In July of 2017, Mohamad Fakih, a well-known Canadian Muslim entrepreneur and owner of Paramount Fine Foods, held a fundraiser for the Liberal Party at one of his restaurants. Some uninvited guests showed up, including Ranendra “Ron” Banerjee, a Hindu of Indian origin who was denied entry and was recorded saying that one had to be a “jihadist” who had “raped your wife a few times” to be allowed in.
In July of 2018, a crowd of more than 100 Chinese Canadians gathered outside the Markham Civic Centre for an anti-refugee protest. The event made a conspiratorial link between Canada’s embrace of refugees and the Danforth Ave. shooting spree by Faisal Hussain (a mentally disturbed individual), which had happened just a few days before the protest. The pro-refugee counter-protesters from the Chinese community, who were also present, were framed by the protestors as being “insensitive” to that tragedy and its victims. There was no explicit mention of Muslims, but the implication is not a long shot.
What is particularly disturbing about these incidents is that the Islamophobia charge here was led by members of the Hindu and Chinese communities, respectively — communities that have their own painful history of facing discrimination in Canada. That Charles Jiang and Shan Hua “Shannon” Lu, the two main organizers of the Chinese rally, or Banerjee, who leads a group called Canadian Hindu Advocacy, can take the kind of bigotry that the Chinese and Hindus have experienced in Canada and “run with it” by demonizing Muslims is appalling.
The Chinese Canadians that took part in the anti-refugee protest in Markham (a town just outside of Toronto) ought to recall that Canada’s first prime minister, John A. MacDonald, advocated for the Chinese to be excluded from Canada, after having previously supported their inclusion when their labour was needed to perform some of the most menial and dangerous tasks in the building of the Canada-Pacific Railway. The “Chinaman,” said MacDonald in the House of Commons in 1885, “is a stranger, a sojourner in a strange land, for his own purposes for a while; he has no common interest with us.”
And this rhetoric of the “Yellow Peril” wasn’t harmless, as the existence of the Asiatic Exclusion League (AEL) and the infamous 1907 Anti-Oriental Riots in Vancouver ought to remind us. The Chinese were excluded from the right to vote, they were subject to unreasonable taxes as a way to prevent the reunification of their families in Canada, and in 1923, immigration from China was banned outright by the Chinese Exclusion Act.
Similarly, Banerjee and like-minded Hindus should revisit their own history in this land. In an article titled “The Hindu in Canada” and published in 1917, one Sunder Singh vividly described the hostility that Hindus faced in Canada in the early years of the 20th century. In 1908, there were only about 4,000 Hindus living in Canada, but they were perceived by racist officials to be such an annoyance that further immigration from India was banned in that year and “the ‘No Hindu need apply’ sign was put on the door of Canada.”
Ironically, “Ron” Banerjee and his tiny clique at the Canadian Hindu Advocacy seem to have inherited the legacy of the anti-Hindu racists rather than that of their high-minded Hindu Canadian predecessors who diligently fought for the rights of all Canadians. Banerjee is known for his notorious statements about Muslims and other minority groups. He has said, for example, that “Islam, the Islamic civilization, has invented and has contributed less to human advancement than a pack of donkeys” and, “How do you know when a Muslim is lying? When his lips are moving.” And these are only some of the more benign examples (a more detailed exposé of Banerjee and the Canadian Hindu Advocacy will follow in an upcoming article, insha’ Allah).
Especially since the beginning of 2018, Banerjee has pointed out that some members of the Chinese community have stood by him in his efforts to fan the flames of Islamophobia. In January, he simply showed up to a protest that had been organized in Ottawa by an ad-hoc group known as the Chinese Canadian Alliance (CCA) and claimed that he had organized the protest. Referring to Rise Canada, a far-right organization that he represents, Banerjee posted to Facebook, “Rise Canada is the MOST diverse patriot group in Canada. We have got many ASIAN supporters as seen here in this rally we co-organized.” And also, “When asked whether or not I represent the Asians, this great Chinese gentleman says correctly ‘I have to say he represents the VALUES of CANADA rather than any particular race or ethnicity.’”
It would be interesting to see what the “great Chinese gentleman” would have to say if he saw some of Banerjee’s other Facebook posts, in which he says, for example, “I believe the West (and some others) ARE superior to Islam and Chinese and African and indigenous societies, but NOT compared to Hindus.” And, “You can remain a First World country with a large “Third World” population as long as that population is HINDU […] but if it is Chinese or Islamic or Sikh… No way!” The implication here is that everyone except the West and Hindus are scum, the Chinese included, unless the Chinese take up the Islamophobic cause as well.
Of course, certain elements in the Chinese community didn’t wait for Banerjee’s leadership in taking up that cause. In fact, the January protest in Ottawa described above took place just shortly after the so-called “hijabi hoax” incident in Toronto, in which a young Muslim girl reported that an “Asian” man had tried to pull off her hijab but the investigation found that there had been no such incident. No one bothered to ask the 11-year-old what she meant by “Asian.” Some Chinese Canadians simply assumed it was a reference to them and formed the CCA to march on Ottawa in partnership with far-right, borderline-fascist groups and demand that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologize for this.
That protest was held on January 29, 2018, the first anniversary, to the day, of the Quebec Masjid Shooting. Perhaps the organizers did not realize it, or perhaps they were aware and the choice of date was part of a message that they did not recognize Islamophobia as a real problem in Canadian society, even if occasionally a case turns out to be a false alarm.
And then came the July 2018 anti-refugee protest, justified (in the minds of those who participated) by the need for “law and order,” an imperative that is said to be in “perfect alignment” with “Chinese values.” Joining them to promote these “Chinese values” was a white man wearing a shirt with the symbol of the Canadian Combat Coalition (CCC), a militant fascist group that, not too long ago, may have targeted the Chinese community itself. Or Hindus, for that matter.
However, as one of the leaders of the counter-protest put it in an interview with Vice News, “One of the possible silver linings is that [these events] served as a wake-up call for a lot of us, who’ve been driven to action.” Hopefully the Chinese, Hindus, and other minorities in Canada will answer this call to check and dismantle bigotry and Islamophobia in their own communities.