Muslims in Canada
Open February 6 - March 6, 2017

Are Muslim Canadians treated differently than other Canadians?

Communications Director
The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM)
Professor of Sociology
Trent University
Discussion Overview
Some would argue that several high profile cases (ex. Fahmy, Khadr) show a willingness on the part of the Canadian government to abandon Muslim Canadians to bad treatment abroad. The recent decision to deport Canadian citizens convicted of terrorism charges could be seen to reinforce this image. Are these cases representative of a more... read more

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Discussion Etiquette < Back to Hot Topic
Amira Elghawaby (Subject Matter Expert) • January 9, 2017 at 04:33 pm

Hey everyone! Lovely to be back here again - this time discussing ideas under the theme of Acceptance and Belonging. I was quite distressed - but I guess not totally surprised - to read the findings of two recent polls. The first was from Forum Research which found that 4 in 10 Canadians have unfavourable and biased feelings towards racialized groups. Muslims were viewed most unfavourably (28%), followed by First Nations people (16%). South Asians (11%), Asians (10%), Jewish (9%), and Black people (8%) followed. The second poll was from Abacus Data. It shows that a majority of Canadians - 78% - say there is some or a lot of discrimination against Muslims in Canada. Again, First Nations were close behind with 67% of Canadians saying the same about them. While bleak numbers can get in the way of recognizing that many Canadians have favourable views of their Muslim friends, neighbours, colleagues, and fellow community members, we cannot ignore these findings. When significant numbers of Canadians hold biased views, or discriminate against other groups - I believe that we all suffer. Why? Because exclusion can impact our collective well-being and prosperity. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Does this disturb you? Why do you think attitudes are so unfavourable? What, if anything, can we do as individuals, or institutional or public representatives? Does this matter?

Momin Rahman (Subject Matter Expert) • January 9, 2017 at 06:37 pm

Just some headlines from the Environics 2016 Survey of Muslims in Canada to get us started. It is generally a positive picture and perhaps speaks to our overall theme of how we attempt reasonable mutual accommodation, but the last point is worrying. The assumption that discrimination will increase and of course, this survey was completed before we had the constant anti-Muslim rhetoric from south of the border and Europe in 2016. I want to agree with Amira that Canada's 'got this' sorted, but I am not sure we can stem the insecurity that Muslims feel, even if it comes from outside our culture.

"Key findings from the new survey include the following: The vast majority (83%) of Muslims feel very proud to be Canadian, and this sentiment has strengthened since 2006 (especially in Quebec). By comparison, 73 percent of non-Muslims feel similarly proud to be Canadian. Most (84%) believe Muslims in Canada are treated better than Muslims are treated in other western countries, and this view has strengthened since 2006 (when it was 77%). An increasing majority also believe that non-Muslim opinions of Islam are generally positive (54%) rather than negative (32%). Non-Muslim opinion is in fact more positive than negative, although no more so than 10 years ago. One-third (35%) of Muslims report having experienced discrimination or been treated unfairly in the past five years, primarily due to their religion or ethnicity, but also because of their language or sex. This incidence is unchanged from 2006, and is approximately 50 percent higher than for the Canadian population-at-large. Nine in ten (90%) Muslims are optimistic the new federal government will lead to improved relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. At the same time, Muslims are more likely to believe the next generation of Muslims will face more, rather than less, discrimination and stereotyping than Muslims do today, and this view is most prevalent among Muslim youth."

