As a Canadian Muslim woman, here is how I feel about your political rhetoric.
On Saturday evening, I saw a tweet from the Associated Press that there had been an attack in London. After every breaking story about an attack on a European city my first thought was “God, please don’t let it be a Muslim.”
My reaction is not rooted in a disregard for victims or their families, but instead in the inevitable divisive hateful rhetoric from politicians, pundits, and everyday people- under the guise of free speech and counter terrorism- which follows these horrific incidents. As a young Muslim woman who wears Hijab, I am afraid to interact with people in the wake of a terrorist attack. I am afraid to go outside, to walk to the bus, to go about my daily life. I live in fear people that people will think my religion, so openly flaunted on my head, endorses such atrocities.
At the same time, immediately after the attacks, I do not want to explain geopolitics or pretend to be the model Muslim minority who condemns attacks or proves her unwavering alignment with Western Values. You might think it’s all in my head. But when I listen to Theresa May’s address on Sunday morning after the London Bridge attack or when I read the Statistic Canada report about the 61% jump in hate crimes against Muslims in the last few years; I know it’s a reality.
May’s lionization of British values, in the same vain as Kelly Leitch’s cry for “Canadian values,” is a deliberate political move to define an in-group and an out-group, the latter in which un-hip Muslims belong. Do you like raspberry jam with your scones, Margret Atwood’s short stories’, and generally Western things like freedom? Come on over- you’re welcome in the West. But don’t be fooled you have to continually prove you are in fact Muslim lite enough to live here.
These statements from politicians reverberate globally and trickle down to the average citizen. In other words, the power of their words does not end when the press conferences do. The words of politicians like May make an impact on the lives of everyday Muslims across the world. I am one of those Muslims. Here is an example:
On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, I was taking a stroll downtown; I came across a hostile anti-Islam protest on Parliament Hill. Violent and angry people stood shouting anti-Muslim and anti-migrant slogans on the soil of our democracy. Such demonstrations were granted permits to gather on the Hill. Demonstrations such as the Women’s March in January following President Trump’s election were denied a permit to peacefully rally on Parliament Hill. To grant a permit to hateful and ignorant messages is implicitly an endorsement of such hateful messages. These demonstrations successfully terrifies visitors, both Canadian and International, and in the cradle of our very democracy.
I stood there, with my mother, in terrified silence.
How many people in my life thought I did not belong in Canada or in the West? How many people believe Islam is inherently violent? How many attacks on everyday Muslims and their places of worship until we realize the words of politicians and pundits are fuelling vigilante anti-Muslim behaviours?
I find it ironic that the very same countries that pride themselves in diversity and metropolitanism divide the communities within them in a call for counter-terrorism. Do not get it wrong, May's words like “Islamist-inspired terrorism” might seem nuanced and watered down, but ultimately the general public hears “Islam.” At this point, we don’t even speak about the true definition of terrorism anymore because we’ve all sort of accepted it implies a Muslim attacker. After the Quebec mosque shooting in January, the fact Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the incident a terrorist attack made headlines. That is how much we, along with the media’s complacency, equate the word terrorist to “Muslim.”
But at the end of the day, after the shock, the tweets, and the academic analyses, the hateful political rhetoric of May and more obviously so, Donald Trump, gives license to those with racist views to speak and act against everyday Muslims, most of which are just trying to eat their scones with clotted cream in peace.