Islamophobia & Racism cannot be defeated without dismantling colonial White Supremacy

The murder of three generations of a visibly Muslim family – a couple, a grandmother and a teenage daughter – by a 20-year-old white man is the latest in a series of blatant racially motivated crimes in “Canada”. Preceded by the 2017 attack on a Quebec City mosque which killed six Muslims, the fatal stabbing of a mosque caretaker in Toronto, police shootings of Black citizens, endemic RCMP racism against Indigenous communities and individuals, rising anti-Asian hate crimes, growing anti-Semitism, Joyce Echaquan’s murder at the hands of the health-care system, and the discovery of the remains of 394 (and counting) Indigenous children in unmarked graves at “Residential Schools” across the country; communities are perpetually having their race and religion weaponized against them.

In a routine offering of sympathies, politicians have tried to convince us that this is “not Canada” – and certainly, this is not a Canada that we can or should accept. The frequency of these incidents forces us to address the situation critically and honestly. While the targeted victims span a broad range of racialized communities, the perpetrator remains the same – white supremacy.

Dismantling white supremacy in all its forms is absolutely vital if we hope – as we claim we do – to defeat endemic racism.

Canada, a country that successfully defined every aspect of its law and society to benefit  white colonizers, has a deeply ingrained legacy of white supremacy, despite putting in place “egalitarian policies”. For example, even though racial discrimination in housing was outlawed, the same classes – privileged by colonization – continues to make money off land stolen from Indigenous peoples. When racial discrimination in employment was outlawed, the predominantly white higher-ups continued to hold the positions of power that perpetuate the disenfranchisement of non-white folks who were denied those jobs previously. When the alleged “weapons of mass destruction” were not found in Iraq, no allied countries questioned, let alone punished, the US.

Promising to do everything in their power to end racism against all, politicians continue to overlook the fact that racism is a product of white supremacy, that manifests itself in uniquely insidious ways depending on its historic origin.  For example, the anti-Black racism, entrenched in the history of enslavement and colonization takes a different face from anti-Asian racism, intertwined with socio-political attitudes towards China, and the exclusion and fetishization of Asian women; both which are distinct from the continued colonial dispossession of Indigenous peoples. To attack racism therefore, is not to attack one simple sentiment towards all the affected communities, but rather to dismantle deep-rooted white supremacy. The Asian “model minority” prescription is an example of how the divisive politics of white supremacy succeeds in pitting one minority against the other. For example, while Black and Indigenous peoples agitate against lack of civil rights, police violence, and inequality, the “model minority” is projected as a community that does not need agitation to succeed. Incidences of “success” are weaponized under a colonial framework against other racialized communities to benefit white supremacy. Accordingly, the media attempts to term Muslims who do not resist oppression and tokenization or make demands for better treatment to be “moderate Muslims” – in opposition to the implied default Muslim, whose lives and rights are disregarded repeatedly across the globe.

Islamophobia is shaped by geopolitics. It is strongly linked with events such as 9/11, the 2005 London bombings, the ongoing war in Syria, and the occupation of Palestine. While Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and other aforementioned forms of racism have been persistent problems in Canada, it is vital – as with all forms of racism – to acknowledge the specific historical and current global context of Islamophobia. Islamophobia thrives in the domestic and foreign policies of “the West”, as well as certain Asian countries such as India under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. It shares many tools with settler colonialism, constructing Muslims as backwards, primitive and uneducated; an “enemy” who threatens national stability and spreads backwards Islamic ideals. White supremacy has constructed a Muslim caricature that is at once uneducated and a master of terror. Meanwhile, the same Western imperialist nations are complicit in the ruthless bombing of schools, universities, hospitals, press buildings, cultural and religious centers, civilians and children across these regions, destabilizing communities and murdering innocents in the name of “security”.

The Harper government targeted Muslims and fed this image with policies such as the “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act,”  anti-Terrorism bills, immigration laws and the over-policing of Muslims, once again legitimizing discrimination and reinforcing racist constructs under the pretext of security. Quebec’s Charter of Values and Law 21 that restricts Muslim women from wearing a Hijab, effectively institutionalize gendered Islamophobia here in Canada. In light of recent incidents, Trudeau remarked that while he disagrees with it, he doesn’t think that the bill encourages hate or discrimination. What his comment is clearly overlooking – outside of the explicit restriction of  women who wear Hijabs from partaking at an equal level in the public sphere – is that by othering groups based on their religion, culture and visible presentation, we are defining the norm; the “we” who is allowed to exist freely, and the “other,” whose rights are made conditional, restricted, and not absolute.

There are lines that Western governments will not cross when it comes to fighting racial disparities. These lines reflect the overarching lack of respect and value for non-white life. Despite the discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children in an unmarked mass grave at Kamloops “Residential School,” and the hundreds more continuing to be uncovered across Turtle Island, there has not been an apology from the Pope and affiliated Catholic institutions with whom the Canadian government works hand-in-glove. After 11 days of Israel bombing Gaza, with 227 dead including 64 Palestinian children, Western governments including Canada have expressed support for Israel’s “right to security” and tactfully condemned violence by both sides, as if the ongoing occupation, displacement and genocide has two comparable sides. The so-called “both sides” cliché is a carefully constructed ruse to maintain the veil of a moral high ground, without admitting that a vast power-imbalance pervades the issue; one side is highly militarized, the other occupied.

As Palestinians rummage through the rubble to collect their belongings and bury their murdered kin, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweets congratulations to the Israeli president saying, “our two countries are bound together by shared democratic values and many common priorities.” Since 2015, Canada has exported $57 million worth of weapons to Israel, including $16 million in bomb components. Those who shoot worshippers at the mosques and run over families on sidewalks know that they are joining this “common priority”. Similarly, south of the border, Joe Biden vows to “end systemic racism”; yet within six weeks of his inauguration, his government resumed bombing Syria. When wealthy Western nations, like Canada,  fund the bombing of Gaza and the continued occupation of Palestine, and refuse to act upon reconciliation after the public discovery of  hidden mass graves of Indigenous children, individual white supremacists are given license to kill a visibly Muslim family, knowing it is no different than the government’s duplicity. If the Canadian government truly condemns such “brutal, cowardly, and brazen act[s] of violence,” they need to take a harsh look in the mirror.

Our hope is to mobilize the public in a call for action against white supremacy in all its various explicit and insidious forms. If we believe in equity, justice and an inclusive society, then we must evaluate the continued Western legacy of disregarding non-white life and truly consider the meaning of “justice for all”.

© Rahul Varma, Summer Mahmud