Canadian Anti-Hate Network
Picture of defaced sticker taken in Montreal in 2017. Source: Wiki Commons
A report examining the expansive and well-funded global anti-Muslim networks gaining social, political, and ideological traction is shedding some light on the little-reported and even less-discussed Canadian contribution to Islamophobia.
Written by Jasmin Zine, an author and professor of sociology as well as religion and culture at Wilfrid Laurier University, “The Canadian Islamophobia Industry: Mapping Islamophobia’s Ecosystem In The Great White North,” the four-year study examines the people, beliefs, and connections fueling the Canadian “Islamophobia industry” during a time that saw rising numbers of police-reported hate crimes against Muslim people.
Through fomenting controversies, spreading disinformation, pushing scare tactics and “outlandish conspiracy theories,” Zine’s report outlines a lucrative and successful model for the propagation of hate against Muslim bodies and cultural representation in Canada.
The report defines Islamophobia as the fear and hatred of Islam and Muslims and those perceived as Muslims, this form of discrimination “translates into individual actions and ideological and systemic forms of oppression that support the logic and rationale of specific power relations”
“Islamophobia is a term that is often misunderstood,” Zine writes. “It is not simply a fear or hatred of Islam and Muslims as the term suggests, and it does not imply that Islam cannot be criticized as other religions might be.”
From Foot Soldiers To Think Tanks
Instrumental to this organized spread of Islamophobia, according to Zine, are five key players made up of media outlets and Islamophobia influencers, white nationalist groups, pro-Israel groups on the fringe right of the political spectrum, Muslim dissidents and ex-Muslims, and think tanks. Each helps to supply, spread, and enact the messaging and actions against Muslims in unique ways.
“These otherwise diverse individuals and groups share political and ideological mandates that involve the demonization and vilification of Islam and Muslims and often work in concert to foment controversies and spread Islamophobic narratives and conspiracy theories,” the report reads.
In over 240 pages, the report names a number of individuals and organizations central in spreading and disseminating this form of hatred. These influencers of “Islamophobic paranoia” include Ezra Levant’s Rebel News, particularly notable for launching the self-destructive careers of Faith Goldy and Lauren Southern. The report features a picture of the pair decked out together in “Deus Vult“ (“God willing” in Latin) sweaters – a reference to the crusades.
CAHN board member Richard Warman has filed a criminal complaint against Rebel News for an apparent violation of S. 319(2) of the Code: the wilful promotion of hate.
CAHN Executive Director Evan Balgord filed a complaint of apparent campaign finance rules violations, and the Toronto Compliance Audit Committee ordered a prosecution against Goldy.
Goldy has since stopped producing content and continues to face the possibility of legal issues related to her run for Toronto mayor. Rebel also is able to boast Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes as a former member of its roster.
Source: The Canadian Islamophobia Industry: Mapping Islamophobia’s Ecosystem
In The Great White North
“Newer media outlets are also emerging that have a similar political bent and purpose and that expand the far-right echo chamber and add to the propagation of Islamophobic ideologies and anti-Muslim conspiracy theories,” Zine said.
Beyond the influencers and media boosting Islamophobic rhetoric, the report names white nationalists as the “foot soldiers” of the movement. These are the ones willing to take their rhetoric and ideas to the street, whether through protests or propaganda campaigns.
Particularly this includes groups and movements that place hatred of Islam a piece of their “core mandate.” The report names Canada-based groups, like Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA), Soldiers of Odin, Canadian Infidels, Northern Guard, ID Canada, and more among this crowd.
There are also the “soft power” groups using their spheres of influence and resources to peddle and spread Islamophobic ideologies under the guise of promoting a “Judeo-Christian democracy,” “Canadian values,” “free speech,” and “the rule of law.” This language camouflages anti-Muslim narratives through a process Zine calls the “liberal washing” of white nationalism.
“All these groups engage in public rhetoric against Islam and Muslims, prominently promoting anti-Muslim narratives in their social-media posts and on their websites,” the report reads noting that these fringes promote racist and hateful tropes alongside conspiracy theories.
Adding legitimacy to these claims are “Muslim dissidents” and ex-Muslims who offer critical support for these talking points and play an “insider role” as “native informers” validating the negative stereotypes about Islam. As well as, a number of think tanks and security “experts” who are shown relying on exaggerated claims and blatant disinformation about Muslim communities to perpetuate their narratives.
The Master Plan
Mainstreaming narratives of dangerous and extremist views among the wider Islamic population has long been a successful fallback for those pushing Islamophobia. Zine’s study breaks down some of the most common talking points that have found footing and spread, not just among the far-right, but to mainstream media and politicians as well.
The “master plan” narrative is perhaps one of the most pervasive conspiracies circulated about Islam. Claiming to contain the revelation of a manifesto concocted by the Muslim Brotherhood, it is an outline of their intent to destroy Western civilization as a precursor for global domination.
Comparable to the themes of the antisemitic text, “The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion,” the master plan supposes that American Muslims are engaged in a “stealth” or “civilizational jihad” as part of a conspiracy to infiltrate the country’s institutions and impose Islamic law.
“A related claim warns that mainstream Muslim American (and now Canadian) organizations are effectively 'fronts' for the (Muslim Brotherhood) and are secretly controlled by international terrorists,” Zine writes.
