Statement on Islamophobia, Colonial Violence and Accountability

June 29, 2021

Below is a statement from the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at Western following recent events. We make this statement to clarify our academic and pedagogic commitments at FIMS. Our statement is detailed and parts of it may be harmful to some readers. Please take care.

On June 8, 2020, FIMS published a Statement on Police Violence and Racism after Black Lives Matter protests had mobilized the world—including in Western’s hometown of London, ON—in response to George Floyd’s murder by an officer in the Minneapolis police department. Since then, we have been building an online anti-racism resource list attached to the statement that we’ve made available to our community, while also reinvigorating efforts to develop concrete, anti-racist and intersectional initiatives in curriculum development, faculty recruitment, and ways for students to report concerns about classroom and co-curricular conduct.

Current events continue to painfully remind us how deep and persistent the problems are:

the spa murders in Cherokee County and Atlanta, Georgia in March 2021, in which six women of Asian descent, one white woman, and one white man died;

an upsurge in anti-Asian hate crime in Canada since the early days of the COVID19 pandemic;

the brutal discovery of a mass grave containing the remains of 215 Indigenous children at Kamloops Indian Residential School on the unceded land of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in May 2021;

additional discoveries of unmarked graves at the site of the Marieval Indian Residential School on the lands of the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan, in late June 2021; 

and the Islamophobic vehicle attack in London, Ontario on Sunday, June 6, 2021. In this most recent act of terror, four of five Pakistani and Pakistani-Canadian family members out for an evening walk together were killed, and the fifth, 9-year-old Fayez Afzaal, is being treated for profound injuries. We mourn his mother Madiha Salman, his father Salman Afzaal, his 15-year-old sister Yumna Afzaal, and his grandmother Talat Afzaal.

On Tuesday, June 8, 2021, many members of the FIMS community attended a vigil at the London Muslim Mosque in memory of the four people who were killed. We heard local and national political figures and Muslim leaders speak to the crime, recognizing a long history of Islamophobia in Canada. This recognition is important.

In the press, Canadian Muslims implored non-Muslims not to call the attack “unthinkable,” since they and their family and community members think about the possibility of violence every day, reminded by the mosque attack that left six dead and as many injured in Quebec City in 2017, the political defeat of an anti-Islamophobia bill in Federal Parliament in 2017, and the lethal knife attack on a volunteer caretaker at an Etobicoke mosque (West of Toronto) in September 2020.

As scholars, teachers, students and staff members, we recognize that systemic racism and white supremacist violence are closely connected. We must act accordingly in developing our curriculum and community. We will teach about systemic racism in our media and information programs, but also about Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian and Muslim life, history and joy. We will press on with recruitment committed to developing our teaching team, our staff and our student profile to best reflect and address our academic environment, our social world, and our principles of equity. We will act when we witness racism, Indigenous stereotyping, and Islamophobia in the form of jokes, dismissals of concern, and name misattribution, and when we witness racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, anti-Semitic and white supremacist aggression in our communities and on our campus. We recognize that members of our own community are vulnerable to these harms.

In our dedication to creating an anti-racist space, we need to consider the long-term roots of white supremacy and systemic racism in colonialism. White supremacy is an ideology that asserts the false coherence of white people as a group and the indefensible assumption that white people define “normal” or are superior in mind, body and civilization and thus entitled to dominate others. Colonialism is the practice of claiming land, resources and people themselves for an occupying force in the name of “civilization” and the capture of wealth. The decolonial project seeks to restore multiple forms of justice and knowledge and the link we so desperately need between justice and social difference. When that link is clear, false hierarchies of human worth are revealed for the pernicious myth they are. The value of that project rests in being forever unfinished, a direction that guides us at FIMS in concert with institutional goals.

We must ask “what should we do?” but equally “how should we think and act together?” At FIMS, we are dedicated to thinking, speaking and otherwise acting against systemic racism as a key project in curriculum and academic community development.

As part of our commitment to these matters, we will make information publicly available on our website that will allow community members to learn more about related scholarship being conducted by FIMS faculty members, find updates about ongoing policy initiatives as they relate to curriculum or conduct, and to otherwise track our progress. We expect to have this new resource available by September 2021.

Our accountability, and our hearts, go out to communities of people who have endured Islamophobia and colonial violence, indeed at FIMS many of us are in and of those communities.

We join together in working against systemic racism and to naming white supremacist violence when we see it.