Last summer, someone dropped off a bloody severed pig’s head in front of the Islamic Community Centre that was the scene of last night’s terror attack. Over the next weeks, talk radio hosts would mock the Muslim community for calling it a hate crime and people called in to talk about how it was just a practical joke and Muslims should stop playing the victim.
A little over a year ago we were embroiled in a bitter election where Islam featured as the terrifying other in a thinly-veiled wedge issue calculated to bring out the worst in us. Politicians promised “barbaric practice hotlines” to encourage us to spy on our Muslim neighbours and political ads featured headscarves formed from drops of thick oil in imagery reminiscent of 1940s war propaganda.
A year before that, passions flared over a set of laws clearly aiming to restrict the rights of Muslims to express their faith in public. Debates raged in newspapers and online against how “they” were trying to “impose” their views on “us”.
Last night, a man opened fire in a room where Muslims were praying, killing six and injuring many more.
Where are those voices now?
There can be no doubt that ultimate responsibility for last night’s attack falls squarely on the shoulders of the terrorist who pulled the trigger, and then kept pulling and pulling. We are rightly shocked by it. This was a senseless act by an individual on the most extreme fringes of society.
Despite all this, we do have reason to hope. The story here is not as it is elsewhere. We have rightfully called the attack an act of terrorism – a word usually unfairly reserved for acts perpetrated by, and not against, Muslims in our society. Public condemnation of his actions has been unanimous, with neither qualification nor moderation. There are clear signs that we are not repeating the same sad story and that our response is genuine in its support to our neighbours.
But still. I encourage us all to think back to some of the positions we held last summer, a year ago, or a year before that. It’s too easy to miss the little, every day hostilities we allow ourselves until we’re hit with a full-blown instance of hatred that leaves behind bodies and mourning families. Let us try to remember and do better in the future.
Je me souviens, and may peace be with us all.
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