By Sumayyah Hussein
Flyers condemning racism and secret trials were some of the materials available for pickup at Thursday’s conference on Islamophobia. Organized by Ryerson’s Muslim Students’ Association and the Canadian Federation of Students, the event attracted an audience of 100 and addressed what Islamophobia is and how students can stop it. The conference was in response to the anti-Muslim graffiti, literature, and death threats that plagued campus this year.
Ahmed Arshi, MSA president, says the incidents were incorrectly termed racist instead of anti-Muslim. Identifying the problem is the first step towards solving it, he says, something he feels Ryerson has not done.
“I wanted to make it a big thing because (Ryerson) didn’t make it a big thing.” Arshi spoke on a panel with Toronto Action for Social Change member Diana Ralph, Zafar Bangash, director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought, and Jesse Greener, Ontario chairperson of the CFS.
Arshi says the fear of Islam and Muslims is not new. “Did it start with Sept. 11 or was Sept. 11 the trigger that exploded it?” Muslims are often viewed with suspicion because of their faith, says Arshi. He recounted how he was once detained at a British airport for 12 hours because, in his passport photo, he’s wearing a turban. “The word terrorist has now become synonymous with [the word] Muslim,” says Ralph, 58, a Jewish social activist and associate professor of social work at Carleton University. “It’s more important to be dealing with Islamophobia than any other form of hate.”
In Canada, Ralph says, civil liberties have gone out the window. Through legislation that denies refugees and immigrants the right to a fair, open trial, she says the government promotes hatred of Muslims. Bangash agrees. “Since 9/11…bills have given carte blanche to our security forces to act with impunity against Muslims.”
Ralph said Jews have a “particular responsibility” to help Muslims since they share lineage-being descendants of Abraham-and culture. “We have an obligation to stand in solidarity with people who are being targeted for their faith.”
Ralph suggested Ryerson introduce mandatory training on Islamophobia and establish an official hate crime policy. Tomorrow, the MSA will hold an Awareness Day and RyeSAC will host a forum on racial profiling.