Backlashophobia

Immediately after the Ottawa terror attack that killed Cpl Nathan Cirillo at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in October of last year, the Toronto Police Service released the following statement:

Although the news is still unclear as to who the perpetrator(s) is/are, some members of the community may link this attack to Islamic Extremists. We at Toronto Police Service have not made that link. I am asking you to relay to your mosques and their Imams, that we as a service, are aware that your mosques may be vulnerable to a backlash.[1]

This statement was part of a broader trend throughout Canada to declare that this Islam-inspired violence, directed at the heart of the Canadian state, has ‘nothing to do with Islam’.

The ‘nothing to do with Islam’ trope, as expressed by the TPS and others, would be tragic if it wasn’t so farcical. In a week when two individual Muslims perpetrated two separate murders against Canadian soldiers, how is it that the reflexive reaction is to reassure the Muslim community that they’ll be kept safe? And safe from what? No other group in Canada benefits from this kind of deference. Toronto is home to nine Army Reserve units and the Canadian Forces College, though this amounts to less than 2,400 soldiers.[2] So it seems unlikely that the city’s most threatened minority would be its Muslim community.

Of course the much anticipated backlash never materialized. A mosque in Cold Lake, Alberta had a window broken and was spray painted, but the next day the community of Cold Lake (which included representatives from the Canadian Armed Forces stationed in the town) responded by cleaning up the graffiti, covering the windows, and plastering the mosque with encouraging messages.[3]

In another example, a social experiment was devised by a York University student. On the streets of Hamilton, Ontario (Cpl Cirillo’s home town!) an altercation was staged between a ‘Muslim’ man waiting for the bus and an ‘Islamophobe’ who repeatedly heckled and insulted him by insinuating that he was a terrorist. Conducted in front of members of the public who were completely unaware that the event was staged, not a single onlooker sympathized with the hateful statements being made. Furthermore, the experiment came to a screeching halt when one onlooker decided that he’d had enough and punched the offensive man in the face.[4]

If this is what passes for a backlash, it’s a very Canadian one.

The knee-jerk reaction to dissociate violence committed by Muslims from Islam itself rings so hollow because of an inability to articulate the difference between moderate Islam and radical Islam.[5] Muslim reformers, who advocate against militant interpretations of Islam, deal with this issue constantly because for every statement made about how ‘Islam is a religion of peace’, one needn’t look far to find a fire-breathing Imam calling for the violent deaths of the unbelievers.[6] If the discussion is a binary of peace versus violence, then no room is left in the middle: in either case, no change, and no progress, is necessary.

Radical Islam draws its inspiration from a literal interpretation of the Koran. Rather than radicalism being ‘un-Islamic’ it might be more apt to say that it is ‘classically Islamic’. Hence the strong theological support that radical Islam is able to garner throughout the Muslim world. The driving force behind al Qaida, ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Ayatollahs (among others) is the belief that a once dominant Islamic civilization can regain its former glory by re-enacting the triumphs of Islam’s founding while re-imposing a 1400 year old social order.[7]

And so the dissociation between violence and religion is misguided at best and dishonest at worst. Islam is not a ‘Religion of Peace’ any more than it is a ‘Religion of War’, though the case for the latter is made forcefully enough and well enough to convince many adherents to commit violence.

The question to be asked is not ‘what does the Koran say’ but rather ‘how is what the Koran says to be interpreted’.[8] Reaching for alternate explanations of Islamic violence while ignoring the voices of the radicals is less like putting the cart before the horse than it is like roasting the horse over the flames of a fire made from the cart. It is nothing more than a naked attempt to deliberately evade the most obvious explanation which is given by the perpetrators of atrocity themselves. And all while superimposing innately Western worldviews and academic theories onto an entire group of radicals that explicitly rejects them.

Truly, the vast majority of the world’s Muslims are peaceful, wonderful people; at least as wonderful and peaceful as any other broadly definable group. And aside from the odd fringe lunatic, no one in Canada actually disputes this. This is why many Canadians find the idea of ‘islamophobia’ more than a little insulting: Muslims aren’t scary, and those who criticise Islam aren’t suffering from some kind of mental illness, nor are they hateful, racist bigots. Radical, fundamentalist interpretations of Islam fully deserve criticism and critique, as do literalist interpretations of Christianity and Judaism.

Perhaps the real ‘islamophobes’ are more to be found in Iraq, Nigeria, or Sudan: all places where non-Muslim populations are under vicious assault by radical Islam. When Canadians see similar violence in their own country, committed with the same justifications, do they not have reason to be concerned? Rather than victim-blaming the immensely tolerant and accepting Canadian public for the odd outburst of prejudice in response to acts of intolerable hatred, we should be willing to acknowledge and confront the religious aspects of radical Islamic violence.

[1] Islamic Forum of Canada’s Facebook page, accessed November 10, 2014, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Islamic-Forum-of-Canada/218619104824781?ref=page_internal&sk=timeline.

[2] Canadian Army, “32 Canadian Brigade Group,” http://www.army-armee.forces.gc.ca/en/32-cbg/index.page.

[3] Tim Cook, “’Go Home’ Spray Painted on Mosque in Northern Alberta,” National Post, 24 October 2014, http://www.nationalpost.com.

[4] Brett Tarver, “Canadians Stand Up to Islamophobe in Social Experiment That Ends With Punch,” CTV News, 29 October 2014, http://www.ctvnews.ca.

[5] Denis MacEoin, “Islam and the ‘Killing of Innocents’,” Gatestone Institute International Policy Council, 17 September 2014, http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org.

[6] Anjem Choudary, Twitter feed, 01 December 2014, 8:31 p.m., http://www.twitter.com/anjemchoudary.

[7] Bernard Lewis, “The Roots of Muslim Rage,” The Atlantic, 1 September 1990, http://www.theatlantic.com.

[8] Uzay Bulut, “The West’s Dangerous Enchantment with Islam: Muslim Women Thrown ‘Under the Bus’,” Gatestone Institute International Policy Council, 9 November 2014, http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org.

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