociology, criminology and social policy; served as a Judge of the Provincial Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, and occupied the positions of Crown Counsel in criminal prosecutions and in civil litigation at the Federal Department of Justice. His academic work is published in peer-reviewed professional journals, while his opinion pieces and other writings are to be found in various publications and in blogs. 

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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