At a Peel District School Board meeting in Ontario, a man disrupted the meeting by yelling out Islamophobic comments and tearing up pages from the Qur’an. The school implemented a religious accommodation policy 15 years ago that allows Muslim students to have a prayer space in school. Islamophobia and racist attacks are on the rise, in the United States but also in Canada. A lot of people often have disruptive, racist/discriminatory, and abusive things to say to minorities. How do you handle watching someone say horrible things to another, and how do you intervene? How does it feel when you’re the person being attacked? What can we do to end it–or perhaps, more realistically, make others feel safe?
I grew up in a part of Toronto where being white was the ethnic minority. From the first day of junior kindergarten until I moved out of the city in Grade 11, my peer group was wonderfully diverse. Attending schools where religious and cultural events were celebrated, not accommodated, was a positive and eye opening experience. Every group was recognized and respected for their beliefs, creating a comfortable and constructive environment. So when people are ripping religious texts in school board meetings in protest of religious tolerance, I am left scratching my head. The big question is what riles up the hate in these individuals, and in my mind the answer is fear.
The Peel District School Board (PDSB) meeting on March 22nd was graced by the presence of 80 afraid individuals, scared of the boards decision to allow Muslim students to write their own sermons for their friday prayers. To put this outburst in context, the PDSB has allowed Muslim students to pray every friday in school spaces for 20 years. The prayers are monitored by a Muslim teacher and used to use six pre-written sermons, until the recent change allowing students to prepare their own materials.
The intensity of the resistance to students preparing their own sermons is shocking. A petition calling for the end of religious accommodation in Peel region schools has received 5 758 signatures so far. Started by a group called Religion out of Public Schools, the petition states religious accommodation will lead to “unintentional intolerance” and “unsolicited exposure to religion”. It is an odd choice to use intentional intolerance to avoid the risk of “unintentional intolerance”, and even stranger to argue being exposed to a religion is a negative
Watching this hate gain support makes it impossible to ignore the ignorance present in the public’s view of the Islamic faith. None of these arguments are rational, and are only defendable when blind with ignorance. Religion out of Public Schools argues religious accommodation is too expensive for the schools to incorporate. What isn’t clear to me is if they consider derailing entire board meetings and necessitating police intervention as activities which cost nothing to the school board.
It is vital that groups on the receiving end of hate speech understand how fearful those opposed to them are. The best way to move forward from hate is to address the underlying issue. It is a big ask to get someone to change their opinion, but it is much more attainable to create an environment in which they can no longer hold irrational views. If I’m afraid of the dark and someone turns the lights on, I may still have my fear, but it is now impossible to be afraid. If we can turn the lights on for those hating minorities, it will be impossible for them to validate their irrational views.