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By: Sunanna Bhasin

In early September, the University of Toronto was on police alert due to an online threat targeted towards feminists and women’s studies students by user ‘KillFeminists’ in the comments section of the BlogTO website. Just a few days ago, a 22-year old in the U.K. was arrested and charged with malicious communications after posting an online threat against Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario on the website, 4chan. The man claimed it was intended as a joke, and that he did not believe himself to be a credible threat seeing as he lives across the globe and didn’t understand North American “paranoia” when it came to online threats. Thankfully, this was a false alarm, however, at the time we weren’t discussing internet security in Canada, we were discussing the “threat” of the niqab.

During the election, incumbent Conservative leader, Stephen Harper, made it a priority to ban the niqab and used Islamophobia to attract to the polls. He attempted to instil fear in Canadians — mainly of Islam — by introducing Bill C-51 as well as the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act. Presented as legislation that protects immigrant women and girls on the government website, it is hard to believe that women’s rights are the motivation behind the bills considering the lack of inquiry into the missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada. Rather, this type of legislation is divisive and singling out a group of Canadians as a means of propagating the belief that terrorism is a one-dimensional threat that stems solely from one group of individuals.

Instead of targeting niqab-clad Muslim women in the name of women’s rights, perhaps the real target should be young people on the internet who think it’s okay to make threats as long as there is a screen separating them from the victims. In fact, the Canadian government would be better off spending its resources on educating its citizens about the seriousness of cyber-bullying and posting inappropriate content online as opposed to telling Muslim women that they are overly modest.

If the government is truly concerned about being unable to see the women’s faces, then wouldn’t the Internet be significantly more worrisome? Online, users can not only create false identities, but also create believable fake lives, making it difficult to hold individuals accountable. It is probably in Canadians’ best interests to focus on accountability online — after all, threatening someone in person is an offence.  Controversial websites like 4chan that do not monitor or moderate inappropriate content or threats should create rules for what constitutes acceptable online behaviour. Given the frequency of school shootings in the United States, and the communities these shooters sometimes seek out online, it would be best to direct our attention to sites that encourage users to make threats all in “good fun”.

The Canadian government needs to realize that terrorism is not restricted to a certain culture, or a single religious group. It is time to redefine terrorism to encompass all terrorist acts, instead of attempting to quarantine those who are not at fault. If a woman’s niqab is unsettling because it covers her face, then ban the parka, the ski mask, and the scarf — now isn’t that ridiculous? I don’t know about Mr. Harper, but I’ll be bundling up this winter, and I should be able to do so however and for whatever reason I want.

Photo Credit: The Toronto Star

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