Islamophobia in Canada

Islamophobia in Canada

by

Howard Adelman

According to Amira Elghawaby, spokesperson for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the term “Islamophobia” as used in Canada describes the irrational fear or hatred of Muslims that leads to discrimination or acts of harassment or violence. One week after Trump’s rant, on 23 February 2017 in Ontario, Canada, the legislature passed a unanimous motion condemning Islamophobia. The motion was spurred by the shooting deaths of six worshippers and wounding 19 others in a mosque in Quebec. But it was also a response to local incidents in Ottawa (anti-Muslim graffiti, and the spitting at young women wearing hijabs). The Ontario legislature motion was introduced by Liberal backbencher Nathalie Des Rosiers from the Ottawa riding of Ottawa-Vanier. It called on the legislature to “stand against all forms of hatred, hostility, prejudice, racism and intolerance,” and to rebuke a “growing tide of anti-Muslim rhetoric and sentiments.” The motion called for a condemnation of “all forms of Islamophobia.”

Canadians across the country had rallied to demonstrate their support for besieged Muslims. Flowers and several hand-made signs were placed outside Masjid Al-Iman mosque in Victoria in the wake of the deadly shooting in Quebec on 30 January. My own rabbi was one of leaders who helped form a circle of peace around a mosque in Toronto.

The Muslim community in Canada, feeling singled out as never before, felt justified in wanting the legislatures across Canada, especially the federal parliament, to go further. Amira Elghawaby asked the federal government not only to take steps to combat Islamophobia and support M-103, a federal parliamentary motion to condemn Islamophobia, but to declare 29 January, the date of the Quebec shooting, a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia.

In the federal legislature, the debate has been different than the one in Ontario. The motion was similar and the non-binding motion M-103 called on the government to “recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear,” The full private member’s motion read as follows:

In the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear; (b) condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and take note of House of Commons’ petition e-411 and the issues raised by it; and (c) request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study on how the government could (i) develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada, while ensuring a community-centered focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making, [my italics – do you understand what that means? Is this addressed to the general reader? It is political gibberish.] (ii) collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities, and that the Committee should present its findings and recommendations to the House no later than 240 calendar days from the adoption of this motion, provided that in its report, the Committee should make recommendations that the government may use to better reflect the enshrined rights and freedoms in the Constitution Acts, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau supported the motion, arguing that the Muslim community is currently “particularly vulnerable these days to intolerance and discrimination.” At the federal level, the Progressive Conservative party, or many of its MPs, took a different tack than their Ontario cousins and opposed the inclusion of Islamophobia in a general resolution condemning the rise of that type of speech or action. Federal Conservatives insisted that the federal motion should be opposed because it singles out one religious group over others. Many Conservative MPs opposed the inclusion of Islamophobia in a general resolution condemning the rise of that type of speech or action, fearing a suppression of free speech would result.

Some federal Conservatives supported the motion, such as South Surrey-White Rock B.C. Conservative MP Dianne Watts. Conservative leadership candidate Michael Chong also supported the motion. “In light of the mass shooting at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City suburb of Sainte-Foy last month, where six Muslims were killed and 19 injured while they prayed in their mosque, it is appropriate and important that Canadian parliamentarians study the issue of anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic prejudice and discrimination.” He denied the argument that the motion could be used to curtail freedom of speech simply because Islamophobia is not defined. After all, Section 319 of the Criminal Code goes even further and makes it an offence to wilfully promote or publicly incite hatred against any identifiable group which, incidentally, Chong would repeal because the section sets too high a standard on non-hate speech.

Other Conservatives have argued that many definitions of Islamophobia include “dislike” of Islam and its adherents as part of the definition. The motion could potentially put a damper on free speech. Kellie Leitch (Conservative, Simcoe-Gray), another leadership candidate for the opposition party, claimed that she was fighting back “against politically correct nonsense.” Maxime Bernier, Andrew Scheer, Brad Trost, Chris Alexander, Kevin O’Leary and Erin O’Toole, other candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party, also criticized the motion condemning Islamophobia.

Barbara Kay, a national columnist, argued that there are many more anti-Semitic incidents, let alone statements, targeting, Jews. 181 hate-motivated crimes targeting the Jewish religion were reported in 2013; there were 65 crimes motivated by hatred against the Muslim religion. (There will be more on anti-Semitism in a subsequent blog.) Breitbart News went even further and noted that the motion never mentioned anti-Semitism or anti-Christian discrimination and suggested that the latter occurs far more often in Canada than victimization of Muslims, but provided no data to back up such a claim.

