It’s time we stopped turning a blind eye to the racism and xenophobia that exists in Canada

Published: February 2, 2017
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The 27-year-old white male was not only a blatant right-wing extremist, but also “anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-feminist, and pro-Israel”.

The 27-year-old white male was not only a blatant right-wing extremist, but also “anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-feminist, and pro-Israel”. Azzedine Najd (R) and his wife Fadwa Achmaoui look at the memorial near the site of a fatal shooting at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City, Canada, January 31, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

I consider myself a very proud Canadian. I do. I love Canada with all my heart and soul, as utterly clichéd as that may sound. When my parents were thinking of immigrating ‘abroad’ – we lived in Saudi Arabia at that time – they kept insisting that we move to Canada. And they didn’t have a valid reason for it either; they just wanted us to move here, because everyone else they knew was immigrating in flocks to the United States. I guess they knew, in their hearts, that Canada was the better option. And it was; well, for the most part anyway.

I was 14-years-old when we first moved to Canada, and to say I’ve never experienced racism would be a blatant lie. I clearly remember the way one of my white teachers stared at me in shock when I first opened my mouth to speak in my grade 10 Business class. The first words he uttered to me were,

“You can speak English? How is it possible that you do not have an Indian accent? Are you sure you just moved to Canada? You weren’t born here?”

I was too young to acknowledge, or perhaps even realise, the amount of racism in his comment. To say it was disgusting would be an understatement, but I knew that wouldn’t be the only racism I’d experience. And it wasn’t, for over the years I experienced snippets of racism and stereotyping, both to my backgrounds as a Pakistani and a Muslim. Stereotyping that would either be laughed off, or quickly brushed aside as trivial, as one white “friend” once joked with me,

“You don’t look Muslim or sound Pakistani at all!”

I was a little older by then, and I didn’t know whether to take her comment as an insult or a compliment. Nevertheless, either way, it was deeply disturbing. And because she was a supposed friend, it was even harder to call her out on her inadvertent bigotry.

It is often said that ignorance is bliss, but I very strongly disagree; ignorance is a curse, an ugly curse that leads to racism, xenophobia, discrimination, and anti-Muslim bigotry. Ignorance further not only denotes instances that include silly obtuse remarks, which were made both by my white teacher and my white friend, but it can also breed violence and mass shootings such as the one that occurred in the Quebec Islamic Cultural Center this past Sunday.

The center was holding what appeared to be a quiet congregation along with night prayers on Sunday night when a gunman swiftly disrupted the religious gathering by opening fire, killing six innocent worshippers in the process and wounding 19 more. And the suspect? A 27-year-old white male who was not only a blatant right-wing extremist, but also “anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-feminist, and pro-Israel”.

The gunman, who has now been identified as Alexandre Bissonnette, may have looked like your typical white classmate, co-worker or next door neighbour, but he was full of rage and contempt. Not only was he a white supremacist and sickeningly racist, but he was also profoundly anti-Muslim. It was reported that he posted anti-Muslim comments on social media before instigating the attack on the Islamic centre. It was also reported that Bissonnette was a great advocate of the new Republican US president Donald Trump. And in light of Trump’s recent ban on immigration and refugees entering the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries, it makes sense why Bissonnette would be a staunch supporter.

Unfortunately, anti-Muslim bigotry is not only limited to the United States and to the likes of brazen white supremacist buffoons as Trump. Canada, too, it seems, is also suffering from this ‘disease’, and it’s time we stopped turning a blind eye to it. Yes, xenophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry is a disease, and it spreads like wildfire among those who choose to indulge in it.

As a matter of fact, this isn’t the only time Muslims in Canada, more specifically in Quebec, have faced such odium, for it was only last year, when during the holy month of Ramazan, a pig’s head was gift-wrapped and left on the front porch of the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, with a message in French, “Bon appétit” which roughly translates to “enjoy your meal”. Of course, those who are familiar with the Muslim faith know that pig’s meat is forbidden in Islam. Similarly, in 2014, the center faced another incident of hate crime in the form of posters on its front door filled with revulsion against the Islamic faith which read “Islam out of my country”.

