We must challenge religion-based hatred and fear

By Catherine Brunelle

The Amnesty International Book Club is pleased to announce our March 2017 title, Laughing All the Way to the Mosque, by Zarqa Nawaz (a memoir that is sure to get you laughing too). This title has been recommended by guest reader Janie Chang, author of Dragon Springs Road and Three Souls. In this guide, you’ll find Chang’s considerate reflection upon Nawaz’s colourful memoir, as well as discussion questions, an Amnesty background section, and an action.

Laughing All the Way to the Mosque had been chosen as our March/April book before the troubling events of the past few months, and these have made it an even more timely and appropriate selection for the Amnesty International Book Club. We want to comment on what seems to be a rise in intolerance and Islamophobia in Canada and North America.

The shocking January 29 shooting at the Islamic Cultural Centre in the Ste-Foy area of Quebec City left six men dead and injured eight more. Amnesty International strongly condemned this act targeting Muslims, and issued a statement which included:

We send our condolences to the families of the victims and the wider community of the mosque. It is crucial that the police investigation be conducted promptly and justice delivered. The Muslim community in the province of Quebec needs to be assured that it has access to security, like all citizens.

Hate speech and Islamophobia are unacceptable and nurture violence. Let us show together, especially at the highest political level, that solidarity prevails and that respect for the rights of all people to live in security without discrimination is of the utmost importance to us.

In February, Amnesty International issued a press release condemning the large number of hateful, racist, bigoted and misogynistic messages and threats received by Iqra Khalid, Member of Parliament for Mississauga-Erin Mills in response to her introduction of House of Commons Motion 103: Systemic racism and religious discrimination.

Motion 103 speaks to concerns about systemic racism and religious discrimination in Canada, with a particular focus on Islamophobia. It has become the subject of a heated and divisive debate within Parliament and at the time we put this guide together, faced a competing Motion to remove the specific reference to Islamophobia.

The threats and messages of hate received by Ms. Khalid, as well as the debate about Motion 103 and that it has unleashed, comes at a time when there is growing concern about discrimination and violence against Muslims globally, and US President Trump’s effort to impose a temporary travel ban on citizens of several Muslim majority nations.

It is clear that we have a long way to go in Canada, North America and around the world in understanding that all people share the same humanity and are deserving of the same rights. We must challenge Islamophobia and any kind of categorization—whether it be religion, country of origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity—as a way to divide people into “us” and “them”. Especially when the “us” group believes they are entitled to more rights than those in the “them” group.

At the centre of the international human rights framework – the basis for Amnesty International’s work – is the idea that everyone is free and equal in dignity and rights. Discrimination is never acceptable.

The Amnesty International Book Club hopes that through the reading experience you not only pause to laugh, but consider the spirit of community and proactivity that author Zarqa Nawaz exhibits so well through her storytelling. Challenge yourself to read this book, and see what new perspective it provides.