Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office took decisive action this week to correct a tweet by American news outlet Fox Media. The tweet reported that one of the men arrested in the Quebec City mosque shooting was of Moroccan origin. This created a wonderful image of Canada’s prime minister standing up for tolerance and truth against the forces of hatred and deception. It is a very appealing image, but maybe not completely accurate.
While Fox Media is known for its right-wing bias and even conservatives find some of its viewpoints extreme and distasteful, the outrage expressed by the Prime Minister’s office over a tweet seems a little excessive. After all, the Fox Media report was a tweet, not a full news story, and the police had originally arrested the Moroccan before concluding that he was a witness rather than a perpetrator. Many news services reported the arrest, and, like a lot of news outlets, I doubt that Fox is very diligent about removing past reports that have proved erroneous; it most likely just posts the correct news once it has more details.
The intervention by the Prime Minister’s office raises a number of questions. Is the PMO going to take on the responsibility of correcting all erroneous news reports in the world? Would the PMO have been as quick to correct an erroneous report by a left-wing news outlet? The attack occurred Sunday evening, police clarified on Monday that the Moroccan was not a suspect, and the Fox tweet was not taken down until Tuesday evening. However, by Wednesday evening the Al Jazeera news agency still had an old story posted saying two suspects had been arrested. The PMO did not ask for that report to be removed.
But the PMO’s office went even farther. Kate Purchase, Trudeau’s director of communications, accused Fox of “spreading misinformation, playing identity politics, and perpetuating fear and division within our communities.” Purchase went on to note that “Muslims are predominantly the greatest victims of terrorist acts around the world,” and stated, “To paint terrorists with a broad brush that extends to all Muslims is not just ignorant—it is irresponsible.”
If the PMO’s office is really interested in truth, it should realize that Fox did none of those things in the tweet the PMO objected to. The tweet simply reported a fact, that police had arrested a Moroccan man. Fox did not accuse all Muslims of being terrorists, at least in the tweet.
At the same time, Kate Purchase’s statement that “Muslims are predominantly the greatest victims of terrorist acts around the world” is also a half-truth. It may well be true in a literal sense, depending on how one calculates such things—the line between terrorist acts and atrocities committed in civil wars is not always clear. Purchase’s statement portrays Muslims as victims, but what she did not state is that most of the terrorist attacks on Muslims are committed by other Muslims.
It is certainly not true that all Muslims are terrorists, but in the world today a large percentage of terrorists are Muslims—and that is an issue that needs serious consideration, by Muslims as well as non-Muslims. Ideas matter.
The attack on the Quebec City mosque has been rightly condemned by political and religious leaders across Canada and around the world. And while this attack seems to have been carried out by a lone gunman, there are certainly others who share his views even if they do not act on them—and such attitudes do need to be acknowledged, confronted, and condemned.
Fortunately, attacks like the Quebec City one are relatively rare in Canada. They are more common in Muslim majority countries. For instance, just before Christmas, a similar shooting took place at a Christian church in Egypt, one of several recent incidents. The attack was not widely reported in the Western press, nor was it widely condemned by political and religious leaders.
It is certainly wrong to portray all Muslims as terrorists. But it is also wrong to portray all Muslims as peaceful victims of terrorism. We should condemn the hatred that leads to terrorist acts against Muslims. And we should condemn the hatred that leads to terrorist acts by Muslims. We should resist the temptation to take sides. We should condemn all evil no matter where it is found.