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Canadian pundits throw Amira Elghawaby to the wolves
The moral panic around Canada's first special representative for combatting Islamophobia has been enflamed by the media and is rooted firmly in Islamophobia.
Amira Elghawaby, Canada’s newly-appointed special representative for fighting Islamophobia, is under fire for … criticizing Islamophobia in Quebec.
And Canadian media commentators have added fuel to this fire every step of the way.
Her offence? Writing a 2019 op-ed with former Canadian Jewish Congress president Bernie Farber in the Ottawa Citizen, which cited polling data on the correlation between anti-Muslim attitudes in Quebec and support for the province’s Bill 21, which banned certain public servants — teachers, cops, judges, Crown prosecutors and forest rangers — from wearing religious symbols. “Unfortunately, the majority of Quebecers appear to be swayed not by the rule of law, but by anti-Muslim sentiment,” Elghawaby and Farber wrote.
She also said, in a since-deleted tweet from 2021, that she was “going to puke” in response to an op-ed that argued “the largest group of people in this country who were victimized by British colonialism, subjugated and incorporated into Confederation by force, are French Canadians,” which strikes me as a fair response.
For these observations, Quebec politicians have called for her head. Jean-François Roberge, Quebec's minister responsible for state secularism, accused Elghawaby of harbouring “anti-Quebec sentiment," demanding she either resign or be forced out of her role. Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet called on the position to be abolished entirely, but nonetheless demanded a meeting with her, which she accepted.
Prior to that meeting, she apologized, despite having nothing to apologize for: “I am extremely sorry for the way that my words have carried, how I have hurt the people of Quebec.”
This wasn’t good enough for Roberge. "I'm glad that she apologized but she still has to resign," he said. Nor was Blanchet satisfied, “because through her apology, she has voluntarily agreed that she has disqualified herself.” Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, who represents a Montreal riding in the House, said he was “deeply hurt” by Elghawaby’s comments about Quebec, joining Blanchet in demanding a meeting to berate her.
Federal Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, sensing an opportunity to boost his support in Quebec, accused her of making “anti-Quebec, anti-Jewish and anti-police [lol] remarks.”
The anti-Jewish label is based on an all-too-common conflation of sympathy for the Palestinians, which Elghawaby has expressed, with hatred of Jewish people, which she has not in any capacity.
This particular line of attack proved to be short-lived. Canada’s big three pro-Israel lobby groups — the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and B’nai Brith — all applauded her appointment, despite CIJA and B’nai Brith’s opposition to an anodyne 2017 motion condemning Islamophobia.
The media has continually perpetuated the hysteria surrounding Elghawaby’s appointment, with pundits mostly honing in on her criticism of Islamophobia in Quebec. But many of these columns veered into explicit Islamophobia.
Let’s begin with the good. The Toronto Star published several op-eds correctly observing that the hysteria over Elghawaby’s appointment was reflective of the need for her role of combatting Islamophobia, including pieces from Shree Paradkar, Naveed Bakali and Asmaa Malik.
On the independent side of the media sphere, Ricochet published a piece from Shenaz Kermalli headlined, “Amira Elghawaby has nothing to apologize for,” and Nora Loreto wrote in Passage about how Elghawaby’s treatment is microcosmic of what Quebecois Muslims have to deal with on a daily basis, as did Christopher Curtis at The Rover.
But these pieces were exceptions to the rule.
While this piece will focus solely on English Canadian media, I’ve been reliably informed the discourse in the Quebecois press is considerably worse, which really says something, given the content you’re about to read.
Star columnist Althia Raj’s main concern was that Elghawaby’s appointment “significantly risks costing the Grits support in Quebec.”
She applauded Trudeau’s “valiant effort” to “soften the blow of Elghawaby’s appointment.,” but said the decision to appoint her at all was an effort “to score points by pitting segments of the population against each other.”
While acknowledging Islamophobia is a pressing issue that must be addressed, Raj postulated that Trudeau “created this position to court Muslim votes in the GTA.”
“They don’t need a special representative to advise them when they have Muslim caucus members and publicly funded lobby groups,” she added.
I’m quite confident Raj would never say this about the Liberals’ decision to appoint former minister of justice Irwin Cotler to his role as a special envoy on preserving Holocaust remembrance and combatting antisemitism.
