Throughout my 22 years of life, I have been lucky enough to travel and live on four continents. I have been surrounded by the values of many other religions, cultures and traditions. Yet here in Canada, a nation that takes pride in its multiculturalism, I find myself experiencing the daily irony of being unable to live by my faith without being oppressed. Why? The answer is simple: Society sees me as a terrorist.
Canada is overdue to recognize that it has an Islamophobia problem that continues to grow, due to white supremacy and misinformation propagated by many media and online hate groups.
My family and I immigrated to Canada four years ago in the hope of finding a safe place to call home. But in 2017, after hearing about the horrendous attack that killed 12 Muslims in the Quebec Mosque shooting, I woke up from my fantasy land. The recent attack on a Muslim family in London, Ont.—which left four dead and one injured by a racist pickup driver—made me start questioning whether this would happen in our communities in Ottawa as well.
I was shocked by Iranian-born Fereshteh Zomorodian’s story of when she faced Islamophobia in Ottawa. Two white Canadians threatened the Bakery and Pastry program student while she was in her car waiting for her friends. Zomorodian was listening to a juz’ recitation—one of the 30 parts into which the Koran is divided— when a car stopped beside her. “I wasn’t paying much attention to the individuals who were parked next to me, up until one of them started using inappropriate words directed at me,” Zomorodian recalled. “He was yelling ‘Why are you in this country? What is your purpose for staying here?’ and ‘You should leave’… They kept yelling until my friends made it back.” I could easily see how terrified Zomorodian was by her tone.
I hear stories like this all the time and I’m tired of it. A Muslim woman being verbally abused on public transit. A Muslim student being bullied. Even a friend of mine was robbed because she refused to take off her hijab (headscarf). I mean, why are people so bothered by a thin cloth wrapped around someone else’s head? What will individuals gain from forcing a person to take it off?
Police-reported hate crimes against Muslims in our communities have increased, according to Statistic Canada data. If these crimes were being committed against white people with the same frequency as against Middle Eastern individuals, the perpetrators would be punished with the seriousness that they deserve. The consequences would be unimaginable. as it would be seen as a national crisis. And if the perpetrators were Muslim or just of Middle Eastern descent, they would be called terrorists immediately. Yet when these crimes are committed against Muslims, “mental health reasons” are often cited in efforts to reduce sentences and gain sympathy for the perpetrators.
Our communities should be aware of the hate movement not only towards Muslims but also towards other ethnic minorities. Without any individual initiative, more lives are at stake. Initiative means you should not believe everything you see in the media but rather research and educate yourself through books and websites that present to you the values of Islam. It also means authorities need to recognize the actual threat posed by white supremacy as home-grown terrorism rather than seeing it as a minor disturbance, and failing to enforce laws.
The latest tragic incident should be a wake-up call for all of Canada. Islamophobia is just another form of hate and ignorance. Like a virus, it needs to be cured through information, action and unity. Let’s treat this as the national crisis that it is. We have to do better.