6 dead, 5 injured during prayer
By: Daniyal Zia Jafri
On the 29th of January, in a mosque in the Sainte-Foy neighbourhood, Muslims gathered for their night prayer. During the prayer, a man with a gun walked in and opened fire on the worshipers, killing 6 on the spot and critically injuring 5 others, 2 of whom are still in critical condition. That night, 6 individuals lost their lives, and so many others lost their fathers, brothers, sons, husbands, and friends.
The attacker was 27-year-old Alexandre Bissonnette, a white male who was a known right-wing extremist and Trump supporter. He often posted anti-feminist and pro Le Pen comments on social media. Bissonnette has since been charged with 6 counts of first-degree murder and 5 counts of attempted murder. Police are also considering adding charges related to terrorism.
This attack comes only one day after a mosque in Texas was burned to the ground and less than a week after Trump took office and implemented a ban on travel from certain Muslim-majority countries.
This attack sent a strong message, alienating the Muslim community in this very paranoid time. It demonstrated that when a group is blacklisted by those in power, even if the government doesn’t play an active part in harming them, they can turn a blind eye to those who do. It sent shockwaves across Canada because we take pride that in being a nation that is very different from our neighbours to the south.
Its purpose was to create a “wall” between the Muslims and the non-Muslims.
The purpose of the attack was to spread fear and division, but instead it brought Muslims and non-Muslims together. There were signs and support and emotional messages from all over the world. The first person to talk to me and give emotional support after the attack was one of my close friends who happens to be an atheist.
The day following the attack, there was a vigil held here at Lakehead in The Study, where people from all walks of life came to honor the victims. LUSU’s presidential candidate, Leah Ching came and gave kind words.
The Thunder Bay Masjid had its own vigil the day after the attack, with a stunning turnout. Thunder Bay stood with its Muslim community.
Justin Trudeau visited the location of the attack, condemning it as an act of terrorism against Muslims.
In Texas, the Jewish community in the area gave the keys to their synagogue to the Muslims to use until they have a mosque again.
One thing became visible after the attack: we live in a very divided world. The divide is present not just in the United States, but also right here in our own backyard. There is a side that is xenophobic and anti-Muslim, wanting Canada to be a Eurocentric nation. There is a side that is loving, inclusive and understanding.
One thing I noticed that was common among people who attended the vigil at Lakehead was that many of them said they felt defeated, they felt sad and they felt helpless.
To that I say, we are not defeated. We will not be intimidated, we will not be silenced by guns. We will continue to thrive and prosper, we will continue to go to our mosques, and most of all we will continue to be Muslims. This cowardly attack didn’t alienate the Muslim community but instead brought the open arms of friendship between all the communities of Canada.
Terror has no race, no religion, no sexual orientation. It has no nation. It is an idea, a concept, a tactic. Terrorism and ignorance go hand in hand. Hatred stems from fear, and fear is preceded by a lack of understanding.
At the root of supremacism is victimhood. Most of the populace of Canada that is anti-Muslim tends to be either be ill-educated or simply have never been exposed to a Muslim community. They see themselves as victims of injustice, Muslims being the cause of injustice, such as the reason they are not finding jobs.
In order to destroy this hatred, there must be social and political reform. People need to be formally educated and taught that there is a fine line between any religion and militant beliefs. Also, some strict laws need to be placed against hate crimes against minorities to act as a deterrent so aggressors can at least think twice before attacking someone.
If we want to eliminate the fear of Muslims and the hatred towards Muslims, I would encourage Muslims and non-Muslims to interact more. For non-Muslims who want to know a bit about Islam, visit a mosque and speak to an Imam. One can find that any mosque has a really positive and friendly vibe and that all questions are welcomed. I happened to be the first Muslim friend for a lot of students here and they asked me questions about my beliefs and I happily answered to the best of my knowledge.
As a nation, we have a long way to go to eliminate xenophobia and be a true “melting pot.” However, seeing the acceptance and love in Thunder Bay I believe there is hope – and that overtime, if there is a conscious and organised effort, we can eliminate Islamophobia from Canada so long as we attack its root: victimhood.