U of L sociologist looks at Muslims in Canada in light of terrorist attacks by Muslim converts

Building on the research he did for his award-winning book The Muslim Question in Canada (UBC Press, 2014), University of Lethbridge sociologist Dr. Abdie Kazemipur will examine the integration of Canadian Muslims in light of recent events like the terrorist attacks by Muslim converts in October of 2014.

Thanks to a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of more than $138,000 over four years, Kazemipur will examine the relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims in public and government institutions, in the mass media, in the economy, and in the community in his new project, After the Ottawa Attack.

“Because of the terrorist attacks that happened on Canadian soil back in 2014 and the fact that some other similar activities have been monitored and discovered, I want to see whether that has triggered any changes in public opinion,” he says. “In other countries, when something of a large magnitude – whether actual or symbolic — happens, all of a sudden you see a change in the overall environment.”

Shocking terrorist attacks, like that on Parliament Hill in Ottawa and on two Canadian forces members in Quebec, have the potential to change popular opinion, social relationships and government policies. People often behave in a reactive way that can damage relationships for years. Many politically conservative parties in Europe have used the public fear that results from terrorist attacks to make their way into public office.

Canada was often thought to be almost immune to the threat of terrorism and a model country for the successful integration of immigrants, including Muslims. When Kazemipur gathered data for his first book, Muslims reported a high degree of satisfaction with their decision to live in Canada. The 2014 attacks and numerous reports of organizations like al-Qaida and ISIS recruiting young Muslim Canadians can create anxiety and nervousness in the general public.

“All of these fears do not just remain in people’s minds. They translate themselves into actions,” says Kazemipur. “Many of these people are the people who are making key decisions in the job market in terms of whom they should employ and whom they should reject.”

The results can lead to a segmented economy in which particular groups are pushed into lower-paying jobs and unemployment. Kazemipur’s data already shows that Muslims in Canada are over-represented among the unemployed and they often find jobs for which they are over qualified. Muslims in Canada also have higher rates of poverty.

“If things do not move on the economic side, then it can create the same kind of resentment and a sense of alienation from the broader society that we have seen in some European countries,” he says.

Kazemipur plans to use data from multiple censuses, surveys, interviews, focus groups and archival documents to arrive at a comprehensive understanding of the situation and identify any practical solutions.

The research findings will have implications for policies and programs on immigration and integration and on job market practices, and can provide better guidelines for cross-cultural social interactions and communications.