Posted on May 2, 2018

Looking Away from Hate Leaves a Space for Right-Wing Extremism

Vicky Mochama, The Star, May 1, 2018

From the attack on the Quebec City mosque last year to the presence of paramilitary group the Three Percenters, violent right-wing extremism poses a threat. It grows unchecked in part because there is a tolerance for racism and a discomfort with confronting it.

In Montreal, two venues cancelled an event celebrating Muslim girls’ decision to wear the hijab. Both decisions were the result of white supremacist actions.

A column decrying the event in the Journal de Montreal was circulated on what the CBC calls “openly xenophobic Facebook sites,” leading to the cancellation at the first venue due to security concerns. It was cancelled at a second venue after the change in location was spread on Facebook by a faction of the largest far-right group in the province, according to the CBC.

In Toronto, the police service’s hate crimes report noted there was a 28 per cent increase in hate crimes in 2017 compared to 2016.

Right-wing extremism might seem like a phenomenon that happens anywhere but here. A recent study by two academics, Barbara Perry and Ryan Scrivens, sheds light on how right-wing violence and hate have come to thrive in Canada.

The media bears some responsibility for perpetuating hate. As with the column that criticized the hijab event, there is a tendency to give a platform to unfounded white victimhood that leaves us “with a culture reflected in bitter letters to the editor in local and national media, and opinion polls that seem to tap deep divisions and resentment — fodder for the hate movement,” says the study, published in Critical Criminology.

That creates conditions in which legal and human rights are a matter of opinion. That is, the humanity of racialized, non-citizen and religious people is up for debate.

For example, asylum is a long and complex process fraught with delicate distinctions and informed by international obligations. And yet, an Environics Research poll from March asked respondents to agree or disagree with the statement “Many people claiming to be refugees are not real refugees.” In headlines and news stories, members of the media speak in language both dehumanizing (“flood,” “surge”) and inaccurate (“illegal migrants,” when it is in fact not against the law for asylum claimants to cross the border by walking across it).

This careless language adds to what the authors describe as a culture of tolerance for hate.

The study’s authors write that “the vitriol of the hate groups is not so much an aberration as it is an albeit extreme reflection of racialist views that permeate society.” Embracing diversity (in some ways) while looking away from hate leaves a space for right-wing extremists to fill.

The resurgence of anti-Semitism, the persistence of anti-Black racism, the rise of Islamophobia, the focus on xenophobia and the virulence of anti-Indigeneity are evidence of a continuum of hate that has to be confronted.

Vicki Mochama