As a Canadian, it deeply saddens me to see so much hatred and animosity directed towards a religious minority whose faith, unfortunately, has become notorious for extremism and violence. Innocent Muslims are targeted and pushed under the umbrella as “terrorists”, not realising that not all Muslims practice their faiths the same way. One may criticise the Islamic ideology, but there shouldn’t be a need to criticise and loathe all Muslims who follow the Islamic doctrine. Muslims are people; they are human beings, just like everyone else, with lives, families, and dreams. Killing, hating, or banning them won’t necessarily end religious extremism. One would be a fool to even think this way. And the sooner we recognise this, the sooner we will get rid of this bigotry that always manages to seep in and disrupt innocent lives and communities, without any fault of their own.

samar.esapzai

Samar Esapzai

The author is a mommy, writer, visual artist and academic. Her areas of interest include gender relations, women's empowerment, maternal mental health, and anything and everything related to her people, the Pashtuns. She blogs at sesapzai.wordpress.com and tweets at @sesapzai (twitter.com/SesapZai)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Rohan

    Wish Pakistanis do the same in Pakistan for their minoritiesRecommend

  • only truth is nature

    Latest research says”Racism is natural”.Canada is still better than many White countries.Recommend

  • Critical

    Had the shooter been a Moroccan Muslim as the initial report suggested, you would have a blog about how #Terrorismhasnoreligion ,he is not a true muslim, examples from Hadith on how Prophet treated non muslims, few verses of Quran and the fear of this attack might trigger islamophobia in Canada..

    But it was done by a White Canadian, so now you are telling there is racism and xenophobia in Canada,… The very country which is hosting Syrian refugees and have a very strong anti-racist policy…

    First try to come to a logical conclusion whether its ok to potray an entire race or religion as bad because of one man’s action…. Your logic wavers when it’s muslim and when its a non muslimRecommend

  • Concard_007

    Oh yes, that’s right. Canada is a lawless nation. They won’t take action against racists, extremists in their mists unless Muslims talk about it. While Muslims turn a blind eye to oppressed minorities in their countries. oh wait, haven’t they done it already? I mean who speaks for oppressed minorities of Pakistan? Who speaks for oppressed minorities of Afghanistan? Iraq? Iran? Syria? Bangladesh? Malaysia? Nobody. Not even the so called peaceful people following peaceful religion.

    So instead we will migrate to other secular countries and talk about how we are treated there.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Wish the hindus do the same for their minorities in Hindustan.
    There is this Meat Police,…their job is to check refrigerators in
    Muslim homes. Even transporting
    beef from one farm to another, is suspect. Numerous such cases in Bharati Occupied
    Kashmir. Of course no hindu believes this, they look the other way.
    The Christians are marginalized too. Their churches vandalized,
    specially just before elections, to prevent them from voting. A
    cathedral burnt to ashes in Maharashtra. They skitter from shadow
    to shadow. And basically, told to leave the country.
    The Muslmss are totally and
    completely disenfranchised. After 1400 years, they are still the ‘invaders’.
    And basically, told to leave the country. Hindustan for hindus only
    Now the Dalits and other minority hindu castes are a horror story.
    Just as badly treated. Other religious minorities,..scared and helpless.
    The largest democracy in the world? Nope.Recommend

  • Ahmar

    Alexandre Bissonnette is arrested. Trump, despite his bigotry, isn’t running a militant group that kills people. In Pakistan however, a leader of Jhangvi group was elected to parliament by popular support and showered with rose petals.

    In 2013 a mob burned 125 houses in a Christian community over blasphemy charges in Pakistan.

    In 2014 more than 130 children died in the APS attack in Peshawar.

    In 2015 over 40 Agha Khanis were killed in a targeted bus shooting in Karachi.

    In 2016 more than 70 people died in a Lahore park on Easter, targeting Christians.

    In 2017 a bomb blast killed 25 people, mostly Shia in Parachinar.

