‘Islamophobia is intertwined with sexism’

Itrath Syed, PhD candidate at theSchool of Communication, SFU | Photo courtesy of Itrath Syed

Canada, often regarded as an inclusive, multicultural haven, has increasingly been the scene of a series of hate crimes against Muslims. This Islamophobia is concerning and based on misperceptions about Muslim people, according to Itrath Syed, PhD candidate in the School of Communication at SFU. She will give a public lecture on Gendered Islamophobia and Muslim Women’s Resistance, on Nov. 14 at SFU’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts.

The rise of Trumpism has emboldened far right groups across North America to begin a direct hate campaign against ethnic and religious groups. The hate itself is not new, but is presented in a more direct way than before, explains Itrath Syed, who researches the relation between Islamophobia and the media in Canada, post 9/11.

“Muslims have to deal with a lot of daily indignities and experiences of racism. Racial slurs like ‘go home’ and ‘go back to your country’ are some examples,” she says. “But there is also a more subtle racism going on in the media, in which Muslim women are often seen as victims in need of saving.”

According to Syed, the media is not directly using these racial slurs, but is spreading a message framed around a certain idea of Muslims, which instigates Islamophobia.

Moral panics

In Canada, we have a lot of what I call ‘media moral panics,’ short instances in which the media is immensely focused on a particular issue. This happened with Bill 62 in Quebec, a newly formulated law that bars people from covering their faces while using public services. These kind of discussions activate a set of ideas about the Muslim community and the way these ideas are presented could inflame Islamophobic ideas,” says Syed.

For Syed, however, it is important to define the boundaries of an Islamophobic act or statement.

“I see Islamophobia as a form of racism that targets religious communities, but also targets people assumed to be from that religious community,” she says. “An example of this is when Jagmeet Singh, who is now leader of the NDP, was attacked by a woman at a town hall, accusing him with an Islamophobic slur, while he actually identifies as Sikh.”


As Syed points out, public discourse and the media often reinforce the negative, sometimes conflicting, image many people have about Muslims.

“Islamophobia is internally intertwined with sexism. There is a particular construction about Muslim women and a particular construction of Muslim masculinity in the heart of it. Women are thus dealing with a double threat: they are seen as a danger, and are at the same time seen as submissive victims,” she says.

Despite the increasing tides of Islamophobia, several activist groups and initiatives have started challenging the stereotypical images. One example was the creation of the hashtag #DressCodePM as a response to former PM Stephen Harper who then issued a statement around Muslim woman’s clothing being anti-women. Thousands of people questioned his statement by posting pictures in which they asked him permission to wear certain clothes.

“These are all attempts to raise awareness and to address the stereotypes around Muslim women’s lives. But their continuation of life is also a form of resistance. As long as Muslim women continue to be in the world, as long as they work and study and are part of their families and communities, they automatically go against this stereotype,” she says.

The recent debate surrounding MP Iqra Khalid’s motion (M-103) to condemn Islamophobia revealed how sensitive the topic is in Canada’s multicultural society. Khalid received all kinds of hate mail and read the racist accounts aloud on live television.

“It is important to point at this racism, and it is needed to research how these Islamophobic, stereotypical ideas are created,” confirms Syed.

Itrath Syed will provide a public lecture on ‘Gendered Islamophobia and Muslim Women’s Resistance’, at SFU’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts on Nov. 14, at 7 p.m. After the lecture, the dialogue will be moderated by Samaah Jaffer, a program assistant in SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement.

For more information, please go to www.sfu.ca/sfuwoodwards/events.