Samer Majzoub is the president of the Canadian Muslim Forum (Forum Musulman Canadien) and a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, given to honour his decades of community service.
This article is part of a series of interviews with advocates, legal thinkers, community organizers and academics on issues related to Canadian civil liberties produced by CCLA volunteers. All responses are the interview subject’s own, and do not necessarily represent the viewpoint or positions of the CCLA.
CCLA: What kind of projects are you currently working on at the Canadian Muslim Forum?
SM: The CMF focuses on issues of concern for the Quebec community in particular and the rest of the country in general. Islamophobia and its sisters, discrimination, bigotry and other forms of intolerance are the main subjects that CMF is tackling on a daily basis. As an advocacy and human’s rights group, CMF, expresses and represents the concerns and hardships that the community faces before the authorities at the three levels, municipal, provincial and federal. CMF also has its media interventions to reflect the community point of view over subjects of concern for all citizens. Recently, CMF has been holding conferences in cooperation with other professionals in various community centers addressing Islamophobia, its effects, how to deal with discriminatory incidents, and creating awareness of rights and duties of citizens. The concept of radicalization is another subject of concern that the CMF is currently dealing with.
CCLA: Could you elaborate a little on what Islamophobia is? What are its key features? How does it relate to racism and religious intolerance?
SM: The simple definition of Islamophobia is fear of Islam. However, the more political and social implications of Islamophobia include severe discrimination, harsh bigotry, persistent smearing and fear-mongering campaigns against Muslim Canadians whether in Quebec or in the rest of the nation. Noticeably, women are the most profoundly affected victims from such unspeakable disrespect to human dignity that Islamophobia represents.
Moreover, Islamophobia, racism, racial profiling and anti-Semitism, as examples and as challenges of civil liberties in Canada, all share the same features to a certain extent; group of citizens or segment of the society is being subject to hatred, unfairness, misjudgment, and in many times physical aggression and threats because of their religious, racial and cultural backgrounds.
CCLA: What do you see as the relationship between Islamophobia and other civil liberties issues in Canada? You have recently written about a growing climate of Islamophobia in Quebec. Could you summarize some of what’s happening in Quebec right now, and perhaps also the rest of Canada?
SM: Islamophobic sentiment has witnessed sharp increase in Quebec and the rest of Canada recently. In Quebec for example, some media outlets, politicians and officials have engaged in arousing social friction by inflaming discriminatory discourse against citizens of Muslim faith by defaming their beliefs, traditions, and values. At one point, the subject of discrimination was close to becoming legalized in the province. The community has suffered a lot as result of the toxic environment in Quebec in particular and in the rest of the country to a certain extent. Visible Muslim women have been subject to physical harassment and aggression. Numerous vandalism incidents, threats and intimidation have been reported against community institutions, public figures and human right activists. Jobs have been denied, as reported, because of employee candidate’s dress if it is woman, and names that are visibly Muslim in other cases. Unfortunately, we have also received that some teachers at public schools also get into the discriminatory debate against some of their students because of their Muslim faith. All these incidents and others have pushed CMF to announce on Feb 20 2015 a press conference it held, that the Muslim community is facing moral onslaught that needs to be quickly addressed by all stakeholders in Canadian society.
Although statistics Canada found that hate crimes have witnessed a decline in 2013, the trend against Muslims has actually witnessed an increase! Islamophobia turned to be a constant problem facing Muslim Canadians across the country and especially in Quebec. It became a social duty for all stakeholders in society to unite against severe forms of discrimination and bigotry and which constitute Islamophobia.
CCLA: What are some of the key challenges to combating Islamophobia in Quebec, and in the broader Canadian society? Are there particular trends that you are finding troubling or promising?
SM: Of the troubling signs that Islamophobia is becoming a harsh reality of Canadian society is the fact that this disturbing phenomena is witnessing horizontal spread and is widening to affect all aspects of the society. Islamophobic sentiments, statements, positions and actions are not confined any more to a limited number of media outlets and some officials. Citizens can easily feel the toxic Islamphobic environment in the streets by the physical attacks and verbal harassment against visible Muslims, especially women. It’s becoming more frequent to receive reports of Islamophobic attitudes against pupils in schools, employees at work, and aggravation in the streets. Citizens of Muslim faith are reported to have been denied work opportunities either because of their dress codes and/or their visible names. Other troubling signs include the engagement of government departments in programs and laws that clearly target directly or indirectly the Muslim community under different excuses and reasoning.
Recently, we have witnessed slight changes on how some media outlets deal with issues that are, presumably, related to the Canadian Muslim community. The focus is still on the community when it comes to subjects of radicalization. However, some media reports try to distance the community from the radicalization phenomena that proved to be results of many social factors in addition to the role that cyber space is playing. Other encouraging signs come from some provincial government officials who reiterate that their programs and bills that are planned to deal with radicalism are not related to one community or the other.
Another strong sign of optimism comes from human rights activists and NGOs that sound their objections to Islamophobia and discrimination that the Muslim community is suffering from.
CCLA: How do you feel the recent changes adopted in Bill C-51 will affect your work and Muslim communities in Canada?
SM: The campaign to market bill C51 by the Federal government has been considered by political Federal leaders, commentators and other stakeholders in the Canadian society to be purely anti-Islam and Islamophobic. The campaign has been based on fear mongering which targets Canadian citizens of Muslim faith. If something positive came out from this campaign, it is the strong opposition that came from Canadians from coast to coast against the proposed bill C51 noting the risk of turning Canada into a police state. In reality bill C51 is not the concern of one group of citizens or another, its proposed law scares all.