    The list is much longer than this. When will it be time when we stop turning a blind eye to the bigotry and Christianophobia, Hinduphobia, Ahmadiphobia, Sikhphobia, Shiaphobia, Kafirphobia in Pakistan?Recommend

  • Fruck Off

    There may be issues in Canada because no society or country is perfect but to draw parallels with the absolute craziness that happens elsewhere is a bit much. The Bloc laid the foundation of most of this hate with their so-called constitution in that province and there definitely might be folks influenced by hateful rhetoric from outside that country. Some might’ve become a bit reactionary towards the behavior of some immigrants who indulge in aggressive behavior once they ghettoize neighborhoods and walk around in huge numbers bullying others. Again, no society is perfect and discussing these issues in a free and open society is possible where no one would be dismissive towards such criticisms. Canada and Canadians may not be perfect, as nothing on this planet is, but once you compare them to the rest of the world, especially now, you will learn to appreciate how great and tolerant, they truly are. Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    I was 14-years-old when we first moved to Canada, and to say I’ve
    never experienced racism would be a blatant lie. I clearly remember the
    way one of my white teachers stared at me in shock when I first opened
    my mouth to speak in my grade 10 Business class. The first words he
    uttered to me were,

    “You can speak English? How is it possible that you do not have an Indian accent? Are you sure you just moved to Canada? You weren’t born here?”

    The author is very sensitive and emotional too. How can one regard the above statement as racist? Besides, the use of the term ‘white’ is out of place in Canada which is a country of immigrants and like the author all its citizens have an ethnic origin.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Humza

    Pakistanis are probably far more tolerant than your people in India in many respects. In India a high caste Hindu cannot eat out the same utensils as a low caste Hindu. Minorities such as Indian Muslims are considered as low caste since the Hindu right wing sees Indian Muslims as converted low caste Hindus. Indian Christians don’t fare any better. Think about the “ghar wapsi” initiative in India where Hindu zealots are getting Indian Muslims to convert back to Hinduism which they call reversion or “ghar wapsi”. As for women who are the majority of India’s population, the less said the better but ask yourself why India is called Rape Capital of the World.Recommend

  • silver

    india’s worst place for minorities. Read the Sachar committee report on muslims for instance. RSS regularly targets minorities with impunity.Recommend

  • Sane

    Very stupid comment and I think all Indians (mostly)are in hate with Muslims of the world. This doesn’t matter, Muslims are to survive as there are over 50 Muslim countries. Hindus are confined in the shell of India only. What you wish Pakistanis to do with minorities, you have already been doing with minorities in India.

    ET: Please do not wipe out this comment.Recommend

  • Ch. Anjum

    It’s time the author (and countless other pseudo-martyrs like her) stopped turning a blind eye towards the xenophobia and outright hostility towards minorities in her “home” country too. #hypocriteRecommend

  • omz

    “You can speak English? How is it possible that you do not have an Indian accent? Are you sure you just moved to Canada? You weren’t born here?”

    Wow you had a foreign accent before going abroad what a coool person you are. amazing.

    Show offfffffffRecommend

  • Sane

    If any wants to know truth about minorities specailly Muslims in India go to below link:

    http://minorityaffairs.gov.in/reports/sachar-committee-report

    Indians must stop propaganda. This report is made by Ministry of Minority Affairs, Govt. of India. This is an eye opener.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Its easy to find fault with others….but much harder to look in the mirror and try figure out why you don’t ‘ fit in ‘ with the surroundings that you have chosen to inhabit.Recommend

  • liberal-lubna-fromLahore

    ” You dont look like Pakistani ” is definitely NOT offensive.

    I’ve used exact same sentences for people who dont look Chinese, for Norwegian who are so tan, they look like they were born and bred in Persia AND my fellow pakistanis who happen to have blonde hair, blue eyes almost as if they belong to the German Aryan clan but are 100% Pakistani.

    So its not offensive. I am pretty sure the person who said that to you out didnt have MAILICIOUS intents and said it out of pure ignorance. He could be going through a tough time? Maybe he was in a car accident that day, maybe he lost a friend to drug overdose, maybe his mom died of cancer but WHO CARES because I am DEEPLY offended by his not even remotely racist sounding words he used for me.

    And why are pakistanis always hoping around the whole globe and complaining where ever they go? Recommend

  • kumar

    so where are you exactly from Your teacher thought you are from “India”, you said you migrated from Saudi Arabia may I ask why you left a Muslim country being a Muslim to a Christian white majority Canada. If you left Saudi why you did not goto Islamic Republic of Pakistan which was created only for MuslimsRecommend

  • Rajiv

    What u sow , is what you reap.
    For how long Muslims keep saying,”Oh,those terrorist, they are not Muslims”,”They are not true Muslims”,”Islam is religion of peace”…..
    for how long such empty, hollow words will work?

