We’re mourning victims of right-wing populism

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Quebec City shooting

The assassination Sunday evening of six Quebec City men — fathers, husbands, brothers and sons shot unarmed, in the backs, while kneeling in prayer — is being portrayed by many as an isolated incident.

It is not.

The right-wing political commentators and spin doctors who rushed to condemn the violence — people like the Journal de Montréal’s Richard Martineau and Mathieu Bock-Côté —  were quick to blame extreme-right groups for creating the climate that led to Sunday’s massacre. “The battle of freedom fighters is being fought on two fronts,” Martineau wrote Friday on his Facebook page. “Against Islamists and against the extreme right.” He repeated the mantra Tuesday morning, using the murders of six Muslim men to urge the critics of Islam — “those brave men and women” — to continue speaking out against extremism even though they might now be perceived as having “blood on their hands.”

What utter nonsense. What crass opportunism.

Mathieu Bock-Côté

Mathieu Bock-Côté

The man who murdered six innocent Quebecers at prayer and wounded another 19 Sunday wasn’t trying to kill radical Islamists. I have no doubt we will learn he walked into that mosque guided by blind hate, the same way Dylann Roof walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church two summers ago and killed nine black American churchgoers. He wasn’t targeting terrorists, he targeted grocers and teachers and civil servants. He wasn’t acting on behalf of right-wing extremists, he was reflecting a climate that Martineau and Bock-Côté and the Parti Québécois’s Charter of Values and Hérouxville helped create: a climate of exclusion and isolation of “the other.” A place where women are attacked and insulted for wearing headscarves, where an “Arab-sounding” name makes it harder to get work or even to rent an apartment. Where in the name of “liberating” a tiny number of Muslim women who wear garments that obscure their faces, we vow to chase them from the public view and deny them access to government services.

Yes, the killer’s actions were extreme, but they were part of a continuum of everyday violence, of systemic racism and prejudice directed at Muslims every day in this province, this country and around the western world.

Martineau’s condemnation of the violence is as meaningless as similar statements Monday from three of the very right-wing groups he blames. They, too, disassociate themselves from the hatred they’ve helped foment. La Meute, for example, “condemns any act of violence directed at anyone” in their Quixotic fight to ensure “the future of our children doesn’t end up in the hands of a radical, pro-Sharia Islam.”

Bock-Côté wrote that “the crime bears the marks of a primitive and hateful extreme right cultivating an unhealthy aversion to the Muslims.” This from the man that the Collectif Québécois Contre l’Islamophobie calls “one of the most active pamphleteers in Quebec for European extreme-right identity politics.” No doubt he thinks his aversion is the healthy sort, one that can be relieved as soon as Muslims make themselves indistinguishable from any other Québécois.

***

Montreal vigil

Last night’s vigil in Montreal

I joined several thousand people jammed into the huge square around the Parc metro Monday night, bundled up against freezing temperatures as we listened to speaker after speak denounce the violence and urge solidarity with a Muslim population that has become a constant target of suspicion and hate, thanks in no small part to people like Martineau. U.S. President Donald Trump also shares plenty of blame for reinforcing a climate of paranoia and fear, and his recent attempts to bar anyone from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S. may well have been one of the factors that encouraged Sunday’s massacre.

We have learned now that, despite mistaken early reports that a man with an Arabic name was one of the shooting suspects, a lone, white Quebecer has been charged with the crimes. Since he gave himself up peacefully and reportedly told police he wanted to cooperate with the investigation, Université Laval student Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, may be able to provide real insight into the role that mainstream hate plays in creating a political mass murderer. We already know that Trump, Marine Le Pen and Bock-Côté were among his Facebook heros.

We already know that these right-wing populists have created a climate where racism has been normalized, where stereotypes and lies that often start with “I’m not racist but” are just “telling it like it is” and discrimination is just “protecting our own.”

Sunday’s massacre may be an extreme manifestation of that hate, but lesser forms of violence are taking place every day. When Aisha is refused a job serving coffee because she wears a headscarf, when Muhammad is told an apartment is no longer for rent, when Ali is told his religion is evil because of the acts of pagan fanatics, these are acts of violence, too.

Until we denounce the tens of thousands of daily acts of hate, until we expose the bile of the Martineaus and Bock-Côtés and their everyday white franco supremacism, until we mobilize and march against the politics of fear and exclusion of the Trumps, Le Pens and Kellie Leitches of this world, we have no call to be surprised when one of their sycophants picks up a gun and seeks their own solutions. ■

Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear on Cult MTL every week. You can contact him by Email or follow him on Twitter.

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