Calling out Canadians for Islamophobic racism can turn any activist into a target—but that’s all the more reason to keep doing it, guest speaker Dalila Awada told convention delegates yesterday.

“Every time I say or write something publicly I get so many hateful messages,” said Awada. “People tell me to leave, to go back to my own country. We cannot say that we are equal as citizens if we can’t criticize our government, our society, and say that things could be better.”

In her speech, the sociologist, writer and Montreal-based activist told delegates that Islamophobia in Canada is real, but many dismiss it under the guise of criticizing religion. “Our society has difficulty accepting this as racism,” Awada said, “It is seen as acceptable because Muslims are painted as a threat to democratic western society. So hate speech becomes seen as merely an expression of opinion.”

Awada has been a tireless critic of a culture that allows anti-Muslim racism to go unchallenged. “Every day I hear stories from women who are spat on, pushed in the streets, or stared at because of what they wear,” she said, describing the daily harassment suffered by women who wear veils. “But this isn’t always viewed as racism.”

The first step to combatting Islamophobia, she instructed, is to recognize it as racism. Anti-Muslim racism shows itself in different ways, whether it is physical or verbal aggression “or a family not being able to rent an apartment because the man’s name is Mohammed and not Mark.” The next step is to ask questions about institutions that perpetuate this racism. “We need to go beyond words like diversity and dialogue, as if they are magic formulas that solve all problems.”

She finished by telling the convention that we need to seek radical solutions. “I know people think Muslims should not use the word ‘radical’, but I want us to be radical,” she concluded, “we need concrete solutions to combat inequality, because we don’t have the luxury of another century to make things just a little bit better. We have to insist on equality and we have to take care of each other.”