Last year during Ramadan, a pig’s head was left at the Grande mosquée de Quebec, in Quebec City, Canada. Many people reacted with anger and shock at the fact that something like that could take place in Canada, a country widely considered to be accepting of varying cultures and religions. No one could have guessed that a few months later, six people in that same mosque would be shot dead while praying.
At least fifteen people were shot and injured, while the six that died were all men, ages ranging from 39-60. I was watching the SAAG awards, watching various actors condemn the Muslim Ban in America, when I learned of this tragedy.
Like most, I felt angry, shocked, hurt, and worried. But worst of all—I felt numb. I have become so accustomed to reading headlines about Muslims being shunned, being hurt and persecuted, Muslims being banned. It is becoming so mind-numbingly expected, that I wake up praying that I’ll read a headline about something else. Something less close to home.
When I was younger, I grew up wishing I wasn’t born into a religion that everyone seemed to despise. My parents said that before 9/11, it wasn’t as bad; people were generally accepting and Canada did shine bright in its diversity. But today, I am told to only disclose my religion to a few people and to never recite Arabic prayers aloud in public in times of distress. I am told to quiet down, keep my head low, and never show evidence of my anger.
I was first called Paki when I was only six years old. I didn’t understand it. I was ridiculed for worshipping Allah, I was told that my parents are undercover suicide bombers. I remember my second-grade teacher keeping me in during recess, away from other students. She would force me to read books about Christianity and Jesus. I didn’t understand at the time that what she was doing was wrong. I didn’t understand that I was a victim. Instead, I felt shameful and embarrassed to be a Muslim.
As I grew older, I read the news and realized that the way Muslims are portrayed further harshens peoples’ view of us. We are painted as the terrorists, and never as the victims. I realized that perhaps I wasn’t in the wrong for being Muslim; perhaps others were in the wrong for not reading more than what they were faced with. For not opening their eyes and learning about a religion and culture different from their own.
I listened as Canadian leaders condemned the attack on innocent Muslims, calling it a terrorist attack. I watched my friends and strangers tweet and post about their horror of this incident. I read about how shocked people were that something this violent, this hateful could occur in Canada, a country that accepts.
I went to the vigil and was surprised to see that there were many citizens, holding up various signs condemning the attack. My heart warmed for an instant, and I realized that we truly are united by love and respect for each other. I listened to leaders deliver speeches about Canada’s strength as a diverse country, respect for religions, respect for minorities, and yet I still felt unsatisfied and angry.
It is a beautiful thing to see people from all races and religions come together and stand in solidarity, to stand up for basic human rights. I think that the protests about the Muslim ban, about the terrorist attack at the mosque, the signs condemning Trump, the speeches about diversity—I think they are all coming from a place filled with positivity and hope. But I do not think that is enough.
The reality is, that when we try to remain uplifting and we reiterate phrases like “Our diversity is our strength,” “Stay positive,” “Muslims belong here,” we are ignoring the real issues. We are not having a real discussion about what we need to change in order to never see these senseless acts of violence occur again.
This is not the time to be silent, to lean on euphemisms, but rather the time to call hate, hate. Condemn violence and identify its roots. Highlight the growing sense of xenophobia and racism and then deliver actionable solutions.
I want to go to a protest where I don’t just hear about Canada’s love and respect for diversity; I want to hear something actionable, something that will provoke my thoughts, something that will spur change in this static, rigid, oppressive system.
Ultimately the problem is rooted in education. When I was in elementary school, the Christian students had a class based on their religion and its values. The other kids; Muslims, Hindus, Jews, anyone else—were all grouped together into a classroom where we learned about general ethics.
This segregation has always been prevalent in our history. We learn about the European wars through the perspective of Europe. The only time we spoke about Muslims was on 9/11—and it was mostly about the Iraq war. We spent two days focusing on Islam and we mostly spoke about terrorism and Ramadan. I remember feeling uncomfortable and confused and the only other Muslim person in my class and I couldn’t muster up the courage to say, “There is more to us than just that.”
When we start to open our eyes and ears to different cultures and beliefs, we will have an easier time growing up and accepting one another. It isn’t just about taking a country like Canada and letting immigrants settle in that strengthens our country. It is education; it is the time and effort to learn more about the world rather than just your own belief system.
The truth is, Canada has its own dark history—from Native American residential schools that held decades of abuse to our own involvement in slavery. When people argue that Canada is a nation built on love and respect for all cultures, I can’t help but feel as though it is not true. If you truly do your research and read outside of the history book your school gives you, you will easily find instances where Canada wasn’t a peaceful and perfect country.
I want to believe these words that I’m hearing, that this won’t happen again, that Muslims do have a place here. I want to believe it with all my heart that things will get better. But I somehow don’t feel like it will unless we start from the deep roots of this racism, this hatred, this ignorance. It will not stop until we begin by educating ourselves and each other. Schools start to need implementing mandatory classes about other cultures, beliefs, and people. We need to open up the minds of young students who know nothing but their own history. It is only then that we can expect a brighter future, filled with less hate and more acceptance.