SHAFAQNA- The Canadian government’s recent announcement that it will no longer call Daesh the “Islamic State” has been celebrated as a bold stand against Islamophobia, and a notable departure from Stephen Harper’s fear-mongering about “Islamicism.”
“The group is neither Islamic nor a state, and so will be referred to as Daesh (its Arabic acronym),” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale explained in this year’s edition of the Public Report on the Terrorist Threat to Canada — the first produced under the new Liberal government.
Names are important, and the misrepresentation of Islam as an inherently violent ideology is more deeply entrenched every time the name “Islamic State” is applied to an organization infamous for its atrocities. But anti-Muslim racism did not begin with the phrase “Islamic State,” and it will not end with the decision to use “Daesh” instead.
The ubiquitous references to the “Islamic State” are so pernicious only because of broader narratives persistently conflating Islam and terrorism. Otherwise, there would be little need for Goodale to clarify that a group comprising approximately 0.00006 per cent of the world’s Muslim population, and condemned by large groups of leading Muslim scholars, cannot reasonably be described as “Islamic.” (As most people would presumably appreciate, even without government instruction, that ex-president George Bush’s appeal to biblical prophecy to rationalize the disastrous war in Iraq does not define Christian orthodoxy.)
These broader narratives problematically equating “terrorism” with “violence committed by Muslims” are reinforced by the government’s 2016 assessment of the “terrorist threat,” which focuses entirely on perils posed by individuals and organizations ostensibly inspired by Islam.
Previous Public Safety Canada publications, issued during the Harper regime, at least acknowledged the existence of “threats” emanating from non-Muslim quarters — though bizarrely lumping together “animal rights, white supremacy, environmentalism, and anti-capitalism” as sources of danger.
This latest Liberal-era iteration, in contrast, fixates exclusively on Muslim “violent extremism” as the problem. The report does not justify the parochialism of its scope: the Muslim monopoly on terrorism is meant to be so obvious that it can be taken as common sense truth.
However, surely some justification is necessary, since a recent academic study found there are at least 100 right-wing extremist groups active in Canada — inexplicably excluded from the panorama of “terrorist threats” confronting the nation. (At least in this “public report.” In private briefings and internal documents reported in media, on the other hand, security agencies have identified white supremacist, anti-Islam, and right-wing extremist movements as subjects of significant concern.)
Such complications are conveniently left out of Public Safety’s parade of Muslim menaces. While the 2014 attacks in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Ottawa are mentioned, the most fatal targeted assault on Canadian law enforcement in recent years — the killing of three and wounding of two RCMP officers by Justin Bourque (described by his lawyer as “immersed in right-wing, gun nut culture”) – is surprisingly ignored.
And while the report cites the Global Terrorism Database to demonstrate the worldwide toll of terrorism, the database’s most crucial piece of information for Canadian policy — that out of the five “terrorist” incidents recorded in Canada for 2015, none were committed by Muslims and two were against Muslims — is curiously omitted.
The link between Islam and Daesh in particular may have been rejected, but the supposed connection between Muslims and terrorism in general is affirmed. One sentence of the report challenges Islamophobia; the rest perpetuates it.
The tactic of using superficial changes in terminology to mask deeper continuities in counterterrorism policy is not a uniquely Canadian phenomenon. Similar verbal manoeuvres have been employed by politicians in other Western liberal democracies embroiled in the “war on terror.”
Former British Prime Minister David Cameron, for example, chided the BBC for using the term “Islamic State,” and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry switched to “Daesh” because “there’s nothing Islamic about it.”
By Azeezah Kanji