War, Islamophobia and Patriarchy

We need to see past the rhetoric and the fear mongering

In Canada's war against the Islamic State the domestic position has been to stoke Islamophobia amongst the conservative base by repeating jingoist messages about the threat of terrorism and by invoking the rights of women that Canada is supposedly standing up for.

We've witnessed it in tweets from Minister of Defence Jason Kenney, who on International Women's Day posted photos of Muslim women in chains and his message, "On #IWD2015, thank-you to the @CanadianForces for joining the fight against #ISIL's campaign to enslave women & girls."

The implication being that the women in the photos were prisoners of ISIL, but as the Ottawa Citizen revealed, they were in fact images of Shi'a Muslims taking part in a re-enactment ceremony.

Kenney has also referenced Canada's role in Operation Enduring Freedom, in which coalition forces invaded Afghanistan, to prove its commitment to women, despite evidence that Afghanistan is still one of the worst places to be a woman.

In a Senate committee Conservative Senator Lynn Beyak berated Shahina Siddiqui, head of the Islamic Social Services Association in Winnipeg, pointing a finger at the Muslim community for supporting extremists.

After pointing out that Muslims are the largest demographic affected by terrorism, Beyak demanded that Siddiqui stop being so "thin-skinned", essentially brushing off the plea to avoid falling victim to propaganda and hate.

One of the most reported examples is Zunera Ishaq's ongoing fight to wear the niqab during the citizenship swearing-in ceremony. Stephen Harper called her desire to wear the religious garment offensive and expanded on his outrage in the House of Commons by saying:

"Why would Canadians, contrary to our own values, embrace a practice... that... frankly is rooted in a culture that is anti-women. That is unacceptable to Canadians.”

What's unacceptable is how Harper and his party use women as props in their ideological war without demonstrating any real commitment to women. That denying a women's agency is supposed to simultaneously secure their rights is not only unlawful, as the courts have ruled, it is also ludicrous.

Where was the outrage when Israel bombarded Gaza in the summer of 2014, killing thousands of Palestinians, including hundreds of women and children? Instead the Harper Government offered its unequivocal support for Israel.

Where is the condemnation of the treatment of women in allied countries such as Saudi Arabia, where women are treated as second class citizens and subject to brutal prosecution?

Where was the outrage when voices all over Canada called for a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women? Apparently it wasn't a high priority.

The reality is that Canada only supports the rights of women when it is convenient, when it can be used to sell the idea of long-term engagement.

As citizens we need to see past the rhetoric and the fear mongering. We need to stop pointing fingers at other countries and cultures and start looking critically at our own. We need to listen to the women most affected and those who are already working tirelessly on these issues instead of deferring to the hawks in Ottawa.

Greg Gallinger is a freelance photographer, vegan food enthusiast, a purveyor of half-witted commentary and a reluctant citizen of the global technocracy.

Published in Volume 69, Number 25 of The Uniter (March 18, 2015)

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