In 2015, when I heard Iqra Khalid speak at UTM during the campaigning period for the Mississauga-Erin Mills riding, she was a newly-minted Liberal MP. She assumed office that very same year. Despite her political inexperience, I was impressed with Khalid. She displayed her political suavity by answering the audience’s questions with poise and a good understanding of the facts, rather than flowery language. Amidst well-seasoned MPs, such as Conservative MP Bob Dechert, Khalid was comparable—if not equal—in argumentation. Though I left the political debate that night with the expectation of a bright future for this young MP, I never imagined her to be the centre of controversy over a proposed motion two years later.
Given the recent tragic Quebec Mosque attacks, Khalid proposed motion 103 (M103). The debating of the motion will be delayed to this coming April. One noteworthy clause of the motion states, “The government should ‘condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.’”
On the surface, M103 is an anti-Islamophobia motion. However, its detractors say that it is a motion that will ultimately inhibit the expression of free speech.
“This is creeping Sharia Law!” one online commenter writes.
“Nothing, not even your religion is above criticism,” another online comment reads.
I understand the importance of free speech and criticism, and history speaks as a testament when I say that healthy social progress cannot be achieved simply by silencing specific (albeit disagreeable) viewpoints. After all, imposing a high degree of political correctness can stifle progress as well. Such an imposition certainly won’t create the open discourse much needed in the Canadian context, especially now that it’s saturated with the arguably bigoted rhetoric of our Southern neighbor. However, what I think these commenters miss is the distinction between criticism and hate speech; the latter, I think, is what M103 is really trying to end.
The reactions to the motion can be described as…impassioned, in general. During a parliamentary session, Khalid stands up to read the comments she’s received since the proposal of the motion.
In a video posted by the Huffington Post, Khalid reads a list of racial slurs directed towards her: “Real Canadians will rise up and get rid of the nasty blank Muzzie [sic] stench in Ottawa. They should all go the [blank] back to your [blank] hole where you belong. We will burn down your mosques, draper head Muslim.”
Perhaps the kinds of comments I’ve found, or the ones that Khalid has chosen to present, are only a minute representation of the discourse. I’m sure that there are some critically-informed and tempered comments floating around somewhere. Maybe I just haven’t been looking hard enough for them. However, the fact that such comments read by Khalid, relying on nothing but expletives and racial slurs, are circling around (and even garnering a sizeable amount of online approval) scares me.
Why? Because it shows that instead of approaching the proposal of motions like M103 with the kind of intellectually-informed criticism that it deserves, Canadians are apt to resort to trite and woefully ignorant racial slurs to make their case.
Not only are these kinds of comments extremely distasteful, but they do nothing but delay discussion on central issues such as the distinction between criticism and hate speech and the issue of what it means to be Canadian. It is these kinds of comments that make me worry for the kind of behavioral precedence that we inadvertently set for the world and for our children at home. I think Canadians are capable of a higher standard when it comes to dealing with sensitive political issues.
Moreover, in what seems to be an attempt to silence Khalid, death threats and expletive-riddled speech aimed at her may actually strengthen her case for the passing of M103. It is exactly this kind of hate speech directed at Khalid, and the Muslim community at large, that inspired the motion in the first place—and the fact that these commenters have proven that hate speech is very much alive in Canada furthers Khalid’s end. Already, articles by the Toronto Sun suggest that PM Justin Trudeau is in favour of M103—and the presence of these distasteful comments, I hypothesize, will nonetheless augment his support.
I don’t deny the possibility that M103, under a certain interpretation, may stifle free speech. But this possibility is exactly why the discourse should focus on the difference between free speech and hate speech and not on Khalid’s country of origin or accusations of terrorism. What qualifies hate speech? What qualifies free speech? What degree of political correctness is beneficial or harmful to social progress? How should the Charter of Rights and Freedoms be interpreted in the Islamophobia context? These are the kinds of questions we need to start talking about.
I also don’t endorse that Canadians have an obligation to wholly accept M103. However, what I merely emphasize is that if you reject M103, then back it up with a measured, factually-informed opinion piece explaining your view. But simply saying you don’t want M103 to be implemented since Khalid is a “muzzie” is just, well, not very convincing. We’d make more progress by sticking to facts and tempered opinions instead of resorting to ad hominem fallacies to make our case.