In the federal legislature, a Conservative motion virtually identical to Khalid’s, except that it excised the term “Islamophobia,” was defeated 165-126 as Liberals, New Democrats, Bloc Québécois and Green Party leader Elizabeth May, voted against the motion.

There have been a few indications that labeling something as motivated by Islamophobia could result in curbing free speech. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation objected to Mark Steyn’s 2006 book, America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It, precisely on such grounds. Steyn was not content to rail against Islam, or, more precisely, its radical interpretations, but expressed the fear that, because of internal weaknesses, largely attributed to bleeding heart liberals and their moral and cultural relativism promoting multiculturalism, combined with an increase in the Muslim population and demographic decline of native non-Muslim populations, as well as the economic unsustainability of the social democratic state, a day might come when the call to prayer from a muezzin on a loudspeaker would become widespread. In a much more fearsome scenario, Talibanic enforcers would cruise Greenwich Village burning books and barber shops. The Supreme Court was imagined as having decided that Sharia law did not violate the “separation of church and state.” Steyn also dismissed the fear of climate change as an imminent danger as irrational.

While many condemned the book as Islamophobic, Christopher Hitchens gave it a rave review. George W. Bush recommended it to his staff. Ironically, promoters of Islamic exceptionalism agreed with Steyn in condemning Western relativism. The movers of the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights (http://www.fmreview.org/sites/fmr/files/FMRdownloads/en/FMRpdfs/Human-Rights/cairo.pdf), the member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, could be included. That human rights doctrine criticized the Western tradition of human rights as sometimes conflicting with Sharia law. This Islamic iteration of human rights included the usual litany that required protection and actions to be condemned – “discrimination on the basis of race, colour, language, belief, gender, political affiliation, social status and even religion.”

The defence of the freedom of speech in Article 22(a), however, was conditional not absolute. Expression cannot be “contrary to the practices of Shariah,” “the sole source of human rights,” not human nature. Article 24 states: “All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Sharia.”
Conflicts arose over the definition of gender rights since women have specific duties to perform and men are given primary responsibility for the social and financial protection of the family. Equality is only guaranteed to men. Women do not have the right to marry a non-Muslim or to have more than one spouse and cannot initiate divorce without the consent of their husbands. In Iran, a Muslim woman can only marry a non-Muslim man if he can produce evidence that he had converted to Islam. Most specifically, Article 10 of the Declaration calls Islam “the religion of unspoiled nature” and prohibits conversion to another religion or atheism if compulsion or economic incentives and exploitation or even ignorance is allegedly used, leaving the barn door wide open for condemning virtually any conversion from Islam as an abuse of human rights.

This is not simply an abstract principle. As a 2014 U.S. State Department report documented, societal discrimination against non-Muslims is rampant in Muslim-majority countries. In 2013, in Iran, though the sentence of death as provided in law is no longer used, converts have been sentenced to an average of over three years of served time, lashes and fines for “apostasy.”

For someone committed to the Western tradition of human rights, the Cairo declaration on human rights not only has many lacunae, but provides a rationale for the abuse of human rights under the guise of protecting human rights and explicitly states that the Declaration is intended to limit the application of the UN universal declaration of human rights. There is, therefore, a difference between criticisms of Islam, dislike of Islam and discrimination against individual Muslims. The latter is forbidden in the Western human rights tradition. The former two are clearly not forbidden, and, further, are protected. You have a right to criticize Islam. You have a right to dislike Islam. You have no right to discriminate against Muslims.

Since the term Islamophobic is not restricted to discriminatory behaviour, but includes attitudes such as “dislike,” there is a real and not just a rhetorical problem. However, there is also a problem in cases where criticisms and dislike of Islam are used as justification for discrimination against Muslims.

On the other hand, there is a difference between condemning Steyn’s book as Islamophobic and banning the book. The Cairo Declaration of Human Rights defined Islamophobia as a rights violation without ensuring that the criticism of Islam was guaranteed as a right. It is clearly possible, especially given the record of Islamic states, that individuals educated as Muslims might be more prone not only to condemn a book like that of Steyn, but ban it.

