*the original interview in Arabic published by Sada AlMashreq newspaper, Montreal, on Jan 28 2023.
On the sixth anniversary of the Quebec City massacre, which was committed on 29 Jan 2017, in which six martyrs were killed, in addition to a number of wounded, and the orphanhood of many children and the survival of one of the brothers in a permanent state of disability, Ayman Darbali, Sada Al-Mashreq met with the head of the Canadian Muslim Forum(FMC-CMF) , Mr. Samer Majzoub talking about this painful occasion, where Mr. Majzoub pointed out that “it is true that we commemorate the Quebec Mosque, but the memory sums up what is happening in all the different Canadian provinces against the Muslim community, for nothing but their religious and cultural affiliation.”
Referring to the increase in cases of attacks against Muslims, he pointed out that “hardly a day goes by that we do not hear of cases of abuse or assault, either verbally or through social media or even through political platforms, all under the pretext of freedom of expression. As if freedom of expression can only be through infringement of the “dignities and beliefs” of other humans.
He pointed out that “we have received complaints over and over again that when someone is subject to hate “crimes” and a complaint is submitted to the police department, it is not dealt with as required.” He considered that “indolence in facing those who committed hate incidents sends the wrong message.”
He stressed that “the more we preserve our identity and respect to others, targeting the community will fail from whatever side and through any means. He also stressed the need not to stagnate”.
Majzoub pointed out in his interview that “our fellow Canadians have a lot of goodness and respect for people and their rights, but sometimes we find that there are those who fall into the clutches of what is published on social media, hatred, political agendas and interest groups without realizing it,” stressing that “There are negative events that happen and there are bad “apples within our societies”. These elements are loud, but they do not represent society. Society in general is an open society.” He also stressed that “Quebec is not racist; Alberta and Ontario are not, none of the other regions too. Canada is not racist either, and we are not at state of war.”
He called on the youth to “be proud of your identities and your convictions”. Moreover there is no need to any compromise on what you believe in, this is not what is originally required, as Canada is based on multiculturalism.” He calls on the youth to participate in the society and strive for its good, of which they are a part.
The appointment of Mrs. Amira Al-Ghawabi to the position of government advisor on Islamophobia on the date of the sixth anniversary of the Great Mosque massacre in Quebec, what do you say?
The sixth anniversary of the Quebec City massacre, which was committed on the 29 Jan 2017, is an occasion to express the state of grief and sorrow caused by the massacre and the resulting martyrs, wounded, victims, widows and orphans, although this memory is not never out of our minds at all times. It is true that we commemorate the Quebec Mosque, but it summarizes what is happening in all the different Canadian provinces against the Muslim community, for nothing but their religious and cultural affiliation.
Hardly a day goes by that we do not hear of cases of abuse or assault, either verbally or through social media, or even through political platforms w, under the pretext of freedom of expression. As if freedom of expression is only by infringing on the “dignities and beliefs” of others. This wrong concept of freedom of expression is exploited by supporters of racism and those who want to spread hatred.
Today, is the issue of Islamophobia declining or increasing?
This anniversary comes to put us before our responsibilities, noting that the phenomenon of Islamophobia is still present and on the rise. Canadian statistics indicate a rise of 71% in cases of Islamophobia, this matter is very frightening and disturbing, and puts us in front of great responsibilities to confront it collectively, practically and effective. This is what is required in the next stage.
What are the causes of hatred against Muslims?
I do not see any justification for hatred against Muslims or others of any background. The state of hatred may hide political agendas behind it, but there are the extreme right, populists, and others who may have different agendas, but, unfortunately, they agree that Islamophobia is a “natural” matter for them.
It is said that this tragedy has begun to be forgotten, despite the continuous attacks against Muslims in more than one city.. What is your opinion?
True, this is noticeable.. With the passage of time, cases of assault and abuse may become normal, not among the general public, but even among the victims themselves. We see this matter, and it is what many extremist elements in society are betting on, that we will be accepting to be second and third class citizens. The second thing is the lack of serious interaction by the concerned authorities with the Islamophobic incidents in many regions in Canada.
He pointed out that we have received complaints time and time again that when someone has been subject hate crime and a complaint is submitted to the police department; it is not dealt with as required. The other thing is the intimidation that they are exposed to, especially the sisters, which constitute more pressures, whether moral or other, which come through the means of communication or at work, which pushes them to withdraw or accept the state of assault on them, hoping that the issue will pass unnoticed. This is what encourages the “perpetrators” to continue their aggressive misconducts without facing any legal punishment, or accountability. Indolence in facing those “perpetrators” sends a wrong message, as if it’s a normal matter, and therefore cases of aggression become more and more fierce and widespread.
Are you satisfied with the Canadian state’s handling of this issue?
We have repeatedly said that the federal government has taken important steps in the field of Islamophobia. We in the FMC-CMF have taken upon ourselves the issue of Islamophobia since 2009, and we know how it was dealt with by the various governments, but the current government headed by Justin Trudeau took it more seriously. And now the appointment of Sister Amira El-Ghawabi as a consultant in combating Islamophobia comes as a continuation step for what the federal government has done and preparing the ground for confronting Islamophobia, whether through steps in the defining Islamophobia ways of dealing with the subject matter or through directives in the same perspective. On the other hand, we must be aware that the appointment position that Mrs. ElGhawaby has occupied is an advisory one, and it is the duty of the appointed person to provide advice to the concerned government departments on how to deal with the issue of Islamophobia.
Is this appointment the magic solution?
