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Suspicion of Muslims real danger, activist says

Argues terrorist assumptions only add to extremism's lure

Shahina Siddiqui says some Muslim students are reluctant to speak openly about global politics.


Shahina Siddiqui says some Muslim students are reluctant to speak openly about global politics.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/6/2015 (1956 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The biggest threat to Canadians isn't a young man in Charleswood drawn to violent extremism, but a government trying to paint Muslims as the enemy, says one leader of Winnipeg's Islamic community.

"We've had so much thrown our way by this government," said Shahina Siddiqui, executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association.

The latest comments she cites are from Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, who insinuated women who wear a face-covering niqab may be terrorists. In an interview with Vice posted June 10, he upheld the Conservative government's view women should have to remove their niqab to take the oath at citizenship ceremonies, saying Canadians support that.

"They don't want their co-citizens to be terrorists," Alexander said in the piece.

Alexander's office denied the minister made the remark, but in the interview posted on the Vice website, Alexander says about the niqab ban: "The overwhelming majority of Canadians want that rule to continue to apply. We've done a lot in the past year to strengthen the value of Canadian citizenship. People take pride in that. They don't want their co-citizens to be terrorists. They don't want people to become citizens who haven't respected the rules."

"It's devastating to say the least," said Siddiqui. Such remarks may appeal to the Conservative party base but cause harm to Canadian Muslims and how they're perceived, she said.

"The human impact on our community is totally ignored," said Siddiqui.

Alienating Muslims here in Canada might be part of the draw to extremism, she said.

For a child whose mother wears a hijab or a niqab, remarks like Alexander's are hurtful, said Siddiqui.

"Their mom is a Muslim who is being ridiculed, belittled and called a terrorist, and you think this is going to have no impact?"

Siddiqui said she's spoken to Muslim post-secondary students afraid to speak their minds in class.

"They keep their head down in university and don't speak up on geopolitical issues when they're discussed," she said. "They don't want to be singled out and dumped on."

Statistically, Muslims in Canada have seen a rise in reported hate crimes, while other religious groups have seen a decline.

In 2013, the overall number of reported hate crimes against religious groups fell in Canada -- except for Muslims, who experienced a 44 per cent increase, Statistics Canada reported.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims sent an open letter to Alexander in response to his remarks about the niqab and terrorism.

"Our elected leaders have an urgent responsibility to choose their words carefully and to do all they can to bring Canadians together instead of dividing them," it said.

"By suggesting that new Canadians are concerned about standing next to a possible terrorist, you unfairly insinuate that women who veil their faces are justifiably suspect. Your statement has been viewed by many as prejudicial and illogical, and it erroneously implies that Canada would give citizenship to terrorists in the first place," reads the open letter.

Canadian Muslims have had enough of being framed as somehow tacitly or overtly supporting terrorism, said the national council's executive director, Ihsaan Gardee. "Troubling political rhetoric" alienates the communities with whom the federal government needs to be working," he said in a news release.

The young Charleswood man jailed for eight days without charge for publicly supporting the Islamic State was raised Christian in a military family and converted to Islam. Aaron Driver was released after agreeing to 25 bail conditions -- including that he participate in "religious counselling."

Siddiqui said neither she nor other Muslim community leaders in Winnipeg she's spoken to have been approached to provide counselling to Driver.


Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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Updated on Thursday, June 18, 2015 at 7:50 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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