Islamaphobia is more than veil-deep

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While many Canadians believe Islamophobia only happens elsewhere to other people, members of my family are shaving their beards and folding away their hijabs.  

I was sitting in a lecture last year when the topic of Islamic empires arose. A girl sitting next to me scoffed.

“It’s backwards,” she leaned over to her friend and whispered. “The hijab just seems oppressive, you know? That entire religion does.” Her friend nodded knowingly.

“I mean, I’m not a racist or anything! I just don’t believe you should force women to wear that stuff.”

It wasn’t a physical attack on me — she wasn’t even talking to me. But underneath it was the same sentiment of a deep-rooted misunderstanding that fuels much more overt and violent acts of racism and intolerance.

In a country that prides itself on encouraging a tapestry of diverse cultures and racial identities, the Harper administration’s anti-Islamic agenda is highly hypocritical.

In a House of Commons debate, Harper called the niqab the product of an “anti-women” culture. His comment was a catalyst for a rising tide of anti-Islamic rhetoric leading up to the October election  —  in light of which members of my family and my close friends began changing.

A cousin shaved his beard for fear he would be attacked. A friend took off her hijab after a lifetime of wearing it proudly, pushed to the edge by the constant staring.

A couple of weeks later, I was walking from my residence to the same class when I got a call from my mom. Her voice shaking, she told me three Muslim students had been shot in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. 

“Be safe,” she said. “Even if you disagree, try not to say so.”

In 2009, 46 per cent of Canadians outside Quebec were found to hold “unfavourable views” of Islam. This rose to 54 per cent in 2013.

But whereas numbers can often seem cold and calculating, very little is as sobering as knowing my mother was worried for my safety because of something that had happened a country away.

What scares me most is that people don’t seem scared by this. 

When someone feels the need to change a seminal piece of self-identification for the sake of personal safety, we should be afraid of the culture that pushes them to that point. 

Ramna is The Journal’s Arts Editor. She’s a second-year English major.

 

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