Imagine on a warm summer day getting out of bed and heading over to your closet and making the decision to pick out a vest that looks like body armour.
As you walk out the door, you grab the keys to your black pick-up truck. Imagine then, making a choice to careen out of an intersection and directly into five people walking. A family. Out for a walk. For no other reason than they were Muslim.
Four in a family of five — a grandmother, mother, father and their daughter — were killed by a man who made these choices in the city of London, Ontario on Sunday evening. Salman Afzaal, his wife Madiha, their daughter Yumna, and Salman’s mother were killed for their religious beliefs. The lone survivor, nine-year-old Fayez, has now lost his entire immediate family and is still recovering from serious injuries.
He is left alone because of this constructed and imaginary fear about a group of people that we’ve worked together to dehumanize.
The horror cannot be understated, and the depth of grief a surviving family and community must be feeling has rocked many of us down to our core.
There is no rationale or explanation good enough. There is no room for condolences without accountability and action. We deserve more than we’ve gotten. We must not stop until this kind of violence is no longer commonplace in this country.
Seven years ago, I wrote an op-ed for rabble about the 2014 shootings at Parliament Hill in Ottawa, reflecting on the dangerous political and media construction of Muslims. I also wrote about the intricate connections between Canada’s push to create a terrorism agenda, one used to criminalize and surveil Muslims across this country.
I wrote about Canada’s support of apartheid, both ongoing and historical on these very lands, and in Palestine. I also wrote about the over-policing of Black and Indigenous youth.
The interconnections that many of us were talking about then have surfaced in full force these past few weeks — forcing all of us to reckon with our individual and collective complicity.
I’ll ask now what I asked then: how much longer are Muslims required to re-explain that their beliefs shouldn’t be used against them as part of a national agenda? How many more families will be killed before we create a national action plan on systemic racism, and seriously combat Islamophobic violence and the rise of white supremacy movements in Canada? What role do we have as individuals to play in organizing against hate?
Editor’s note: The following is a reprint of Hawa Y. Mire’s original column, initially published on November 11, 2014, in the wake of the 2014 Parliament Hill shooting in Ottawa. Find the piece in its original form here.
From Ottawa back to ISIS: A Muslimah’s perspective
On October 22, 2014, the day I was flying back into Toronto, the news of the Ottawa shooting unfolded.
I ditched the mainstream outlets for word on the Twitter streets where it took all of an hour for mainstream media outlets, politicians and every third person on the #ottawashooting hashtag to spout off about “terrorist Muslims.”
Tragedy became about using words like “terrorism,” “Muslim,” and “recently converted” to derail from actual news.
The vitriol wasn’t far behind, a thin fabric masking the stench of racism and xenophobia in its usual glory, and people felt no ways about pronouncing their misplaced disgust.
Within 45 minutes, waiting in the airport security line furiously tweeting my rage, the Toronto-bound white man behind me spoke to the person beside him about policing “Muslims from coming into our country.”
We can no longer afford to believe that the Canadian state doesn’t have an investment in the othering and demonization of terrorists, a term they have been quick to conflate with Islam and/or Muslims. This investment is about white supremacy; it is about settler colonialism; it is fundamentally about the concentration of power.
Terrorism is a global political agenda. To believe otherwise is to dismiss the changing reality and experiences not only of Muslims, but every racialized person around the globe.
The way in which language is being increasingly modified and manipulated by the state only serves to control the level to which people organize, mobilize and demand change. In using it, the Canadian state ramps off any responsibility and accountability to external parties and preserves the myth of a liberal multicultural society invested in egalitarian principles.
If we talk about any of the real issues, from the continued occupation of Indigenous lands, rising youth unemployment, explicit institutional racism and widening income disparity, all of us would have to acknowledge our complicity.
The shooting took place on a Wednesday, we haven’t had a shooting since the Brampton courthouse, and it’s time to remind the general public of an increasing big brother obsession with ‘radicalization’ and ‘terrorism’ — our new wave witch hunt.
How do we name the distraction tactics of the media, political pundits, and academic hogwash masquerading as truth? How do we ask the hard questions? Who benefits while we scramble in state constructed fear? Why do we not speak to the very real issues of gun control and the connections between war violence, state violence and interpersonal violence?
We can start by naming what it is the Canadian state seems to be distracting us from. A mass majority of Canada’s foreign policy, by putting at risk the security of those believed to be at the margins, could qualify as terrorism.
Canada could be called a terrorist state for aiding and abetting war criminals, providing funds for continued Palestinian genocide, systemically creating policies that incarcerate and vilify Black and indigenous youth, refusing to investigate the large groups of missing Indigenous women.
So instead of derailing by deferring to terrorism, Oh Canada, we should instead talk about how this state funds, supports and creates a place of violence.
The day after the shooting, a call for heavy militarization impacted my community, creating a tangible unsteadiness. Police officers were present in mosques for Jummah prayers, gangs of red and blue flashing lights blocked the streets near Jane and Finch, and I watched as young Black boys were encouraged to play inside.
“How many enemies can we internalize and still expect to stay whole?” asked M. Jacqui Alexander. How much longer am I required to re-explain that my beliefs shouldn’t be used against me as part of a national agenda?
My religion and identity shouldn’t be incorrectly conflated with state constructed top of the hour sensationalized news.
For those living in Ottawa, there remains a physical reminder that the streets they walk down, the places they spend time in with family, this near brush with death will take much longer to wipe from memory. For those who begin to look at these spaces with a loss of innocence, a loss of safety, a perceived ongoing threat:
You are not alone.
Living in a country that has universally conflated terrorist with Muslim, I feel this every time I leave my front door. The very act of covering my hair comes with trepidation and fear of being further put under the microscope.
So yes, it isn’t the same, but that real fear, for ourselves, for someone hurting the people we love comes from the same gaping place. So in light of this shock-value media, and Canadian state agenda, I urge us to remember that at least in this we share something in common.
In that gaping place is enough wiggle room to authentically connect with one other, to speak critically, to stand with each other to change the systems in which we live.
As the Principal Consultant at HYMIRE Consulting, Hawa Y. Mire is a proven strategic senior leader, equity consultant and community organizer with two decades of non-profit experience focused on high-impact community development. In 2017 she completed a Master’s degree in Environmental Studies from York University where her research examined community storytelling as a place of transformation. Hawa is a critical writer, commentator and columnist with Ricochet Media that has been featured on Macleans, Briarpatch Magazine, Metro Morning, CBC, CityTV, rabble.ca among others. She is the federal NDP Candidate for York South—Weston.
Image credit: Christopher Bulle/Flickr.