There is a lot of work to be done to diminish hate, in all its forms, in this country we call home. Islamophobia should have no place in Canada—but it exists here. All lives should matter—but, the dirty and honest truth is, that there are people who exist in spaces of privilege. Those who wear blindfolds when it comes to equality, and who practice the idea that many lives are less valuable than their own. And can do this to violent extremes.
On January 29, 2017, a white supremacist showed that this Canada does, indeed, and to the sorrow of many, exist. This white supremacist stole six lives from their family and friends—and he stole them during moments of reaffirming the beauty and intricacy of life; a confirmation done during shared, and private, prayers. And those lives and what they stood for should not be forgotten. They are lives that should inspire us to be better, to do better. To love more, and not less.
They are the lives that represent being Canadian. And, if we love our country, like we say we do, we should challenge what we feel and know is not right. And the people who gathered across Canada, mourning in vigils from British Columbia to Newfoundland, they did this; and inspired me to believe that this principle still exists. Yes, they inspired me to believe in this; even at this long moment of darkness.
The vigils were a stand against misguided hate, against the senselessness of prejudice. Against fears of a religion whose practice is best reflected in its very name itself. Islam: a submission and obedience to the best of all virtues: peace.
What we are facing today in Canada is the long-haul of a fight we have to win; for (in paraphrasing a verse from the Quran) the loss of one life is a loss for all humanity. And the loss of these six lives, of Ibrahima Barry, Aboubaker Thabiti, Azzeddine Soufiane, Mamadou Tanou, Khaled Belkacemi, and Abdelkrim Hassane, is a loss for everyone; for those who grew up believing that we all have a right to call Canada home (despite of, or even, because of struggles we may have faced; struggles those labelled as “others” had to, and most definitely, still face today—as these six men surely experienced for the freedom of calling themselves Canadian.)
Many of us have been frightened by the actions of the white supremacist-terrorist who shot these six men in the back; and a few of us have been frightened into perhaps believing, whether outright or deep in our subconscious, that Canada is not a home for everyone. That it is home for those who hold power or position. But power is useless unless there is a fight to compare it with. And that fight belongs to all of us. And it should be done for the sake of all of us.
Perhaps, a few more of us have even been intimidated into secretly believing, for a single, and, undeniably irrational moment, that power belongs to those who will use violence to make their views known. (Namely, those whose vision of the world is one of white superiority, and who terrorize people in their places of worship. And to those supremacists, all I can say is this: your vision of the world will never be true. It was not true yesterday; it is not true today; and it will not be true tomorrow.
Unless you claim the rightful titles of those indigenous to this land—of those who were here before the waves of white supremacy took root and created strains of sickness, from residential schools, to isolated reservations, and treaties for stolen land, and many other strains that are still and yet to be recovered from—I say this: Canada will never belong exclusively to you.)
This crisis—of the fragility of white-supremacist-identity—which has proven to be so deadly, should not allow us to forget that Canada belongs to a network of stories. That they include the stories of immigrants and generations of their families who have worked to make Canada a place of possibilities. They have done this with their sacrifices, ambitions, and even, at times, their own affirmative actions taken because of that sadly lingering feeling of not really belonging.
They are the stories of people like my parents and grandparents who traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, making a home in Canada while not fully knowing how their lives would play out. They are the stories of people like Azzeddine Soufiane, Aboubaker Thabiti, Mamadou Tanou, Khaled Belkacemi, Abdelkrim Hassane, and Ibrahima Barry.
And I believe these are the stories of many Canadian families. So, I challenge Canadians to believe that you hold the solution to undermining white supremacy and it’s spurring on of Islamophobia and hate and the dishonest and terrifying narrative that Canada is for a select and “supreme” few. Our stories tell us differently. But we also need to share more of our experiences, and have honest conversations about what it means to be Canadian (and the ways people have been, or currently are, excluded from this conversation because of their identity, history, heritage, and so many other areas.)
Canada doesn’t need to be made “great again.”
Its evidence is in getting to know your neighbours. In gathering at celebrations of humanity; at mosques and centres of learning—like the Cultural Centre that was terrorized in Quebec City.
But, there is still a lot of work to be done. To continue being present, and continuing to confront and engage with the status quos of the world. And with the negative ways in which Islam is often presented. To dissect the tumor that may linger in minds, which whispers “most terrorists seem to be people of colour,” or “people who are Muslims.”
And, if the old logic continues gaining strength, well, the actions of the shooter—a white man!—who terrorized the Islamic Cultural Centre should—if you yourself are willing!—help to remove that blindfold and reveal a new and honest truth.
A truth that countless followers of Islam should be able to live out their days navigating all that this life can offer. That they deserve to do this with as much dignity and peace as anyone in this country does. That they are working, like many of us, to define our daily struggle, between our inner-graces and darkness, and the world that sees our faces in certain, peculiar, and different ways.
That they are, above all, people living all the complexities this title brings with it.
We should all be offered opportunities to live fully and fearlessly; and, to the benefit of everyone, it may one day become unconditionally true. However, in our fight against Islamophobia and hatred today, we are still struggling with a very real and dark truth: that because they loved Islam, in an instant, six people were killed.