In Episode six of “Unpacking Islamophobia,” our guest is Amira Elghawaby who is Canada’s first-ever Special Representative on Combating Islamophobia. In the past few years, Canada has experienced more mass killings motivated by Islamophobia than any other country in the G7. As hate crimes against Muslims have skyrocketed, there’s also institutional and structural Islamophobia, such as discriminatory legislation and pushback from some politicians who fail to acknowledge the realities faced by Canadian Muslims today.
Elghawaby provides historical context as to what led Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to create this position, noting that it was the result of advocacy efforts by Canadian Muslims following the horrific June 2021 London, Ontario attack, when an individual motivated by anti-Muslim hate targeted the Afzaal family, killing four members. She also discusses increased hate crimes in Edmonton where this past year, Black Muslim women have been targeted on public transit, resulting in great fear amongst the community.
The Special Representative states her position is not only to address and raise awareness about the type of Islamophobia that leads to deadly attacks but also to look at systemic Islamophobia within federal institutions and to find ways to address that. This includes legislation and bills, i.e. Bill 21 in Quebec, that disproportionately impacts Muslim women and their ability to fully participate in public life.
Elghawaby further discusses the tragic legacy of the 2017 Quebec Mosque massacre and tells us that many Canadian Muslims are now taking “active shooter trainings” because of fear and trepidation at their local mosques. She ends with a hopeful tone discussing the small local victories like the city of London, Ontario officially adopting an anti-Islamophobia strategy with a newly-hired community liaison officer, to demonstrate how communities can address Islamophobia at the grassroots level.
Arsalan Iftikhar is Senior Researcher for the Bridge Initiative at the Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University. He is a prominent human rights lawyer, an internationally recognized researcher on the topic of Islamophobia, and a global media commentator. He is the author of several books including FEAR OF A MUSLIM PLANET: Global Islamophobia in the New World Order and Scapegoats: How Islamophobia Helps Our Enemies and Threatens Our Freedoms which President Jimmy Carter called “an important book that shows Islamophobia must be addressed urgently”. Throughout his career, Arsalan has been a regular on-air commentator for National Public Radio (NPR) and his interviews have appeared on prominent global media outlets like CNN, Al-Jazeera English, BBC World News, The Economist, New York Times, Rolling Stone, NBC News “Meet The Press” & many more. A native of Chicago, Arsalan was awarded the 2013 Distinguished Young Alumni Award from Washington University School of Law in St. Louis; where he received both his undergraduate and law degrees.
Amira Elghawaby is a journalist and human rights advocate who was appointed as Canada’s Special Representative on Combating Islamophobia in January 2023 by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Prior to her appointment, Amira was a contributing columnist at the Toronto Star and a frequent media commentator on equity and inclusion and delivers keynote presentations and tailored workshops for a variety of audiences. Amira most recently led strategic communications and campaigns at the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. She also previously worked in Canada’s labour movement in communications and human rights, spending five years promoting the civil liberties of Canadian Muslims at the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) from 2012-2017.