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On June 6th, a Muslim family was run over by a truck in Ontario, Canada. It was a deliberate attack; preplanned, coordinated, and acted upon with motive by a man named Nathaniel Veltman. The incident left a single survivor; a 9-year-old boy. The brutal premeditated terrorist attack was fueled by Islamophobia and has left people all over the world beyond horrified. To delve further into it, it is necessary to foremost understand the notion of Islamophobia.
Islamophobia is defined as the “irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against Islam or people who practice Islam.” The working definition of Islamophobia, according to the University of California‘s Islamophobia Research & Documentation, is “a contrived fear or prejudice fomented by the existing Eurocentric and Orientalist global power structure.”
Generally, Islamophobia can be understood as hatred towards Islam and Muslims. Islamophobia begins with ideas and ends in violence. With anti-Muslim rhetoric, laws, and policies being implemented all over the world, Islamophobia has become a global crisis.
Islamophobia and Racist Attacks in Canada
On the 6th of June, 2021, five members of a Muslim family were out for a walk on Hyde Park Road in London, Ontario. They were waiting to cross an intersection when a black pickup truck, drove by Nathaniel Veltman, intentionally hit the family. As a result, four members of the Pakistani-Canadian family, namely Salman Afzaal, Madiha Salman, Yumna Salman, and Mr. Afzaal’s mother, were brutally murdered.
The only survivor was a 9-year old son, Fayez Salman. Fayez is currently being treated for serious injuries. The terrorist attack was driven by hatred for Islam; the sheer abhorrence for Muslims led the murderer of four to carry out the horrifying racist attack. The attack on the Afzaals is not the only Islamophobia-led attack Canada has seen in recent years.
In 2017, a terrorist attack against Canadian Muslims killed six Quebeckers. The mass shooting at a mosque in Quebec was a brutal and cowardly terrorist attack motivated by hate against Muslims. Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, a Toronto resident, was murdered in a mosque, and black Muslim women in Edmonton have been attacked violently. As per reports, in 2020, hate crimes went up to 51 percent in Toronto.
Canada’s Response to the Attack
The London tragedy, which the Canadian Prime Minister denounced as a terrorist attack, has raised several questions for racialized communities in Canada; the question of associating the act with terrorism has surfaced on global media. There is a fine line between terrorism being a political label and a criminal offense in Canada.
For conviction in cases of terrorism, the requirement for proof increases than that in the case of first-degree murder. The punishment, however, is the same for both. Hence, persecutors generally declare it as first-degree murder in most instances. For example, the terrorist who had murdered six people during the mass shooting in Quebec was never charged with terrorism; he had pleaded guilty to six accounts of first-degree murder.
Canada, all over, broke into an outrage over the attack. At a press conference, the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, said, “What happened on Sunday is an act of terrorism and Islamophobia. It is sickening and heartbreaking.” The Premier further tweeted, “Islamophobia has no place in any of our communities. This hate is insidious and despicable-and it must stop.”
At the House of Commons, he went on to say, “Their lives were taken in a brutal, cowardly and brazen act of violence.” Before the Prime Minister spoke at the House of Commons, a moment of silence was observed for the victims. In addition, he suggested a probable link between Islamophobia and online hate, suggesting that the government should work together with IT companies to monitor the hateful content being spread online, which promotes hatred against certain religious groups.
The leaders of the federal parties of Canada, including the Opposition (Conservative) Leader Erin O’Toole, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, and the Prime Minister, attended the vigil in London, Ontario, for the victims. The CEO of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, Mustafa Farooq, expressed his grief and urged the authorities to organize a national summit on Islamophobia; he said, “This is a terrorist attack on Canadian soil and should be treated as such.”
As the Prime Minister of New Zealand had called out the Christchurch attacks that took fifty lives and led the nation in time of grief, Prime Minister Trudeau also demonstrated commendable support for minority groups, particularly Muslims. Moreover, he has strongly criticized the idea of Islamophobia in the state.
Pakistan’s Reaction to the Attack
The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, tweeted, “Saddened to learn of the killing of a Muslim Pakistani-origin Canadian family in London, Ontario. This condemnable act of terrorism reveals the growing Islamophobia in Western countries”. Pakistan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, condemned the killing of the innocent family, stating that, “Being Muslim was their only fault.”
While he has urged the Canadian government to conduct further investigation, he believes that the act has been carried out purely out of hatred for Muslims. “This is a hate crime,” he said. The Federal Minister, during a call with the Canadian High Commissioner, conveyed the emotions of Pakistanis and offered to provide any assistance that may be needed by the family.
The Foreign Minister hopes that the international media would play its due role in this situation; all should raise their voices against this inhumane act, particularly the International Human Rights organizations. He has further pointed out the concerning growth of Islamophobia in the West, referring to the recent incidents taking place in the United Kingdom and France, which he believes could divide society.
Although Shah Mahmood Qureshi has praised the efforts of the Canadian authorities, including the solidarity displayed by the Prime Minister, he has stated that Justin Trudeau must adopt an approach similar to that of PM Jacinda Arden after the Christchurch attacks.
Talking to Paradigm Shift, Nimra Nadeem, Content Developer at Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stated that “The anti-Muslim bigotry and radicalization of Islam is unfortunate & condemnable. The attack on the Muslim family in Canada is yet another manifestation of Islamophobia. The international community must address and take action against the rising trend of Islamophobia.”
The Federal Minister for Human Rights, Dr. Shireen Mazari, condemned the terrorist attack, stating that “What happened in Canada was terrorism, and Muslims were targeted.” Former Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal expressed heartbreak over the incident, stating that “It was an inhumane act […] we need to educate the world along with other Islamic countries.”
The Pakistan High Commission recognized the event as an act driven by Islamophobia and have demanded stern action against the murderer. As instructed by the High Commissioner of Pakistan, the Consul General visited London, Ontario, to offer all the support on behalf of the Government of Pakistan.
The efforts of both Canada and Pakistan in this regard have been commendable. Both countries are offering their full support to the relatives of the deceased. However, the ever-increasing growth of Islamophobia in the West is agonizing. As long as Islamophobia lurks in the hearts of the majority population, the lives of Muslim immigrants all over the world will remain under threat.
The rising tide of hate for Muslims, particularly in Canada, a secular state, is concerning. Although Canada’s response to this cold-blooded attack has been unequivocally supportive, it is not only words that the Muslims of the world require. While condemnation is necessary, action is momentous; to escape the perpetual cycle of mere condemnation, taking active and effective steps is a pressing need.
To combat the increasing xenophobia and religious hatred, Canada must enact legislation that restricts the citizens to the secular grounds to prevent any more extremist and terrorist attacks fueled by agendas such as religious hate. Prime Minister Trudeau has promised to take action in this regard and is expected to initiate work with IT companies to monitor online hate. However, only time can tell to which extent Canada will go to wipe out Islamophobia from within its borders.
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