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Canada Needs Substance, Not Symbolism In Response To Hate

03/10/2017 05:43 EST | Updated 03/10/2017 05:43 EST

I believe it is fair to say that since 9/11, Islamophobia has been on the rise in North America. With the terrorist attacks in this country and others, distrust of refugees and immigrants is on the rise.

As an immigrant myself, perhaps I feel the impact of this trend more than my fellow Canadians whose journey to this country is now generations in the past. As I watch the news, and particularly the fledgling and (to a degree) struggling administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, I grow even more troubled.

Trump's recent executive order banning travel to the U.S. from a select list of Muslim-majority countries has run afoul of the nation's constitution and its courts. But as Trump searches for a new way to achieve what his executive order has failed to do, I believe there will be long-term consequences. I believe Trump's actions will encourage otherwise constrained and silent movements within the U.S. and in countries around the globe who have long wished for a legitimate platform to express their racist or xenophobic views in the hope that these views become the policy of their governments.

Recently On March 7, threats were issued to the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre in Toronto, prompting a response from Toronto Police and Toronto Fire Services. The centre's executive director, Ellen Cole, told CTV News Toronto the call was a bomb threat and the building was evacuated.

In the United States, hundreds of Jewish centres have similarly been the target of threats within the past month.

Also in Toronto, anti-Semitic notes were found on the doors of several units at a Willowdale condo building, and some neighbours reported that their mezuzahs -- blessings traditionally posted on the doorways of Jewish homes -- had been vandalized. Mayor John Tory condemned the hate-motivated vandalism and said those actions do not reflect the city's spirit. "Anti-Semitism has no place in Toronto," he said.

This comes after the recent tragic murder of six Muslims at prayer in a Quebec City mosque. Our government's response to this tragedy was to debate Motion 103 in the Canadian Parliament. Introduced by MP Iqra Khalid, the motion asked MP's to "condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination." Locally, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie strongly supports Mississauga-Erin Mills MP Khalid in her push to end systemic racism in Canada. Mayor Crombie also said that "eliminating systemic racism, religious discrimination and Islamophobia is a national call to action. No one should ever have to think twice about calling Canada home."

While I feel this a well-meaning act in the face of unspeakable violence and tragedy, racism affects a broad spectrum of people and it is short-sighted of our government to single out Islamophobia in their motion. Racism is in itself an act of violence, and the murders in that Quebec City mosque are that same racist violence made manifest.

It is an act of extreme cowardice, and an insult to God. Our government should condemn all racism equally, and with total conviction. Symbolic acts like Motion 103 should be backed up with a new, comprehensive review of the legislation and enforcement powers that can give meaning and force to such well-intended symbolic gestures.

I know from personal experience the sting of distrust, disrespect and prejudice that racism inflicts on those who are new, or different, or who worship in a different way. Racists ignore the reality that you cannot judge a race or a religion, but that if we are judged at all, it is based on our own behaviour, our own actions. President Trump's anti-Muslim, anti-immigration and refugee rhetoric may not, in itself, lead to the rise of Islamophobia and xenophobia, but the fact a sitting president has given such clear voice to its cause should be reason for great concern for us all. The response of our Canadian government should be one of substance, not symbolism.

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