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Stephen Harper's dog-whistle: Islamophobia and Canadian politics

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It is rare that a politician, elected or otherwise,  openly admits that he or she is capitulating to the bigoted and "irrational" fears of his or her constituents, but that is exactly what Shawinigan, Que. Mayor Michel Angers did on Friday.

At a press conference he held to explain his council's frankly inane decision not to allow the minor rezoning of an industrial park so that a small mosque could be built there, he bluntly acknowledged that, in opposition to his own beliefs, pressure from people "across the province" had motivated them.

While it is nice to see honesty from our political class, it makes the decision of him and his council no less gutless.

Angers went on to say "people in Shawinigan aren't afraid of Muslims", which is a rather absurd contention after calling these same people out for being irrationally afraid! It is obvious that growing numbers of Canadians, and by no means just in Quebec, encouraged by the media and the rhetoric of right-wing politicians, are very much afraid, irrationally so, of Islamics, Canadian or otherwise.

Fear of the "other", of the immigrant or perceived outsider and the use of racially charged or bigoted rhetoric has long been a staple in the right's political armoury and 2015, an election year, is certainly proving no different in Canada.

Stephen Harper, rebounding in the polls and looking for a wedge issue to use to campaign, as Ricochet's Derrick O'Keefe phrased it, on the politics of "fear instead of hope", has seized on the supposed threat of "jihadists" and "radical Islam" and is openly pulling out the dog-whistle around issues like Bill C-51 and now the terrible decision of his government to appeal the clearly unconstitutional law that forces women who chose to wear one to remove their niqab facial coverings during a Canadian citizenship swearing ceremony.

The government, in other words, will spend a considerable amount of money in what they almost certainly know will be an unsuccessful appeal to fight to keep in place a law that applies to only a tiny number of people and that accomplishes absolutely nothing given that there are many other ways to establish identity.

It does accomplish one thing, however. It allows Harper to stand up in the media and call a specific type of religious dress "offensive" both during a citizenship ceremony and more generally, and that is, in fact, the entire point of the legal appeal.

Sadly, he is likely not wrong that this will pander to many Canadian perceptions as other commentators, like Kelly McParland in the National Post, have noted.

And not just right-wing Canadians. Unfortunately many on the left and many secularists have bought into simplistic narratives around the niqab, as I have written about before, and have helped to enable and embolden the right by allowing them to cloak themselves with the claim they are standing up for women's rights, when this is not what they care about in any way.

Regarding the denial of a zoning change, one Shawinigan resident said "I'm afraid so, I support the decision. I'm afraid of attacks...Muslims have the right to live just like us, as long as they stay very, very calm."

This is the type of ludicrous and Islamophobic thinking among Canadians, and voters, that Harper has in mind when he makes the comments he does.

Women's rights and human rights have nothing at all to do with it.

Image: wikimedia commons


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