Kamal Al-Solaylee is an associate professor of journalism at Ryerson University and author of Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (to Everyone), published by HarperCollins Canada.
Alexandre Bissonnette may turn out to be a self-radicalized lone wolf. He is charged with six counts of first-degree murder after a Sunday-night attack that left six innocent men – Muslim fathers, brothers and sons – dead and more critically wounded. But this deadly, hate-filled night in Quebec City was part of a larger drama featuring a cast of Canadian and international politicians in leading and supporting roles.
That the accused has been said to support Donald Trump or began to show interest in far-right politics after French nationalist leader Marine Le Pen's visit to Quebec City last March is to be expected. Yet the made-in-Canada contributions to the culture of hate against Muslims, immigrants and refugees must be called out if this great country is to avoid the populist extremism taking over many liberal democracies.
For those of us who identify as Muslim, Sunday's attack challenges what we believe and love about Canada – its acceptance and diversity – and confirms a disturbing undercurrent we've suspected all along. This mixed messaging in Canadian culture and politics has paraded us as poster citizens of multiculturalism while, in some increasingly vocal quarters, singled out our communities as antithetical to Canadian values. My own relatively privileged experience leans toward the diversity-is-our-strength creed, but I've kept an eye on a rising tide of Islamophobia in our political culture over the last decade or so.
While it's hard to disentangle anti-Islam prejudice from general anti-immigrant or anti-refugee sentiments, Muslims in Canada are affected by all three. This triple punch starts with some of our federal and provincial parties and trickles down to street-level hate crimes.
The outgoing Conservative government turned suspicion and fear of Muslims, be they Canadians or refugees, into a political formula. One part played out in the security arena through such anti-terror laws as Bill C-51, or Bill C-24, which gives the government the right to strip dual citizens of their Canadian citizenship.
Another, more insidious, strand views Islam as culturally incompatible with Canada – manifesting itself in an obsession with Muslim women's head scarves and face covers, or a patriarchal impulse to rescue them from "barbaric cultural practices." In Quebec, both the Liberal and Parti Québécois governments of Jean Charest and Pauline Marois, respectively, spent much of their political energy on Muslim communities in the name of assimilation, secularity or establishing a Quebec Charter of Values.
It's not a coincidence that hate crimes against Muslims in Canada rose sharply in the last years of Stephen Harper's tenure as prime minister, which overlapped with Marois's short tenure as leader of a minority government, ending in April, 2014. Data to May, 2015, show hate crimes in Quebec increased by nearly 47 per cent from the previous year. Also last year, Statistics Canada reported a drop in the number of hate crimes overall, but a spike in those targeting Muslims, from 2012 to 2014.
A study from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and Simon Fraser University suggests a correlation between the enabling climate of hard-line political rhetoric and the rise of far-right groups in Quebec. Barbara Perry, one of two professors behind the study, told the Montreal Gazette's Catherine Solyom last November that Quebec's white supremacists view politicians like Mr. Harper as standing "on their side." Canada's focus on jihadists in our midst or brown terrorists from abroad often blinds us to the extremism brewing among some white Canadians.
It says something about the Canada and Quebec I love that both Mr. Harper and Ms. Marois lost their final elections, which they fought on racialized platforms. But that hasn't stopped Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch from repeating the formula. She has also borrowed liberally from the Trump and Brexit campaigns, both of which are steeped in anti-immigration, anti-refugee and anti-Muslim rhetoric.
This is not just irresponsible, but dangerous to all of us. And yet I don't expect the view that Muslim communities challenge Canadian – or American or British or French – values to change in the wake of Sunday's tragedy. As long as there is a vote to be won at our expense, there will be politicians ready to pull the rug from under us. Don't let them.