Trudeau’s silence on Trump’s racist behaviour is unacceptable: Zhou

Canada already has an Islamophobia problem, argues Steven Zhou. If Justin Trudeau wants to truly put a stop to it, it’s time he called out bigotry when he hears it.

By: /
November 30, 2017
Trump Trudeau
US President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump welcome Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau in the Oval Office, October 11, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

US President Donald Trump caused an international incident this week when he promoted the propaganda of one of Britain’s most infamous anti-Muslim activists.

Early Wednesday morning, he re-tweeted a leading figure of the anti-Muslim Britain First movement, prompting UK Prime Minister Theresa May to rebuke him and the Dutch government to fact-check him.

The fact that we work together does not mean that we’re afraid to say when we think the United States has got it wrong, and be very clear with them,” May saidAnd I'm very clear that retweeting from Britain First was the wrong thing to do.”

Justin Trudeau has remained completely silent. As the leader of Canada, home to at least a million Muslims (and a supposed bastion of liberal multiculturalism), Trudeau needs to join this chorus and issue an immediate, unqualified condemnation of Trump’s actions. 

This isn’t the first time Trump has promoted anti-Muslim material. By all accounts, it’s in fact the eightheighth — time since the beginning of his presidential campaign that he has explicitly propagated an anti-Muslim falsehood in order to smear that community.

That Canada has yet to come out with a public condemnation of this string of racist behaviour is unacceptable.

Trump’s retweets were of Britain First’s deputy leader, Jayda Fransen, who posted three videos alleging violent behaviour by Muslims and migrants. The Dutch government has debunked one of these videos, noting that the “migrant” Fransen refers to in her tweet is actually a Netherlands-born man who ended up doing time for his behaviour. The other two videos were of incidents in Syria and Egypt, and were tweeted with no reference to any context whatsoever.    

“Facts do matter,” tweeted the officials at the Dutch embassy in DC.

Here are some other facts: “Britain first!” was what Thomas Mair yelled when he shot and stabbed left-wing Labour Member of Parliament Jo Cox to death in broad daylight last year, later calling her a “collaborator” against the white race. Fransen was also convicted recently for harassing a Muslim woman wearing a hijab while conducting one of her “Christian patrols” of neighbourhoods known for having a significant Muslim presence. In other words, this group is no longer shy about publicizing its bigotry.

Then again, these facts only matter to those who want them to matter. Plenty of right-wing politicians in the Western hemisphere today are hard at work trying to exploit the current populist atmosphere by dog-whistling to a far-right contingent through anti-immigrant or tough-on-crime/terrorism messaging. But Trump has, by all indications, gone beyond even this superficial attempt at propriety when it comes to Muslims.

Trump has, among other things, campaigned on banning all Muslims from coming into the United States, lied about Muslim Americans not wanting to report the perpetrators of the San Bernardino massacre, and asserted wrongly that thousands of Muslim in New Jersey celebrated 9/11. This is all in keeping with the racist and sexist fodder that seems to pour out of his administration (and his private life) on a regular basis. And it has been happening for years.

Trudeau, who bills himself as the progressive and feminist choice for Canadian leadership, has yet to issue a truly explicit condemnation of these patterns.  

"As it turns out, words matter a lot, even if they are communicated via Twitter."

The Liberal government needs to at least demonstrate to the Canadian public that they are aware of how Trump’s rhetoric breathes life into even this country’s racist elements, just as it emboldens similar elements in America and Europe. This is not to say that racism in Canada starts and ends with what Trump says. It simply means that most active or dormant racist sentiments or entities in Canada feel more comfortable showing force or displaying (or acting on) their racist, “alt-right” or neo-Nazi beliefs when they see the supposed “leader of the free world” agreeing with them.

Canada already has an Islamophobia problem. There were monthly, often violent anti-Muslim protests attended by armed members of the Soldiers of Odin in Toronto this past spring at Nathan Phillip Square. It received minimal coverage from the media. That these demonstrations began not long after six Muslims were killed in a Quebec City mosque by a white man who railed against refugees and immigrants reveals something about Canada’s current moment. There has also been a relatively high number of Islamophobic incidents throughout the country in the past few years.

None of this is completely unrelated to the daily dose of bigoted propaganda that comes out of the current US administration.

It is by now clear that whichever person condemned to face the media as press secretary in the Trump White House plays second fiddle to the president’s volatile Twitter feed. That’s where the real stuff happens — where a single tweet can cause a diplomatic or policy-based debacle.

As it turns out, words matter a lot, even if they are communicated via Twitter. Trump has amply demonstrated that the medium is not trivial. He has shown just how easy it is for someone with his type of influence to promote messages that can damage the lives and communities of millions of people.

It is therefore no longer enough to say that the racist flyers or demonstrations next to one’s block or neighbourhood are the aberrant and negligent results of “some angry white people.” Such incidents, along with the murder of Jo Cox and the Quebec City mosque massacre, are part of a broader pattern in recent years that has accompanied the return of far-right politics in mainstream arenas.

It is a trend that helped give Trump the presidency and to which he is committed. Whether Trudeau voices his unequivocal opposition will reveal much about his values as prime minister.