Sunday, January 21, 2018

Revisiting the Hijab Story and the General Denial of Islamophobic Violence

Back in 1982, one of my Grade 2 classmates arrived at school more than an hour late. The teacher began to admonish him and demand why it had taken him so long to walk to school AGAIN (we lived in a small town).

Benjamin stammered that someone tried to pull him into a van.

At that point I remember my teacher's face turning to ash. You see there was a time in the late 70s through the late 80s when news of people trying to abduct children was frequently on the news and constituted, in retrospect, somewhat of a widely believed urban myth since even then it was far more likely that a child would be kidnapped by someone he or she knew rather than a stranger. The teacher took Ben to the office immediately. Not long after we saw police cars pull up in the parking lot out the window and his mother sprinting into the school, frantically heading straight to the office sobbing all the while. One by one the Grade 2 class was taken into an empty classroom to be questioned by the police to see if we could maybe provide any information. Did we see that van? What color was it? How many people were inside? Where did we see the van?

Wanting to please the police officers who were trying to protect us, we all provided what we thought would be helpful answers.

I told the police officers the van was black with a painting of a girl with a sword in a bikini riding a big cat (remembering that my uncle had a van just like that because, you know, he was a classy fella) and one person driving. One of my friends said she saw a red van by the park with two men and one woman. Another saw a blue van with two people and a dog. All of us, so far as I know, gave the officers what we believed to be "helpful" answers and endeavored to be as creative as possible.

Of course if they has asked where we had last SEEN Ben on our way to school, some of us might also have said we saw him between the Johnstone's garage and fence feeding their pet rabbits as he often did on his way to and from school through the back alley shortcut many of us took and  which is why he was often late for school.

It didn't take long for the police to figure this out for themselves. I don't remember much of what happened after, though I do remember Ben being made to stay in the class during recess for a week and his parents grounding him for a month; he was playing outside within the week after his parents apparently relented. The incident wasn't really ever spoken about again until graduation when it was recounted as a humorous anecdote about Ben during the grad dinner a decade later, but other than that it was mostly a forgotten story.

Sometimes children lie. They lie because they don't want to get into trouble. They lie because they want to provide the "correct" answers to people in positions of authority either through subtle or not subtle coaching or through their own form of creative fill-in-the-blanks. They lie because it results in attention. They lie because of psychological troubles. They lie for a variety of reasons. It doesn't make them bad. It just means they are kids who aren't entirely aware of the consequences of their lie. For example, not long ago in Okotoks, AB a young teen claimed to have been attacked at her home and had her throat slashed before the suspect, described as a blond male, ran off. The story made the news provincially and nationally and was actually used as an example by some of the Islamophobic bigots and groups ARC covers as an example of Islamic violence since some automatically assumed the suspect was a Muslim:

However by November 24 the police had determined that the young girl had made up the story. There was no follow-up in the news after that and people promptly forgot about it though I remember some people express sympathy for both the girl ("she needs psychological help and I'm praying for her") and her family ("oh, they must be so embarrassed!).

Similar sympathetic attitudes were not expressed towards the 11 year old girl who claimed to have been attacked by a man who cut up her hijab or her family who, once the realized the story wasn't true, soon apologized "to all Canadians." (though this act of contrition was not expected or demanded of the Okotoks family previously mentioned):

Lee Down is the Toronto chapter leader of the Northern Guard

In the world of Islamophobes, guilt is assigned to the group. An 11 year old child lied, so that means all Muslims are complicit:

That last claim by Myatt isn't exactly an original one. On January 29, 2017, Alexandre Bissonnette is alleged to have entered the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City where he then opened fire. As a result six people were killed and others injured. At the time of the tragedy, the groups and individuals ARC monitors had three primary reactions to the tragedy:

  1. They celebrated the attack and hoped for more.
  2. They accused Muslims of killing Muslims (and again, some were very happy about this as well).
  3. They claimed it didn't happen, that Bissonnette was a patsy, or that it was a "false flag."

So when Myatt bragged about "knowing" that the attack on the 11 year old child wasn't true when politicians and police initially believed her, one should put that in context:

Myatt simply doesn't believe Muslim-Canadians have ever been the victims of an attack as a result of their religion. Full stop:

This rhetoric echos similar rejection of antisemetic hate crimes directed at Jews and can be found on hate sites such as Stormfront and VNN among other places.

It should also go without saying that it isn't true. In fact there have been a number of Islamophobic acts in Myatt's backyard:

Late in 2016, a number of Ottawa churches, synagogues, and mosques were targeted by a vandal who spray painted swastikas and other hateful messages on the buildings. The teenager, who had a history of racially-based violence dating back to at least 2015, was later caught and in February pleaded guilty.

More recently, Shawn Le Guerrier was arrested and charged with an attack on the Ottawa Mosque and Islam Care Centre in Ottawa (this constituted his second act of vandalism targeting Islamic institutions). Le Guerrier is especially interesting due to his involvement with the Soldiers of Odin and briefly with the Northern Guard:

In fact Le Guerrier once again became a focus of interest for ARC not long ago:

Cory Knowles was the vp of a tiny Blood & Honour/Combat 18 chapter, now president of the Rasistisk Loyalists, in New Brunswick:

Knowles has some links, at least commercially, with the larger Calgary Blood & Honour as well:

And just because, of course there is, a connection to the Northern Guard:

The membership of Blood & Honour/Combat 18/Rasistisk Loyalists is tiny and comprised mainly of Knowles, his girlfriend, and a few locals who don't particularly strike me as pinnacles of the "Master Race": 

However by late 2017, Knowles appears to have attracted at least one non-local to his hate group:

Le Guerrier wasn't on VK for very long, but while he was online he left no doubt that he is unrepentant about having targeted the Islamic center in Ottawa:

Le Guerrier eventually shut down his VK account after becoming a bit skittish, though not before making a few pointed threats before so:

I've speculated that the following, aside from the conspiracy-laden paranoia, might be among his reasons for concern:
“It’s always distressing to see our places of worship targeting in this hateful way. We call on the police to investigate these incidents as potential hate crimes,” Malik said. 
Police said if these incidents prove to be racially motivated, the suspect could face a more severe sentence in court.
Le Guerrier and the teen represents two "non-existent" Islamophobic attacks that have occurred in Ottawa alone within a year. And they are not isolated no matter what the likes of Myatt would have one believe.

When I learned that the attack on the 11 year old child hadn't happened, I was genuinely relieved that she wasn't harmed. I don't know for certain she made up the story, but as someone who remembers a similar false narrative from my own childhood as well as my own innocent complicity I could come up with some good guesses. I do certainly feel for the family who is now being unfairly dragged through the mud in a way that, due to their religion, no other family would be forced to endure.

In discussing this with allies, the biggest concern was that as a result future incidents might not be believed or it might result in victims not reporting attacks to the police for fear of being called liars. While I agree with these concerns, the reality is that the worst of the Islamophobes never believe these incidents take place. They didn't believe them before and they won't believe them after.

No comments: