Muslims in Canada have strongly condemned their country’s defense minister for tweeting hoax photographs purporting to depict enslavement and oppression of women and girls by Muslim men. This comes amid accusations that the government is deliberately stoking anti-Muslim sentiment in the country.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims said the tweets by Minister of National Defense Jason Kenney were “corrosive” and “inflammatory” and provided “another example of our elected leaders, at best, ignorantly conflating Islam and Muslims with extremism and terrorism, and at worst, deliberately attempting to score political points by stoking divisions among Canadians.”
On Monday, International Women’s Day, Kenney, a member of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s governing Conservative Party, tweeted the images with a message saying “thank-you to the @CanadianForces for joining the fight against #ISIL’s campaign to enslave women & girls.”
Canada has deployed warplanes and ground troops that are taking part in airstrikes against Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, in northern Iraq.
In one image, young girls dressed head to toe in black are being led off in chains. In another, older women appear to be suffering the same fate.
A third image shows a smiling man with his arm around a young girl who is crying. Behind him is the black and white flag used by ISIS.
Kenney did not provide any explanation for these apparently frightening scenes, but the Ottawa Citizen, which has been reporting on the matter, has noted that the photos have all been circulating online for some time on anti-Muslim websites and have been debunked:
To the casual viewer, these appear to be compelling photographic evidence of the mistreatment of women in some parts of the Muslim world.
And, read with Kenney’s reference to ISIS, they suggest to the reader that these scenes occurred under the terror group’s watch in Iraq or Syria. But Kenney did not explain that the first image is actually from a ceremonial Shia Ashura procession that celebrates the heroism of the prophet Mohammad’s grandson, Hussein, and his family. The girls and women in the photo Kenney tweeted symbolize Hussein’s sister, who was taken in chains to Damascus after he was beheaded.
That is to say, the girls in the photos are actors in a play that depicts events said to have occurred 1,300 years ago. They are not a depiction of the current enslavement of Muslim women. There are thousands of images of these ceremonies online.
The image of the girls in chain was widely circulated with the false caption “Muslim girls being lead off in chains to meet their new husbands.” It was shared tens of thousands of times on the Facebook page of the anti-immigrant white nationalist organization Britain First.
The photo of the man with the young, crying girl has been presented on anti-Muslim hate sites as an ISIS fighter marrying a seven-year-old bride.
But it is no such thing. The image is a still taken from a video which shows the girl reciting from the Quran at some kind of public festival. The man is the emcee. At one point, the girl becomes nervous and begins to cry.
The man comforts and reassures her. This is all readily visible in the video and any Arabic speaker can attest to it. Whatever is happening in the video, it is emphatically not a marriage between the older man and the girl.
The still image, circulated widely by anti-Muslim activists last year, has been debunked here.
The hoax is reminiscent of one several years ago targeting Palestinians, where photos of young Palestinian girls acting as bridesmaids at a mass wedding in Gaza were falsely presented as showing child brides.
Finally, the photo of the older women in chains is, as the Ottawa Citizen notes, from a 2014 demonstration by a Kurdish group in London, with participants pretending to be ISIS members.
They are taking part in a role play designed to highlight ISIS’ purported creation of “sex slave markets.” Here’s a video of the action from which the still is taken:
The action appears to have been designed to generate maximum outrage at ISIS, perhaps in order to promote support for military assistance to Kurdish militias fighting the group that has taken over large areas in northern Iraq and eastern Syria.
One of the organizers reportedly said that the protesters’ intent was to spark an “aggravated reaction,” highlighting the “crimes ISIS are committing in Iraq and Syria.”
“What we wanted to show is that this could take place in London,” the activist added.
Indeed, while misrepresenting it, Kenney appears to be using the propaganda play in the same way. The minister’s tweet epitomizes how extreme Islamophobes launder their hatred of Muslims and zeal for war through a fake concern for the rights of women.
Kenney has long adopted the inherently Islamophobic outlook that the “West” is engaged in a war of civilizations.
He has claimed that Israel is attacked because “it represents to some people in the Middle East a kind of aberrant presence of western civilization there.”
He has also claimed that opposition to Israel is inherently tied to “anti-Semitism” and stems from “the nexus between radical Jihadi Islamism and the far left,” especially on university campuses.
But a real concern for Muslim women would begin by not spreading hate propaganda, feeding ignorance and inciting more prejudice against Muslim communities in Canada and around the world.
So far, there has been relatively little outcry in Canada. Kenney has not removed the photos and his spokespersons have provided no explanations to media. One can only imagine the reaction if Kenney had tweeted fake photos purportedly depicting Jewish rituals, or hoax photos related to Israel.
Nonetheless, state-sponsored hatred of Muslims has become an issue in the run-up to the general election expected in Canada later this year.
In a speech earlier this week, Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau accused the Harper government of deliberately stoking fear and prejudice against Muslim Canadians.
The government has used several isolated incidents, including the shooting attack on the country’s parliament by troubled loner Michael Zehaf-Bibeau last year, as a pretext to push draconian new “anti-terrorism” laws.
Amnesty International has warned that the proposed laws would allow Canada to crack down on environmental activists and aboriginal protesters, among others.
Trudeau compared the government’s anti-Muslim propaganda to other “dark episodes” in Canada’s history including the war-time internment of Ukrainian, Japanese and Italian Canadians, the refusal of boatloads of Jewish and Punjabi refugees and the forced removal of aboriginal children from their homes into abusive residential schools.
Crimes committed by ISIS are bad enough without the need for Kenney’s brand of fabrication. In its latest outrage, ISIS published a video showing the murder of Muhammad Said Ismail Musallam, a Palestinian from occupied East Jerusalem who ISIS claimed was an Israeli spy. The young man’s family says that Musallam left home in October with the intention of traveling Syria to join a militant group.
For Canadians it should also be a real concern that the man in charge of their country’s war blatantly and unapologetically spreads lies.