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Quebec City terrorism, Islamophobia and solidarity

John Bell

February 2, 2017

The terrorist attack on the Quebec City mosque took the lives of six innocent men: their names were Azzedine Soufiane (57), Khaled Belkacemi (60), Aboubaker Thabti (44), Abdelkrim Hassane (41), Mamadou Tanou Barry (42) and Ibrahima Barry (39). Another 19 were wounded, with two still in critical condition.

The killer is Alexandre Bissonette (27). Emerging details paint the picture of a right-wing ideologue who has expressed strong anti-immigrant opinions on social media. On facebook, he was a follower of French neo-fascist National Front leader Marine Le Pen, the Israel Defence Force, Islamophobic atheist Richard Dawkins and Donald Trump. A fellow Laval University student described Bissonette: “He has political ideas on the right, pro-Israel, anti-immigration. I had a number of debates with him about Trump. He was obviously pro-Trump.”

It is likely that the timing of Bisonnette’s attack is linked to Trump’s election, and particularly the imposition of the anti-Muslim travel ban. There has been a rise in reported racist incidents and hate crimes on both sides of the border since the election.

Racist response to a racist crime

Initial media reports erroneously said there were two shooters, and one of them was Muslim. Some outlets even said there were cries of “Allahu akbar” during the attack. Right-wing media were quick to label the attack “Islamic terrorism.”

It turned out that the second “suspect”, Mohamed Belkhadir (29) was a witness who called police. Police mistook him for a suspect when he was attempting to aid the wounded. Some news services, like Rueters and Fox News were slow to remove reports that Belkhadir was a suspect long after police cleared him. It took several days and a strongly worded letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office to get Fox News to change the information on its website.

In the US, Trump press secretary and alternative facts aficionado Sean Spicer tried to use the shooting to justify Trump’s Executive Order to ban travel from a number of predominantly Muslim nations. "It's a terrible reminder of why we must remain vigilant. And why the president is taking steps to be proactive, not reactive,'' Spicer said during his Monday press briefing. Of course, the work of a home-grown white-nationalist terrorist proves to exact opposite.

In Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau was quick to condemn the racist attack, calling it terrorism. Vague talk about offering sanctuary for people stranded by Trump’s travel ban later turned out to be just talk, but at least it cut against knee-jerk racism. The same can’t be said for the Conservative Party, scrambling to grab the coat-tails of Trump’s success.

Tory leadership candidate Lisa Raitt used the opportunity to attack Trudeau for forcing Fox News to set the record straight: “We’ve got jobs leaving the country, we have had a terrible tragedy in Quebec City. So why do you pick fights with the American news media?” Evidently it is more important to suck up to Fox and Trump than to challenge Islamophobia.

Another Tory leadership hopeful, Kellie Leitch, has made dog-whistle racism and calls to screen all immigrants for some nebulous “Canadian values.” Her initial reaction to the terror attack was a weasel-worded facebook posting the refused to identify the people shot as Muslims, or the targeted “house of worship” as a mosque. Ever the right-wing opportunist, she ran ads touting her call for more stringent immigrant screening next to ongoing coverage of the shooting in Le Journal du Montreal.

Some of Leitch’s constituents drew a connection between her barely veiled Islamophobia and the terror attack; they hung a banner naming the shooting victims on her Collingwood office.

Leitch was outdone by her campaign manager, Nick Kouvalis. When Emmett Macfarlane, an academic and constitutional expert challenged Leitch’s racist campaign, Kouvalis responded on Twitter using the language common on so-called “alt-right” web sites: “‪@EmmMacfarlane‪ 2/3rds of Canadians want what Kellie is talking about. You've weakened a nation today. Live with your treason. Cuck. Serious.”

Turning over more rocks, we find Sun columnist Tarek Fatah and neo-fascist gadfly Ezra Levant. Disappointed that there was no Muslim second shooter, and that there was some sort of Islamic conspiracy behind it all. Fatah tweeted: “Seems Cdn and Quebec govts trying cover-up. Muslim shooter in #Quebecshooting turns into state’s witness erasing talk of MuslimonMuslim attack.” Levant’s Rebel website also hinted at a conspiracy, and used the terror attack as a fund-raising tool.

Racism in Quebec and Canada

One reaction to the terror attack is that it happened in Quebec City because Quebec is more racist than English Canada. The National Post and the Globe and Mail both report an “enormous spike” in hate crime reported in Montreal since the shooting.

The Parti Quebecois has long flirted with racist rhetoric and practices like calling for a ban on women wearing the hijab. This is particularly true under current leader Jean-François Lisée, who has used thinly veiled racism, similar to Kellie Leitch on the national scene, to buoy the sinking fortunes of the PQ.

Racism and, in the present circumstances Islamophobia, are the dark side of nationalism. Nationalism takes a particular form in Quebec, but the rest of Canada is not immune from racism in any of its forms: anti-Black racial profiling and police violence, discriminatory hiring, cultural genocide waged against First Nations, and even anti-Francophone bigotry. And while Trudeau has correctly showed support for the victims and their families, he is continuing to wage racist wars against Iraq and Syria, while supporting the racist "anti-terror" law Bill C-51.

The Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline in BC also reports a marked jump in reported incidents since the shooting. Spokesperson Hasan Alam linked the violence back to politicians like Trump, Leitch and Lisée: “These sorts of rhetoric give tacit approval for anti-Muslim bigotry and have contributed toward making Muslim Canadians more vulnerable.”

Toronto saw a poster campaign attempting to recruit to white supremacist groups in the wake of Trump’s election. In Edmonton, the University of Alberta campus was littered with racist leaflets headlined “Fuck Your Turban,” and advertising the far-right group, Immigration Watch Canada. A racist street gang called Soldiers of Odin has popped up in Calgary, Vancouver, Yukon and elsewhere.

Neo-nazi and fascist groups exist across Canada; Islamophobia is their major recruiting tool. Here, as in the US, terrorist violence is far more likely to originate from far-right and racist groups and individuals like Bisonnette.

At the time of writing comes news that the Trump administration is pushing to have far-right and neo-nazi groups removed from the government’s Countering Extreme Violence programme, and renaming it Countering Radical Islamic Extremism.

Solidarity and support

In response to the terror attack there has been the outpouring of public support and solidarity toward the Quebec City Muslim community, and groups and mosques across Canada.

Typical was the meeting held by neighbours at the Islamic Information Centre on Toronto’s Bloor Street. People brought flowers, students from nearby schools sent bags of support letters, and visitors dropped in to express grief and solidarity with their Muslim neighbours. Vigils and rallies sprang up, spontaneously at first, and more are planned for the coming days.

Join the National Days of Action Against Islamophobia and Deportations, February 4-5 

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