Here in Canada, the private member’s motion by Liberal backbencher Iqra Khalid has been causing some consternation. As with most things political and legal, the result has been a great deal of misunderstanding about what is actually said, and where the arguments really lie in the debate over the motion. Unfortunately, this has become a bit of a political Rorschach test (with people seeing their own political boogeymen in the issue regardless of the facts), meaning that fair-minded people can get easily confused as to the issues. So here are some points that we Christians should be considering when thinking and discussing this topic.
1) This is a motion, not a bill. There is a very big difference in parliamentary procedure between a bill (which if passed becomes law), and a motion of Parliament (which if passed can only change the rules in parliament at most, and usually simply records the will of parliament). You can see this in the text of the motion, which instructs a Parliamentary committee to do research on a defined set of terms. You can check out this short backgrounder for more information.
2) Religious Discrimination really is a problem. It’s hard to argue that there aren’t people who have hatreds of Muslims in Canada (even evidenced in the pushback the member bringing the motion has faced). In at least one (possibly deranged) case, it has led to violence. As people who are in favour of religious tolerance (i.e. religious people being allowed to be openly religious in our society), Christians generally should be ready to oppose unjustified religious discrimination, whether it is focussed on us as Christians, or on any other religious group. In this way, the motion makes some good statements about dealing with religious discrimination.
3) There really is racism in Canada, and some of it expresses through the hatred of perceived “foreign” religions. Again, this is not particularly a controversial point. Some people (both in support of Muslims, and those opposed to Muslims) mischaracterize their feelings in terms of race. As we will see in a moment, part of the discussion does have to be about language, and so this is more of a complicating factor than it would first appear. That said, as a people purchased by Christ from every tribe and tongue and nation, and who affirm that all humans carry the image of God, we cannot support racial discrimination either, and indeed need to be openly opposing it. Here again, the motion has much Christians can applaud.
4) The issue is language. Contrary to public opinion at present, Islam is not a race any more than Christianity is. Thus, while we need to oppose unjust religious discrimination, and racism, we need to be careful not to conflate the two. The Muslim teacher I have had the best conversations with happened to be a redhead from Newfoundland, who has a whiter complexion than I do, and I have spent more time in the Middle East than he has. Similarly, as Mark Noll has pointed out, the average Christian globally is a woman living in sub-Saharan Africa. Thus I would point out that the juxtaposition of systematic racism with what is termed “Islamophobia” is going to cause confusion. To oppose the teachings of any religion is not in itself racist. While Christians need to oppose unjust racial and religious discrimination, we need to be careful to keep open the possibility of disagreeing over religious beliefs.
5) The Term Islamophobia is (a large) part of the issue Here the issue is going to depend largely on how you read the word. If Islamophobia refers to the irrational fear and hatred of Muslim people, there is valid reason to oppose it. As with any fear and hatred of people made in the image of God (regardless of what they believe), Christians must be at the forefront of opposing it. However, recent cultural movements have tended to mobilize the term “phobia” as a means of discrediting all criticism of the thing ostensibly feared. While the applicability of the terms in those cases can be debated elsewhere, when it comes to a creed or religion, applying the phobia moniker may chill free discussion of those creeds or religions.Where this may work against free speech, Christians need to be vigilant, since evangelism, and even internal religious debate within Christianity (as well as within Islam) may be chilled.