Nationalism, Hatred, and Anti-Muslim Violence in Canada

Before beating Muhammed Abu Marzouk in a Mississauga parking lot so severely he needed brain surgery, Janis and Adem Corhamzic shouted to him and his family: “Fucking Arab people! Terrorists!” It has been reported that the men delivered a series of blows to Muhammed while his wife pleaded with them to stop and while his two daughter watched on. Muhammed’s brother stated in an interview that when Muhammed’s wife tried to shield him from the blows, they kicked her as well and that another relative was also injured in the attack. Both men delivered “sucker punches” to Muhammed while telling him to “go back where he came from” and repeatedly calling him a terrorist.

This reported incident is one of a slew of racially motivated assaults made by white men against Muslim families in Southern Ontario. And there are many more that go unreported. On July 25th, a white man accosted a Muslim family at the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal in Toronto, proclaiming that: “You don’t ask me a question in my fucking province” and “Welcome to Ontario, you fucking asshole.” And later still, on July 29th, in the City of Hamilton, another incident, in which a disagreement over the use of a parking spot became fodder for a white man to declare to a Muslim family: “I’m racist as fuck. I don’t like you. I don’t like her. I would kill your children first.” This incident resulted in one woman being hit by a car and the man in question fleeing the scene. And, although not occurring in Ontario, we cannot forget the names of those shot and killed inside of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City in 2017 by Alexandre Bissonnette: Mamdou Tanou Barry, Azzeddine Soufiane, Abdelkrim Hassane, Ibrahima Barry, Aboubaker Thabti, and Khaled Belkacemi. Seventeen children lost a parent in that shooting.

Police are investigating these recent incidents in Ontario as hate crimes, that is to say, they are being investigated with “hate” as their motivator, specifically because of the use of racially charged language during the attacks. This makes sense because it seems logical to think that someone would do this because they hate others, and this is of course, part of the story, but what’s missing from this conversation is what these men love.

And that’s Canada.

By calling these  Muslim men “terrorists,” yelling at them and their families to “go back to where they came from,” and referring to Ontario as “their province,” these white men are participating in a “ritual” of Canadian citizenship which dictates that Canadians must protect themselves and their families from a tide of Muslim immigrants who many Canadians imagine as attempting to “change” Canadian culture with their own cultural practises, practises which are thought to be “backward” and “barbaric”. This ritual of Canadian citizenship is one which seeks to “cast out” Muslims from western law and politics. In this case, this casting out is done with the physical punishment of Muslim bodies which, of course, results in fear for all Muslims; we are made to feel fearful for ourselves, our friends, our families, and the broader Muslim community. It could be argued, then, that these attacks are not exclusively “hate crimes” but that they also qualify as coming from a place of “love” for Canada. Anti-Muslim violence enacted in the name of protecting “Canada” from “others” works by making Muslims feel as though we do not belong here, as though we are not a part of Canada, as if we are not “Canadians.” Furthermore, it equates to us thinking that we just need to “prove” that we are not terrorists, that we are Canadians, that we are “good” Muslims.

It seems to me that they acted out of love for the version of “Canada” that is grounded in the continued colonization of Indigenous peoples, a nation which interned Japanese people during World War II, and a nation which continues to hide its oppressive past and present under the guise of a “multicultural” society.

So, how are we to grapple with such acts being done out of the “love” of Canada? How do we grapple with “love” being used to inflict harm? We know that “love” cannot exist alongside abuse. But these people, acting out of “love” for Canada, have always shifted love’s meaning to include such actions. After all, most colonial projects were imagined as projects of “love” and “care”. Sara Ahmed points out that it has become common for hate groups to rebrand themselves as organizations of love, claiming that they act out of love for their own kind, and for the nation instead of acting out of the hatred for strangers or others. In this way, they come to be seen as a positive force as they are seen as fighting “for” others and on behalf of others. They are constructed as “selfless.” In the case of Bissonnette (the man who murdered 6 Muslim men while they were praying in Quebec City) this is very clear. During his interrogation he claimed that he wanted to save lives, the lives of Canadians from “terrorist attacks.” He states himself, then, that his actions were taken out of what he thought was love, not hate, and recently, he has been cited as expressing feelings of shame for his actions.

These men did not act out of fear, so I struggle to use the term “Islamophobia” to explain their actions. It doesn’t seem like they really acted only out of “hate,” either. It seems to me that they acted out of love for the version of “Canada” that is grounded in the continued colonization of Indigenous peoples, a nation which interned Japanese people during World War II, and a nation which continues to hide its oppressive past and present under the guise of a “multicultural” society. So many mayors and politicians have voiced their dismay and “outrage” at these events. An example being Mississauga mayor, Bonnie Crombie who, in an interview with the Toronto Sun, expressed that the crime was heinous, senseless, and that she is sickened by it. She added her thoughts and prayers, adding that this is not “her” Mississauga. But it is her Mississauga. Displacing Janis and Adem Corhamzic as “outside” the realm of “our” multicultural Ontario is as dishonest as claiming that their actions were motivated solely by hate.

We have to contend with what these love as well as what they hate. And what they love is Canada.