I still remember getting on that plane. It took barely 2 hours, but the heaviness that awaited us on the other end made it feel almost unbearable. How do you approach a story, where people of faith, with the same skin tone and eye colour as you, have been gunned down? Unfortunately, that’s a reality in many places in the world I’ve covered but in Canada?
No… how could this be?
January 29, 2017 changed the religious conversation in Canada. No longer were we just a nation known for kindness, tolerance, and multicultural fervor. We were now facing the deep-seated reality that racism, hatred, and religious intolerance were alive and present as well.
The latest data on religiously motivated hate crimes should make us all uncomfortable.
In 2016, 48% of all police-reported hate crimes were motivated by race or ethnicity; that is up 4% from the previous year. And while Muslims Canadians saw a slight drop in targeted attacks against their community (keep in mind 2015 was a record year where police reported a 61% spike in Muslim-targeted attacks), this group is still the recipient of one-third of all hate crimes across Canada.
Molly Thomas with Mohammed Libidi, head of the Quebec’s Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City shortly after the mosque attack in 2016.
Click here to watch the program: http://www.contextwithlornadueck.com/2017/02/01/episode-1605-quebec-mosque-shooting/
‘God keep our land, glorious and free’ had been tainted, shredded by a cache of bullets that claimed the lives of six men. And if only the horror stopped there. Do you know that 17 children lost their fathers that day? 17 children will grow up knowing that their dads died praying on the mats of a mosque floor; a place so intimately sacred to them that they get down on their hands and knees to worship – a place now that is grotesquely relegated to a crime scene with surveillance cameras around each corner.
I vividly remember the tears streaming down the face of Mohamed Libidi, the head of Quebec’s Islamic Cultural Centre; he was trying to speak to me, but constantly broke down, thinking of the children.
Less than 365 days later, I was on another plane, this time 2,700 km south, to Sutherland, Spring Texas. The horror and eerie feeling on board, no less real – this time, worshippers gunned down in a Baptist church sanctuary. 26 people lost their lives over a senseless act of violence and hate.
I was surprised to learn in my reporting that attacks at houses of worship in the U.S. have increased in recent years. One criminologist for the Center for Homicide Research, says there has been 147 church shootings from 2006-2016. The spike in religious violence should not be taken out of context though, as it parallels the rise in mass shootings across the U.S. as a whole.
In the current U.S. climate, I often like to think that we are light years ahead of our southern neighbours. Diversity and acceptance are staples of our Charter, but when I think of this Quebec shooting, I just don’t know.
The worst part is that there has been hatred driven incidents against this same mosque since this vicious attack.
So, what can we do in this world we live in?
I am encouraged that people of all faiths, ethnic and cultural backgrounds have come together, to hold vigils, memorials and even seminars to honour the Quebec victims this week.
But why does it take a tragedy to unite us? Why do we so often resort to Canadian pleasantries, rather than digging into the unique pain, our neighbours – yes our neighbours – of every religious background face?
The statistics tell us we are not alone, and yet we seem to choose to live in silos.
What would our world look like if we chose to deeply engage with that neighbour in a hijab or invite over that Hindu student for supper, or even learn something new from that Buddhist teacher?
While we may not agree on everything to engage, it’s only when we do engage authentically that we will put a face to the human beings, affected by religious racism every day.
Maybe then, we can stand with people who are targeted before a major tragedy strikes.
Could we have ever foresaw something like this? Even stop it from happening? Maybe – maybe not. But we can’t attempt to change anything without genuine concern for those who are different than us.
Reverend Martin Luther King said it best. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”