The inhabitants of the peaceful Canadian island paradise of Nova Scotia were forced to scramble this month to maintain their reputation as a beacon of tolerance when the Halifax-based Centre for Islamic Development filed a formal complaint to the Nova Scotia Alcohol, Gaming Division (AGD) against the microbrewery located next door for what it called a “frontal attack to our way of life.”
In the past, the Centre for Islamic Development’s media-savvy imam, Zia Khan, has released videos calling alcohol "the path to the devil." He has also filed a complaint with Nova Scotia's Human Rights Commission over a newspaper cartoon depicting a burqa-clad woman fundraising for her terrorist husband's "training camp" in 2008.
It may have been inevitable that Good Robot, self-styled as Halifax's "most questionable brewery and taproom," would offend the religious sensibilities of its neighbors. Its trio of proprietors openly admit to not having the greatest life management skills on their website, promising a safe haven for "misfits who don't want to grow up."
The Centre for Islamic Development, which underwent a $2.4 million refurbishment in 2014, has been a fixture of Halifax's Robie Street neighbourhood for 15 years -- far longer than Good Robot. Khan is quick to remind others who was there first, and he apparently believes that Good Robot's current location "doesn't make sense."
The basis of Khan’s initiative to revoke Good Robot’s liquor license was his complaint that the brewery's patrons have frequently vomited and urinated in the Centre's doorway, and that loud music disturbed the services inside. He said his accusation had less to do with religion, and more to do with bylaws.
Khan hoped the brewery would change its practices so that all music and drinking will take place inside the bar, and that the outside fence delineating the brewery's beer garden would be dismantled.
For their part, Good Robot's founders took to Twitter and distanced themselves from "anti-Islamic remarks" made by "some people who have heard of the complaint." They spoke of an "amicable relationship" with the mosque, but bemoaned the fact that the complaint "is not reflective" of their company’s practices, saying they have personally seen few if any instances of public urination or vomiting.
This raises the question of why the media is giving this story such prominence. Canada's media – such as the state-run Canadian Broadcasting Corporation – has gone out of its way to find an “Islamophobia” angle, shifting the focus of its coverage from the original complaint to ugly backlash against the mosque on social media.
Even as it was reported that Good Robot and the Centre for Islamic Development were trying to arrange a sitdown to resolve the matter peacefully -- which they eventually did, releasing a statement together -- the CBC devoted the last few paragraphs of their story to hateful messages being received by the mosque with little additional context. Halifax News website The Coast devoted an entire article to the racist trolls poisoning the situation, despite only referencing a single post from a Facebook group.
Indeed, the joint statement released by the two parties pleads for a respite from “odious public commentary” as well as “sensationalistic reporting.”
Charges of racism are deeply hurtful to Canadians, especially Nova Scotians, who take great pride in the fact that their island was a safe haven for runaway American slaves before the Civil War.
In Canada's ultra-liberal and solicitously polite culture, opportunities to point the finger at “Islamophobia” are so few and far between that there is a rush to judgement whenever anything smacks of possible religious prejudice.
Most Canadians are far more interested in protecting their reputations than in defending their values.
But is the unending search for “Islamophobia” leading progressive Canadian institutions – state-owned media, government organizations such as Service Nova Scotia, and the Human Rights Commissions themselves – to unwittingly provide cover for an illiberal religious agenda?
(Josh Lieblein is a Toronto-based writer and activist who writes for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.)