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The Racist Backlash to the Paris Attacks Is Helping the Islamic State

Islamophobia just helps reinforce the extremists' message that Islam and the West can't coexist.

An Islamophobic protest in Helsinki, Finland this week. Photo courtesy EPA/Mauri Ratilainen

Two days after a Peterborough, Ontario, mosque was set on fire, a Muslim woman picking her kids up from school in Toronto was beaten and robbed by two white men who accused her of being a "terrorist." In a nearby apartment building, hallways were sprayed with graffiti that said "Muslims go home!!! We do not want you here!" Meanwhile, Canadian politicians are voicing their opposition to the Liberals' plan of bringing Syrian refugees into the country, an opinion shared by tens of thousands of Canadians according to a series of petitions making the rounds online.


The reactions range from misguided and xenophobic to outright racist, but they are also exactly what the Islamic State wants.

"The recruitment tools that ISIS and Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations use is they say to the young Muslim, 'Don't you get it? The West hates you. They're at war with your religion, they'll never accept you… Come here, you belong here, join us we are your brothers," explained Hamilton, Ontario lawyer Hussein Hamdani, who is part of North American Spiritual Revival (NASR), a nonprofit that works to de-radicalize youth.

"That is, to a young person who is feeling disillusioned, a very toxic but intoxicating soup."

Hamdani, who was a member of Public Safety Canada's terrorism advisory panel, told VICE part of the message NASR delivers to Canadian Muslims is that Canada is not at war with Islam, and the right to freedom of religion here is not in any danger. But he admitted it can be difficult to counter terrorist propaganda when even federal leaders impose wedge politics into the national dialogue (read: Stephen Harper's niqab ban).

In response to anti-refugee sentiments, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said yesterday that he remains committed to bringing 25,000 Syrian refugees into the country by year's end.

"We continue to be very much committed to keeping Canadians safe while we do the right thing to engage responsibly on this humanitarian crisis," he said.


The concerns, supposedly rooted in the idea that terrorists could be hidden amongst refugees, have been dismissed by experts like Hamdani. According to the Economist, of the 750,000 refugees accepted into the US since 9/11, none have been arrested for terrorism. For further clarification, see this handy chart.

"Even from a military intelligence perspective, if ISIS wanted to attack Canada it would be very, very hard for them to go through the refugee application process to do it. There's no guarantee they would end up in Canada or come here anytime soon," Hamdani said, adding that events like the Paris attacks offer xenophobes an opportunity to express their views under the guise of national security.

On the flip side, would-be refugees who languish in Syria without asylum could become more susceptible to Islamic State recruiters.

"I'm sure some of them out of sheer frustration and anger and rage… they may just want to lash out," Hamdani said.

Hamdani added it would be "unfair" to dismiss all Canadians as Islamophobic bigots because of a few ignorant people. About as unfair, you could argue, as blaming 1.6 billion Muslims for the actions of a violent fringe group.

Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.