Months ago I wrote a blog piece (No way to run a railroad – June 1) about the shameful decision by the former federal government to remove Hamilton lawyer, Muslim leader, and all-around-good-guy Hussein Hamdani from the Canadian Department of Public Safety-led Cross Cultural Roundtable on National Security over scurrilous allegations in a Quebec muckraker (and Islamophobic) Web site called Point de Bascule. There were clearly political machinations at work at the time, decisions to which I had no insight (full disclosure: I was working at Public Safety Canada at the time as a minion), and the fallout for the Canadian government’s efforts at engaging Muslim communities on important issues such as violent radicalisation was catastrophic. The outreach programme took a tremendous hit and we shall see if it can recover.
So is the resignation/firing of a Quebec researcher from a nascent Montreal-based Centre for the Prevention of Radicalisation Leading to Violence cut from the same cloth? It is hard to say.
Here is what we do know. Hicham Tiflati, a PhD candidate at UQAM and a researcher at the Centre, together with radicalisation expert Amarnath Amarasingam, wrote an op-ed piece last week in the Toronto Star (see it here) in which the two scholars noted that there is a problem with Islamophobia in la belle province. True, they added, this discriminatory practice is not found only in Quebec, but they claim that it is particularly “unique and quite worrisome” there. In the aftermath of this article Mr. Tiflati was asked to leave the centre in part because his work was anecdotal and did not meet “basic research standards” according to the Centre’s director Herman Deparice-Okomba (click here for a summary of that decision).
Fair enough, to a point. Yes, the plural of anecdotes is not data and it is unclear what the researchers meant by Quebec Islamophobia as “unique” (I think if you asked Muslims across Canada you might find that they all see their own situations as “unique”), but was this a fireable offence or a gross over-reaction to a media opinion piece?
I think we need to look at several aspects of this issue here. First, is Islamophobia and anti-Islamic discrimination present in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada? The answer is clearly yes. Are these social ills endemic? Not that I have seen. Are current politicians calling for moves to restrict Muslim immigration and create registries of Canadian Muslims a la clown-in-chief Donald Trump? Nope. Should we discuss the issue? You betcha.
What we need is a mature dialogue and carefully constructed research about this matter. No, it is not the #1 burning issue on the minds of Canadians or on the top of national priorities, but it needs to be on the table. We cannot take our puck and stick and go home because someone says something that rankles or makes us feel uncomfortable. Allegations of “Quebec bashing” are puerile. We are better than that, surely.
There may be other issues behind the decision to ask Mr. Tiflati to leave, and I am reluctant to speculate on those reasons. Regardless, let’s all put on our big boy pants and have a grown-up dialogue, shall we? This problem cannot be ignored just as the violent radicalisation of a small number of Canadian Muslims cannot be shunted aside. As Winston Churchill once said: “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war”. Let the conversation continue.