‘Unfortunately, we’ll probably see more of these [events]’: Professor talks Islamophobic attack in London

The Journal sits down with Professor Amarnath Amarasingam to discuss the roots of extremism in Canada

Amarasingam feels we’re due for a national conversation on far-right extremism. 
Credit: 
Queen's University

This article discusses terrorism and Islamophobia and may be triggering for some readers. Naseeha Mental Health Hotline can be reached at 1-866-627-3342.

On Jun. 6, a white 20-year-old killed four people and injured a fifth in London, Ontario. Local police were quick to refer to the incident as a targeted attack on Muslims.

The Journal sat down with Amarnath Amarasingam, Assistant Professor in the School of Religion, to discuss the context of the London attack.

“Unfortunately, we’ll probably see more of these [events],” Amarasingam said.

For him, it appears that movements across the far-right—whether or not they openly call for violence—hold anti-Muslim sentiment in common. While it’s still unclear to the public whether the perpetrator of the London attack has any ties to extremist or far-right organizations, this kind of sentiment is widespread regardless.

“It kind of creates a ripe environment for increased hate crimes, as well as more large-scale attacks.”

The London attack is part of a greater pattern of Islamophobia in Canada that, according to Amarasingam, may worsen if left unaddressed. Part of this work should come from defining Islamophobia itself and forming a national database to register Islamophobic hate crimes.

Currently, people can report to local Muslim activist groups or the police. But there’s no larger database to compile information and adequately speak to the issue of Islamophobia.

When discussing hate crimes, it’s equally important to name their causes and nature. This includes correctly applying the term “terrorist.” Historically, the language of terror and terrorism has been weaponized against Muslims.

Amarasingam described the London tragedy as a “terrorist attack.” Many would agree since, in the days following the attack, there were calls throughout Canada to bring terror charges to the perpetrator. The accused is now facing charges of terror on top of first-degree and attempted murder charges.

When asked if he agreed with these charges, Amarasingam was conflicted. On the one hand, he felt it was a bad move since the charges will be difficult to substantiate. If the perpetrator isn’t found guilty of terror, it will communicate to Muslim Canadians that terrorists cannot be white.

“Unless there's a very clean twenty-page manifesto on his computer where he lays out exactly why he did what he did or some membership to a far-right organisation is unearthed [....] it's going to be quite difficult to prove.”

He added that expanding the definition of terrorism may have unforeseen consequences. He referred to the designation of the Proud Boys, a far-right all-male organization founded in Canada, as a terrorist entity, as an example.

Amarasingam felt the designation of such groups as terrorist entities is a good way to communicate that white supremacy was being taken as seriously as other forms of extremism. He’s still concerned that it created the risk of groups representing marginalized peoples being labeled as terrorists.

“I'm quite worried that continuing to lower the threshold of what terrorism might be will come back to haunt us in the next government or whatever happens. We just need a Trump-style Prime Minister in Canada, and all of a sudden Black Lives Matter is designated a terrorist organisation.”

Regardless of the language used to describe it, the far-right movement in Canada is thriving and growing. Amarasingam feels we should have a more open national conversation about what that means and how it’s rooted in “white grievance.”

“Why is it that there is some subset of white people who feel like something is being lost from them or taken from them, and that their Canada is disappearing? And what do we do with that?”

In his interviews in the past with white nationalists, Amarasingam has noticed a reoccurring concern with demographic shifts, as immigrants begin forming a larger proportion of Canada’s population. He thinks that white Canadians, in particular, should consider why many view these demographic shifts as inherently negative and why that may lead to hostility towards Muslims.

“In the same way that calls went out after 9/11 for moderate Muslims to stand up and denounce [the attack], we haven't seen the same kind of generalising on the white community,” Amarasingam said.

“I think there does need to be a conversation there about the responsibility of everyday white people for these kinds of things.”

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