Political dignitaries attend the funeral for three of the six victims of the Quebec City mosque shooting in Montreal in February 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
On Jan. 29, 2017, a man entered a Québec mosque during evening prayer and opened fire on the backs of 53 congregants. Six died immediately.
A funeral service was held at a Montréal hockey arena for three of the victims. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Québec Premier Phillippe Couillard and other dignitaries delivered heartfelt speeches. They affirmed that an injustice towards Canadian Muslims is an injustice towards all Canadians. Muslims are Canadians and their pain is our pain, the politicians exclaimed.
“Vive le Québec! We love Canada!” the stadium replied.
One year later, it’s time to look back at the funeral and listen carefully to what was said. Why affirm the Canadian-ness (and Québecois-ness) of grieving Muslims?
It couldn’t possibly be to discourage the public from Islamophobia. That would be like declaring “Don’t be racist” — futile.
Rather, their declarations were directed at Muslims across the country: Don’t let this brutal act persuade you into thinking you don’t belong. The views of the accused killer, and others like him, are wrong. Muslims do belong to Canada and Québec.
Imagine public attitude towards Muslims on a continuum, however. On one end, we find the mass murder, the ultimate expression of anti-Muslim sentiment. On the other, we find the loving embrace of Muslims as our own, like a family welcoming an adopted child.
When growing anti-Muslim sentiment —no thanks to politics — resulted in a massacre, the political good will at the funeral accomplished one thing: It reminded Muslims that they do, in fact, belong to Québec. Their speeches therefore never escaped the continuum’s trajectory.
Rather, political declarations of solidarity — well-intended as they may be — remained fixed on what American scholar Anne Norton calls “the Muslim question,” a reference to Karl Marx’s On The Jewish Question.
“The Muslim question” defines the political centricity of Muslims as the archetypal threat to democratic nation-states. It’s the thematic summation of all moral panic surrounding Islam and Muslims, from civic integration to the war on terror. In short, the Muslim question is the inevitable “othering” of Muslims as foreign entities within the national body.
The politicians did not unpack the Muslim question at the funeral; they did not bring to our attention the unremitting oscillation between “good/accepted” and “bad/rejected” Muslims on the aforementioned continuum.
They simply positioned themselves favourably along its path. In doing so, the politicians legitimized the continuum’s raison d'être: The moral panic surrounding Islam and Muslims.
Their statements catered to the tacit anti-Muslim attitudes endemic in society, where Muslims are perceived as integration-resistant and threatening. They might as well have exclaimed: And as to the eternal question of whether Muslims belong in this country, Muslims are Canadians!
It should come as no surprise, then, that the niqab reappeared in the political limelight with Bill 62, Québec’s Religious Neutrality law.
The sentiments shared at the funeral remain relevant as the niqab is hoisted, once again, as the symbol of religious defiance of secular sanctity.