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Pam Frampton: Islamophobia, made right here

When I attended Memorial University in the ’80s, it was a pretty homogenous place. The great cultural divide at that time was still largely between townies and those from the bay. Fish and chips vs. salt fish and potatoes. Gentleman Jim’s steak house vs. bottled moose. Yes, I’m being facetious.

Pam Frampton

My friends and I knew a handful of guys from Nigeria, mostly from well-to-do families who saw value in sending their sons abroad to study medicine or biochemistry. There were students from India, Pakistan and China, and there was some diversity among the faculty, though it was still predominantly white.

There were so few Newfoundland and Labrador students of colour at that time, that I once asked a guy from Labrador City if he was from Nigeria. It wasn’t the first time he’d gotten the question.

Today, that’s changed. Not only for Memorial University, but for many parts of the province, particularly the St. John’s metro area.

I can walk through my supermarket and hear three or four languages on any given day. This city has a synagogue, a mosque, a Sikh gurdwara and a Hindu temple, as well as Protestant and Catholic churches.

We have international food fairs and restaurants offering Pakistani, Indian, Afghan, Korean, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Japanese and many other kinds of cuisine, and it’s not so exotic anymore.

We’re become more cosmopolitan and we’re richer for it, as our cultures and storied traditions intermingle with those of people from other places with their own unique perspectives to contribute.

So it’s disheartening to be confronted with the fact that some people don’t welcome other cultures and religions, and regard them as a threat, as we saw with the Islamophobic posters that appeared on MUN’s St. John’s campus over the weekend.

The posters, which warn of “The Islamic Domination of the West,” reflect a deep mistrust of Muslims — whether based on fear or hatred, or both — and urge us to “Open your eyes. Look around.”

They’ve prompted a good deal of debate about freedom of speech vs. hate literature, and that’s a conversation worth having.

Freedom of speech is something we hold dear, but it isn’t absolute. There are limits. This isn’t the United States, it’s Canada, and the laws are different.

In Canada, freedom of speech is tempered by the realization that hateful language can do real damage, and that curbing that sort of virulent rhetoric sometimes poses less harm than allowing it to circulate.

It’s one thing to be angry at someone who has directly done you wrong; it’s quite another thing to incite hatred and violence against an entire group of people based solely on their religion, ethnicity or sexual persuasion.

The anti-Islamic posters that surfaced at MUN stated that one of the goals of Islam is to “Kill all those who do not submit to Islam, and dominate every Western country.”

It’s a message clearly meant to generate mistrust and hostility against an entire group of people; it nurtures ignorance and sows fear.

I wonder if the creator of the poster even knows a Muslim person.

While it’s true that violence has been committed — including in Canada — in the name of Islam, we should condemn the person who distorts the faith in order to justify their heinous acts rather than the entire faith itself, which finds peaceful expression among many Muslims who share and contribute to our communities.

No one should be surprised that hate lives here. It ignites online discussions among the likeminded all the time, and regularly creeps into media website comments and email inboxes. It will go public again before too long; hatred feeds off attention.

MUN, with its swift condemnation of the posters, has signalled that there’s no fertile ground on campus, so the hate will go back underground for now.

It’s hard to know which version is more insidious.

 

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email pframpton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton

 

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