That the House recognize that acts of violence and bigotry directed against religious believers, such as the June 23, 1985, bombing of Air India Flights 182 and 301, the September 15, 2001, firebombing of the Hindu Samaj Temple and the Hamilton Mountain Mosque, the April 5, 2004, firebombing of Montreal’s United Talmud Torah Jewish school, and the January 29, 2017, murder of Muslims at the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre, are inimical to a free, peaceful, and plural society and declare January 29 of every year as National Day of Solidarity with Victims of Anti-religious Bigotry and Violence.
He said: Mr. Speaker, the first of my remarks, which will take about 10 of the 15 minutes allocated to me, deal with why I believe Canada needs a national day of solidarity with the victims of anti-religious bigotry and violence, which I intend to be understood as bigotry and violence in both their international and their domestic manifestations.
The remainder of my remarks will present the case for demarcating January 29 as the date on which to annually express this solidarity. January 29, 2017 was, of course, the date of the attack on the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec. This was the worst act of Islamophobic violence in this country's history, and it was the worst act of anti-religious violence against members of any religious group in over a generation, claiming the lives of six men and leaving 19 others wounded, some severely.
Let me turn now to the first of the two parts into which I have divided my remarks. It is my belief that the greatest human rights challenge of our century is the persecution around the world of religious minorities. The issue of state-sponsored anti-religious bigotry, sometimes rising to the level of ethnic cleansing or genocide, is as great a challenge in our times as were the issue of slavery in the 19th century and the challenge of avoiding global war in the 20th century.
There is also a non-state version of the same problem. It comes in the form of acts of bigotry and violence against persons who have been targeted solely because of their religious identity by organized groups which, when they are tolerated or semi-tolerated by state authorities, can be described as death squads, and when they operate without any such state approval, we call terrorist groups. Finally, there are isolated individuals operating outside of any command structure and without material assistance from any group, who are sometimes characterized as lone wolves. The acts undertaken by these groups and individuals can, in the worst cases, amount to mass murder.
Intolerance and oppression against religious groups take many forms around the world. Here are seven concrete examples with deadly consequences. First, the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar. Second, the ruthless treatment of Christians in North Korea. Third, the murder of thousands of Christians in African countries. Fourth, the rise of anti-Semitism in places where I never thought such a thing would be possible, including the United Kingdom and the United States. Fifth, the egregious and sometimes murderous treatment of small groups like the Yazidi in Syria and the Baha'i in Iran. Sixth, the long-standing oppression of Tibetan Buddhists in China, and now the mass internment and widespread surveillance of Uighur Muslims in northwestern China. Seventh, the ongoing oppression of Falun Gong practitioners in China.
The worst form of intolerance is, of course, murder, and in the past two months alone, we have witnessed terrifying examples of mass murders of peaceful worshippers at prayer in the world beyond our borders, such as the mosque shootings in Christchurch on March 21, the church bombings in Sri Lanka on April 21, and the synagogue shooting in San Diego County on April 27.
These three incidents alone left over 300 Muslims, Christians and Jews dead and over 500 injured.
Please note that I have not broken down the foregoing death toll by the religion of the victims. It should be an article of faith to all Canadians that the adherents of all religions are brothers and sisters, and I think it is our instinct as a nation to feel that an attack that targets the members of any identifiable part of civilian population is, in practice, an attack on society itself.
If we take a closer look at the seven-item list that I have just read aloud, an important fact becomes apparent. The state oppressors and terrorist murderers of course identify and abuse their victims based upon their religious affiliation. However, more often than not, these victims are targeted because, in the eye of the perpetrators, their religion is important primarily as a symbol of something else, something entirely non-religious, such as advocacy of regional autonomy or independence, being unwanted foreigners, being a demographic threat, being manipulators of the law or the financial system and so on.
The victims of the Christchurch shootings, for example, were targeted because their faith was seen as being symbolic of their otherness, of the status of many of the worshippers as immigrants and of being part of a group imagined to be inherently resistant to assimilation.
The shooter at the California synagogue likewise claimed to be motivated by what is being described as white replacement theory or white genocide theory, in which race, religion and place of birth are conflated in such a fashion that being an adherent to any religious tradition other than that of the European-derived majority is seen as marking a person as a perpetual outsider, an outgroup member with no right to be here. In consequence, that person also has no right even to be alive, if killing that person can serve the greater purpose of sending the supposedly important message that others have no place here.
There was another claim made by the California gunman that ought to attract our attention. He asserts that a month prior to the synagogue shooting, he attempted to set fire to a mosque.
In the ideology of white nationalism, being Muslim or Jewish makes a person a perpetual outsider. As Mustafa Farooq observed a few weeks ago in The Guardian, in 2019 it is now true that “Anti-semitism and Islamophobia are two sides of the same coin”.
There was a time not so long ago when this thesis would have seemed preposterous. Today, as the testimony of the California gunman reveals, it is an established protocol in a living, if alarming, ideology.
Now let us take a look at the victims of the Sri Lanka bombings. One of the motivations of the killers seems to have been retaliation for the Christchurch shootings, even though it would have been obvious to even the most deluded individual that none of the Sri Lankan victims were involved in that crime in any way. How could they have been? Another motivation, according to the Sri Lankan government, was to strike back against the western countries that had crushed ISIL in Syria and Iraq, although, again, not even the most delusional person could have imagined that any of the victims bore even the most peripheral responsibility.
The reduction of human life to being merely symbolic of some half-baked group association and the conflation of religious identity with national identity, or with the foreign policy of this or that nation, or with simple otherness, are features of these terrorist acts.
About 10 years ago, I was the co-chair, along with Liberal MP Mario Silva, of a parliamentary coalition to combat domestic and international anti-Semitism. At that time, I thought this kind of fantastical group association was a burden borne uniquely by Jews, who were, and unfortunately still are, held collectively responsible for the transgressions, real and imaginary, of the State of Israel. This collective responsibility extended all the way up to the point that, in the eyes of some extremists, every Jew could be regarded as a legitimate target for deadly retaliation against a state of which, in most cases, they were not even citizens.
However, now I realize that this phenomenon is true for other victim groups as well, and that, unfortunately, it is true in Canada as much as in the rest of the world. For example, this country's worst act of domestic terrorism took place in 1985, when Air India flight 182 exploded in mid-air on its way from Canada to London. We would later learn that the goal of the conspirators had been to kill as many Hindus as possible, because the perpetrators had, simplistically and unfairly, conflated Hindus as a whole with the Indian state. One of the militants said, “The Indian Government is our enemy, the same the Hindu society is our enemy” and, “Until we kill 50,000 Hindus, we will not rest”.
In the event, the Air India bombers killed 329 people. This included 200 Hindus, but also over 30 Sikhs and a number of people of other faiths.
Then there was the attack at the Centre culturel islamique de Québec. People who interacted with the shooter reported that he was both aggressively anti-immigrant and aggressively anti-Muslim. His attitude and his apparent desire to make immigrants feel unwelcome are strikingly similar to the ideology of the New Zealand shooter who came along two years later.
I would urge the House to keep that in mind while I change direction and draw a comparison between January 29 and November 11, which, as we all know, is Remembrance Day.
Exactly a century ago, in 1919, His Majesty King George V instituted a number of measures to express his gratitude to the millions of brave young volunteers from Great Britain, Canada and the whole world who lost their lives in the Great War. Of all the commemorative actions the king initiated, the longest lasting was his decision to designate one symbolic day of the year when we, as a society, take the time to reflect on the sacrifices of our courageous dead.