We live in violent times… Donald Trump has been elected president of the United States, and Canada is battling its own white supremacist demons, as we see with figures like Kellie Leitch. At the same time anonymous acts of everyday violence against women, LGBTIQ folks, people of color, Indigenous and Black communities, immigrants and religious minorities are being shown on Canada’s mainstream media. One of the things that the US election has showed us is that white supremacy is not something that is restricted to “poor and ignorant” white communities, as the myth goes; but rather, it is the tool of the elites who play the race/class/religion cards to achieve their (often capitalist) goals with physical violence, if necessary.
The number of articles and pieces dissecting elements of white supremacy, class and violence is the first time in the last ten years that I have seen Canadian mainstream media outlets calling out white supremacy by its name in consistent ways. A note of caution, when I speak of white supremacy, I am not referring to singular white individuals, and I am not pointing fingers at Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) who have white relatives or friends. Very much to the contrary, white supremacy refers to an institutionalized system of relationships that are colonial, capitalist and heteropatriarchal in nature, and that allow for the hierarchization of society in racial and gendered terms. Under this logic, white, Christian/secular males compose the top of the racial/gendered pyramid. White supremacy, within the context of Canada and the U.S. has a strong and prevalent colonial history that should not be overlooked. It must also be noted that white supremacy is not something that one can just hold as a belief and that’s it. White supremacy is inherently violent, whether it is discursively, politically or physically so.
But despite the efforts to spark conversations on white supremacy (or the misleadingly labelled “Alt-right”), the Canadian media has yet to make connections between the deep relationships among white supremacy, capitalism, colonialism and the violence directed primarily against Black and Indigenous women, women of color and LGBTIQ, Two-Spirited and Third-Gender/Non-Binary folks. This is perhaps because doing so requires challenging the very core of Canadian identity that is, in many cases, so dear not only to white settlers, but also to immigrants and Muslims born in Canada or abroad.
News of the US election has left many Muslims in Canada on edge. The US election triggered worries for family members and friends who are south of the border, particularly when conversations about a “Muslim registry” started making rounds in social media. Others also started wondering about mass American immigration to Canada after Trump’s election. Similarly, many of us knew that Trump’s election would facilitate and normalize violent expressions of white supremacy in Canada. Some of us were also particularly concerned about Muslim women who wear hijabs and niqabs, because we have seen hijabis and niqabis been consistently attacked in the past year across the country.
Muslim reactions, featured in media outlets, to the “othering” happening in both Clinton and Trump’s campaigns and the violence that followed was to hold strongly to notions of “American-ness” and “Canadian-ness” seeking to prove belonging. And while it is easy to rationalize such reactions and empathize with nationalist pictures of women in hijabs, these attitudes can be extremely triggering for other communities, including Indigenous communities across North America, whose dispossession has been justified through nationalist narratives of belonging.
Yet, it quickly sunk in among Muslims and other communities in Canada, that race and “minority status” are quite “visible” to white supremacists and do not rely purely on garments like the hijab.
Days after Trump’s election, Ottawa woke up to several anti-Semitic graffiti instances; anti-Muslim sentiments heightened in Halifax; Janice Floyd was approached in Hamilton, Ontario by a white man who celebrated Trump’s win and told her he hoped Trump would “clean up” North America; Noah Rabbani was attacked in Hamilton, Ontario in something that the police still refuses to tie to a racially-motivated crime; there have been accusations of systemic racism in Canadian school boards; and Queens University’s students seem to think it is totally okay to host racist parties. All this to say that in the past few weeks, there have been several attacks against racialized people, some of them Muslim. In response, Muslim women have put up banners, celebrated the hiring of Canada’s first hijabi news anchor and showcased art speaking to their experiences as part of the Canadian-social fabric.
Whereas it is important to discuss how to be an ally, particularly a white ally, to those populations that in Canada are likely to be targeted, such as Muslims, we are also at the point where we need to have a broader conversation on the ways in which we, as Muslims and immigrants, support and operate from white supremacist standpoints without realizing so. This goes beyond whether or not some Muslims support the Conservative Party that has been pretty Islamophobic in the past few years because one can support the Liberal Party and be “progressive” and still flirt with white supremacist institutions and individuals. But there is a need to discuss how economically privileged Muslims and white-passing Muslims, for instance, operate from spaces where white supremacy exists in the forms of anti-blackness, shadism and narratives of the “Good immigrant.” In other words, we need to shatter the idea that class and closeness to whiteness makes us somehow “whiter,” “better assimilated” and “better Canadian citizens.” Further, for those of us who may have the option, we need to challenge the idea that it is okay to navigate spaces that are blatantly racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Black, anti-Indigenous, etc., while keeping in mind that having a choice is, in itself, a privilege.
One of the dynamics that is particularly problematic to me, given the circumstances, is that, broadly speaking, Islamophobia is one of the only oppressions that mobilizes mainstream Muslim communities in Canada. Because Brown and Black women are often racialized as Muslim women, and Muslim women are particularly affected by Islamophobia (whether they wear hijab or not), this is one of the only instances in which, as Muslim communities, we discuss violence against women in our communities. We often obliterate the effects of capitalist violence, sexual violence, domestic violence, etc. We also skip on solidarity work with women from other communities who experience violence, including violence from white supremacist spaces (i.e. Missing and Murdered Indigenous women in Canada).
One of the issues I have with this, is that we often forget that Islamophobia does not operate in a vacuum; it operates from a space that entails colonial violence against Indigenous and Black communities, orientalist views of immigrants, gendered stereotypes of Black men and men of color, sexual violence against Black and Indigenous women and women of color, homophobic and heteropatriarchal behaviours, as well as white supremacy. This is why Islamophobia is so deadly in Canada, because it targets Muslims not purely as believers of Allah, but at the intersection of their identities as Black, women, LGBTIQ, immigrants, People of Color, refugees, etc.
Being “good immigrants” is not enough to make us part of the Canadian social fabric, because this fabric was, since its inception, built on white supremacist, heteropatriarchal and capitalist principles. This is to say that while I understand the temptation to present girls and women in maple leaf and fleur-de-lis hijabs as the archetype of “Canadian-Muslimness,” there is a need to recognize that in doing so we are operating within a space of white supremacy… the very one that condones Islamophobia and many other oppressions.
And while I am pragmatic in recognizing that we will perhaps never operate outside the State (at least in my lifetime) and we will probably still need to interact with white supremacist spaces, as Muslims we need to have conversations about how to fight the many oppressions of the vacuum and how to care for one another in ways that do not feed the hate that is creeping every space and that is a life-long reality for Black and Indigenous folks, people of color, a whole generation of Muslims and other religious minorities, as well as immigrants and refugees.