On Sunday night, as news broke that a gunman had stormed into a Quebec mosque and opened fire, people took to Twitter to get the latest information on what had taken place. Soon, word got out that there were two suspects under arrest — with one having a “Muslim”-sounding name — and that there were shouts of “Allahu Akbar” before the shots were fired. Speculation ensued, with some claiming this was an act of white supremacist terror and others pointing the finger at “radical Islam.” Police now allege that Alexandre Bissonnette acted alone and that the person they previously identified as his accomplice, Mohamed Belkhadir, was in fact a witness who called 911.
Columnists like the National Post’s Andrew Coyne and the CBC’s Robyn Urback were quick to point to the confusion surrounding the attacker’s identity as an example of the left and right engaging in the same game of premature speculation in order to prove ideological superiority. But this is a false equivalence; while it is important to wait for all information to come out in a dynamic situation, Muslims and their allies have different reasons for speculating than right-wing Islamophobes. Speculating that a white man may be responsible for a brazen hate crime is an act of self-defence, motivated by a desire to see their community’s oppression taken seriously. The far right, on the other hand, hopes to see a Muslim held responsible to push forward a bigoted narrative of a nation under attack by Islam. These identity differences may seem trivial, but one only needs look at how this attack was covered to see how the distinction manifests materially.
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