The flag flies at half-mast on the Peace tower Jan. 30 in Ottawa in memory of the victims of a shooting at a mosque in Quebec City.
By Tony Norman / Pittsburgh Post-Gazettte
The day before President Donald Trump signed a softer, but equally problematic, sequel to the Muslim travel ban that outraged so many Americans a few weeks ago, thousands of young Canadian Muslims knocked on doors from Halifax to Vancouver as part of an awareness campaign called “Islam Understood.”
While Canadians have a reputation for being among the most tolerant and least xenophobic people on the planet, even they aren’t immune to the kind of soft and hard bigotry that constantly oozes up from their southern border.
A poll by Forum Research conducted across Canada in December unearthed what can only be described as an un-Canadian attitude. According to the poll, 4 in 10 Canadians said they had “unfavorable feelings” against identifiable racial groups. Muslims topped the list of groups that scared nearly half of Canadians.
On Jan. 29, a boyish-looking French-Canadian student walked into a mosque in Quebec and began shooting. The accused gunman, Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, was immediately charged with the murder of six worshippers and the attempted murder of five others.
A handgun and two assault rifles were recovered at the murder scene. Bissonnette gave no explanation for his rampage, but an examination of his social media haunts found support for far right and white nationalist politicians around the globe. He was a particularly ardent supporter of Marine Le Pen, who has a good shot at becoming France’s president in elections this spring.
The mass shooting at the mosque was the first murder in Quebec City in 21 months. It was an act of brutality that shook most Canadians to the core. Even right-wing talk radio condemned it and toned down its anti-immigrant rhetoric in the days following the massacre. Canadians of all faiths and political beliefs raised funds to help those affected by the shootings. Canadians were eager to show the world that what happened in Quebec City was an aberration and violation of its ethic of religious tolerance.
Instead of waiting for the next iteration of Bissonnette to arrive on the scene with guns blazing, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association decided it was time to move proactively against the forces of paranoia and xenophobia conspiring to undermine peace in their society by painting Muslims as scary monsters worthy of slaughter as they prayed.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association had already embarked on a campaign within Muslim communities to counter radicalization of young people by those seeking to foster a sense of alienation among Muslims with Canada.
While looking critically at radicalization within, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association has begun reaching out to non-Muslims across the country with a tactic used by other religious groups for decades — a door-to-door campaign explaining who they are.
But instead of proselytizing, young Muslims knocked on doors, handed out literature and engaged in conversations meant to explain who they were and why they had the same values, hopes and dreams as their fellow Canadians. They made themselves available to their fellow citizens in the hope of disabusing them of common misconceptions.
The young Muslims fanned out across 65 cities. Non-Muslim Canadians welcomed the opportunity to ask actual Muslims questions about their religion and politics. In typical Canadian fashion, despite thousands of opportunities for misunderstanding, there were no negative incidents reported.
While watching news footage of some of these very civil encounters last week, I was struck by one thought — a similar outreach effort by Muslim young people in the United States would not go smoothly at all. In fact, it would be an unmitigated disaster because of the level of fear and loathing against Muslims already ginned up in this country by hateful demagogues who have figured out how to monetize racial and religious paranoia.
There would be several so-called “justifiable shootings” by “terrified” homeowners “fearing for their lives” when several Muslims show up at their front door uninvited. They will say they thought it was the nightmare invasion by Muslims they always feared.
Guns all across America would be discharged as fast as the Castle Doctrine could be invoked. It would stop the Muslim outreach effort dead in its tracks within hours. There’s no way to even imagine a scenario in America in which young Muslims wouldn’t die attempting to do exactly what they did in Canada last week. Our society is geared toward rationalizing and accepting the kind of violence that would put the lives of young people trying to stop religious bigotry in jeopardy.
Every day, thousands of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses knock on doors across America. They hand out literature promoting their religion, which is their right. They are rarely hassled for it. I’ve never heard of anyone being shot over it. Am I overstating what would happen if Muslims knocked on our doors by the thousands in an attempt to assure us how American they are? You don’t have to be Nostradamus to predict what would happen.
Tony Norman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1631; Twitter @TonyNormanPG.