Momin Rahman (Subject Matter Expert) • January 10, 2017 at 01:54 pm

A story on how Muslims in southern California are feeling in the context of Trump's coming inauguration - how different is Canada in terms of this level of hostility? We have seen similar incidents here and the 'values' debate raised by Kellie Leitch seems aimed squarely at Muslims so can we resist our culture sliding into this normalization of Islamophobia? http://www.msn.com/en-ca/news/world/as-inauguration-day-looms-muslims-wonder-whether-trumps-tough-talk-will-turn-into-action/ar-BBy5zCC,

Amira Elghawaby (Subject Matter Expert) • January 13, 2017 at 09:37 am
Thanks Momin for that reflection. I think there's a lot of anxiety South of the border as what a Trump presidency will mean on so many fronts - not least of which, what sort of impact it will have on diverse communities. It was heartening to hear President Barack Obama mention the contributions of American Muslims in his final speech this week, emphasizing the value American Muslims. But my question is: How did we get to a place where we have to insist that a particular group is contributing? What can our communities do to further assure Americans or fellow Canadians that Canadian Muslims are indeed making a positive difference? And why the negative attitudes to Islam? Is it really the media? I was in an 11th grade classroom this week and I was shocked to hear a young Muslim boy say- "The media is the enemy of Islam". As both a trained journalist and someone who works in communications, I was both troubled and disappointed. While much of my work is to challenge bias in the media, it's unfortunate that a young person could view all media this way. What is this young man seeing on his social media feeds? Where is he getting his information? What do his parents say? We have to ensure that positive reflections of our communities are seen in mainstream media, so that we don't alienate anyone. That way, we SHOW, not just TELL people, how we are contributing.
Momin Rahman (Subject Matter Expert) • January 13, 2017 at 11:23 am

Amira Elghawaby wrote on January 13:

Thanks Momin for that reflection. I think there's a lot of anxiety South of the border as what a Trump presidency will mean on so many fronts - not least of which, what sort of impact it will have on diverse communities. It was heartening to hear President Barack Obama mention the contributions of American Muslims in his final speech this week, emphasizing the value American Muslims. But my question is: How did we get to a place where we have to insist that a particular group is contributing? What can our communities do to further assure Americans or fellow Canadians that Canadian Muslims are indeed making a positive difference? And why the negative attitudes to Islam? Is it really the media? I was in an 11th grade classroom this week and I was shocked to hear a young Muslim boy say- "The media is the enemy of Islam". As both a trained journalist and someone who works in communications, I was both troubled and disappointed. While much of my work is to challenge bias in the media, it's unfortunate that a young person could view all media this way. What is this young man seeing on his social media feeds? Where is he getting his information? What do his parents say? We have to ensure that positive reflections of our communities are seen in mainstream media, so that we don't alienate anyone. That way, we SHOW, not just TELL people, how we are contributing.

Although I have to say I am not surprised by that kind of comment from a young person since there is lots of evidence that media representations since 9/11 have intensified an Islamophobic version of Muslims and so I really worry that a whole generation has growing up that experiences this as 'normal', bad for both Muslims and non-Muslims in dominant national groups. In Canada, I feel there are more attempts to present balance, like the CBC reports on the Environics survey when it came out last year, but I don't think the sheer number of negative images or stories get displaced by the smaller number of positive stories.

Joanne Riley • January 20, 2017 at 04:24 pm

Amira Elghawaby wrote on January 13:

I've written and spoken frequently on the topic of media representation. Here's an article that was published recently that offers some context about why there is a deep sense of concern about how Muslims are portrayed in the mainstream media: https://this.org/2016/12/13/canadian-media-sucks-at-representing-muslims-in-canada/

Thanks for sharing that article, Amira. It's quite a uphill challenge and one that seems, at its core, to require Canadians to face some uncomfortable truths about how quickly we can jump to conclusions about others -especially when a lack of knowledge is at play and we rely just on the media to form opinions. It's not unique to Canadians, of course, but we need to start on home turf.

Amira Elghawaby (Subject Matter Expert) • January 20, 2017 at 04:30 pm

Joanne Riley wrote on January 20:

Thanks for sharing that article, Amira. It's quite a uphill challenge and one that seems, at its core, to require Canadians to face some uncomfortable truths about how quickly we can jump to conclusions about others -especially when a lack of knowledge is at play and we rely just on the media to form opinions. It's not unique to Canadians, of course, but we need to start on home turf.

