Opinion piece by Susan Delacourt

Opinion: Action needed to curb anti-Muslim hatred

The London, Ontario, incident where three generations of Afzaal-Salman family were killed, will not be the last anti-Muslim incident in Canada. Every once in a while, we come across incidents in different Canadian cities.

Several incidents of attacks on Muslims have been recorded in Edmonton, Calgary, St. Albert and Saskatoon, which included assaults against women wearing hijabs and defacing of an Edmonton mosque with a swastika – the latest example in a string of anti-Muslim attacks and vandalism in the city.

A recent incident concerned an Alberta Cabinet Minister whose daughter was physically and verbally attacked in downtown Calgary, the latest in a series of attacks on racialized Albertans. Raman Sawhney, 25-year-old daughter of Alberta’s former Minister of Community and Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney (now appointed Transport Minister), was attacked in broad daylight on Stephen Avenue, which has some of Calgary’s finest restaurants, cafés, pubs and bars, with an eclectic mix of boutiques and high-end retail. No bystanders stepped in to help in one of the busiest and popular areas of the city.

Two sisters in St. Albert were attacked by a knife-wielding man who yelled racial slurs while knocking one of them unconscious. In Saskatoon, a Muslim man received 14 stitches after he was stabbed, taunted and had his beard cut by attackers.

These atrocities are then followed by an outpouring of support, condemnation and sympathy from politicians, neighbours and the general public for the victims, but nothing is done to wipe out completely the hatred against Muslims.

It’s tragic that Muslims feel unsafe even while going for a walk or cannot even offer prayers in their mosques – which should be the safest place on earth – without someone barging in with a gun. In Quebec, Muslim women are banned from wearing hijab while at work under B21 legislation.

The London incident should be a wakeup call for politicians and lawmakers to act immediately to prevent repetition of such incidents because Islamophobia is real and rampant from coast to coast in Canada.

What is the root cause of racialism? The simple answer to this question is ignorance and lack of contact between the races. Majority of people have little or no contact with Muslims at a personal level as friends or neighbours. Everyone has a part to play in eradicating racism in Canada. On an individual level, it would be worthwhile to invite your Muslim neighbours or office colleagues for coffee and get to know them. It’s only through friendship and personal contacts that one would know that Muslims are the same as anyone else. Muslims may look different or speak diverse languages, but they are human beings like anyone else.

The main reason for hatred towards Muslims is because of the terrorist attacks undertaken by the so-called jihadists, who have no legitimacy or right to unleash a reign of terror in the name of Islam. They do not represent the religion nor do they have any right in speaking on behalf of Muslims. They are a bunch of hooligans out to cause death and destruction, under the guise of religion.

Political, educational and civic leaders should be concerned about the rise in hate crimes in Canada. One of the ways to eradicate this venom is to initiate a campaign of intermingling of different races in communities. At formal and informal levels, efforts should be made to allow different races to mingle as neighbours, friends and colleagues. Religious leaders should host inter-faith events so as to educate their congregations about different religions.

The media’s role in cementing ties and building bridges among communities should not be underemphasized. Their mandate, besides holding governments and institutions accountable, should be to recommend ways to minimize problems and shortcomings in society. The challenge before media is to ensure that politics, especially policies pertaining to race relations and minorities, should strive to unify, not divide society.

I love the Canadian TV show, Little Mosque on the Prairies, shot in a fictitious town called Mercy, depicting a classic example of religious brotherhood when a Christian church offers space to Muslims in the town to hold their services. What a superb gesture of religious co-operation, comraderies and non-denominational brotherhood. Little Mosque on the Prairies may be a fictional sitcom but it’s message — two religions working for everyone’s betterment in harmony — is universal and applicable to present day Canada.

All Canadians regardless of their religion should be able to live and move around freely in safety. Canada is renowned internationally for its record of welcoming immigrants and refugees. Let’s not tarnish Canada’s glittering image, which is the envy of the world, as a multiracial nation, portraying diversity and multiculturalism.

Mansoor Ladha is a Calgary-based writer and author of Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West and A Portrait in Pluralism: Aga Khan’s Shia Ismaili Muslims.