In Canada, we can be proud that many Muslims occupy important political positions and are excellent representatives of all their constituents with no indication that they confuse “dislike” and “criticisms” with their condemnation of Islamophobia. In addition to former members of parliament – Rahim Jaffer, Wajid Khan – these include Ontario Liberal MPPs: Shafiq Qaadri, Etobicoke, Omar Alghabra, Mississauga Centre, Khalil Ramat, London-Fanshawe, as well as the Attorney General of Ontario, Yasir Naqvi. In the federal parliament, we find Yasmin Ratansi, Liberal Don Valley East, and Maryam Monsef, Liberal, Peterborough, who is Minister of Status of Women in the Justin Trudeau government. Perhaps most notable of all, and with a reputation as possibly the best mayor in all of Canada, is Naheed Nenshi, Mayor of Calgary. Not one can be justly accused of subordinating Canadian law and the Western human rights tradition to the Cairo Declaration of human rights and Sharia law.

But there are also Muslim citizens of Canada who are not terrorists or supporters of terrorism, but who believe that Canadian law should be subordinated to Sharia law. I am critical of them just as I am critical of Jews and Christians with whom I disagree. I am critical of some Jewish and Christian religious practices and some expressions of each of those faiths. But it is also true that some aspects of Islam pose a much greater challenge to the Western liberal tradition than twenty-first century Christianity and Judaism. It is my right as a Canadian to offer well-intentioned and constructive critiques of religious practices or ideologies. However, I see no core inconsistency between a defense of the right to criticize and a suspicion of some Islamic beliefs and practices and a condemnation of Islamophobia.

There is a real problem that when Islamophobia also includes a dislike of Islam as well as an irrational fear of and prejudice against Muslims. There is a danger that the term can be misused. Irwin Cotler may be correct in stating that the term anti-Muslim prejudice might be preferable to Islamophobia. But a term and phrase is best understood in terms of current practices and real life situations that threaten the lives and well-being of Muslims. Also, although I too might have quibbles about a motion opposing Islamophobia and even harsher criticisms of some aspects of Islam, which should not be interpreted as resentment of Islam, I strongly support a motion condemning Islamophobia for I radically disagree with the contention that some Conservatives made that, “there no phobia of Islam in Canada.”

When federal Conservatives opposed the motion because it singles out one religious group over others and feared a suppression of free speech would result, it is important to recognize that the motion singles out one religious group precisely because this religious group was singled out. Also, the fear of suppressing free speech is rubbish. If you are rigorous enough, there will be no suppression. Only those who are drawn to slippery slopes may have to face the consequences. Bensoussan is but one example. He could have easily extricated himself from his predicament.

As far as Islamophobia goes, its practical acceptance as anti-Muslim sentiment is equivalent to the acceptance of anti-Semitism as anti-Jewish prejudice, in spite of the fact that Arabs are also Semites, inviting the facetious argument that anti-Semitism should be extended to cover Arabs as well. Is the term anti-Jewish prejudice preferable to anti-Semitism?

I see no evidence that the support for a motion condemning Islamophobia in any way puts the slightest dent in our belief in freedom of speech. Further, when a man is president of the United States who offers repeated evidence of being Islamophobic, it is all the more important to condemn Islamophobic expressions. I believe that the Canadian Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) opposing the federal motion on Islamophobia on grounds that the motion, “requires us to silence legitimate concerns or suppress a public conversation about those strains of Islam that pose a real and imminent threat to Jews around the world” is not only unjustified but irrational. The motion in context has no such requirement.

The motion M-103 is not the source of “alienation and dissonance” as CIJA is wont to believe. In my estimation, CIJA’s opposition has its roots in understandable Jewish fears. I can understand where CIJA is coming from as I explore the new face of anti-Semitism in my next blog.

With the help of Alex Zisman

e Principles of Persuasion

The Principles of Persuasion
by
Howard Adelman

Reason (and history as I argued in my thesis) begins not with explaining events or actions, but with incongruencies, with different and incompatible ways of interpreting events. That means that in persuasion we must set up procedures to offset a confirmation bias, the propensity to simply use and even twist information to reinforce strong beliefs. And it can be a matter of life or death. I just watched part of a television show on Pearl Harbour and, in part, it dealt with the question of why the information Washington had in advance of the attack on Pearl Harbour wasn’t sent to the naval base there, if only to take precautions. One major suspicion is that there was a propensity to disbelieve such information because it contradicted previous analyses of what the Japanese in 1941 would and would not do.

One heuristic technique to get around confirmation bias is to have the two sides conduct the discussion with each party arguing the other’s position. The argument can be about a complex but still rather specific problem, such as the efficaciousness of voucher school programs on costs and results. Or it can be about whether evidence pointing to a Trump campaign-Russian link was a real problem or one concocted by the Democrats. Advice: avoid such complex or even intermediate problems and begin by sticking to ones that are reasonably easy to solve – such as massive voter fraud in the presidential election. Does the data support such a claim or refute it, or does the claim have very different meanings?