Also in the Star, Chantal Hébert was similarly focused on the Liberals’ electoral prospects, arguing Trudeau has “thrown the equivalent of a political grenade into his Quebec trenches.”
She called Elghawaby and Farber’s Citizen op-ed “ill-thought-out” and “part of a larger pattern” of anti-Quebec animus, accusing her and Farber of misrepresenting the polling data they cited in their op-ed.
Yet Hébert misrepresented Elghawaby’s “going to puke” tweet, falsely suggesting she was sickened by the notion Quebeckers were persecuted at all, rather what she actually responded to — the idea that they were the largest group persecuted by British colonists.
Hébert said Elghawaby demonstrates “either an abysmal ignorance of Quebec history or a blatant indifference to Canada’s less-than-glorious past treatment of its francophone minority,” condescendingly calling on her to develop an “appetite for facts.”
Former NDP leader Tom Mulcair joined the fray in the Postmedia-owned Montreal Gazette, applauding himself for his “principled” stand in support of women who want to wear the hijab to access public services in the 2015 election, which he claims cost him the election despite Trudeau having expressed an identical position.
He spends literally half the piece — eight of 16 paragraphs — outlining his anti-Islamophobia credentials before setting his sights on Elghawaby.
“When your job is fighting prejudice and you’ve made statements in the past that sound like a reflection of your own prejudice, you withdraw them and, ideally, apologize,” he wrote.
He concluded his piece by bizarrely equating Elghawaby’s Quebec criticisms with the anti-Muslim legislation he opposed in 2015. “Political games on identity and religion are once again being played for partisan purposes, it’s just the player that’s changed,” Mulcair wrote.
He’s been oddly silent since Elghawaby’s apology.
While the Star’s Susan Delacourt acknowledges the nastiness of the campaign against Elghawaby, she bizarrely equates it with criticisms of former ambassador to China and ex-McKinsey executive Dominic Barton for “being too cosy to Trudeau” and expressions of incredulity that Barton played no part in McKinsey’s well-documented role in perpetuating the opioid crisis, which occurred while he was in charge.
In fact, she insinuates Barton had it worse, because unlike Elghawaby, he “didn’t even get the benefit of 24 hours for MPs to pronounce their hostility toward him.”
To Delacourt, it’s all about the erosion of our precious norms and institutions, which is how she’s able to make this facile colour-blind comparison.
“This is, as they say, why we can’t have nice things — such as reasonable, civil debate over our differences,” she wrote.
In the Globe and Mail, Konrad Yakabuski, who specializes in phony moral equivalences, argued the backlash to Elghawaby’s nomination “represents a clash of two forms of identity politics practised in Canada that are equally corrosive” — Quebec nationalism and the notion that racism permeates Canadian institutions.
However, he wrote, the “indignation” regarding Elghawaby’s selection was “proportionate” to the offence of appointing her, accusing Trudeau of somehow kowtowing to the “radical American left that infiltrates university campuses and silences free speech” by appointing a special representative to challenge anti-Muslim bigotry.
“One can hold negative views of Islam without being anti-Muslim or Islamophobic. Just as one can criticize Papal doctrine on homosexuality, women and contraception without being anti-Catholic,” Yakabuski wrote, conflating a single denomination of Christianity with a notoriously-rigid top-down structure and an entire religion, with all its various denominations.
“Tolerance is a two-way street,” he said, explicitly equating anti-Muslim animus with criticism of said animus.
Former senator Andre Pratte, writing in the National Post, Canada’s Islamophobic paper of record, expresses shock the government failed to conduct a “simple web search” on Elghawaby, which he says would have uncovered her “simplistic view of Islamophobia in Québec.”
He then proceeds, naturally, to make the column about himself. “For a national institution like the senate to be productive, one has to be humble and curious enough to listen, to learn, to open your mind and heart to other perspectives, other experiences. Only thus can the group find paths towards solutions to the problems it is facing. This is how we built Canada,” he wrote.
This is, of course, absolutely not how Canada was built.
Pratte goes on to recall the “intense and painful debate” around Bill 21, which he said was supported for various reasons, including by those “convinced that the hijab is a weapon of radical Islamists,” a position he claims isn’t Islamophobic at all.
“If Elghawaby manages to keep her job despite the outcry, she will have to work very hard to convince French-speaking Quebecers that she is not prejudiced against them,” he wrote. The notion that perhaps Quebec’s government ought to demonstrate that it’s not Islamophobic simply doesn’t cross his mind.
