There is a tragically reflective quality to fear and hatred.
As destructive as these emotions can be to the person who harbours them, they are equally corrupting to the people they are heaped upon. Hate someone long enough, brandish that ugliness with enough force, and you won’t destroy the thing you fear the most. You’ll create it.
Just ask Shakespeare’s Shylock.
Many of you will remember his famous speech from the Merchant of Venice in which Shylock, a Jewish man who had been subjected to racist violence at the hands of Christians, points out the fundamental sameness humanity.
I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is?
These lines conform to our modern mores which by default opposes racism and discrimination. The rest of the speech, often forgotten, is far less comforting.
If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.
If people are all the same, if they all bleed red, then Christians and Jews are the same. Therefore, Shylock reasons, if Christians can abuse Jews, then Jews should be able to abuse Christians in return.
Shylock came to my mind Friday when I saw a photo on Facebook taken by Ronnie Chu while he walked past a mosque on the corner of Dundas and Chestnut streets in Toronto.
Chu says there were about two dozen of these protesters. The signs make their political views, and abject ignorance, plain for all to see.
Muslims are terrorists.
Less Islam brings less terror. No Islam no terror.
The CBC would later report there were people inside the mosque praying when the protest began.
“On a personal level, initially I was in disbelief. I wondered if they were actors. When I realized that the people in the protest were serious, my disbelief turned into anger,” Chu said in an interview. “Of all places to stage this protest, they decided to intrude into their place of worship. It should be a place they feel safe to express their faith. As I continued along my way, I passed by a number of people I thought were Muslim. My anger turned into sadness. My heart went out to them. I wanted to give them a hug and tell them everything’s going to be okay.”
The sad truth is, however, that everything might not be okay.
We can try to dismiss the protests as a tiny group of racists who wouldn’t know a single passage from the Quran if the book hit them in the face as an aberration. We can regard them merely as outliers in an otherwise tolerant society. While that may be true, we should also consider the people inside that building.
Was there any reason to think anyone in that mosque is a criminal? Was there any evidence that a single terrorist was inside? Was there so much as an inkling that the mosque was preaching Islamist or Jihadist ideology?
Or were they just people at prayer, regular Canadians who go to their jobs, pay their taxes and try to carve out a future for themselves and their families?
What did the people in the mosque learn about their community? Did they learn they were part of a democratic fabric that has enshrined freedom of religion alongside freedom of speech? Or did they learn that for believing in the wrong god they should be treated as murderous zealots, their faith should be criminalized and their civil liberties restricted?
Of course, this march to glorify petty meanness isn’t happening in a vacuum. For all their ignorant indignation about terrorism, these protesters appear to have not noticed the man arrested for the recent mass shooting at a Quebec mosque wasn’t a Muslim or an immigrant. He was a non-Muslim, white Quebecker who now faces multiple homicide charges.
And the same day that the protests in Toronto were happening, a poster was pinned to a bulletin board in a Niagara-on-the-Lake Avondale, issuing warnings of an “immigration invasion” because Canada’s immigration minister, Ahmed Hassan, is a former Somalian refugee. The poster’s vapid logic suggests because Hassan is a “Moslem” and a former refugee he cannot serve the nation as a government minister.
The poster was quickly taken down by the store’s clerk.
Beyond these incidents, there is has been a sexist and racist online onslaught against Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, who has put forward motion M-103 in Ottawa asking for the House of Commons to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.” She has even faced death threats for making the motion.
While it’s important not to exaggerate the scope of these anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant incidents – they are tiny compared to, say, the nation-wide vigils held after the Quebec shooting or the recent women’s marches – they should nonetheless be taken seriously. They should be opposed on the grounds of basic human liberty and liberal democratic values.
Which brings me back to Shylock.
There is a very real conflict happening within the house Islam globally. Moderate Muslim and Muslim reformists who believe in democratic values are fighting against the influence of Islamists and their violent jihadist counterparts.
Islamist and jihadist ideology, like that of nearly all religious fundamentalists, requires an external enemy to rally people against. In the case of, say, Christian creationists, the enemy is science and secular educational institutions. For the Islamist, that enemy is often personified in a funhouse mirror version of the Western world.
Islamist recruiters peddle a narrative that the Muslim world is under threat from an immoral West, and often frames this conflict as one between Christian crusaders and an Islamic caliphate. (Ironically, this is also the historical lens favoured by U.S. President Donald Trump’s chief adviser Steve Bannon.) In this mythology, only the violent radicals of groups like ISIS can win this conflict and restore the world to goodness.
This lunatic version of history and politics needs constant conflict to survive. It needs people to feel disenfranchised, fearful, anxious and under attack. Those emotions are the oxygen the fuels the recruiting efforts of radicals.
The protesters in Toronto and the author of that poster in Niagara may think, in their own twisted way, they are standing up for and protecting Canada. In reality, they are doing the work of a group like ISIS for them. Each time they label all Muslims as terrorists, or condemn immigrants, refugees and other minority groups, they validate the fantasy narrative of Islamists and other radicals.
Just as Shylock’s thirst for revenge was born out of being mistreated by Christians, these unthinking misanthropes can help create the kind of radicals they think they protesting.
And we will all be the poorer for that.