Certainly the answer is no. The new created position is to reflect that the subject matter is serious, especially in government departments or the so-called systematic Islamophobia. We are hoping that this post helps to reduce and tackle Islamophobia. It must be noted that the new position must be supported by the community and society standing continuously against racism and against Islamophobia. We do not want people to fall into the illusion that Islamophobia will end by this appointment. It is a first step, and there are many steps that we must work to accomplish.
We called previously and we call now that despite all the positives measures taken which we recognize and appreciate, we hope that combating Islamophobia will be transformed by the federal government into clear policy. Especially as we are approaching the stage of elections during the next two years and the time may not be sufficient to implement the promises made by the current government about confronting Islamophobia since with the arrival of a new government after the elections – we do not know its nature- it may lead to a cooling in interest in this issue.
What about the Quebec government?
As for the Quebec government, there is no indication that the Legault government took the matter seriously. The CAQ government does not recognize the existence of Islamophobia in the first place, as Mr. Legault has referred to this position many times. Although, the provincial government tackling what Muslims Quebecers are exposed to, in terms of bigotry and hatred, is not at the same level as the federal government. However, this does not mean that the Quebec provincial government encourages hate incidents, of course not. This phenomena is certainly not limited to Quebec, but its widespread to other provinces as well. Generally speaking, across the country, the provincial governments’ dealings with the Islamophobic hate incidents are not at the same level as the federal counterpart.
Voicing our concerns about Islamophobia is a normal course of actions and this is our right as citizens and residents of this country because we are subject to grievances and we have the right to express it. Confronting Islamophobia is everyone’s responsibility. There is no doubt that governments have responsibilities not to give the green light to discrimination under any pretexts . Any government’s policies that give itself the right to discriminate between citizens based on their backgrounds is a green light for “populist” and “extremist” groups in society to move forward with their fanaticism. When the “extremists” see that the effects of some government policies discriminate between citizens, this becomes a motive for them to further extremism. Here discrimination becomes an ordinary matter, which is a very dangerous matter, and this is what we notice in some of Europe and in many other places around the globe.
What about Canadian civil society?
I I have already mentioned in a previous article in the Huffington Post that confronting Islamophobia is not only the concern of Muslims alone, but rather it is a Canadian concern. And this is what the FMC-CMF sought when we set out towards the Canadian Parliament and towards civil society and politicians in the past since 2009 until our present time and in the future that God willing.
The main concern was to turn the issue into a Canadian concern. There was success with the grace of God and concerted efforts, to turn the subject matter into a national concern. This makes it imperative for all concerned departments to combat racism and discrimination and targeting of citizens on the basis of their religious or other affiliation. This should include all provincial governments departments, police authorities, schools, educational institutions and workplaces. It should not be limited to the issue of targeting Muslims only , especially since there are other communities that are also targeted, such as African Canadians, Jews and Asians. We refuse bashing the white race in anyway. When discrimination begins, no one will be spared at all.
What is the responsibility of the community here in putting an end to the exposure of Muslims, men and women, to hatred?
The Muslim community has responsibilities, the most important of which is not to compromise on identity and convictions, because bargaining pushes the “offenders” to increase their “aggressions” and be more emboldened. Secondly, that it does not compromise its security and dignity, and that it does not accept submissive submission. This is extremely important. But this is not meant to be violent confrontation, never. But that a person does not accept humiliation and abandonment of identity. the more we preserve our identity and respect to others, targeting the community will fail from whatever side and through any means. He also stressed the need not to stagnate”.
Another issue that is necessary in the framework of combating Islamophobia is not to withdraw into oneself. Self confinement and isolation makes you unknown; ignorance is among the causes of Islamophobia. Some people are ignorant of Muslims and at the same time they hear a lot of fabrications about Islam in some biased media and social media outlets. Therefore, we have to be part of the society and work for its good, not only within the community’s institutions, but also in the wider society, through volunteer work; caring for the elderly, food banks, helping the homeless, and others.
Our fellow citizens must know who we are and what our “identity” is. Even we have to keep our given names, which are an expression of this identity so that everyone knows who you are, thus appreciating what you do. We do not call it haphazard, but it has been tested through dozens of experiences that we have gone through, whether on a personal or collective level.
It has been proven that the more we contribute to the good of this country and the more we are part of the participation in the concerns of its citizens while preserving the identity, the greater the respect for will be and the greater the interest in helping and standing by the community. The people of our beloved Canada and Quebec have a lot of good in them and they respect people and their rights, but sometimes we find that there are those who fall into the clutches of what is published on social media and hatred without realizing that ignorance of us, our culture and our history contributes to that.
Do you have a final word?
It is true that Islamophobia have increased and that there is a state of psychological and moral pressure on the members of the community, but at the same time we must point out in loud and clear that we are not in a state of war. We are not in a society that is all bad or all racist. Quebec is not racist and neither are Alberta and Ontario or any other region. Canada is not racist either. Yes, there are undesirable events that happen and there are, as mentioned, bad “apples elements”. These elements are loud, but they do not represent the society. The Society in general is an open and inclusive one. We are members of this society, we have rights we have as we have duties . Our duty is to respect the laws, pay the taxes, participate and follow the norms. At the same time, we have rights, and they are not a favours given by anyone.
My message in particular to our youth is to be proud of your affiliation and your convictions and to participate in the society and strive for its good of which you are a part of.
In conclusion, I would like to pay tribute to Sada Al-Mashreq newspaper and its pivotal role in spreading awareness, uniting the community, uniting efforts, and spreading the news in the Arabic language, which remains for the so many the main language. Thank you and we ask God to assist us all to cooperate for the good.