Solidarity, not hate, defines Canadian response

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We hoped it couldn’t happen here, but we were wrong. Many of us pride ourselves on being Canadians, distinct from Americans, and when we hear of another outrageous gun crime in the United States, we shake our heads and wonder how such terrible things could happen.

But sadly, we are not immune to hate or violence or killing, as the Jan. 29 shooting and killing of six Muslims in a Quebec city mosque showed. It seemed like we should have been bracing for this all along, as it becomes more and more acceptable for people to say all Muslims are violent or that the entire religion is based on hate and killing and for it to be accepted that people could be discriminated on based on their religion and country of origin.

It’s a matter close to my heart, as one of my closest friends growing up was Muslim, and her mother used to babysit my brother and me for years as we grew up. This may seem like no big deal to most, but it was, as I look back on it now, a marvelous thing.

Hindu Indians and Muslims from Pakistan have had a historically fraught relationship; there is still a lot of hostility and suspicion between the two after decades of conflict and cross-border terrorism.

But when I started playschool in Saskatoon, my mother struck a friendship with a few of the other mothers – one Bengali, another Indian, and the other Muslim, which grew into coffee dates and a relationship where my mom, on returning back to work, trusted one of her new friends to look after her two children.

I’m speculating now, that having left their home countries, these mothers found they had more in common as fellow immigrants, wives and mothers in Canada than they had in differences of where they were born, their religion or language.

As we grew up, my friend began more conscientious about observing her Muslim faith, by wearing a headscarf and fasting for Ramadan. The rest of our classmates were fascinated by this, asking her questions about the practice but accepting it as just another part of her identity.

My classmates’ easy acceptance, just like the fact of our mothers’ friendship, made me feel that Canada was more than just a country, but an idea, one of shared values of peace, mutual respect and openness.

As sad as I was to hear of the shooting, I was heartened to hear Canadian politicians of all stripes repudiate it as terrorism and to call for solidarity.

“I want to tell Muslim Quebecers: you’re at home here, we are all Quebecers,” said Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard at a funeral service for victims, to huge applause and cheers.

We need politicians to speak out loudly against actions that engender hate, fear and divisiveness, as PC leadership candidate Jason Kenney did when he called American president Donald Trump’s travel ban “a brutal, ham-fisted act of demagogic political theatre” on Twitter.

And we need to look for the points of light, particularly the acts of kindness and solidarity people showed fellow Muslims in the wake of the attack. The Quebec City shooting can anger us, can hurt us, can cut us to the bone, but ultimately, our response to it will show the rest of the world that as Canadians and humans, we recognize more unites us than divides us and that this, not hate, is what we will teach our children.

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