Thanks so much Joanne. Absolutely. It's so important to work together to ensure that Canadians have their facts, and are able to make sound judgments about the kind of country we want to live in. I think those of us who believe in human rights would agree that the basis for any successful democracy is one where all people can live freely and contribute equally to the betterment of society - without fear of discrimination or bias. Sadly, we have much work to reach this goal. But together, we can do it.

Joanne Riley • January 20, 2017 at 07:44 pm

Amira Elghawaby wrote on January 20:

Thanks so much Joanne. Absolutely. It's so important to work together to ensure that Canadians have their facts, and are able to make sound judgments about the kind of country we want to live in. I think those of us who believe in human rights would agree that the basis for any successful democracy is one where all people can live freely and contribute equally to the betterment of society - without fear of discrimination or bias. Sadly, we have much work to reach this goal. But together, we can do it.

How does social media play into this? A catalyst for unwavering and polarizing opinions? A platform for positive change?

Amira Elghawaby (Subject Matter Expert) • January 23, 2017 at 12:34 pm

Well, I think social media has plenty of benefits, as well as drawbacks. This story from the CBC though was quite shocking, showing online hate has grown by 600 per cent in the past year. "An analysis of Canada's online behaviour commissioned by CBC's Marketplace suggests a 600 per cent jump in the past year in how often Canadians use language online that's racist, Islamophobic, sexist or otherwise intolerant."

The tips in the article for how to respond to hate are quite useful. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/marketplace-racism-online-tips-1.3943351

What does that mean for all of us? Not sure, because we know that the social media habits of younger generations are different than those of us over 35. So the terrain is ever-shifting.

David Courtney • February 12, 2017 at 09:55 am
I always set back when I see racism. Whether it is against others or myself. Working in Northern Canada or the Middle East. I think as a minority in social situations we all have to expect it and learn to see past it. Education is the key to understanding others. The other night we had a gathering at our house for students that will be starting their Doctorates at my partner's lab. Attending was a young Muslim woman. I must say I was caught of guard by the deep sympathy that I had for what she is experiencing. A feeling so deep I believe I only experienced it one other time at a friends funeral. Yet, other than casual conversation I said nothing. I feel helpless to stop the insanity.
Amira Elghawaby (Subject Matter Expert) • February 15, 2017 at 03:23 pm

David Courtney wrote on February 12:

I always set back when I see racism. Whether it is against others or myself. Working in Northern Canada or the Middle East. I think as a minority in social situations we all have to expect it and learn to see past it. Education is the key to understanding others. The other night we had a gathering at our house for students that will be starting their Doctorates at my partner's lab. Attending was a young Muslim woman. I must say I was caught of guard by the deep sympathy that I had for what she is experiencing. A feeling so deep I believe I only experienced it one other time at a friends funeral. Yet, other than casual conversation I said nothing. I feel helpless to stop the insanity.

Hi David, thank you so much for your kind reflections. I think that the way we build compassion and connection is simply to begin by increasing those opportunities to get to know each other. it doesn't take much to let someone know that you respect them, that you see them as a fellow human being. And it's sad, but for many Canadian Muslims, we aren't always treated that way. I appreciate even the smallest smile or friendly response to my attempts at small talk. Sincerity is in the eyes and I'm sure the young woman you sympathized with could feel your empathy. Those small gestures do go a long way.

Monica Pease • February 17, 2017 at 10:55 am

Amira Elghawaby wrote on January 23:

Well, I think social media has plenty of benefits, as well as drawbacks. This story from the CBC though was quite shocking, showing online hate has grown by 600 per cent in the past year. "An analysis of Canada's online behaviour commissioned by CBC's Marketplace suggests a 600 per cent jump in the past year in how often Canadians use language online that's racist, Islamophobic, sexist or otherwise intolerant."

The tips in the article for how to respond to hate are quite useful. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/marketplace-racism-online-tips-1.3943351

What does that mean for all of us? Not sure, because we know that the social media habits of younger generations are different than those of us over 35. So the terrain is ever-shifting.

