SAWCC Statement on anti-Muslim racism*

The South Asian Women’s Community Centre (SAWCC) is a service, support and advocacy organization for South Asian Women and their families in the Greater Montreal/ Tiohtià:ke tsi ionhwéntsare area, founded in 1981. We are greatly alarmed by the entrenched and growing anti-Muslim racism in our midst, which resulted in the massacre in the mosque in Quebec City in January 2017 and has continued overtly with the far right attempting to take the streets, and covertly with stealth attacks, graffiti and arson.

There is systemic racism and there is commonplace, everyday racism too, and they feed off each other. Muslims are blamed for whatever racism they are subjected to, paradoxically, but not unsurprisingly, because the lot of victims is to be blamed for their victimisation. And Islam, the religion gets called out too. It would be unthinkable for any other religion to be subjected to such overt vilification. Yet for Muslims and Islam this has become normative.

Anti-Muslim sentiment in the West, at the time of the Crusades, or later, with colonialism and imperialism, while about power and resources, has been framed in the West as civilizational difference with Muslims being the ones always falling short. In the second half of the 20th century, the Cold War created a definable Other in communism, but by the end of the century, with the break-up of the Soviet Union and the need to have an Evil Other, the civilizational enemy once again became Islam. 9/11 ushered in a sea change leading to what we are living today. In a contagion spread around the world, Islam and Muslims have become convenient scapegoats for all manner of ills. The 20th and 21st centuries have also seen a sharp upswing in wars of imperialist aggression and regime change centred in the Middle East. This has unleashed forces of resistance as well as of reaction. Many scholars and politicians agree that these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the bombing of Libya have only served to create chaos and breeding grounds for extremist groups, and the vast majority of victims of terrorist attacks have been, and continue to be Muslims in these countries.

As a result of anti-Muslim racism, people in our communities feel great fear for themselves and their families. And this is not imagined. There is overt and covert discrimination. This is an intolerable and unacceptable situation. When children feel afraid because of their names, how they look, how they and their families dress, this is unacceptable. When women who wear hijabs are spat on, this is shocking. When in anticipation of violence a woman stays as far from the metro rails as she can because she is afraid of being pushed onto the lines, this is intolerable. At the core is the view – conscious or unconscious – of a Muslim as Outsider, an Other. And from that flows the concomitant view that she should diminish her Muslimness in order to fit in. We contend that it is highly problematic to think or say, “I am not a racist, but, I do think it would be good if they did not…cover their hair, pray so observantly, etc. etc.” That’s the slippery slope. That’s the Us and Them. Essentially it’s saying, “If they were more like Us things would be okay.”

Racially essentializing youth angst and insecurity always as ‘radicalization’, violence against women as ‘honour’ crimes, or child or youth abuse as ‘forced marriage’, when we know this isn’t so and there is ample evidence to the contrary is reckless and ill-conceived. It often misses what the actual issues may be and results in heightened Othering. Majority communities are not subjected to this kind of scrutiny and policing; outright, uninvestigated assumptions are not made in their case.

We see patriarchy at the core of all oppressions. We have struggled and continue to struggle to ensure that we enjoy choice without coercion in all aspects of our lives. We assert our right to live in dignity as human beings. And we assert the same for our families and communities. And we will not change just to make people feel more comfortable around us. Everyone has a right to be the way they are. Governments, state agencies, the media, educators, intellectuals and policy shapers must acknowledge the role they play in generating and sustaining anti-Muslim racism. They have a moral responsibility and ethical duty to de-escalate the racism and challenge it wherever it is. We reject tokenism and platitudes. Making Muslims scapegoats and political punching bags, and using Islam as a wedge issue to score cheap political points is a dangerous game. History has shown us that sowing or ignoring hatred eventually tears an entire society apart and those originally targeted are not the only victims.

[SAWCC is a member of the Quebec Women’s Federation, Femmes de diverses origines, l’R des centres des femmes du Quebec, La Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes (TCRI)]

*Even as we focus on anti-Muslim racism, we acknowledge the daily racism experienced in particular by Indigenous and other racialized peoples in Quebec, even as specificities may be different.

The South Asian Women’s Community Centre (SAWCC) Statement on Bill 62

The South Asian Women’s Community Centre Statement calls on the Quebec Government to repeal Bill 62. Bill 62 clearly targets the most vulnerable members of our society, Muslim women who wear the niqab, seeking to further exclude them from democratic participation. Premised on a false notion of neutrality and gender equality, the Bill is divisive and does not serve any purpose. Rather than focusing on denying women access to public services, SAWCC calls on the Justice Minister to address issues of structural inequality, systemic disadvantage and racism, to demonstrate a real commitment to substantive equality for all women and the inclusion of minority women in all aspects of public life.

Open House 2017

SAWCC wants to thank everyone who came to our Open House event this year. We’re grateful for the opportunity we had to show our work to the community.


Public comment

The South Asian Women’s Community Centre (SAWCC) is deeply saddened by the killing of 88 people at a Sufi shrine in Sehwan, Pakistan on February 16th.  This atrocity comes just a couple of weeks after the killing of 6 people at a Quebec mosque.  SAWCC respects the principle of religious freedom. The Sehwan shrine is a place where religious minorities are welcomed and where one of the hereditary tomb guardians is a Hindu, 70 years after Partition (of the Indian sub-continent into India and Pakistan, often seen as based on religion).

Le Centre communautaire des femmes sud-asiatiques (CCFSA) est profondément attristé par le meurtre de 88 personnes à un sanctuaire soufi à Sehwan, au Pakistan, le 16 février dernier. Cette atrocité survient quelques semaines après le meurtre de six personnes à une mosquée québécoise. Le CCFSA respecte le principe de la liberté religieuse. Le sanctuaire de Sehwan est un lieu où les minorités religieuses sont accueillies et où l’un des gardiens de la tombe héréditaire est un hindou, 70 ans après la Partition (du sous-continent indien en l’Inde et le Pakistan, considéré souvent comme étant basé sur la religion).

In defence of Dr. Homa HOODFAR

In defence of Dr. Homa HOODFAR

At our Annual General Meeting on 11th June 2016, we, the members of Montreal’s South Asian Women’s Community Centre unanimously expressed  our deep concern over the arrest and incarceration of Dr. Homa Hoodfar, a respected academic and scholar and Professor Emeritus at Concordia University in Montreal. Dr. Hoodfar has been arrested and detained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Evin prison in Tehran since June 6, 2016.

It is believed that her detention by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards is a result of a fundamental misinterpretation of her ethnographic research on women in Iran. She has published extensively on diverse topics including poverty, development, women’s labor force and political participation, family law, and refugees in many different countries in the Middle East, Canada, and South Asia. She is known for highlighting Muslim women’s ability to realize their rights within an Islamic framework, and for her critique of essentializing Western stereotypes about veiling.

Dr. Hoodfar’s lawyer has not been granted access to her and she has been denied visits from her family as well as denied medication for a neurological condition. This has raised further concerns for her health and safety.

As a women’s organization dedicated to women’s empowerment and equal rights we call upon the Canadian government to do everything in its power to ensure her immediate and unconditional release and safe return to Canada. We also call upon all those who work with us and support us to lend their voices to the call for her release and safety.


12 June 2016