How many more? Steps for education to eliminating Canada’s deeply-rooted Islamophobia

By: Danté Fosterdelmundo

The reason for this article to be written does not need to be explained. Topics surrounding anti-Muslim sentiment within Canada have dominated mass media for the past few weeks. The heinous terrorist attack happened right next to my neighborhood. It is a fact that Islamaphobic rhetoric has been able to seep into the mainstream, and it shamefully, took a family getting murdered for politicians to actually give the issue some credence.

Painting Canada as a progressive haven of equity and diversity has been one of our main ways of deriving national identity. We must face the reality that our history and institutions are well embroiled in bigotry. It wasn’t too long ago when the Canadian government ran on a campaign promise of introducing a “barbaric cultural practices hotline;” a clear anti-Islam dog-whistle.

Fortunately, there has at least been near-nationwide unity condemning anti-Muslim sentiment. Whether this leads to quantifiable action is to be determined. Education and schools have a clear opportunity to help placate this issue. It will take a multi-faceted approach on behalf of governments to tackle anti-Muslim sentiment in a meaningful quantity. However, here are some steps schools can take to foster a generation against anti-Muslim sentiment.

Education surrounding religion is important. There are simply too many misconceptions towards religion, such as the common notion that Islam is backward, regressive, and violent. Many of these negative presentations lead at best to a misinformed opinion, or at worst, outright violence against groups. People learn about the world through other perspectives when certain subjects are not taught in schools, willingly or unwillingly (i.e. through mainstream media portrayals, or social media), some of which are considerably more dubious or even harmful than others.

There is no guilt in misunderstanding or being ignorant of religion or culture. The establishment of a standard of tolerance and understanding of other cultures is critical in order to harbour a progressive and diverse nation that Canada prides itself on.

Catholic school boards have mandatory religion courses for all students throughout the grades. Specifically, Grade 11 World Religion is also available as an optional class in many public high schools.

I took my public school’s World Religions course and it was excellent. It exposed my peers and I to the history, beliefs, and values of religions around the world. Mandating this course in all schools, even in public, allows future generations to have a tolerant and well-versed understanding of the many cultures that inhabit Canada.

Ignorance and misunderstanding concerning religion are quite benign and of little culpability of any guilt. However, disinformation and those who spread it taint every corner of the media we perceive on a daily basis. Whether it be on the TV, social media, or other platforms, there exist bad-faith actors who actively and knowingly push bigoted messaging.

There is no question that social media is a powerful tool. Trends and information can spread like wildfire, however, the process in which claims are verified is either slow or non-existent. Our generation has been both blessed and cursed with the power of instantaneous communication and mass platforming. The misuse of it can lead to dangerous consequences.

For instance, right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro published a video on YouTube known as “The Myth of the Radical Muslim Minority.” The video consists of the misuse of statistics from a Pew Research Survey to proclaim, verbatim, “[there’s] 800 million Muslims radicalized, more than half the Muslims on Earth,” and, “the myth of the radical Muslim minority will get a lot of civilized people killed.” This video is still up on YouTube on his main page, despite being debunked multiple times. This messaging is dangerous, and those who are not equipped with the tools to decipher fact from editorializing may fall into the pitfalls of radicalization. The Quebec City mosque shooter was an internet-obsessed teenager whose Twitter accounts found him a huge fan of Ben Shapiro and similar pundits. In the month prior to his act of terror, he obsessively checked the Twitter account of Ben Shapiro, upwards of 93 times. The shooter was described by his peers as harbouring far-right, nationalist views and talked about it openly on social media.

Media literacy is a skill that is glossed over in classes, often just a side thought in lessons relating to research. However, in the land of the free internet, these skills are as crucial as ever. Critical thinking is a skill that is taught throughout every high school course, although none focus on the aspect of the varying information one comes across every day. In order to prevent the spread and consumption of disingenuous information, English classes should teach media literacy to a greater extent.

The road to stopping anti-Muslim sentiment is a long one, as we still have generations who have grown up with a warped view of Islam. However, if we start now and aggressively push for teaching about tolerance, media literacy, and cultures outside of one’s neighborhood in schools then future generations have a better chance at living in an accepting and equitable society.

References

Barber, John. “Canada’s Conservatives Vow to Create ‘Barbaric Cultural Practices’ Hotline.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 2 Oct. 2015, www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/02/canada-conservatives-barbaric-cultural-practices-hotline.

Greenberg, Jon. “PolitiFact — Ben Shapiro Says a Majority of Muslims Are Radicals.” Politifact, 5 Nov. 2014, www.politifact.com/factchecks/2014/nov/05/ben-shapiro/shapiro-says-majority-muslims-are-radicals/.

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The Demystify Tribune is a non-partisan independent student platform. We aim to engage and uplift youth across Canada through compelling articles that voice unique student perspectives relating to their education.

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FCSS-FESC Team

Since 2012, the FCSS-FESC has strived to provide Canadian secondary school students in and CÉGEPs the tools they need to succeed in post-secondary life.