I like the CBC article on responding to hate. Specifically, if we are engaging in discussions online about opinions/beliefs/perspectives, we should ask questions. Quoting the article, "Where does that come from? Why is that your stance of the issue? Why is that how you understand this problem?" she says. "Having a conversation that starts with questions, I think, is really important because then you're not starting with accusations or the presumption that they're being racist."

Meaningful conversation to me is where information/facts are provided and critical thinking is encouraged. However, in the few times I've felt brave enough to push back against hateful messages, the conversation may end abruptly and I feel (I'm projecting) that people are just too afraid to be vulnerable with their lack of knowledge.

Momin Rahman (Subject Matter Expert) • February 19, 2017 at 11:29 am
So the protests this past Friday at a mosque in Toronto show us that the issue of acceptance for Muslims is now fully up for debate in Canada, fuelled by both Trump and politicians here in Canada, not least during the debate in Parliament over the motion to condemn Islamophobia. This is not just racism, but a long drawn out historical understanding of the 'East' as peoples and societies that are 'lesser' than us in the west and, perhaps fundamentally incompatible with what think our 'west' is - peaceful, secular, prosperous. Beyond confronting racism and providing more positive cultural images and stories in the media, I think this also illustrates the need to join in the debates and movements to decolonize educational knowledge. These have arisen from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and we seem ready to embrace (some) of those ideas, but it is also relevant to newer 'others' as well.
Karen Suykens • February 20, 2017 at 07:56 am

"When significant numbers of Canadians hold biased views, or discriminate against other groups - I believe that we all suffer. Why? Because exclusion can impact our collective well-being and prosperity. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Does this disturb you? Why do you think attitudes are so unfavourable? What, if anything, can we do as individuals, or institutional or public representatives? Does this matter? " Discrimination is always disturbing. People fear what they do not understand and this fear is and has been fueled by political propaganda by Harpers Conservatives during the last federal election and not only Trump in the US but also his predecessors. The "war on terror" has victimized many Muslims, in Syria and numerous other countries. The propaganda being spewed by mainstream media is, in my opinion, the biggest problem. One instance of this is the fabricated necessity to bring down Assad even though the US Peace Council, Tulsi Gabbard and many others have traveled to Syria only to find the people, with little exception, love their leader. He was guiding his people to a democratic society and he was democratically elected. What this war is about is oil. While parts of the east are being demolished a company called Genie Oil, owned by Cheney, Rothschild and Fox News' Murdoch are taking oil illegally. A lot of oil. I believe mainstream media should be held accountable for what they deliver to the public. If they cannot be decisive on what is truth, then they should have to publicize both sides of the story, or all sides as it may be. Does it matter? Of course it does. Division takes away the peoples power.

William Innes • February 20, 2017 at 07:58 am

As this conversation has played out , I am reminded of the constructive and peaceful experience I have had directly and indirectly with Canadian Muslims ; and I am struck by the Amira's observation of the power of knowing the stories of each other as people. Only by knowing each other will we understand and respect each other.

I see the protests at the Mosque last Friday as the actions of a fringe who are projecting the hatred, violence and fear we see on our TV screens. I reject the idea that Canada is systematically racist ( with the notable exception of our historic relationship with indigenous peoples). The Islamaphobia motion in parliament is just political gaming and the desire for a peaceful, secular, and prosperous society seems very reasonable — recalling the central themes on which our country was founded — peace, orderliness ,and good government.

We need to focus on getting to know the best about each other. Our history is that many waves of refugees/immigrants have been integrated into Canadian society as we have learned how to accommodate to each other. Each has been treated with some suspicion initially, and Muslims are no different. It takes some time and we should strive to do better, but sorry Momin I see no evidence of systematic racism or that the process would be materially advanced by intellectual debate.

