“’Islamaphobia’ is a word created by fascists and used by cowards to manipulate morons.”
– Christopher Hitchens
On Thursday, parliamentarians in the Canadian House of Commons officially adopted an anti-“Islamaphobia” motion. Talks of adopting this effort began shortly after an assailant killed six worshippers at a mosque in Quebec. The vote passed 201 to 91. After the motion was accepted, MP Iqra Khalid, stated:
“I’m really happy that the vote today has shown positive support for this motion and I’m really looking forward to the committee taking on this study.”
The motion contained three focal points:
“1. Condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.
2. Quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear.
3. Compel the Commons heritage committee to develop a government-wide approach for reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination, including Islamophobia.”
It is important to draw attention to the fact that the motion passed with relative ease. It is difficult to imagine, however, that Canadian MP’s have such little concern for the consequences of this action. One key area for concern is the motion’s failure to explicit define what constitutes Islamaphobia. Moreover by saying “all forms,” this language may result in restricting genuine criticisms of the religion. This removes one of the fundamental principles of a free society: free speech. Without the blessings of free speech and the freedom to criticize harmful religious practices, we, as human beings, would not able to reform the more sinister aspects of religion including, for example, the unequal treatment of women. There are valid reasons to demand reforms within the Muslim community, including for the purpose of constructive assimilation into the Canadian national identity.
This motion demonstrates why Canada is seen as a benign and overly-accommodating country. We are inclusive of differing opinions to the point where our own convictions no longer matter. This motion is a setback to all who believe in the freedom to express concerns about certain religious practices. As individuals, we all have rights. Our ideas, however, do not. The freedom to criticize a group’s beliefs or suggest it reform certain practices that are outside the mainstream of Canadian values is central to democracy. But ironically enough, taking away the ability to criticize freely a group’s practices may actually embolden extremists, who truly are prejudiced against Muslims in Canada. The broad language in motions such as these can be interpreted to prohibit even moderate or reasonable criticisms of certain Islamic practices and undermine the fundamental democratic right to freedom of speech and expression.
Andrew Paul is an Indian-Canadian freelance writer living in Ontario.