Some Thoughts on Anti-Muslim and Anti-Jewish Vandalism in Montreal

Some people are keeping busy in Montreal. Over the past months four mosques and two synagogues have been vandalized. It’s not clear if this is all the work of the same people, or (as is quite likely) different fuckers each with their own racist agenda.

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Chronologically, then…

During the first week of January, swastikas were painted on stores in the Snowdon and Cote-des-Neiges areas, adjoining neighbourhoods which are home to a large number of Jews as well as immigrants from Russia, the Philippines, the Caribbean, North Africa and many other parts of the world. The Nazi graffiti in question included the website address of the Russian National Socialist Organization.

Then, on February 2nd, five hundred children were evacuated from a Jewish elementary school in Cote-des-Neiges after a bomb threat was phoned in at lunch-time. There was no claim made in the media that this was an anti-Semitic incident, but seeing as United Talmud Torah school had been set on fire in 2004 it must be kept in mind that bomb threats to Jewish schools are unlikely to be simply random acts.

About this time, which was when the “cartoon controversy” was at its height, the first two mosques were attacked, their windows smashed late at night. They were both in the suburb of Laval, home to many Jews and Arabs.

Less than a week later Montreal Imam Faycal Zirari was returning home by metro from afternoon prayers when he was attacked by a man, punched in the face, and stabbed. The police refused to consider this a “hate crime” (of all the people on the metro platform, the one dressed in traditional Muslim clothes was the one attacked… a coincidence!) and – in a sequence of events which spells CANADIAN RACISM – within a month of the stabbing Zirari found himself deported as his recent application for refugee status was denied!

It was in this context that on February 13th Salam Elmenyawi, Chairman of the Muslim Council of Montreal, advised Muslims to be extra careful when using public transport, especially at night, and to avoid traveling alone. He specifically emphasized that this advice was important for women wearing the Islamic head scarf or those who wear Islamic looking dress.

(It’s worth mentioning that last December it was the police who shot and killed Mohamed Anass Bennis in Cote-des-Neiges, most likely in a case of racial profiling as Bennis was dressed in traditional Muslim attire…)

And then this week it was announced that Said Jazari’s St-Michel mosque had been vandalized. Jazari was the Imam who organized February’s peaceful demonstration against the infamous Danish cartoons in Montreal. According to The Muslim News this was the fourth mosque vandalized in recent months (which means #3 was completely left out of the news).

Finally, two days ago a synagogue in the Cote-des-Neiges was defaced with Nazi graffiti. As the media latched on, news emerged that another synagogue had been similarly vandalized in the neighbourhood a couple of weeks earlier.


At this point a few comments are in order.

All of these are clearly racist attacks, all of these attacks deserve our condemnation, and together that should prompt comrades to start thinking in terms of anti-fascist activism. Whether this means informal activism, joining a pre-existing group, or else integrating some kind of antifa capability/thinking into groups in which one is already active… the most important thing at this point is start thinking in terms of “how to intervene”.

But this is a tricky question, for various reasons.

First, because the buildings vandalized may themselves be right-wing or conservative religious institutions, even though this is not why they are being attacked. The experiences of the 1990s taught us that anti-fascists need to be able to act in solidarity with the victims of fascist violence while at the same time maintaining an autonomous stance, which means not automatically lining up behind the media-appointed leadership of the Muslim or Jewish communities. These “community leaders” may occasionally have a progressive line, but they often adopt a self-defeating and right-wing strategy of depending on the police or obscenely using these attacks to bolster reactionary groups within their own milieux (i.e. right-wing Islam or Zionism).

Secondly, because the media coverage of these incidents has so far been far from even-handed. Whereas some francophone newspapers like La Presse gave comparable coverage to both anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents, not one of the four mosques attacked merited a single mention in The Montreal Gazette, the city’s only anglophone daily. Compare this to the fact that every single anti-Semitic attack mentioned in this posting has been reported on in the Gazette. This racist double-standard should be condemned, but we must also avoid the trap of pitting the vandalized mosques against the vandalized synagogues – certain journalists may consider some racist attacks more serious than others, but we can’t.

Thirdly, in a situation where the revolutionary left is weak to non-existent, people understandably want to call on the police when they feel under attack. Indeed, they often may feel that they have no one else to call. While we can be sensitive to these feelings, we cannot be complicit with them.

The Montreal police have stated that they will step up patrols in Cote-des-Neiges as a result of the recent anti-Semitic attacks there, but what kind of solution is this? In what seems to be a racist case of literally “jumping the gun” the police already murdered a young Muslim in Cote-des-Neiges in December. Black youth who live in this area already know what racism is all about, and they often experience it at the hands of the police. While Nazi graffiti in this neighbourhood is a problem, police violence is also a problem – and how disgusting would it be to fight against the former by bolstering the latter?

Montreal has seen intense attempts at far-right organizing in the past, by all manner of racist fuckers. The Klan, the Heritage Front, the French National Front, bonehead gangs and others have tried to set up shop in this city over the years. The most effective response has always been community mobilization tying anti-racism to a radical left-wing and extra-legal strategy. Depending on the police or “community leaders” has never been the way to go – rather, it has often led to disaster.

These are the lessons of the past fifteen years, they should not be forgotten.

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