Lynn Lemieux • February 22, 2017 at 12:07 pm

Amira Elghawaby wrote on January 13:

I've written and spoken frequently on the topic of media representation. Here's an article that was published recently that offers some context about why there is a deep sense of concern about how Muslims are portrayed in the mainstream media: https://this.org/2016/12/13/canadian-media-sucks-at-representing-muslims-in-canada/

Thank you, Amira. Recently, I have become horrified and saddened by the way in which articles and other texts such as personal blogs and videos have been used by people on various media platforms to support an anti-Muslim stance. The degree to which many of these media pieces are either fake news, or are highly biased yet presented as genuine facts has astounded and frightened me. I asked myself how the average citizen is supposed to know who or what to believe. Furthermore, it takes considerable time, a certain degree of literary proficiency, and the desire to learn more and get at truth to delve deeper, research and check alternate sources, and ponder the resulting accumulation of ideas, facts, opinions, etc in an effort to come to a defensible opinion or stance of one's own. I strongly agree with you that we need to get to know the best of each other. for me, that has developed through my life experiences working in a highly diverse community. But for many others, although they may live in a multicultural city like Toronto, they have few if any personal experiences with people different from themselves. If all they have to judge others by is what they read/view in various media platforms, given what is happening currently, they are unlikely to develop the kind of understanding and appreciation for others that you speak of. I would like the Muslim community to somehow share stories about their lives that can touch the hearts of non-Muslim Canadians. I believe stories have greater power to change the minds of many people than do factual, and/or academic tracts, although we need those also to refer to.

Lynn Lemieux • February 22, 2017 at 01:53 pm

Monica Pease wrote on February 17:

I like the CBC article on responding to hate. Specifically, if we are engaging in discussions online about opinions/beliefs/perspectives, we should ask questions. Quoting the article, "Where does that come from? Why is that your stance of the issue? Why is that how you understand this problem?" she says. "Having a conversation that starts with questions, I think, is really important because then you're not starting with accusations or the presumption that they're being racist."

Meaningful conversation to me is where information/facts are provided and critical thinking is encouraged. However, in the few times I've felt brave enough to push back against hateful messages, the conversation may end abruptly and I feel (I'm projecting) that people are just too afraid to be vulnerable with their lack of knowledge.

I have had similar experiences as you have, Monica, trying to push back against hateful, ignorant comments in which people have used what I know to be fake news or highly biased reporting to support their claim. Sadly, in most cases, the individuals appear immune to any kind of logical reasoning, and are not interested in considering a different point of view. Often, if I try asking questions about the validity or source of their claims, they simply send links to more highly biased sites. They brand me as a "moronic liberal" if I try to suggest other perspectives, and simply keep repeating the words that they have picked up from the many media sites and personal communications to which they subscribe. Those people do not believe in the notion that there are some non partisan media sites that can be trusted to report facts and present different sides of an issue fairly; to them, it is their news sources against the others who are all "fake news" and not to be believed. They don't believe their side is lying and/ or telling partial, twisted truths. I have to end those conversations since it is no sense continuing to try to have a dialogue.

Paul Green • February 23, 2017 at 08:10 pm

Amira Elghawaby wrote on January 9:

Hey everyone! Lovely to be back here again - this time discussing ideas under the theme of Acceptance and Belonging. I was quite distressed - but I guess not totally surprised - to read the findings of two recent polls. The first was from Forum Research which found that 4 in 10 Canadians have unfavourable and biased feelings towards racialized groups. Muslims were viewed most unfavourably (28%), followed by First Nations people (16%). South Asians (11%), Asians (10%), Jewish (9%), and Black people (8%) followed. The second poll was from Abacus Data. It shows that a majority of Canadians - 78% - say there is some or a lot of discrimination against Muslims in Canada. Again, First Nations were close behind with 67% of Canadians saying the same about them. While bleak numbers can get in the way of recognizing that many Canadians have favourable views of their Muslim friends, neighbours, colleagues, and fellow community members, we cannot ignore these findings. When significant numbers of Canadians hold biased views, or discriminate against other groups - I believe that we all suffer. Why? Because exclusion can impact our collective well-being and prosperity. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Does this disturb you? Why do you think attitudes are so unfavourable? What, if anything, can we do as individuals, or institutional or public representatives? Does this matter?