Darren Ell / Corbis

Quebec Muslims warn of heightened Islamophobia after October attacks

Four mosques across Quebec targeted in hate crimes leave local Muslim community on edge

Four mosques across Quebec were vandalized this week, prompting the Canadian province’s Muslim community to ask the government to address concerns about possible heightened Islamophobia following two lethal attacks on Canada’s military last month.

Vandals reportedly threw a large piece of concrete through the window of a small mosque in the province’s southern city of Saint-Jean-sur-Richilieu, local media reported. No one was injured.

Posters reading “Islam get out of my place” in French were plastered across the exteriors of three mosques located around the provincial capital of Quebec City, community leaders told Al Jazeera. The mosques were also tagged with images of pigs, an animal considered unclean in Islam. Surveillance cameras captured images of two assailants from the Quebec City incidents, but there was no such footage of the incident in Richilieu.

All four incidents reportedly occurred within a span of 48 hours, ending Monday night. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Quebec were unable to confirm the incidents at time of publication.

However, Kathleen Weil, Quebec's minister of immigration, diversity and inclusiveness, said in a comment emailed to Al Jazeera that authorities were aware of the situation.

"We can assure you that our police forces are aware of the situation and are taking the situation very seriously," Weil said. "The Quebec government vigorously denounces these acts of vandalism. These are criminal acts, acts of intolerance that do not reflect Quebec society's values of inclusiveness and openness to diversity." 

Weil encouraged Quebec citizens to "denounce and report such acts to the appropriate authorities."

Some community advocates say the incidents are part of heightened anti-Muslim sentiments following two incidents in October, in which Muslims killed two members of the nation’s military within a week. On Oct. 20, Martin Rouleau — whom Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called an "ISIL-inspired terrorist" — ran down two soldiers in his car, killing one. Just two days later Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, whom Canadian media say was also inspired by ISIL, gunned down a soldier at a national monument and attempted to kill others at Ottawa’s Parliament building.

Rouleau frequented the mosque vandalized in Satin-Jean-sur-Richilieu.

“There is a very real phenomenon of Islamophobia here,” said Haroun Bouazzi, spokesman for the Muslim and Arab political advocacy organization Association des Musulmans et des Arabes pour la laïcité au Québec (AMAL).

“After what happened in Ottawa, it has amplified this phenomenon,” Bouazzi said. “After what happened in Ottawa, we see that there is an incredible amount of Islamophobic hate messages” circulating on the streets and on social media.

AMAL has been warning of mounting Islamophobia in Quebec since the socially conservative Parti Quebecois (PQ) — which led the province’s parliament until being replaced by the Liberal Party in the 2014 elections — was pushing for legislation to bar civil servants from wearing religious dress at work. The debate over the proposed “Charter of Quebec Values” came to a head late last year, with Muslim community advocates organizing protests against a move they said would target veiled Muslim women — preventing them from seeking employment at schools, hospitals and other government-funded institutions.

The charter ostensibly aimed to preserve secularism in the province but would have made allowances for a small cross — which legislators argued was a cultural symbol more than a religious one — in the provincial parliament. Civil servants would also have been allowed to wear a small cross as a reminder of Quebec’s French Catholic origins.

Bouazzi’s organization’s title, which in French means “Association of Muslims and Arabs for secularism in Quebec,” aims to turn the concept of Quebec secularism on its head.

“Our point is that the PQ wasn’t looking for secularism,” Bouazzi said, “We think secularism is important for a democracy, but it doesn’t mean [the government] has the right to prevent a woman from wearing a veil — it’s just the opposite. A secular state must ensure no religion-based discrimination exists in society.”

Bouazzi said his group and other community organizations are already in talks with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard to combat radicalization after the events in October. AMAL hopes to include in that dialogue a push to educate the public on who Muslims are.

“We need the same action we’ve seen in Quebec against homophobia,” Bouazzi said, referring to education campaigns designed to spread awareness of issues facing the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Quebecois communities. 

“We need to see the same actions against Islamophobia.”

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