Political cancel culture: Canada’s anti-Islamophobia advisor faces calls to back down after controversy

Contributed image. Credit: Reuters

Recently appointed to the new position of Canada’s anti-Islamophobia advisor by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, journalist and human rights activist Amira Elghawaby has already been subject to much abrupt and senseless backlash from the Quebecois government. 

The controversy around Elghawaby centers on a 2019 column that she and a collaborator published in the Ottawa Citizen. The piece, co-written by fellow board member of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, Bernie M. Farber, emphasizes the connection between Bill 21, which was newly legislated at the time, and growing Islamophobia in Quebec. 

The two looked at data put out by Léger Marketing in 2019, which found that among individuals in Quebec who harbour negative sentiments about Islam, 88 per cent support the province’s ban of public sector workers wearing religious symbols. On the other hand, among the Quebeckers that had positive feelings about Islam, almost all were strongly against the ban. 

Elghawaby, an adamant voice for the Muslim community in Canada, has been very vocal about the repercussions of Bill 21 and its continued support of harmful prejudices against Muslims.  

However, the government of Quebec has interpreted Elghawaby’s comments in the 2019 piece as advocating for an anti-Quebec sentiment, and they have called for her resignation just days after her appointment. The province’s claims are rash and based on a discrimination against Elghawaby to which they refuse to admit. 

 In a CBC interview, the CEO of the National Council of Canadian Muslims points out that Léger Marketing was not seen to be “Quebec bashing” when publishing their data. But of course, when such findings are used by minority religious groups (Elghawaby identifies as Muslim and Farber identifies as Jewish) to emphasize a growing concern in their society, the emphasis transforms into supposed anti-Quebec sentiment. 

As a result, Elghawaby has been forced to apologize and re-iterate how she never intended to paint Quebeckers in a bad light, a ridiculous and performative demand that she has nonetheless fulfilled with humility and grace. 

This is political cancel culture at its worst, another modern version of David and Goliath. “Civil debate is not just insisting on one’s position and being angry”, says human rights lawyer, Julius Grey in an interview with the CBC. But evidently, this is how most public political disagreements tend to proceed anyway, especially when it comes to ideology and religious equality. 

Grey is one of many reputable academics and activists who have signed a letter supporting Elghawaby and her right to the opportunity to prove her abilities as the representative on confronting Islamophobia. Indeed, there are many on her side, but with Quebec’s provincial government leading the opposite charge, there is no guarantee that their efforts will prove worthwhile.

For Elghawaby, the fight is now not only against Islamophobia in Canada, but also against the political leaders who seek to stop her from speaking her mind.

Featured image credit: Reuters. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-64505315.

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