There’s a great to-do in Canada about a motion (“M-103”, which is not a law but a recommendation) about discrimination, one that singles out “Islamophobia” as deserving special mention. The bill was introduced last December by the Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, a Pakistani-Canadian, and is being discussed now in the House of Commons. Here it is:
Systemic racism and religious discrimination
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear; (b) condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and take note of House of Commons’ petition e-411 and the issues raised by it; and (c) request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study on how the government could (i) develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada, while ensuring a community-centered focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making, (ii) collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities, and that the Committee should present its findings and recommendations to the House no later than 240 calendar days from the adoption of this motion, provided that in its report, the Committee should make recommendations that the government may use to better reflect the enshrined rights and freedoms in the Constitution Acts, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
This bill has been criticized for three reasons, with most of the criticism coming from Conservatives. (For a spectrum of opinion, go here, here, here, and here.) Do remember, though, that this is a motion and doesn’t have the force of law.
1.) It doesn’t define “Islamophobia,” and thus leaves open the possibility that criticism of religion itself might be criminalized.
I think this criticism is valid, for, as always, the term “Islamophobia” conflates bigotry against Muslims with dislike of the faith itself. I fall into the latter class but not, I hope, the former. But the latter form is not systemic racism and religious discrimination. Further, Muslims are not under any classification a “race”, so it’s not racism. Even in the nefarious construal, it is bigotry against believers, not members of a race or even an ethnic group. If you construe “Islamophobia” as “criticism of Islam” or even “fear of Islam” (which I possess as well), then the motion could be seen as an attempt to quash criticism of Islam as a whole. Even if I thought it was worthwhile singling out bigotry and discrimination against Muslims in particular, while not mentioning other faiths (see point #2), it would be better to either define “Islamophobia” or, better yet, replace it with a more accurate term. So far, though, Khalid has resisted any changes to her motion.
2.) While mentioning other religions in general, M-103 singles out Islam twice while not identifying other faiths.
This criticism also has some validity. While “hate crimes” against Muslims, like the murder of 6 people in a Quebec mosque, are on the rise, and are reprehensible, if they’re going to condemn hate crimes against races and religion, they should just say that, and not specify particular faiths?
It’s telling that Islam is singled out for special mention, for while it may be a well-intentioned way to reassure frightened Muslims, some of the support of this motion comes from Muslims who want, I think, to inoculate their faith itself against criticism. And that intention leads to what happened with the Danish cartoons and Charlie Hebdo.
Further, most of the “hate crimes” against believers in Canada are not anti-Muslim, but anti-Semitic. Below are the latest data on “hate crimes” in Canada from a 2013 report by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, a government operation:
Now the number of hate crimes against Muslims in those two years was 45, and against Jews 242. But that disparity is even greater if you take into account that there are about 1,044,000 Muslims in Canada and only 385,000 Jews. That means that in those years the per capita hate crime rate against Muslims was 0.0043%, and against Jews 0.063%—a rate of anti-Semitic hate crimes fifteen times higher. Were there motions singling out anti-Semitism? I have no idea. Nor do I really care. I object to the idea of “hate crimes” in general, because what should be punished is the action, not the biases behind it, and determining whether bias is involved is often tricky. Note the case of Craig Hicks, who killed three young Muslims in North Carolina two years ago. The police found no evidence that Hicks had an animus against Muslims in general, or these Muslims because of their faith; nevertheless, the Muslim community and many others continue to insist that it was a hate crime driven by “Islamophobia”.
If you’re going to condemn bigotry against members of all religions, ethnicities, genders, and sexes, then just say that without singling out any particular group. For such singling out gives succor to members of that group without, in this case, providing any solace to Jews or other believers.
I recognize that the statistics may be different now, and Canada can and certainly should collect them to monitor what’s happening in their country, but I still don’t think that the concept of a “hate crime” has much valid use in a democracy.
3.) While the motion is couched in terms of discrimination and bigotry, it could act to chill freedom of speech.
This is possible, but I don’t see it as likely. It is not, after all, a law, and Canada’s freedom of speech laws will remain the same.
But I must add that Canada still has a “blasphemous libel law” on the books, one that lacks a very definition of what that libel is! It also has laws against “hate speech” and “hate propaganda”, which have been used by those who have, for instance, either denied or justified the Holocaust. Those would not have been crimes in the U.S., nor, I think, should they be. If you censor or intimidate those who deny or justify the Holocaust, then there can be no public discussion that will give evidence for the existence of the Holocaust or the reasons why Jews should not be murdered en masse.
So I’m not too worried about the effect of this motion on freedom of speech in Canada. What Canada needs to do, though, is clean up its “hate speech” laws, get rid of its law against blasphemous libel, and ditch the special category of “hate crimes”. As for singling out Islam for special protection, I don’t favor that, for it plays into the hands of Islamists whose goal is to immunize their own faith while leaving others open to criticism.