We are all saddened by the tragic terrorist acts in New Zealand directed at Muslims in prayer at their mosques. For Canadians, this heinous act hits especially hard, as we have only just commemorated on January 29th the Quebec City mosque massacre, in which 6 Canadian Muslims were killed while in prayer, by Canadian White-supremacist terrorist Alexandre Bissonnette. At the time of writing, one suspect, an Australian, has been charged in the New Zealand atrocities, and three suspects are still under investigation. The Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called the suspect an “extremist right-wing violent terrorist.”
Around the world, we see an outpouring of care and concern from political leaders. While these messages are important signals to our global community, the Institute of Islamic Studies (IIS) recognizes that, from an academic and policy perspective, the scope and scale of the challenge before us has no short term solution, and is not limited to the acts of a few extremists. PM Morrison of Australia may certainly have choice words about the New Zealand attacker, but Morrison is no less guilty of stoking fearful flames about Islam and Muslims. In November 2018, he tweeted “Extremist radical Islam is a serious problem. We all have responsibilities to make Australia safe, and that means making sure Muslim communities do not become infiltrated with this dangerous ideology.” Close to home, here in Canada, we can certainly dismiss Bissonnette as a White-nationalist extremist. But we ignore at our peril the social, cultural, and political contributions to that extremism when CAQ spews rhetoric about Muslims, headscarves and the existential threat they pose to Quebec values. Indeed, when our own Federal Parliament cannot agree on the use of a term like ‘Islamophobia’, we have a type of challenge that requires a more collective and long-term conversation among cooler and more capable minds. Starting Friday, March 22, 2019, the IIS will begin hosting a bi-monthly informal discussion forum on difficult topics, where we are tough on the issues but not on each other. Over a cup of coffee and around the table, the IIS welcomes students and faculty at the University of Toronto to begin a sustained conversation on radicalization, counter-radicalization, and Islamophobia.