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On Saturday, March 19th five members of the Church of the Ascension attended a conference called Unlearn, Relearn, Challenge: Islam & the Media which was sponsored by The Student Association at Durham College & UOIT. The purpose of this conference was to scrutinize how “numerous media outlets across the globe actively perputuate negative stereotypes, myths and misconceptions about Islam and Muslims, leading to hate and fear at home, on campus, in our communities, our country, and abroad.” Some of the highlights from this conference were:

  1. The media and the government have framed issues such as honour killings or the wearing a veil as an issue for women linked to certain cultures. Rather than describing it as a cultural issue a wider interpretation is needed i.e. violence against women or religious discrimination. That is, these are really issues for society and we should not allow the media and politicians to appropriate cultural sensitive matters for their own agendas.
  2. The media refuses to challenge the meta-narrative of the ‘terrorist story’. For example, when a violent act happens involving a Muslim they are described as a ‘terrorist’. Issues relating to mental illness, socio-economic factors; etc. are not part of the story. There are countless acts of hate crimes that happen in the United States and Canada which authorities refuse to describe as terrorism but will do so when a Muslim is involved.
  3. We need to break down the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mythology created by the media. For example, when a person who commits a violent act in the name of Christianity or if the KKK undertakes a protest at an event, we do not expect Christians to apologize or explain why such acts are inconsistent with Christian values. The right assumption is that the Christian community condemns acts of violence and acts of religious discrimination. In contrast, when a violent act is committed by a Muslim the expectation is that the Muslim community must take immediate action to take a position. The point is that increasingly a greater number of Canadians have a fear of Muslims and we are developing an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality. This type of mentality will start to have a creeping effect on the laws in our country to support the violation of fundamental freedoms and rights of minority groups.
  4. Islamophobia  is prejudice against, hatred towards, or fear of the religion of Islam or Muslims. Yet more than one million Canadians are Muslim and there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. We cannot rationally respond to such fear largely because it is a phobia. Perhaps the best way we can respond is to come into relationship with our Muslim neighbour. We need to start building up relationships to see Muslims not as a race but as human beings and breakdown stereotypes.

For our group this conference served as a starting point for our parish to continue to learn more about our Muslim neighbour and the religion of Islam and also other religious groups in our communities. I hope that this first small step is one of many steps of continuing dialogue. The Diocese of Toronto is a diverse community of different faiths and culture. To truly love our neighbour we need to know our neighbour.

Rev. John Anderson