Friday, 10 May 2013

Talk : Seeing Muslims : Identities, Visibilities, and Islamophobic Violence in Canada

Nottingham Trent University hosted a fascinating lecture by Dr Barbera Perry, Professor and Associate Dean of Social Science and Humanities at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

Dr Perry is an expert in hate-crime, and as written many books and papers in this area. Dr Perry has long standing connections with Universities in the Midlands, hence her presence at NTU.

The title of her talk was "Seeing Muslims : Identities, Visibilities, and Islamophobic Violence in Canada" and forms the bais of the report below...

"Power" is "the ability to impose a definition of the situation, to set the terms in which events are understood and issues discussed, to formulate ideas and define morality, in short, to assert hegemony"

"Hate Crimes" involve acts of violence and intimidation, usually directed towards already stigmatized and marginalised groups. As such, it is a mechanism of power and oppression, intended to reaffirm the precarious hierarchies that characterise a social order"

Dr Perry then described how enforced visibility (e.g. by a constant stream of negative stories in the media)can be used as a disciplinary technique on a particular group and then listed some of the ways in which visibility can act:

i) Media Type : repeated, often distorted and disproportionate visibility of a group in mainstream media
ii) Control Type : where legislation is targeted at a particular community
iii) Empowering Type : where the minority uses the visibility to portray a positive image of themselves

Click to enlarge this map of Canada

The Muslim Experience
Dr Perry commented that, although she had worked with many minority groups before, she had "never seen so many references to the role of the media" in portraying negative stereotypes.

In addition, Dr Perry commented on how (even as they were under media scrutiny) they were denied the chance to portray positive Muslim stories on local radio and print media.

This intense media spotlight had significant adverse effects on the ability of the community to engage with society, with one parent telling their children to stay away from the Muslim Student Organisations, even though the parent felt the Student Orgs were good people and did good work, because of a fear that they could put their kid in danger.

Visitations by the CSIS, the Canadian Security organisation, also caused great anxiety. Visits to people at work were particularly disturbing, with Muslims becoming very worried that friends and colleagues would take the view that there was "no smoke without fire".

One Muslim described how neighbours were constantly watching her father because he spent a lot of time in the garage - they had the perception that he was "up to something".

Dr Perry commented that in the case of most communities who feel they are under the public gaze, it is the males who are overwhelmingly the victims of hate crime. In contrast, in the case of the Muslim community it is the females who are most often attacked - because they are the most visibly Muslim.

Gatineau Mosque in Hull, Quebec

The Muslim Response
Dr Perry described some of the ways in which the Canadian Muslim community had responded to the spotlight that had been placed on them.

Some Muslims began to consider when and where they should be visibly Muslim, and where being visibly Muslim was not a bad idea. Some parents encouraged their children to "look less Muslim" so that they would be less likely to be targeted (either by people or by the Government).

In contrast, other Muslims began to become MORE visibly Muslim, as an act of defiance. Indeed BFTF's own beard is partly a 9/11 reaction, and BFTF also noticed that many relatives (in Pakistan !) grew beards at that time. Relevant to this are also the words of Israeli peace activist Robi Damelin who commented that:

"I am not all religious but I promise you that if someone said tomorrow morning that I could not wear the star of David I would go out and buy a star of David the biggest size I could find and I would walk around with it hear (on my chest) because you are pushing me into a corner - tell me I can't do something and I immediately feel threatened and that's when I'll immediately do it"
Often the sentiments felt by these visibly Muslim, er, Muslims was that they wanted to be recognised as Muslim AND Canadian.

Some Muslims called for better engagement and involvement in media, while others made efforts to befriend non-Muslims to show them that Muslims were not scary people.

Dr Perry showed the comments of one young Muslim who mentioned that, at colleges, the wearing of the Hijab had become so normal that non-Mulims were starting to chat up Hijabi Muslim girls. The young Muslim commented that this was a postive sign that these Muslim women had finally become accepted into society, and that the non-Muslim students did not view the Hijab as a barrier to engagement.

It's a post about Canada, what did you expect?

Other Comments
A few other little snippets of information from the talk are perhaps worth mentioning...

A TV programme that Dr Perry felt had gone a long way towards reducing tension was Canadian sitcom "Little Mosque on the Prairie" which focused on a Muslim community in the fictional fictional prairie town of Mercy, Saskatchewan.

Dr Perry commmented that there had been more bombings, robberies and attacks performed by the far-right in recent years that by any other group. Statistics show 306 people killed in attacks by the far-right since 2001 and added that, since the end of the Cold War, there has been a need for the US to find a new enemy.

The compere for the event, Mike Sutton en encouraged the audience to find read the available research and use it as a basis for further work or to influence policy.

Two examples that he gave of relevant work that the department relate to the BNP and to retention of BME Police officers.

Identity Crisis? Negotiating Blackness in the British Police Service: a Regional Perspective

Politicking the personal: examining academic literature and British National Party beliefs and wishes about intimate interracial relationships and mixed heritage.

Finding the Far Right Online An exploratory study of white supremacist websites,

Image Sources
Gatineau Mosque, Hockey, Map

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