Friendly Canada Has a Vicious Islamophobia Problem, and It's Only Getting Worse

The head of a Canadian mosque said the recent massacre at a fellow place of worship in Quebec is the latest in a series of extreme anti-Muslim incidents.

During evening prayers on Sunday, January 29, a gunman opened fire in the Quebec Islamic Cultural Center, killing six worshipers and wounding 19 more. Canada's prime minister condemned the shooting as "a terrorist attack on Muslims."

The suspected shooter, Alexandre Bissonnette, is a white Canadian with extreme right-wing, anti-migrant, anti-feminist, and pro-Israel views. Bissonnette has expressed support for U.S. President Donald Trump, radical right-wing French politician Marine Le Pen and the increasingly extreme Israeli government.

The terror attack has Muslim community leaders on edge and frightened for their safety in a climate of growing Islamophobia, racism and xenophobia.

Mehmet Deger, president of a mosque in the city of Dorval, in southwestern Quebec, said this is only the most recent act of violence against Canadian Muslims. The mosque in Dorval has been vandalized nine times since 2008 and received threats with messages like, "We don't want Muslims in Quebec." 

"They broke the windows; they broke the doors; they shot my car; and they threatened us," Deger recalled in an interview this week with American activist Eugene Puryear, who provided AlterNet with a recording of the phone call. (Deger's interview appeared on Puryear's radio program this week.)

"This is the continuation," Deger explained. "Last year they left a pig's head — they cut the pig's head, they put it in front of the mosque's door. As a gift. And they gift-wrapped it."

"People were scared," he said. "They were very upset."

For many Americans, Canada is often seen as a more progressive land, free of the extreme racism and xenophobia that pervades the U.S. But Canadian Muslims say the country has its own problems with bigotry.

Earlier in January, Canada's public broadcaster CBC published a report on the growing presence of far-right, white supremacist, anti-Muslim groups in Quebec. Atalante Québec, a neo-fascist group discussed in the story, only provides services to people of French origin, and holds demonstrations with banners reading "Death to terrorists, Islam out."

A former leader in the white supremacist "Identitarian" movement told CBC "the extreme right is having a field day."

VICE News likewise released a documentary this week on the Soldiers of Odin, a far-right, anti-Muslim vigilante group with ties to neo-Nazi and white supremacist organizations. This hate group, known in French as Soldats d'Odin, was also mentioned in CBC's report, and is allied with Atalante Québec. It's ascendent throughout Canada.

Although the Canadian government and media reports spoke of Alexandre Bissonnette, the suspected shooter who massacred Muslims praying in Quebec, as a "lone wolf," his terror attack is just one in a constellation of racist and extremist attacks.

In his interview, Mehmet Deger, the Canadian Muslim leader, said he suspects the shooter at the Quebec mosque had help.

"This guy was trained, it looks like," Deger speculated. "And this guy, he reloaded his charger three times. He put bullets three times in his rifle."

There are reports that Bissonnette used a semi-automatic weapon in the attack. Deger noted that it is difficult for students to get firearms in Canada as the country's gun laws are much stricter than in the U.S., and Quebec has more regulations that other provinces.

"A student cannot buy a rifle like this, and he had some revolvers also," he said. "Who organized this? We are trying to find out who can organize such a crime. This is not the work of one individual."

Former classmates said the suspected shooter was known for his extreme right-wing views. "He really liked Trump and had a permanent grudge against the left," one classmate explained, calling Bissonnette's politics "very right-wing and ultra-nationalist, white supremacist."

Deger said he has confidence in the current left-leaning Canadian government, and believes it will respect the rights of Muslims and immigrants. But he is still concerned about the rise in racist, Islamophobic sentiment.

"We are having a very hard time to explain the situation to the children of these victims," Deger lamented. "The mosque is full of blood."


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