Opinion

Six Lessons for Canadians Following the Quebec City Mosque Attack

An attack on a center of worship is intended to instill fear in society around that target group - the worst kind of collective dehumanization. This is politics of the ugliest and most hateful kind.

A woman places a candle at a memorial site following a shooting in a mosque in Quebec City on January 30, 2017.
CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/REUTERS

Canadians – and concerned citizens worldwide – are reeling from the horrific attack on a Quebec City mosque (the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec) on Sunday night that left six dead and others wounded. Amid the revulsion and grieving, here are some possible lessons.

We can’t ignore the Trump factor

While Islamophobia has long preceded U.S. President Donald Trump, by all indicators, Trump’s hatefulness – capped by his wide-reaching travel ban instituted this week – has unleashed additional hatred against Muslims and other minorities.

Since the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center has recorded 701 incidents of “hateful harassment” across the United States. Despite our ingrained public ethic of multiculturalism, Canada is clearly not immune.

Price-tag-style attacks might have come to Canada

What West Bank Palestinians are tragically used to, Canadians might be now experiencing as well. It is probably no coincidence that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stepped forward over the weekend to declare his government’s intention to take in refugees barred by Trump’s executive order. The Canadian government has not yet acted to provide the necessary documents, but Trudeau’s welcoming pledge might have unleashed more hatred in dark corners of Canada against anyone who can too easily be “Othered."

West Bank Palestinians are all too often the target of this kind of retribution. Whenever the Israeli government appears to retract support for the settlement enterprise – in the form of evacuations of illegal outposts, for example, violent settlers enact what they call “price-tag” attacks against Palestinian life, limb and property. These, too, of course, are terrorist attacks.

Some Israelis have created a counter movement – rather than price tag (tag mechir), they enact acts of kindness and solidarity (tag me’ir — light tag). The many Women’s Marches in Canadian cities country-wide to coincide with the Women’s Marches in the U.S. were an example of this. So was the vigil at Ottawa’s Parliament Hill on Monday to stand in solidarity with the victims of the mosque attack. We will need many more moments of connection in the weeks and months to come.

Quebec has a fraught history with multiculturalism

Is it a coincidence that the attack occurred in Quebec rather than in a different province? Maybe. But just maybe this hateful violence stems from the province’s difficult relationship to multiculturalism. While Canada enshrined multiculturalism into law in 1971 – the first country to do so – Quebec’s history with multicultural policies, probably owing to the province’s concern with maintaining its own minority-language identity, is much more fraught.

In 2013, Quebec attempted to enact a failed Charter of Values (charte de la lacité) which sought to ban “conspicuous” religious symbols from being worn by public sector employees. A decade ago, the town of Hérouxville, also in Quebec, issued its own “code of conduct,” widely seen as a dig at immigrants.

Said one storeowner in 2013 interviewed for the Globe and Mail, “Immigrants are welcome to come to Quebec, but when they come, they have to adapt to our ways.”

Banning religious symbols – as the province had sought to do in 2013 – is not the same as murdering people in cold blood, of course. But this kind of flat intolerance against religious expression can all too easily become twisted in the mind of a hateful and violence-prone individual to commit the unthinkable.

It is terrorism

Despite the bigoted propensity by some to use the word terrorist to delegitimize and dehumanize certain ethnic or religious groups, this fraught term does have a clear definition and we should use it when warranted, if only to make sure we keep using it correctly. Simply put, terrorism is violence for political ends.

An attack on a center of worship is intended to instill fear in society around that target group – the worst kind of collective dehumanization. This is politics of the ugliest and most hateful kind.

Misinformation unleashes further hatred

On Monday morning, the media were reporting the names of two supposed suspects, one of whom was apparently of Moroccan origin. Some right-wing news outlets made hay from this, circulating the information even once the media clarified that he was apparently a witness, not a suspect. As of now, the sole suspect is 27-year-old Alexandre Bissonnette, who has since been charged with six counts of murder.

Come together, right now

In a statement following the attack, Prime Minister Trudeau said it is “heart-wrenching to see such senseless violence. Diversity is our strength, and religious tolerance is a value that we, as Canadians, hold dear.”

While I hesitate to use the kinds of binaries that have arguably led the world to this point, I am tempted to say that the coming days and weeks will reveal two types of people on this continent: ones who are here to support one another against the forces of hatred, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, misogyny and xenophobia; and ones who are aiding and abetting those terrible forces. Among those who stand on the side of goodness and compassion, the time is now for solidarity across every fissure.