Islamophobia and its apologists

[Sent to the Phnom Penh Post on March 12, 2017. Not printed.]

The opinion piece “Islamophobia and free speech in Canada” by Canadian radio talkback host Andrew Lawton in Friday’s Post is a rather blatant defense of Islamophobia.

For most readers, including me, Lawton’s account of motions put forward in Canada’s federal and provincial Ontario parliaments is likely the first we have heard of them; hence we have no way of knowing whether Lawton’s report is accurate.

However, even taking all of Lawton’s statements of fact at face value, his fundamental argument is clearly absurd. His starting point is that the Canadian parliament is expected to pass a motion “to condemn Islamophobia and study its effect on society”, and that the Ontario parliament has already passed a similar motion. His conclusion is that the motion’s “outcome is simply less freedom”. In other words, don’t try to stop Islamophobia.

But how do the two motions lead to “less freedom”? Lawton doesn’t say. All he does say in the intervening paragraphs is two things. One is that there are other forms of bigotry and discrimination, such as anti-Semitism, in Canada. This is undoubtedly true, but why does that make it wrong for Canadian parliaments to condemn Islamophobia?

Lawton does acknowledge the recent Islamophobic terrorist murder of six Muslims in Quebec – in 12 words, including that it was “a tragedy”. But he devotes more space – several paragraphs – to condemning three acts of alleged anti-Semitism. A bigoted sermon by an imam in Montreal in 2014 – which is not alleged to have led to any actual violence – chalk drawings of swastikas in a Toronto university classroom and a tweet by a McGill University student leader are apparently more important than mass murder.

Lawton appears to mention the anti-Islam terrorism in Quebec only so that he can say that the National Council of Canadian Muslims “exploited” the murders to lobby for anti-Islamophobia education in schools. The scale is different – so far – but I wonder if Lawton would say that Jewish organizations “exploit” the Holocaust in order to advocate education against anti-Semitism.

Lawton’s second point devotes even more space to defending people who he thinks are being illegitimately persecuted – and who just happen to make a living by promoting Islamophobia. These are somebody who in 2006 republished the Muhammad cartoons from the Danish newspaper that led to a terrorist attack, and Mark Steyn, the author of America Alone, a book that says Europe will be overrun by Muslims because of Europe’s “wimpiness”, which is apparently a euphemism for “reluctance to carry out pogroms”.

These two victims, it seems, were acquitted by tribunals that heard complaints against them, but never mind, they were still victimised because “the process itself was the punishment”. Aside from the fact that any prosecution of his book would have boosted Steyn’s sales, Lawton’s position here implies that there shouldn’t be trials on any charges for anyone who hasn’t confessed. (“They accused me of robbing the bank. I was acquitted, but jeez, the whole process was terrible.”)

The allegedly anti-Semitic tweet by the McGill University student said, “punch a Zionist today”. I agree that one should not incite violence against those with whom one disagrees politically. But Lawton is just being dishonest when he equates opposition to Zionism with anti-Semitism. Judaism is a religion; Zionism is a political ideology that uses Judaism as a cover for colonialist schemes in the Middle East. But Zionists who use religion as a cover for what they are really about have to portray events in the Middle East as basically a religious conflict between “democratic” (“free speech”) Israel and “anti-Semitic” Muslims.

Finally, for those who want to know where Andrew Lawton fits into the broader political spectrum, I suggest looking up Andrew Lawton Show on Facebook. The first item when I looked promoted an upcoming interview with the “columnist [not journalist] who broke the story” about “a ‘guerilla movement’ of Iranian agents in the United States … at a time when President Donald Trump claimed Iranians were manipulating the American immigration system”. Why was I not surprised?