[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t’s late Monday evening. Two white men, one with a beard and one without, stand a few persons ahead of me in a Starbucks line on campus. Eyes flashing, lips curled into smirks, hushed voices speaking through stifled laughter.
“Dude, the Qur’an might, like, brainwash you into blowing up something.”
“Yeah, but explosions are cool, man!”
While the two guffawed, these were the words that graced my ears, and undoubtedly those of the other two bystanders in front of me. To the two men engaging in such thoughtful dialogue, you know who you are. Shame on you.
As most of you are aware, extremists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the tragedy that befell Paris Friday, November 13, taking the lives of over 120 innocents. Since then, the French president has declared war upon the Islamic State, and has left the world stirring with discomfort at the prospects of further large-scale war of “Jihad vs McWorld” — especially with regards to what it could mean for their country’s future involvements.
A couple years ago, I lived with a Parisian roommate. Excessively proud of his country, I distinctly remember him boasting in the kitchen one evening that France was a country of peace.
“We protest over the stupidest things because there isn’t any controversy there. You never hear any news from France because nothing bad ever happens.” And I’ll admit, at the time, he was correct; up until the Charlie Hebdo shootings this past January, student protests were the only controversy I’d ever heard emanate from the French.
Though, as with most good things, they often come to an end, and the devastation that ransacked the country left my insides writhing in disbelief as I watched the terror on the television above me, while I safely sipped my privileged beer at a pub in our presumably untouchable haven of Canada.
Canadians, I’ll offer you three serious realities: racism, religious intolerance, and fully bloated ignorance.
How could such a peaceful, civilized country — a vacation station, a distinct cultural hub, and one of the most popular student exchange destinations — be torn apart by such religious hatred? As the body count unfolded, I certainly wasn’t the only one painfully confronted with the realities of war that night — that, yes, even the most content of countries could be subject to brutality, from whomever, whenever.
Sadly, it certainly doesn’t help that CBC and other prominent media outlets now constantly barrage the public with reminders that “soft targets are a jihadist fantasy” and that “Paris-style ISIS attacks could hit anywhere, including Canada.” While security experts and media outlets pull off their gloves from another day of hard work, their messages have evidently helped condemn our thought-processes to generalizations, and in most cases, ridiculous accusations toward Muslim communities.
Since the eruption in Paris, I’ve been disturbed by the headlines in Canada. A young Muslim woman wearing a hijab is given dirty looks and verbal criticisms in a grocery line-up. A mosque in Peterborough, Ontario has been deliberately set on fire. In Toronto, teenage Muslim girls are being cautioned not to go Islamic night school alone. A homeowner has placed a sign on his lawn asking Canadian Muslims if they’re “sorry for the slaughter of innocent people.” A man in a Joker mask films a YouTube video while holding a gun and threatening to kill Muslims in Quebec.
The fact is that the relentless attacks from the radical Islamic world have once again mired all Muslim communities in stereotypes that are truly unrepresentative of who they are. As the privileged among us quake in the terrified possibility that such an attack could penetrate our ‘peaceful’ native land, islamophobic Canadians thoughtlessly point an accusatory finger at our Muslim population at home — a piece of our diverse, harmless, proud, and patriotic cultural makeup.
To those who adamantly demand that Canada shut its borders to any immigrant Muslims, I’ll offer you three serious realities: racism, religious intolerance, and fully-bloated ignorance.
Canada’s increased anti-Muslim sentiments over the last few years have not only harmed our population, but have exposed Canada’s intolerant underpinnings. While Canadians may wear a badge of pride establishing that we’re from a country that beams inclusivity and acceptance, by continuously framing Muslims to be outsiders in their own country (as we have with our nation’s indigenous) then pelting them with acts of hatred and even violence, we’ve seriously contradicted the facade we wear.
The ideologies behind the monstrosity that transpired in Paris are simply not representative of the Muslim faith, and, in fact, left those at home just as shocked everyone else. A Muslim bakery owner claimed on CBC the other day, “This isn’t the Qur’an. This has nothing to do with the Qur’an.” Alas, there are many ‘evil’ Muslims, and there are millions more content and harmless people of the Muslim faith — just like there can be evil or decent people from any ethnicity, religion, or class.
I’m saddened that religious identification still plays the role in who the secular majority and other non-Muslims decide is ‘evil.’
Such ideologies have ignited a nation-wide ignorance that identifies Muslim people solely by their religion, and clumps them together into an intersectional abhorrence that needlessly positions them as outsiders. As a non-religious white male, I simply cannot understand how this has come to be in this day and age.
How are people, much less Canadians, so incredibly ignorant? The front page of the Metro this morning displays a large portrait of a Toronto Muslim reporter, and the headline reads: “Because I wear a hijab, I’m automatically the spokeswoman for every Muslim in the country.” I’m saddened that this is the case; that religious identification still plays the role in who the secular majority and other non-Muslims decide is ‘evil.’
How do we right these wrongs? Religious education is the solution, as Samaah Jaffer, my former colleague at The Peak, offered recently. She is an incredibly well-rounded, ambitious SFU World Literature and International Studies student who also happens to be a Canadian-born Muslim: “I believe the attacks that have transpired against members the Muslim community are due to a lack of understanding,” she tells me in an online message.
“The fact the ISIS acronym includes the word “Islamic” is incredibly misleading, since the group has absolutely no legitimate religious authority, and I believe education is key when it comes to decreasing prejudice. It’s up to individuals to take the time to learn about Islam, rather than relying on the extremist actions that are being covered in the media to inform their judgments.”
So, to Canadian Muslim communities, and those experiencing isolation or criticism in other parts of the world: do not apologize for the hatred that ransacked Paris on November 13. You were not involved. These terrorist actions do not reflect your religious beliefs, nor your qualities as a human being. As your fellow Canadian, I apologize for any unfounded prejudice you’ve had to endure as a result of our blatant intolerance.
And to the xenophobes I am ashamed to call my own race: perhaps you should take a moment to educate yourselves on religious diversity, and what it actually means to ‘be a terrorist.’ Perhaps you should recognize your racism as such, rather than blindly subscribing to profane, violent, and unfounded judgments.
We’re now living in the 21st century. Let’s actually practice what we preach and demonstrate the cultural ideals that we’ve wrongfully boasted about for ages.