More often than not I put pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard) to air my grievances in a humorous manner. I do this to remind myself that my problems are small and the best way to let them go is to laugh at them. After all, I have a roof over my head, food on my plate, my health, my sanity (for the most part), great friends and family, a beautiful child with another on the way and so much more. The problems that I have can’t take any of this away from me, and so at the end of the day I can consider myself among the lucky ones on this earth.
Today I can’t laugh. Yesterday many individuals in Québec City likely woke up feeling as I do: Grateful for life, love, happiness, community etc. By nightfall much of this had been stripped away from them, as their family members and friends were gunned down during evening prayer just because they were Muslim. These families are experiencing an unimaginable loss. I can’t even type this without tears spilling from my eyes. A community targeted for what? This was without a doubt an act of terrorism. This is not my Canada.
All Canadians are immigrants. Well, all Canadians are immigrants except the First Nations from whom we expropriated the lands upon which our cities sit, but that’s another story. This country’s immigration policy is the reason that I am here today. On my mother’s side I am a first generation Canadian, as were and are my paternal grandparents. I can’t know exactly why my family left Europe when they did, but I can only assume they were in search of a better life here in Canada.
My father’s family emigrated from Poland during the early 1920s. We are Jewish. As a child I was always acutely aware that I was ‘different’ from my Christian friends, but I was never singled out or targeted for that difference. I distinctly remember thinking that I was proud to live in a time and a country where race and religion didn’t matter. I remember being annoyed at my grandparents’ discomfort that my best friends were German. It wasn’t until I was 13 and did a class project on Anne Frank that I understood why they were uncomfortable, though they never told me I couldn’t or shouldn’t socialize with Germans.
My grandparents’ immediate families were the only ones who made it out of Poland before the Nazis invaded. They were living in Canada with the full knowledge that their loved ones were back in the old country, living in conditions that we Canadians can’t really even fathom. They rarely spoke about it, but I do remember my Papa telling me that he was responsible for fetching the mail for his mother from the post office during WWII. He was a teenager at the time. His mother would correspond with her sister in Poland quite frequently, and he diligently brought home her sister’s letters until one day there were no more. I can’t even imagine what that must have been like for him. To know why the letters had stopped. To have to tell his mother yet again that there was no news. To know that it meant death and loss. To know that his empty hands were breaking his mother’s heart.
My family lost their loved ones during a war that persecuted innocent people simply because they were Jewish. How is this any different from walking into a mosque and shooting up a room full of people simply because they are Muslim? Our differences are what make this world beautiful. I have travelled around this world and back again and marvelled at these differences. What are people so afraid of? I share a lot more in common with my welcoming, generous Muslim neighbours than I do with a white skinned bigot. I am an invisible minority and I admit that sometimes I hide within that identity. You can’t deduce my religion or cultural background from looking at me. My skin is so white it’s almost translucent. My native tongue is English. My son is baptised into his father’s family’s faith. Yet had I been born in a different time in a different land I would have shared the same fate as my Jewish brothers and sisters, as would my children. Hate doesn’t care who you are, only what it can label you.
Many Muslims don’t have the luxury of being ‘invisible’, nor should they want to be. If you can’t tell the difference between someone spouting the hateful ideology of a radical offshoot of Islam and a Muslim family fleeing their war torn homeland where they have lost everything to that same radical offshoot, then you are the one with the problem. I will never condone hateful words or actions, no matter the colour of the skin or religious beliefs of the owner of those words and actions.
Despite the discourse of hatred and fear that has permeated present day politics and infiltrated many aspects of life in the western world as of late, I am pleased to see that there is push back. My greatest fear today is not ISIS or Al Qaeda or the average Muslim Canadian. My greatest fear is complacency. At least here, despite many other failings, we have a government that speaks out against this hatred even if we have citizens who would idealize what is happening south of the border and live out that hatred here. The sad truth is that those citizens are no different than the ones they truly fear and hate. The more you hate, the more they hate and so on and so on. It’s the worst kind of positive feedback loop or vicious circle. Although it is scary to learn that the number of people contributing to this dangerous discourse is far greater than I ever believed it could be, I am grateful for the many more voices I hear speaking out against it.
To the community of the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec, I am truly sorry for your losses. This hateful Canada is not my Canada, nor is it the Canada of the vast majority of Canadians. We stand with you today and I hope we will prevail, God willing/b’ezrat HaShem/insha’Allah.