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Many More Apologies are Owed to Canada's Muslim Community

A peaceful, kind and diverse community has been treated as a pawn in a craven political strategy. And it's appalling.

On Wednesday 1 February 2017, Joël Lightbound, Liberal MP for Louis-Hébert, apologized to the families of the six men murdered in Quebec and to the Muslim community in Canada.

“For the past few years, I have observed their ostracization and their stigmatization; having seen root in the hearts of my fellow men, fear, mistrust and hatred,” he said. “I have done my best to answer them, but I have not done enough.”

Many more apologies are owed. The Muslim community in Canada has been treated appallingly. A peaceful, kind and diverse community has been treated as a pawn in a craven political strategy, and their faithful citizenship has been rewarded with a cruel lack of loyalty.

During the 2015 federal election, the Conservative leadership used Muslims as a ploy for getting votes. Then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper repeatedly said that a majority of Canadians supported his government’s ban on women wearing face-coverings like the niqab during citizenship ceremonies. When a Federal Court of Appeals struck down the ban, the Harper campaign vowed that if re-elected, they would introduce legislation that prohibited the niqab during the ceremonies.

Stephen Harper, then the leader of the nation and his party, owes the Muslim community an apology. He must especially ask the pardon of Muslim women: He used his platform to cheapen their desire to be citizens of this country, and to delegitimize their presence here.

That strain of calculated Islamophobia didn’t go away with the party’s electoral loss. No, it has instead resurfaced in a more diffuse and dangerous way. The Islamophobia that has been bubbling up since 9/11 has resulted in a twofold increase in hate crimes against Muslims from 2013 to 2016.

Perhaps it is that violent streak that has emboldened so many. Instead of backing down from dog-whistle politics, so many public figures have embraced it.

Having cried tears after her promotion of the Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, Kellie Leitch is now running for leader of the Conservative party on a platform of “Canadian values” – a vague notion that is transparent in its dog-whistling. A competitor, Steven Blaney, has made banning the niqab for public service employees a central piece of his platform. The right-wing media site, The Rebel, and its main personalities (Ezra Levant, Faith Goldy, Lauren Southern, to name a few) have made dangerous sport of Canada’s Muslims. The media, too, owes Muslims an apology.

Moreover, a troubling pattern of only speaking to Muslim life when it relates to incidents of terrorism has emerged. In the most recent egregious instance of conflating Islam with terrorism, the Canadian Press published a story about a “report” that claimed mosques were hotbeds for terror. Except the authors had done little research besides walk around mosques.

In this moment of grief, the press, politicians, and public personalities should, like Lightbound, seek the forgiveness of the nation’s Muslim communities. The public too is entirely culpable; allowing leaders to capitalize on fears of danger only creates a more dangerous world.

As I watched the funeral of three of the murdered North African Muslim men in Montreal on Thursday, I was struck by many moments, but specifically, by one call-and-response: “Vive Le Quebec. Vive Le Canada.”

Even in sorrow, the community embraced those places that had not equally embraced them. For that, we all owe an apology.

This article was published in the Toronto Metro