Students at the University of Ottawa are on edge after posters comparing the Prophet Muhammad to Adolf Hitler were put up around campus last month.
It’s unclear who created and distributed the posters, but the Ottawa Police service told VICE News in an email it is “exploring” the situation.
“We cannot confirm or deny any complaint or investigation into a named organization unless a charge has been laid,” said a police spokesperson.
The posters feature a caricature of Prophet Muhammad opposite a portrait of Hitler. The top half of the page includes a list of “Similarities” between the two figures, such as how “Both followers hate Jews” and “Both preached supremacism and xenophobia.”
The bottom half lists “Differences” that portray the Prophet Muhammad as worse than Hitler, calling him a paedophile and preacher of domestic abuse, among other things.
Students immediately reported the posters to university administration and the incident has received widespread traction on social media. The posters were taken down soon after administrators were alerted.
“The message on these posters isn’t trivial,” Ahmed Ben Jemaa, a second-year conflict studies and human rights student at the university told VICE News . “First of all, it belittles the Holocaust where six million Jews were murdered by Nazis, but it also humanizes Hitler, while dehumanizing the Muslims.”
Students want the university to intervene
A campus-wide email was sent addressing the incident. Students were notified that the incident had been reported to Ottawa police. The email described the posters as “displaying a degrading and offensive message with racist and homophobic content.”
Some Muslim students criticized the university’s assessment of the posters for being weak.
“I’m unimpressed,” says Gada Hassoun, who’s pursuing a degree in political science and women’s studies. “The university failed to recognize and address the ongoing Islamophobia.” She added that the lack of specific naming of Islamophobia or anti-Muslim sentiment on campus contributes to the exclusion and marginalization many Muslim students face there.
“I feel like they’re downplaying the seriousness of the incident,” said Ben Jemaa, the second-year student. “At the end of the day, the poster promotes hate and fear toward the Muslim community, so I’d like to see the university put out a statement that points out exactly that, and why that’s wrong.”
A spokesperson from the university acknowledged the posters in an email to VICE News. As for the students’ concerns, she replied, “We appreciate their comments and take them into consideration.”
Geneviève Nevin, a fourth-year international development and Indigenous studies student, posted a photo of the poster on her Facebook page. It so far has more than 130 shares.
“That particular poster was put up in the second floor of the Simard building, which is the arts building on campus, which is a highly visible location,” she said. She was informed by campus security that the same poster had been reported throughout campus by other students.
“It’s so insulting partly because it engages in Hitler revisionism and tries to basically pit Jews and Muslims against each other,” said Nevin, who also works for the progressive Jewish organization, Independent Jewish Voices.
A context of discrimination
Nevinand Hassoun pointed out that the posters aren’t an isolated incident.
A broad coalition of far-right groups are planning to rally this coming Saturday on Parliament Hill against the UN Global Compact for Migration. It accompanies a widely-circulated petition against the Compact that has been endorsed by Quebec MP Maxime Bernier, who also leads the People’s Party of Canada, and shared by numerous far-right figures.
Well-known far-right groups are expected to attend, including the Northern Guard, Le Meute, the III%ers, and Storm Alliance.
Other posters bearing the phrase, “It’s okay to be white” were seen in downtown Ottawa and other cities across Canada several weeks ago, just days after the Pittsburgh shooting.
The phrase appears to have originated in online white nationalist circles.
The same posters were also found one year ago throughout university campuses in Canada, including the University of Toronto. The backlash against them prompted former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke to tweet that there was “ubiquitous anti-white hate (and) racism” in Canada.
“Ottawa has always been racist, discriminative and homophobic,” Hassoun says. “It’s just easier to identify now because of social media.”
Hassoun emphasized she would like to see the University of Ottawa play a bigger role in addressing racism, homophobia, and Islamophobia on campus.
“I don’t feel like I belong here,” she said. “I worked so hard to be where I am today, and my family did the same for me and my future. I deserve the same safe space and equality as everyone else.”
Cover image of one of the poster at the University of Ottawa. Facebook.