Last Wednesday Liberal MP Iqra Khalid introduced controversial Motion 103 in the Canadian Parliament. This is a motion to ‘condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.’ While Khalid’s motion claims in a vague and general way to be equally worried about virulent anti-Semitism or persecution of Christians, it specifically mentions only Islamophobia by name.

Conservative MP David Anderson countered by introducing a motion mirroring Khalid’s motion but omitting specific mention of Islamophobia whilst referencing Canada’s major faiths. The Conservatives sought to have the House ‘condemn all forms of systemic racism, religious intolerance, and discrimination of Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus, and other religious communities’.

Anderson’s motion, which will be debated and voted on this week, is opposed by Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party on the bizarre grounds that by failing to mention Islamophobia specifically it actually condones Islamophobia. Liberal Heritage Minister Melanie Joly later asked reporters ‘What are they scared of? They’re scared of denouncing Islamophobia and, by not denouncing Islamophobia, they are actually contributing to the problem’.

Joly has also attacked the Conservative Party and several of its leadership candidates for deliberately fomenting anti-Muslim sentiment. She argued that Conservatives were using opposition to Motion 103 to whip up anti-Islam sentiment in order to raise money and generate political support.

It is likely that Motion 103 will not now be voted on until sometime in April. Several New Democrat MPs have said that they will have their cake and eat it by voting for both Anderson’s motion next week and for Khalid’s motion in April.

As it is a motion and not a Bill, Motion 103, which is likely to be passed, doesn’t carry the force of law. Rather a motion expresses, in a general sense, the perspective of the House. It is true that Muslims can face bigotry and discrimination, just as is true of Jews, Sikhs, Hindus and Christians, as can people of any religious grouping. But are Muslims a special case as this Liberal motion implies?

While prejudice and bigotry are unacceptable in a free society, criticism and open disagreement must be protected in any society which wishes to remain free. To disagree with and criticise any belief system is a vital freedom. To disagree with or criticise the theology or the social practices and political implications of Christianity is and must be allowed. Many Christians would argue that it is actually useful for Christians, that it helps us firm up our own faith and to sharpen our arguments, and such criticism may very occasionally actually be justified.

There is an argument that says, ‘Christians have a historically dominant position in Western culture, and as they’re a majority it’s permissible to say things about Christians that we wouldn’t say about minority groups who have a more precarious position in society’. Given that practising and worshipping Christians are a minority in Canada, as they are in the UK, this is a straw-man argument. But the more important point is that if you believe that people should be treated fairly and with respect, then that has to apply to all people. When special people get special treatment and protections, we have institutionalised prejudice.

Saying this is a motion and not a Bill does not lessen its moral implications and suasion; words can affect ideas and concepts. If this Motion 103 is passed it is the first step to creating a situation where, according to the Canadian Parliament, one religion is awarded a privileged position in Canada with protection for its ideology and practices.

Passing Motion 103 will create a situation where what Canadians say will be hedged about with caveats and fear of retribution. Canadians can say that Moses was a murderer with deep-seated anger problems. Canadians can say that King David was a sexual adventurer who covered up his adultery with murder. Canadians can say that the apostle Paul was a radical fundamentalist who participated in a stoning and later became a radical Christian who abused his theological opponents. Canadians can say that the apostle Peter was a braggart who didn’t come through on his boasts. Canadians can say that Mohammed was …

Who gets to define Islamophobia? Muslims? Does Islamophobia mean an irrational fear of all Muslims based on a very real and rational fear of several thousand radicals who truly do want to destroy Western democracy? Or does it mean the politically-correct concept of Islamophobia, that anyone questioning whether Islam is a religion of peace, is guilty of Islamophobia?

If M103 is passed Canadians will not feel free to say anything critical of Mohammed or the theology or practice of Islam without facing the fear of prosecution. This motion, which seems to promote tolerance, opens the door wide to intolerance.

(Image: Alex Guibord)

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