However, as soon as one tries to do this, one recognizes the merit of Gorgias’s second goal of rhetoric – but not expressed as a positive aim of acquiring power, but as a negative one of preventing being taken advantage of by the other with whom one is in discussion. Socrates was a whiz at this, pleading ignorance and then leading the other down well-trod paths to contradicting himself. This is a central problem and why, perhaps because of evolution, winning arguments and, therefore, status and power, becomes more important than reasoning together towards the best resolution of a problem.

Further, that propensity can be correlated with another – the more we have a vested interest in an issue, the more we are likely to dig in our heels and insist we are correct. The more intense one feels, the less willing one is to put one’s own views under a microscope. The following guidelines are about inverting inclinations.

Topic      Inclination         Guideline

Goal   Necessary truth     Freedom to choose
Power over others Prevent being                                                      disempowered
Explain Clear and Distinct Equivocation                         Ideas
Action/Events      Incongruencies
Standard Indubitability     Analytic truth is not
persuasion
Confirmation (Bias) Falsifiability
Conditions More we know More we know                        better off               less we can trust
Group thought      Group thought                     reinforces belief   undermines belief

I have already clarified the first four inclinations and the suggested guidelines to override them. Let me expand on the last four. Plato over the archway entrance to his academy had the slogan, “Let no one ignorant of geometry enter.” It was important for he used analogies – such as the metaphor of the divided line – to convey different degrees of conviction or knowledge. Further, the highest form of knowledge was viewed as mathematics for its conclusions were certain. This was a modern trope from Descartes onward who sought knowledge that was certain and indubitable.

As I explained in my last blog, mathematics is not a model for persuasion for it leads, not to making choices, but to only one true answer. Persuasion is intended to establish the better choice when there are at least two real options. Rhetoric is based on dialectic and not deduction and deals with the skills of persuasion on any subject of debate – excluding mathematics and pure physics. The art applies to virtually all other subjects.

Torture is not an art of persuasion but a means of intimidation which sometimes extracts knowledge, but perhaps as often or even more often merely extracts what the torturer wants to hear. Evidence given under oath or verified by science are also not part of rhetoric itself, but merely methods of providing material for the art of persuasion. External factors may be used to assess the quality of evidence offered or the integrity of the person offering the evidence based on his or her character, but these are not guidelines on how to persuade, but about the conditions that will make the art of persuasion more likely to lead to assent.

In that regard, the character of the person offering the evidence may be critical. But it is also true, as can be seen in the relationship between Trump and his followers that believers in Trump will simply disqualify evidence offered by critics who insist he is not telling the truth, and then use the criticisms to reinforce their beliefs. What is intended to falsify is inverted to become evidence to verify prior beliefs.

Therefore, contrary to what Aristotle believed, credibility may not be, and most often is not, a factor in enhancing persuasion. It may be a consequence of what we already believe rather than a condition of forming a belief. Thus, if the liberal press is considered an enemy of the people, the columnists will lack credibility in the eyes of Trump supporters whatever their stellar records as journalists and interpreters of events.  That is why cited examples, just as in the case of the character of the speaker, can be used to reinforce confirmation bias rather than undermine it. We argue by offering examples. However, we should argue by questioning the examples on offer. It is best if arguments are not used to confirm what we already believe, but as a tool to try to falsify what we think is true.

There is another very different conviction that leads us into error. Socrates believed we should start with the premise of our ignorance. René Descartes urged us to begin an inquiry by initially doubting anything that we could not immediately believe to be certain. But the process of developing false convictions is not undermined by scepticism, but reinforced by knowledge. The more knowledge we have and the more knowledge seemingly at our disposal, the less we are inclined to question what we know. We must reverse the starting point – not starting with a tabula rasa, but by acknowledging that the more we know, the less we can trust. Further, contrary to Aristotle’s belief that we should start with self-evident truths, we must start with the conviction that no proposition entailing choice is self-evident. That is a characteristic only of the analytic propositions.

Ask yourself how a toilet works. Ask yourself why sleep is beneficial. Most persons will offer an opinion and many with considerable certainty. There are a myriad of questions about day to day knowledge of working and operating something – especially if the activity in question is direct and rather simple and very familiar operations – where an assured answer will come forth which, on further inquiry, can be shown to be totally erroneous. The take away: the more we know, the more we must distrust that we know. Familiarity should breed scepticism.

Finally, the more our friends and associates agree with us, the firmer we hold to such beliefs. Hence the expression: different groups live in different bubbles and only listen to what confirms previous biases. What we must do is use groups to question, not reinforce, our beliefs and to use a network of thinking to develop sounder grounds for a conviction.

