It was so distantly related to President Donald J. Trump that it almost seems unfair to link it to him. However, the attack on the Quebec City mosque, in which six men were killed, does constitute the first high-profile act of terrorism of his presidency. In addition, the accused perpetrator, Alexandre Bissonette, at 27 still a student at Laval University, was a self-proclaimed Trump supporter.
There is both an irony and an appropriateness in Bissonette belonging to Quebec (he is from Cap-Rouge, a suburb of Quebec City) as well as Justin Trudeau (though himself born in Ottawa and educated in Anglophone schools mostly, his father Pierre, also a Prime Minister, was from Montreal). Trudeau, though he has in common with Bissonette a stint at Laval University, is seen as very much a Liberal, and thus representing the open face of Canada, which is seen as a country more open to immigrants and refugees than the USA.
However, where Quebec has produced the two Trudeaus, it has also produced the Parti Quebecois, a separatist party, which has been elected to power repeatedly since 1976. The main opposition to the Parti Quebecois has been Trudeau’s Liberal Party. Bissonette was a PQ supporter, at least going by his Facebook page.
Another influence he has had has been Marine Le Pen, the French Front National leader. She has her best chance of being elected President of France at the election due this year, after having come in third at the last election. It might be noted that the attack was made on a mosque with a strong North African connection, and France is facing immigrant issues because of a large North African population. This contrasts with the larger Canadian and North American experience, where Muslim migrants originate either from South Asia, or Arab countries. While people from former French colonies have tended to gravitate to France, those from former English colonies have tended to go to the UK, the USA or Anglophone Canada. Therefore, French anti-immigrant sentiment is anti-Muslim not because of refugees, but because of migrants from Francophone Africa, which may be as Arab as Algeria, and as black as Cameroun. The refugees have not helped.
The mosque attack is a reminder that Canada is not uniformly pro-refugee, as some might like to portray. The last Canadian election, though it led to Trudeau being elected, included migrants as an issue. They were symbolized by the ban on Muslim women wearing the hijab to citizenship ceremonies, because of a rule against religious symbols being worn in government buildings.
At one level, that was precisely the issue: do Muslims follow rules because their religion mandates it, or because there are cultural reasons? Is veiling a command of the Almighty, to be obeyed at the peril of eternal punishment, or is it merely a cultural dictate? Even if the former, can it be put above the mores of a new state?
Being a Le Pen supporter in Canada would naturally segue into supporting Trump, but Trump has not favoured violence against mosques, or the worshippers therein. However, it seems as if the Quebec Provincial Police have a problem, as shown by the arrest of a Moroccan immigrant after the attack. It seemed that the attack triggered a kneejerk reaction, in which it was assumed that any terroristic act had to have been committed by someone of Muslim origin. The suspect was released, and Bisonnette arrested, but the time spent haring off after Mohamed El Khadir, before he was released, could have allowed Bisonnette to escape.
Thus Canada is shown specifically as anti-Muslim. It cannot be described as antiracial, not with the number of Asians picked for the federal Cabinet and elected to the federal Parliament. However, it should be noted that the Asians are basically Hindu Indian in origin. This is a faint echo of the welcome that Donald Trump’s victory received in Hindu rightwing circles, and is a sign that the bias is against Muslims. This would not just be because of their race, but also because of their failure to adopt Western values.
That is something of a poser. Once upon a time. In 1893, in South Africa, a railway guard turned an Indian barrister out of the Pietermaritzburg-Pretoria train. Gandhi won the right to travel for all Indians dressed in Western clothes. At that time, it had seemed that if ‘natives’ aped Western models enough, they could be acceptable. The Quebec City attack makes it clear that this is not the case, but the USA elected Trump President anyway.
The problem seems to be that the Trump agenda is not just a racist reaction. Racism is based on economics. The need to explain the loss of a job, or the fear thereof, by a simple formula, is what has made so many white middle-class Americans vote for Trump. The ‘othering’ of Muslims allows them to stand in for the previous bottom of the heap, the blacks. Apart from other things, the epithet applied to Muslims, especially those of Arab origin, ‘sand nigger’, is as evocative of blacks as it is offensive. But when all is said and done, the jobs lost to Muslims pinch hard enough to have not just political consequences, but also physically violent.
There seems to have arisen a genuine query about why the USA, and now Canada, are showing a mistrust of Muslims at the same time as they seem to be showing an absence of racism. One explanation is that Hinduism is very much a racist religion, being based on caste-ism. Another point to be kept in mind is that modern India, especially among its Hindu-fundamentalist populace, is emphatic that it is Indo-Aryan. The ‘Aryan race’ terminology is familiar to the entire West from Hitlerian fascism. The opposition to such racism comes not just from liberal values, but from Islam. Of course, liberal values include the concept of nationalism, which Islam rejects, and thus liberalism does not seem as consistent as Islam.
That the attack took place in Quebec is not just significant because it took place in Canada, which must be accounted the mainland branch of France’s share of the New World. Indeed, Quebec is included by France as an integral part of Francophonie, the French-speaking world community in which French culture is supreme. Admittedly, Francophonie is supposed to include Arab North Africa and Black Africa, though neither Arab nor African values are allowed to pollute the concept. France is important because it was the cradle of Western values, which are Enlightenment values translated and updated. France remained an important colonial power till World War II, and European country till date.
As the mosque was attacked in Quebec, it was attacked in a country which prides itself on carrying the ideals of the Enlightenment to their fullest extent. The attack also throws a garish light on NATO, of which Canada is a member, and which Trump has questioned, even though it has loyally backed the USA in its actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. The victims also seemed more part of a French problem than a North American: the names seemed more typical of North African immigrants to France, than of American blacks.