Two years ago, a man filled with anger and hatred walked into a mosque in a quiet Quebec City neighborhood and opened fire on worshipers as they prayed. In a targeted act of terror, he killed 6 and injured 19 others simply because they were Muslim. That evening, the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City lost Khaled Belkacemi, Azzedine Soufiane, Aboubaker Thabti, Abdelkrim Hassane, Mamadou Tanou Barry, and Ibrahima Barry. They were fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, and they were contributing members of their community.
The collective reaction of Canadians was that of shock, disbelief, sorrow and anger. Surely something like this could never take place in a country like ours? The unfortunate reality is that this act of terror was a culmination of the many years of lingering islamophobia which we had not addressed. According to a Statistics Canada hate crime report, anti-Muslim hate incidents increased 151 percent in 2017 from 2016. Hassan Guillet, spokesperson for the Council of Quebec Imams summed it up powerfully, saying “before planting his bullets in the heads of his victims, somebody planted ideas more dangerous than the bullets in his head.”
Yet, in the wake of the attack, Canadians from coast to coast, including our leaders stood together in solidarity, supporting the families of the victims as well as the Canadian Muslim Community, fervently denouncing and condemning racism and islamophobia. This attack brought our country, a country of immigrants closer together. We saw thousands of people, from all walks of life, make their way to the Islamic Cultural Centre to pay tributes to and leave notes of love and support for the victims, their families and their community.
In this regard, I would like to share the story of Ryan Slobojan and his 10-year-old daughter. Having felt a profound sense of sadness, Ryan and his daughter, residents of Toronto, traveled to the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City, not only to pay their respects but also to offer hugs and provide emotional support to mourners. Inspired by this incredible act of humanity, Ryan initiated the “Push Back the Darkness Campaign.” On January 29th, at 8PM, on the day and time of the attack, Canadians from coast to coast lit candles in their windows, symbolizing the collective commitment to fighting ignorance and intolerance, pushing out the darkness in our hearts and lighting the goodness that we all have within us.
People like Ryan and initiatives like “Push Back the Darkness”, reflect who we really are as Canadians. We are diverse, and we stand for inclusiveness, pluralism, acceptance, and peace. This reaction was exactly the kind of narrative that the shooter and those in his place did not want the world to see. He failed in his goal to isolate the Muslim community and he too, failed to create an us versus them narrative.
Two years on, while Muslim Canadians continue to face the very real threat of islamophobia and racism, we remain steadfast in our commitment to our country. This is our home and we are not going anywhere.
We cannot let the deaths of Khaled Belkacemi, Azzedine Soufiane, Aboubaker Thabti, Abdelkrim Hassane, Mamadou Tanou Barry, and Ibrahima Barry be in vain. The most important thing we can do for their legacy is to combat islamophobia and all forms of racism, so that no Canadian must ever lose a family member simply because he or she was practicing his or her religion. What use is our charter of rights and freedoms, if people cannot practice their religion out of fear? It is on all of us to create a Canada free of intolerance, hatred and ignorance. We owe it to the families of the victims who have had to live through another painful and somber anniversary.