This narrative relies heavily on archetypes of the “Muslim terrorist” that views many if not most of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims as supporting reactionary movements that engage in militant violence, extremism, and terrorism.
This also plays into the conspiratorial notion that Muslims in the west are acting as a “Trojan Horse.” Operating covertly under the guise of civility and multiculturalism to “hide their nefarious plans to infiltrate and take over democratic societies and replace them with an Islamic state and sharia law.”
Other common tropes discussed by Zine include the idea of the Fifth Column, a concept referring to clandestine, subversive groups that infiltrate a nation and introduce its supporters into positions of trust from which they can begin to influence politics and social policy as well as spread disinformation to support their aims.
“Western Muslims are often portrayed as a fifth column that is collectively seeking to destabilize the identity and values of Western nations for the benefit of an international Islamic cabal seeking to establish a caliphate in the West,” according to the report. This trope is related to the Trojan horse and adds a further subversive layer by casting Muslims as potential spies and saboteurs working clandestinely for the Islamist enemies of the West.”
There is also the notion of “Taqiyya,” an alliance for the denial of Islamic belief and practice for concealing one’s faith to prevent persecution, being used by all sectors of the Islamophobia industry as a way of suggesting that Muslims are deceitful and hiding their nefarious aims to overthrow Western civilization behind a friendly facade.
There is the common notion of “creeping sharia,” the Islamist bogeyman, and a perceived “clash of civilizations” all common narratives deployed against Islam and its followers in the west to paint them as dangerous outsiders, unable and uninterested in coexistence.
The American Islamophobia industry is a massive operation that has often dominated study and media coverage of the topic. Previous research finds that, collectively, the US’ various actors have a financial capacity of $1.5 billion.
A report in 2019 from the Council of American-Islamic Relations, found that in the US, 1,096 charitable institutions financed at least thirty-nine Islamophobia network groups between 2014 and 2016.
“These foundations donated a wide range of sums, from $20 up to $32.4 million.”
Islamophobic groups and individuals monetize their content and actions through website donation links, crowdfunding efforts, and revenues from social media platforms.
“Often these organizations are funded through larger transnational networks. Anti-Muslim special-interest groups and philanthropic organizations have long been bankrolling bigotry and supporting the activities of Islamophobia groups and their campaigns,” the report reads.
Canada’s privacy laws make a similar analysis of funding much more difficult if not impossible.
Tragedy & Action
Islamophobia has long been an issue in the west, but the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York marked a turning point for what quickly became a lucrative industry spreading narratives and legitimizing military action. The explosion of funds and the nature of the campaigns to demonize communities and institutions in such a way is something Zine says is unique to attacks on Islam.
“Other forms of racism and oppression do not have coordinated networks and industries behind their propagation. And yet, Islamophobia is a form of discrimination, prejudice, and racism that operates with impunity despite its deadly consequences in Canada and globally,” she wrote in the report.
Alongside this industry’s growth, violence continues against Muslims across the globe. Both China and Myanmar have been the sites of mass persecution and genocide against their local Islamic communities. The recent history of Canada has seen multiple deadly attacks against Muslims – on the street and in places of worship.
Most recently, a man reportedly identifying as an “ex-Muslim” burst into a Mississauga mosque during worship with an axe in one hand and a can of bear spray in the other to “kill terrorists.” Though the attacker deployed the spray against the crowd, he was subdued by congregants.
In 2021, a Muslim family in London, Ontario, was murdered in what police have called a deliberate and targeted attack with a motor vehicle. The case has not yet been borne out in court, but the limited information to come from law enforcement, eyewitnesses, and reporting indicates the accused is a white nationalist.
Before that, 2020 saw a caretaker sitting outside a Toronto mosque allegedly stabbed by a man following a spiritual movement deeply linked to neo-Nazism. While 2017 saw six men gunned down during evening prayers.
During this time, legitimate political voices have added to the chorus of Islamophobia, whether it be attempting to stymie “barbaric cultural practices” during Steven Harper’s tenure as Prime Minister or the more successful Bill 21 ban on religious symbols in Quebec.
Despite this, Islamophobia in Canada is a relatively unexplored topic academically, especially compared to our neighbours to the south.
“Most of the studies on the Islamophobia industry have been done in the United States pretty much exclusively,” Zine told the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, “and while we know there are networks transnationally the study that I did with some of my research assistants was the first to examine these networks in Canada. I think that it will be just a matter of time until we start to see more research done in other national contexts.”
Having spent more than two decades studying Islamophobia – “before people had a language to talk about it” –, Zine has witnessed the different permutations and forms taken during the evolution of a powerful movement.
“You start to see what's going on in China, in Burma, and India. You see what a global phenomenon it is, and yet how little attention I feel is being paid to it at various levels. We're not seeing enough action,” she said over the phone.
“One of the reasons I didn't add recommendations in this report, aside from the lengthiness of the report already, was the fact that last year there was a summit on Islamophobia in Canada, and community members and Muslim organizations across the country provided hundreds and hundreds of recommendations to the government.
“I feel that I had more to add to that. And, and, you know, there wasn't any action or we haven't heard anything since that summit in July about what, if any, of those recommendations are going to be addressed.”
Read the full report here.