Around 80 people gathered at the Université du Québec en Outaouais in Hull on November 17 at a very diverse public meeting to demystify Islam and speak openly about Islamophobia. The meeting was organized by the local association of Québec solidaire (QS) in the region, which sent out 2,500 postcards about the event to homes in the area in an effort to build awareness among larger numbers who may not attend.
QS is a party that challenges the narrow identity politics of the Parti Quebecois—and the overtly Islamophobic leadership campaign of its current leader, Jean-Francois Lisée—but also challenges the false “multiculturalism” of the Quebec Liberals, who have brought in so-called “anti-radicalization” measures that target Quebec Muslims, as well Bill 62, which aims at a partial ban on the niqab.
QS runs candidates in provincial elections, but also aims to be a party of the streets on the key issues of austerity, climate justice, feminism, homophobia, gender identity, self-determination for First Nations and Inuit, and racism. This has meant criticism in the National Assembly of Bill 62 and the PQ’s Charter of Values, but also support in the community for those standing up to the real effects of Islamophobia in Quebec.
QS-Hull invited two speakers to address the topic of Islamophobia: Dalila Awada and Haroun Bouazzi. Dalila Awada is an MA student in Sociology at UQAM), and speaks principally on women’s rights, racism and Islamophobia. She is a blogger for the Montreal magazine VOIR and co-founder of the foundation "Paroles de Femmes'' (« Women’s Words »), a non-profit for racialized women. Haroun Bouazzi is co-founder and co-president of the “Association des Musulmans et des Arabes pour la Laïcité au Québec (AMAL-Québec)” and is involved in struggles against racism, Islamophobia, antisemitism, homophobia and sexism.
The speakers had visual presentations documenting the way Islam and Muslims are portrayed in the media, both Quebec and internationally, as “us” and “them.” They clearly explained why Islamophobia is a form of racism and talked about the hyprocrisy of targeting Muslim women for what they wear in the name of women’s rights.
Haroun Bouazzi exposed comments by Quebec politicians that have fed into this discourse, including comments by Quebec solidaire MNAs, but also praised QS for being able to debate and evolve on the issue, and to prove an ally to Quebec Muslims in practice by holding meetings like this one. The speakers talked about how systemic racism requires a systemic solution, of the kind Bernie Sanders represented against Trump.
The discussion was extremely broad and lively, with people asking honest questions about the misconceptions of Islam. One woman commented that she wanted to be assured that women who wear the hijab do so willingly, and Dalila Awada, who wears a hijab, replied that she cannot assure her that is the case, any more than we can be assured that women of any background have complete choice over what they wear and the many codes of behaviour imposed on them, since sexism, like racism, is systemic.
The meeting was also addressed from the floor by two important guests: the Imam of the Hull mosque, and the priest of the local parish. They spoke about how the two of them work together as a coalition to organize community events in the Hull region.
Haroun Bouazzi ended his comments by saying that the time is now for true “radicalization” not for being “moderate,” in response to those terms being used against Muslims: “We must be as radical as possible for social justice.”
QS-Hull spokesperson Benoit Renaud brought the gathering to an end with a reminder that the root causes of Islamophobia are the drive to war and scapegoating which must be actively opposed and encouraged the audience to get on the list for future public events and activities of QS in the region.