Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and Racism panelists discuss how to combat the alt-right

Bernie Farber, left, and Azeezah Kanji FACEBOOK PHOTO

The so-called alt-right is on a massive upswing that’s been exacerbated by the Trump administration and seeks to divide its victims at the very time they need to be united, say panelists at a seminar held by the Enhancing Social Justice Education Project at the Ontario Institute for Studies and Education (OISE).

The Nov. 2 discussion, titled, “Truth vs. Post-Truth, Fact vs. Alt-Fact; Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and Racism in the Trump Era,” was featured as part of Holocaust Education Week, which runs from Nov. 2 to 9, and included expert speakers and academics from across the Jewish, Muslim and educational spectrum.

The event, moderated by Jspace Canada chair Karen Mock, featured panelists Bonnie Burstow, University of Toronto associate professor, Bernie Farber, former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Azeezah Kanji, director of programming at the Noor Cultural Centre, and Wesley Crichlow, a social sciences and humanities associate professor at U of T.

“Fascism never goes away, let’s be clear about that,” Farber said. “It simmered until very recently.”

The “alt-right,” or fascist groups, were last seen at this strength in the late 1980s and early ’90s. They experienced a lull until recently, when they re-emerged with new tools, such as social media, which has helped them spread their ideas.

That’s been clear at events, such as the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August, where participants chanted, “Jews will not replace us.”

So why, Farber asked, has this ideology emerged again?

“There’s a word that starts with ‘T’ and ends with ‘P,’ and he happens to be the president of the United States. The dignity of that office has now been completely messed up,” said Farber.

“Could you imagine for a moment there would be a white nationalist, really a neo-Nazi, who sat at the elbow of the president of the United States for the first five months of the presidency. His name is Steve Bannon. They are now feeling emboldened.”
Bannon was a founding member of Breitbart News, a website that publishes inflammatory pieces that are often criticized for their racism, sexism and anti-Semitism. He then served for a time as the White House’s chief strategist.

To combat the “alt-right” threat, Farber said that all minority groups must collaborate, as the extremists are trying to pit victims against each other.

Farber said that although Jews still win the award for being the victims of the most hate crimes, Muslims come in a close second and these two religious groups should become allies. He recommends that leaders begin by opening a channel of communication with each other.

“Our communities should be working together to unite and find a solution,” he said.

Kanji, a Toronto Star columnist, said that when we talk about racism in Canada, “we focus a lot on hate crimes and a lot on Donald Trump, which threatens to distort our analysis.”
Kanji explained that it’s not just hate crimes that should be considered racist, but the whole system. We can’t shift the blame entirely onto Trump, because something set the stage for Trump, she said, offering an example of people who say Canada doesn’t suffer from terror attacks as the U.S. does.

Kanji argued that mindset is an example of systemic racism, pointing to the Quebec City mosque attack that claimed the lives of six people earlier this year, which she argues is not viewed as a terror attack because the victims were Muslim.

Burstow said that people must unite against those who wish to spread hatred: “We need to stand together. We need to align together.… We can’t afford divisions between us.”
She said the Enhancing Social Justice Education team seeks to be inclusive and attempts to emphasize with all victims’ points of view, without hostility.

It came about because there was a “missing element of anti-Semitism within social justice thought at OISE,” Burstow said.
“Obviously, we are concerned with uniting the discussion of anti-Semitism with all the other ‘isms.’