Also in the Post, Kelly McParland wrote that Elghawaby’s appointment is yet another example of the government “posturing and pandering [in] an attempt to win support in a specific voting demographic disguised as social justice.”
Like Raj and Hébert, his main focus is on how the nomination impacts Trudeau’s electoral prospects, although McParland, of course, expresses the possibility of Trudeau losing seats in Quebec with glee.
“Elghawaby may be a passionate and informed figure in the Islamic community, but there was plenty of flammable material in her writings,” McParland wrote, arguing the fact that nobody cares about a Star column Elghawaby wrote suggesting that Canada Day isn’t all it’s cracked up to be show “how inured Canadians have become to assaults on their history and heritage.”
Somebody get this guy a handkerchief.
In a comparatively tame Post column, Chris Selley correctly argues the hysteria around her appointment stems from the fact that “Elghawaby’s campaigning against Islamophobia actually extends to Quebec.”
But, even then, he actually does what Elghawaby’s critics falsely accuse her of doing by suggesting Islamophobia is a uniquely Quebecois problem, absolving English Canada of any responsibility beyond kowtowing to Quebec.
“The notion that the hijab (as opposed to the niqab or burqa) represents a radical, political and evangelical form of Islam is commonly heard in Quebec, and almost never anywhere else in Canada,” Selley wrote.
I empathize with him not wanting to read the commentary from the very newspaper chain that employs him.
On that note, we’re now entering considerably more sinister territory.
In the Toronto Sun, Tarek Fatah questions whether Islamophobia exists at all, then writes that even if it does, the onus is on Muslims themselves to be loud enough to his liking in denouncing Islamic extremists.
Fatah loves more than anything to bring up his Muslim heritage before engaging in the most vicious, paranoid Islamophobia imaginable, seeing Islamist operatives in every corner.
“We Muslims could do far more if we stop aping the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood in Canada,” he wrote, demanding Elghawaby disavow a recent suicide bombing at a mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan, which killed 100 Muslims.
In the final paragraph, he reveals his main reason for opposing Elghawaby’s appointment — she chooses to wear a hijab.
“The one question that no one in Trudeau’s office or party is willing to answer is: Why was it necessary to appoint a woman who wears the Muslim Brotherhood flag to assert her presence?”
I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to answer that question.
Back to the Post, Terry Glavin said this “appointment was doomed to turn out badly, no matter who’d been picked for the post” because of “the matter of this thing that has come to be called Islamophobia.”
In characteristically verbose fashion, it takes Glavin nine paragraphs to get to his point (Carson Jerema, do your job challenge).
Echoing Fatah’s ramblings, he bemoans Elghawaby’s “conflation of anti-Muslim bigotry with genuine and justifiable alarm among liberal Muslims and national-security agencies arising from the presence of reactionary, grossly antisemitic and foreign-influenced Islamist elements within Canada’s Muslim leadership itself.”
This is pure projection. Glavin has a long history of conflating antisemitic hate “with genuine and justifiable alarm” among progressive Jews and leading human rights organizations about Israel’s apartheid policies, as does antisemitism envoy Cotler, whose Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights includes Glavin as a senior fellow.
Nevertheless, Glavin says the term ‘Islamophobia’ is “sufficiently open-ended to include a mere disdain for the Islamic religion itself or even high-pitched opposition to the theocratic-fascist ideologies of Islamism — which is not the religion, Islam.” Just a little disdain for the Islamic religion itself, no big deal.
Filling the back half of a Post column on Jordan Peterson, Rex Murphy, with his characteristically smug sarcasm, called Elghawaby a “sterling appointment,” taking issue with —I kid you not — her “anti-monarchism” — perhaps the one thing she and her Quebecois critics can agree on.
Murphy ended the piece with a list of 11 hypothetical special representatives, which he thought more important than addressing anti-Muslim animus, including the carbon tax, airport backlogs, “so-called anti-racist groups stirring up what they claim to be against,” whether Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland is more loyal to the World Economic Forum than Canada, and “artificial moral panics instigated and encouraged by politicians for utterly divisive and partisan reasons.”
The last one is particularly rich in a column about how persecuted Peterson is. Perhaps Murphy would also prefer a special representative for defending Peterson. There’s no shortage of highly-qualified candidates at his newspaper.