Let me end with a story. It appeared in the latest Tablet in Mark Weitzmann’s essay, “Is the Shoah Memorial in Paris Home to a Racist? The troubling case of Holocaust historian Georges Bensoussan, on trial for ‘incitement to racial hatred,’ pits French anti-racists against anti-Semites.” As will be discussed in a subsequent blog, the latter conclusion after the depiction of the case, that it “pits French racists against anti-Semites,” is a mistaken description.

The essay begins: “This is a story about permissible and impermissible ways to use words in post-terror France.” The premise of Georges’ editorial work at the Shoah Memorial in Paris was that the genocide of the Jews was a result of collective cultural history rather than an anomaly. The book that brought him to notoriety was called, Les Territoires perdus de la république. In it, principals and teachers testified that anti-Semitism, sexism and racism were rife in the banlieues of Paris among students from North African Muslim countries. Was this an exercise in Islamophobia or a revelation of a new cultural source for anti-Semitism? Jews and Muslims lined up to defend Georges, but political correctness produced a whole host of accusers. Events outstripped the debate as anti-Semitic incidents mounted in both frequency and severity.

As Georges publicly denounced this new source of atavistic anti-Semitism, quoting a source described as an Algerian sociologist to reinforce his position, he insisted that, anti-Semitism among North African Muslims “is suckled along with mother’s milk.” The expression became a plain for fierce intellectual battles and eventually for charges being laid against Georges for what we in Canada term “Islamophobia,” especially when the very sociologist he cited, Laacher, denied he had said or implied that there was any “biological” system of transferring anti-Semitism from one generation to another. Further, he resented the use of a metaphor to summarize his findings which were about the persistence of anti-Semitism passed on from parents to children by using the term “Jew” as an insult.

Let me quote from Weitzmann: “in French the same word – la langue
designates both language and the physical organ.” “Language,” Laacher told me, “is the collective component through which the individual expresses himself. It speaks us as much as we speak it. And it never speaks randomly; it is always meaningful. As we are spoken by the tongue, collective values and feelings, what we call a culture, is being passed on. Of course, this includes the passing on of negative feelings and passions such as hate.”

If the metaphor is at all accurate, then what is passed on through a mother’s milk cannot be expelled; it is part of your very being. If, however, it is part of a language code, human beings are capable of altering that code. Further, Laacher resented being called an Algerian since he was born in France and even needed a visa to do his research in Algeria. The irony was that Georges, a Jew, was born in Morocco. So Laacher filed a libel suit against Georges.

Only in France one might say, only in the land that worships clear and distinct ideas, only in the land where intellectuals are mostly wedded to a world of Truth versus Falsehood, to status in the intellectual world, to explaining events rather than puzzles, a country where indubitability is the holy grail, a country plagued by the disease of French intellectuals of confirmation bias, a country where intellectuals glory in displaying how much they know rather than the greater ignorance that accompanies greater knowledge, a country that celebrates intellectuals as stars and celebrities instead of recognizing that all good thought as well as bad is reinforced by a collective enterprise.

In other words, in the use of words, in the display of rhetoric, whether about words themselves or about wearing a headscarf, France is culturally disposed to oppositional intellectualism rather than dialogue and conversation. There are, of course, many exceptions. Emmanuel Levinas stands out as a prominent example. But the condition is deeply rooted in the French cultural fabric.

This may help explain why two scholars, who are 99% on the same side, would come to intellectual and legal blows. Or it may not. For they smoked a peace pipe over their differences, only to see the matter taken up by a Muslim institution, CCIF, the Collectif Contre l’Islamophobie en France.

Empirical investigation may point to a totally non-intellectual and non-cultural cause of the dispute. But the controversy hopefully both takes us away from the land of Trump while revealing the destructive work of rhetoric and the tools of persuasion while, paradoxically, extolling the positive value of rhetoric. Further, it will serve to introduce two forthcoming blogs, one on Islamophobia, where I will return to the Georges versus CCIF legal dispute when the government took up CCIF’s complaint and charged Georges with “incitement to racial hatred.” I will also write a second blog on anti-Semitism to understand how rhetoric can both confound as well as clear up gross misunderstandings, and how anti-Islamophobia may possibly be connected with anti-Semitism as the League Against Anti-Semitism and Racism. France’s B’nai Brith, joined the battle, initially backing Georges, but eventually joining CCIF in the suit. Only in France!

I cannot apologize enough on behalf of all philosophers and intellectuals for how absurd the world really is.

With the help of Alex Zisman