Image: Flickr/Michael Vadon

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Here is a sick confession.

When this writer heard about the shooting at the Islamic Centre in Quebec City he hoped it would not turn out that the perpetrator or perpetrators were themselves Muslims.

If that were the case, he feared, it would only feed the Donald Trump narrative that when you welcome refugees and immigrants from so-called dangerous countries you are asking for trouble.

The sole accused killer is, in fact, a white, non-Muslim, young Quebecker, who is said to be preoccupied with what, in Quebec, are called “les questions identitaires“.

At this stage, the slim, loner Alexandre Bissonnette looks like a northern version of Dylan Roof, the white supremacist who, in 2015, murdered nine people in an African-American church in South Carolina.

Some, inside Quebec and elsewhere in Canada, will say the long and bitter — and as-yet unresolved –debate in Quebec over headscarves, hijabs and so-called reasonable accommodation helped fertilize the seeds of hate that might have otherwise lain dormant in a tormented and confused young mind.

Many will also argue that a U.S. president so willing to exploit and, worse, fuel bigotry must also be considered a contributory factor to this act of violence.

Yet others are counselling caution.

Lise Bissonnette is one of those.

Speaking on CBC French network radio on Monday afternoon, the former publisher of Le Devoir said now is a time for mourning and expressions of solidarity with the victims, their families and their communities, not for laying blame.

She might have a point.

The fact remains, however, that fear, distrust and ignorance of Muslims is widespread throughout Western societies, and Canada is not spared.

A continuum of fear and distrust

On the anniversary of another mass killing, the 1989 École Poytechnique massacre, this writer heard complaints that the media had failed to report that the killer, Marc Lépine, was, in fact, the son of a Muslim from North Africa. Lépine’s given name was Gamil Gharbi.

The Arabs and Muslims have deep cultural problems with women, the argument went, and they have to start confronting them.

This writer respectfully objected to that caricature of Islam. He talked about his own Muslim friends and colleagues, many of them women who happily and confidently wear headscarves without feeling in any way coerced or oppressed.

“To me,” this writer wrote, “Their commitment to their culture and religion very closely resembles that of a number of progressive but orthodox Jews I know. They keep strictly kosher, and in many other ways practice an orthodox version of Judaism; but they do not advocate a backward-looking, medieval worldview, and do not seek to cut themselves off from the larger society and its concerns.”

There is a big distance between an educated and accomplished person’s discomfort with what he takes to be the inherent misogyny of Islamic culture and the irrational fear that feeds a burning hate that, in turn, can result in a vicious act of murder.

But this writer is convinced the queasiness, suspicion and discomfort some feel vis-à-vis Islam and its adherents is at one end of a continuum on which the massacre in St. Foy is at the extreme other end. Donald Trump’s heedless and xenophobic rhetoric — and deeds — put him sickeningly close to the violent end of that spectrum.

When the recently installed occupant of the White House called the Canadian Prime Minister to express his condolences on Monday that must have been a strange moment.

It would not be appropriate of course for Justin Trudeau to lecture Trump at such a moment. But it might have been an opportunity to, perhaps, gently chide the new president, and point out, as diplomatically as possible, that his words and actions can have devastating consequences.

Many in the Canadian commentariat are currently advising the Trudeau government to heed the motto that discretion is the better part of valour. Canadian officials, they say, should tread lightly in their publicly expressed attitudes toward the new U.S. administration.

This past weekend, for instance, Prime Minister Trudeau famously tweeted: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.”

That tweet made headlines around the world, including in the U.S. newspaper of record the New York Times.

On Monday, Postmedia’s John Ivison took issue with such a clear statement of difference with the Trump regime:

“Canada’s most important bilateral relationship is with the U.S. and getting on with the Americans has been one of the most important obligations of any prime minister. The Trudeau government avoided being targeted with protectionist measures…by working constructively with an incoming administration…At least we think we have avoided discriminatory measures. Who knows how a figure as mercurial and vindictive as Trump might respond once he reads the headlines in the New York Times?”

Then again, in light of what happened on Sunday night in Quebec City, maybe it is the new U.S. president who should be careful about what he says.

The truth of the matter is that it does not generally work to cower and cringe before bullies. Indeed, such cowering does not deter bullies. It tends to embolden them.

Neville Chamberlain learned that the hard way. 

Karl Nerenberg is your reporter on the Hill. Please consider supporting his work with a monthly donation Support Karl on Patreon today for as little as $1 per month!

Keep Karl on Parl

Image: Flickr/Michael Vadon

Karl Nerenberg

Karl Nerenberg joined rabble in 2011 to cover Canadian politics. He has worked as a journalist and filmmaker for many decades, including two and a half decades at CBC/Radio-Canada. Among his career highlights...