Community, crowdfunding and grassroots organisations have been at the forefront of efforts to tackle Islamophobia, but collective trauma can only heal with proactive leadership to create safety for all.
A stroll after dinner on the evening of June 6 was meant to be a time to enjoy the first warm nights of the season with family. However, 20-year-old Nathaniel Veltman, with a heart full of hate, abruptly ended four lives; not allowing them to return home.
The lives of Salman Afzaal, Madiha Salman, Yumna Salman and Salman Afzaal’s grandmother (who was not named) were taken away for simply being Muslim. These are not names of an unknown family; this time, they are names of my colleague’s family.
There is a grief so heavy in our hearts which no words could articulate. The innocent lives lost at the hands of terror and hatred in London, Ontario have shaken not just the LaunchGood team to the core, but all Muslims in Canada, and even Muslims worldwide.
Home is a place you feel safe, where you are accepted and can show up joyfully. Yet these nights, millions of Muslims across Canada feel unsafe in the place they should be able to call home. A simple walk with the family has now become associated with our greatest fears and uncertainties.
June 6 has reminded us again of a kind of heartlessness whose purpose is to spread terror, robbing people of their safety and sense of home simply because of their faith.
Islamophobia in Canada is only growing, with a 9 percent increase in hate crimes against Muslims in 2019. The Toronto Police have also seen a 50 percent increase in hate crimes just last year alone.
LaunchGood, our crowdfunding platform, has seen a rise in campaigns with the goal to combat Islamophobia. We have hosted 153 campaigns in 2021 so far solely dedicated to this cause - and it is sadly expected to overtake last year’s numbers.
On June 8, the LaunchGood team in Canada attended the vigil held outside of London Muslim Mosque which the Afzaal family would routinely visit. Waves of people from diverse backgrounds and faiths gathered to show their support for the family and the one surviving son of the hate-motivated attack. Over 18,000 people worldwide have raised more than CAD $1 million (915,000 USD) to support the orphaned boy.
There was a palpable sense of heartbreak, fear and frustration in the crowd. Many were demanding stronger action to be taken by leaders to end the prevalent race-based violence which has impacted Canadian Muslim communities across the country one too many times.
These horrific Islamophobic attacks, sadly, are not singular occurences but disturbingly surfacing across the nation like wildfire, from attacks against Muslim women in Alberta and beyond, to the Quebec City mosque massacre and the International Muslim Organization (IMO) mosque killings.
And now, London has been shaken. We have been shaken. Together, we are grieving.
London, Ontario is home to one of the largest Muslim populations in North America. They are active members in the community at all levels and sectors.
Visible Muslims across Canada, especially Muslim women in hijab, are fearful of carrying on with their daily lives. Families are scared of being harmed at the park by another senseless, heinous attack.
This is not how any group of people should have to live, frightened in their own homes.
As a parent of three beautiful children, I am afraid today. I cannot fathom this to become our reality; I refuse to. With the increase in attacks against Muslims in Canada in recent years, an innate worry in my chest had begun to grow.
I would gently remind my children to stay far away from the curb when crossing the street and stay closer to the grass away from the road. Who could predict when an emotionally or mentally unstable person behind the wheel would see my Muslim children as targets?
While this fear has long lingered in my heart, I would hush it quietly, hoping it could never be. But here we are, with my worst nightmare having been confirmed.
Where do I go from here? How long shall I operate from a place of fear? I am deeply afraid to let my children go, wanting them to stay near me, stay protected from the evils of this world.
The family we’ve lost could have been anybody’s family, which is why this hurts so much. These sentiments are not simply my own, but that of Muslim families across this nation who have had to reconsider our daily routines and lives. We are all in shock and heartbroken.
This collective trauma can only heal with actionable steps from leadership to create safety for all, no matter their faith. My Canadian loved ones have demanded integrated anti-hate education, a call for a nationwide hate summit and online hate legislation that supports real justice and change. This is the definition of true solidarity.
It’s difficult to see this terrifying crime as an isolated incident when countries are supporting oppression across the globe. When our nation’s words no longer match its actions, it loses credibility.
To enable Muslim communities to feel safe again, we need to eradicate hate from its roots on all fronts - educational, social and political. It’s the only way to calm the deep running fear, and prevent this from happening again.
Until then, the pain that has spread throughout our Canadian Muslim sisters and brothers will remain chronic, and the only way to extinguish this growing fire is to wipe it out from where it emerged.
In its place, we can then plant new seeds of hope, acceptance and belonging, and create a brighter future for our children.
Everyone deserves to feel welcomed. Everyone deserves to be home.
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