By Sheema Khan
Feb. 01, 2017
Last Sunday, as six men were gunned down, 17 children lost a father, six women were instantly widowed. A community shattered. Lives irreparably damaged by a hate-filled individual who took advantage of a mosque’s open doors to kill and maim Muslims in prayer. Not in the United States, but in the heart of la belle province.
As many have noted, the massacre took place in an atmosphere of increasing Islamophobia. While the individual who allegedly perpetrated these crimes is solely responsible for his actions, it is time to reflect on where we as a society stand in relation to public discourse about Muslims.
Currently, “Otherising” Muslims has not only become the norm, but a political platform to win votes. We saw it in the previous federal election. The current Parti Québécois Leader, Jean-François Lisée, championed the toxic Quebec values charter and plays the Muslim identity card. In July, he criticized a colleague for wishing Quebec Muslims a happy Eid. What message does this send?
Enthusiastic supporters of Kellie Leitch embrace her defence of “Canadian values” – a phrase that resonates with their deep mistrust of Muslims in Canada. The actions of political leaders sets the tone. Xenophobic overtures, whether overt or covert, give licence to people to spew their prejudices in the open. Attitudes once considered shameful are normalized, to the detriment of social harmony.
We have a choice. Do we allow the “Otherising” to continue unchallenged or stand up to bigotry? Do we allow politicians to play upon fears or do we hold them accountable?
This is a very difficult time for Muslims. The unthinkable has happened, resulting in intense feelings of vulnerability. A sanctuary of refuge has been violated. Their co-religionists have been murdered in cold blood for their simple profession of faith. Many have thought “that could have been me” and are wondering what to tell their children, and how to keep them safe.
Schools and community sports organizations can help to address anxiety with messages of inclusion. My daughter’s school tweeted the following reassuring words on Monday morning: “To Muslim members of our community, our deepest condolences. Please know our thoughts are with you and we love you. Staff are here for you.” This really helped to assuage many of our worries.
In addition, law-enforcement agencies across the country are providing enhanced protection to Islamic centres and mosques. These institutions should also apply for the federal government’s Communities At Risk program, which is aimed at helping institutions vulnerable to hate-motivated attacks improve their security.
What about questions of identity, going forward? Perhaps Muslims can take a cue from Linda Sarsour, one of the organizers of the recent Women’s March, and declare themselves “unapologetically Muslim, unapologetically Canadian.” We should continue to worship in humility, relying on our faith for strength. Let’s continue to practise the universal virtues of community, generosity and charity. Now is not the time to disengage, nor turn inward with fear.
In fact, Canadians and Quebeckers have opened their hearts to Muslims across this country, letting them know that they are loved and supported. Our elected leaders have set the tone toward healing. These profound acts of kindness help repair the social fabric that extremists desperately seek to rupture. Their goal is to sow hatred, division and fear. We must not let them succeed. Instead, let us become soldiers of inclusion, armed with compassion, ready to confront xenophobia in all its forms. Apathy is not an option.
In his beautiful Quebec anthem Mon pays, Gilles Vigneault wrote “A tous les hommes de la terre, ma maison c’est votre maison.” This theme – that our vast country is home to those who arrive on its shores – is also found in aboriginal tradition. Our hearts, like the land, are wide enough to embrace all those who seek to call Canada “home.” How unapologetically Canadian.