    The world is getting fed up.Recommend

  • SkepticalFaraz

    Most Racism is subtle, discrimination against minorities is very visible.Recommend

  • Patwari

    ET moderators. Where is my comment? We know you are
    paid by Hindustan. And this paper is pro Bharat. Because
    hindus are allowed to post the most vilest, sickest comments in your
    newspaper. Actually, these hindus abuse Muslims, Pakistan and
    everything connected with their sick/abhorring comments.
    No other newspaper in Pakland does this. Except ET.Recommend

  • Pateador

    look at you.a citizen of rouge nation talking …its so amusing…Recommend

  • Pateador
  • Rohan

    Dude our country is million times more tolerant than yours ,we don’t have blasphemy laws and hate enshrined in our constitution and we have more Muslims than you and their number is growing unlike the minority population of Pakistan.Recommend

  • Rohan

    Pakistans rape problem is million times worse than indias and secondly pakistan was declared as the worst country for religious miniroties so please stop lyingRecommend

  • Patwari

    In Bharat the ratio of men to women; is 1000 men to every 700 women.
    Because of female infanticide. Female children, are killed at birth there.
    The only country in the world where men outnumber women. [the normal ratio of men to women world wide is 50 men to 54 women]
    Because women outlive men, and have less heart disease, less
    stress, because they let their emotions out and show them.
    Men tend to bottle up their emotions. Stiff upper lip, so to say.Recommend

  • shiva the destroyer

    In Pakistan….a woman cannot travel without covering herself in a burkha
    Most women are married off before they reach their teen years
    Literacy rate going down
    The worst nation to live in acc to UN
    The terrorism epicentre acc to UN

    Yea sure Pakistan is the best nation on Earth….LOLRecommend

  • shiva the destroyer

    Pakistan is the worst country for minorities

    Sad but trueRecommend

  • Patwari

    Say, give it another shot. Nobody understands what you are
    trying to peddle. Or put across. It got lost in the translation. Is it
    an idea? A thought? A conspiracy? Something…? Anything?
    Try your native language. Sindhi.. Use the colloquial Sindhi dialect.
    Last time it was checked, there are almost 2 billion hindus. And no,
    they are not confined to the Sub Continent. They are just about in
    every country. There are hindus in Alaska. And did you say 50 Muslim
    countries? They still don’t equal to 2 billion Muslims anyway you add.
    Recommend

  • Patwari

    Comment was edited. The moderators were afraid. Recommend

  • Sane

    Is this a Christian Thing?Recommend

  • Sane

    Tead Sachar Commission Reports, made by Indian Government as what is being done with minorities in India. This proves India is the worst country in the world for minorities and women. Being the rape country, foreign women tourist have stopped coming India.

    http://ncm.nic.in/pdf/compilation.pdfRecommend

  • Ahmadi

    Do ouy honestly claim there is no cast eism in your country.go and check the facts before you make such tall claims.Recommend

  • genesys

    Check facts China and Kore top in female infanticide..India is no where near even pakistan for that matter.Recommend

  • genesys

    why even China was not acceptable.After all it is deep and high friend.Recommend

  • genesys

    If it is so bad these minorities should be taken care of by neighbour nations and protected as well.India will be happy to obligeRecommend

  • Huzur

    Why not try offering them reverse migration and and see how many will acceptRecommend

  • Rohan

    We get more tourists , you get many more terrorists .We get 100 times more tourists than you and those Muslims maybe badly treated but none have left for Pakistan.We are a democracy and we are improving unlike the failed mullah republic Recommend

  • Roy Jennings

    The hypocrisy of most Muslims that complain about so called anti Islamic bigotry of the countries where THEY emigrated, need to look at the countries they left for a `better life` Most harbor hatred for the West and many cause murder and mayhem wherever they live. The easiest form of Islamic Jihad is to use the `Muslims are victims` card when all global evidence shows that as aggressors.Recommend