The Quebec City mosque shooting on January 9th, 2017, shocked many Canadians and brought Islamophobia back into the limelight in Canada. In the days immediately following the attack, the Canadian media and several political figures spoke out against Islamophobia and anti-immigration sentiment within Canada, broadly, and the province of Quebec, specifically.
As a result of the Quebec City attack and increasing social tensions, M-103, the anti-islamophobia motion tabled in late 2016 by the Liberal Party of Canada Member of Parliament (MP), Iqra Khalid, gained popularity and was debated in the House of Commons.
Importantly, this motion calls for government to:
- recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear;
- condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.
While the House of Commons ultimately passed M-103, the motion was not without its critics. Specifically, the majority of the Conservative Party of Canada’s MPs voted against the motion, arguing that it interfered with section 319 of the Criminal Code (hate speech vs free speech) and accorded special status to a particular religion.
The present study uses corpus-assisted critical discourse analysis [CACDA] to uncover linguistic patterns in online conversations pertaining to the January 2017 Quebec City mosque attack and M-103 motion.
Conversations that covered topics pertaining to the January 2017 Quebec City mosque attack and M-103 motion were sampled using combinations of the following search terms: Canad*, “Quebec City”, mosque, (mosque AND (shooting OR attack), M-103.
All conversations contained within the data set were created in 2017 and 2018. The data set used for the present analysis contained 40 conversation threads written predominantly in English, which stemmed from primarily the r/Canada and r/CanadaPolitics subreddits.
An in-depth analysis of the corpora revealed:
- public commentary concerning social issues involving Canadian Muslim communities includes both overt and covert forms of Islamophobic rhetoric
- there is often qualified support offered for certain categories of Muslims and certain interpretations of Islam
- disagreement exists as to where to draw the line between censoring hateful speech that targets a particular religion or religious group
Analysis of these salient terms revealed several meaningful linguistic patterns. Of these, the following three terms held associations that reveal particularly interesting discursive patterns: Muslim [Muslims], Islamic, Islam.
Within the present data, analysis of the key word “Muslim [Muslims]” revealed frequent and strong associations with terms such as: Canadian, moderate, hate (dislike), countries. The word pair “Canadian Muslims” was used to differentiate between different types of Muslims and to show support for Muslims within Canada. Similarly, the term “moderate Muslim” was used to argue for differentiating between Muslims.
Analysis of the key word “Islamic” revealed frequent and strong associations with the term “terrorism”. The word pair “Islamic terrorism” was used to describe the scope and scale of the phenomenon:
Analysis of the key word “Islam” revealed frequent and strong associations with terms such as: radical, criticize, ideology (cult). These word pairings were used frequently within the conversation to distinguish between different interpretations of Islam, as well as to debate the possible merits of openly criticizing the religion. The use of the term “radical Islam” within the online discussions sampled for the present study is noteworthy because the term was used to articulate a careful distinction between Islam, writ large, and the more extremist interpretation of the religion. Moreover, the word pairing was used to downplay the danger posed within Canada by proponents of “radical Islam”. Criticism and hate towards Islam were, nevertheless, widespread within the conversations analyzed herein. In particular, comments that exploited the relationship between “Islam” and “ideology” or “cult” abounded.
The online conversations analyzed as part of this research brief highlight the nuances and distinctions that are made when discussing issues relating to Muslims and Islam in Canada. Significantly, the word pair “Canadian Muslims” was used within the conversations to denote the type of Muslim who is perceived to be ‘peaceful’ and to contrast this description with ‘dangerous’ Muslims from other parts of the world.
Additionally, overt distinctions were frequently made between Muslim people and the Islamic religion, as well as between Islam and Radical Islam.
Distinctions about the former were mainly used to assert support for Muslim people and disdain for the Islamic religion. Distinctions about the latter were mainly included within comments in order to highlight the perceived threat posed to Canada by proponents of an extremist interpretation of Islam.
Importantly, while there were instances of qualified support for certain categories of Muslims and certain interpretations of Islam, the use of hateful and Islamophobic rhetoric was, however, ever-present.