by Hayy Yaqzan (Islamic Movement, Crescent International Vol. 47, No. 7, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1439)
On the morning of August 10, 2018, Matthew Raymond went on a shooting spree in Fredericton, capital of the Canadian province of New Brunswick. He killed two civilians and two of the first police officers that arrived on the scene. Raymond himself was injured in the incident, and has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder.
Two days after the shooting, the Toronto Star published comments from Brendan Doyle, owner of a Fredericton café that Raymond used to frequent up until 2017. That was when Doyle asked Raymond to stop coming to his café.
“His discussions with fellow customers and staff turned more political around the same time we had an influx of Syrian refugees into the city,” Doyle told the Star. “I saw him one weekend in front of city hall with a sandwich board sign that said ‘No Sharia,’ and other anti-Islamic sentiments. […] I determined he was ignorant and misinformed. He really just seemed to be parroting the talking points from some videos he’d seen.”
Raymond did not target Muslims in the shooting. The Muslim population in Fredericton and the surrounding region is small ― some 40–50 families have settled there permanently, and at any given time there may be a transient 300–400 Muslim students at the university. All of the victims in this incident were non-Muslims.
This draws attention to a point that is often missed in discussions about Islamophobia: that ignorance and bigotry is harmful not only to Canadian Muslims but to all Canadians. The violence that the Islamophobia industry inspires can hurt anyone, not just Muslims.
Take, for example, the routine occurrence of a Sikh Canadian who has been misidentified as a Muslim and is targeted in an Islamophobic act. In the summer of 2017, a Sikh real estate agent in Surrey, B.C. ― notably, a clean-shaven man who does not wear a turban ― was surprised to find this message on one of his advertisements, “Kill all Muslims. They’re killing us.”
A couple of months later, current federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh found himself being heckled at a campaign event by someone who assumed he was Muslim. “We know you’re in bed with Sharia, we know you’re in bed with the Muslim Brotherhood,” yelled the unhinged heckler in Singh’s face (remarkably, she later uploaded a video clarifying that she is “not racist”).
Similar cases can be found in the United States and the United Kingdom. Even the 2012 shooting by a white supremacist at a gurdwara (Sikh temple) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, which left seven dead and four injured, was believed by many to have been fueled by Islamophobia. Mitt Romney, Republican candidate for the US presidency at the time, did little to comfort either Sikhs or Muslims ― he reportedly kept referring to “Sikhs” as “shaykhs” while expressing his condolences.
Others affected by Islamophobia include Hindus, Arab Christians, and non-Muslim blacks. In May 2015, a woman in New York City was sentenced to 24 years in prison for pushing a Hindu man over the edge of the subway platform and into the path of an incoming train, leading to his death. She claimed she had done so because she had hated both Muslims and Hindus since 9/11.
At the policymaking level, the Islamophobia net is cast even more widely. To give a small but nonetheless revealing example, in 2012, as discussions were raging about Muslim students’ right to pray in Toronto’s public schools, it was proposed that the school board should stop renting its facilities for after-school Jewish religious activities. In other words, it was acceptable to some Islamophobes that the Jews’ privilege to pray on school property be taken away, simply because that privilege could be denied Muslims.
In the United Kingdom, even atheists have reported being victims of Islamophobic attacks, simply because they “looked Muslim.” One particular victim was presumed to be a convert to Islam and was referred to as a “traitor” and a “ginger terrorist.”
In this way Islamophobia enables and normalizes prejudice and bigotry towards others, particularly minority groups. This is a strike at the very heart of the ideals of liberal democracy ― such as freedom of religion, freedom of association, and the right to safety ― that Western nations such as the US, Canada, or the UK were ostensibly built upon. These nations are even ready to go to war to defend and “export” these ideals to other parts of the world, yet unrestrained Islamophobia and other forms of bigotry threaten their very foundations at home.
Then there is the economic toll that Islamophobia exacts in any country in which it is allowed to spread. Take, for example, the US. It is estimated that by the end of 2018, the “War on Terror” will have cost US taxpayers $5.6 trillion, or more than $23,000 per taxpayer ― an outrageous scam that the military-industrial complex could not have gotten away with as easily had they not “injected” Islamophobic sentiment into the public sphere.
And yet, so blinded is this public that Donald Trump can still find considerable support for his “Muslim Ban,” even though the US must operate in a world far more globalized than it was in 2001. It is noteworthy that many of those in the upper echelons of power, such as Silicon Valley leaders who know Trump’s ramblings about national security for what they are, were quick to denounce the proposed ban, saying that it would restrict their ability to retain talented employees. It is unclear how concerned the CEOs of Apple, Google, Netflix and Amazon were with the morality of the ban, but they could see the economic consequences of an Islamophobic move. The fact that stock markets dived on the Monday morning after the ban was announced over the weekend also sounded the alarm.
Some have tried to demonstrate that Islamophobia is “bad” through economic research. For example, Saba Rasheed Ali, a professor of psychology at the University of Iowa, studied the experiences of more than 125 Muslim women in their workplaces across the US and found that the discrimination they faced at the workplace was correlated to lower levels of job satisfaction. This is known to impede the productivity of workers which, in turn, impedes the productivity of the corporations that drive the US economy.
Unfortunately, there are many who are not interested in the moral case against Islamophobia. They may even believe that Islamophobia is morally justified, based on their prejudices about Islam and Muslims. This is why the social and economic costs of Islamophobia need to be studied further.
What they fail to understand is that phobia is an irrational fear, and once it is active within a person or society, it is very difficult to control due to its inherent irrationality and basis in hate. Islamophobes are not generally scholars of Islam who find it so disagreeable that they will resort to bigoted behaviour. The vast majority are people simply consumed by hate, and Muslims (or those who look Muslim-ish) become the scapegoat. But as Matthew Raymond’s shooting spree reminds us, the hatred that fuels Islamophobia threatens us all, not just the Muslims.