Yesterday, on the 29th of January 2017, six people were killed, and nineteen were injured in an attack on a mosque in Quebec City, Canada. For many international viewers of that headline, this may come as a shock because Canada has regularly been presented (and at times presented itself—looking at you, Mr.Prime Minister), as a diverse utopian haven of mixed culture. People often see Canada as the better, safer, friendlier version of America, removed from the violent racial history and rampant discrimination and antagonism plaguing our neighbors in the South. So to turn on the TV and see news of a gun attack, something usually resigned to the gun-crazy United States, was probably disturbing on multiple levels. What could have gone wrong?
There are many assumptions in the statements above that must be unpacked and disproved to answer that question. I’ll preface by saying I love Canada and most Canadians I have had the pleasure to meet, but let’s not get it twisted; Canada is not and has never been a nation devoid of racial divisions. While Canada does not have as severe and long lasting of a history with black slavery as the US does, the history exist. The narrative between the Canadian government and Native American inhabitants is not an unfamiliar one. Before moving here, I rooted my knowledge about Native Americans in stories about Thanksgiving and how white settlers had wronged Native Americans in the United States. Somehow, Canada managed to escape that narrative and be portrayed as better in comparison, despite the homeless population of Indigenous people in cities like Montreal proving entirely otherwise. Moreover, Canada has not managed to escape the growing trend of Islamophobia, xenophobia and white nationalism which cannot be misconstrued as an “American Problem” and must be understood by us as a global phenomenon.
This kind of sentiment isn’t new. We’ve seen it with Brexit. We’ve seen it with France’s policing of hijabs. We’ve seen it with Trump, and now we see it here. If the sentiment isn’t new, then there must be something about the current global climate that allows this blatant bigotry be expressed by some, with such little fear of consequence. And as someone who has had the unique experience of growing up in a country with a predominantly Muslim population, I cannot help but be fascinated by this. I grew up in a country where the sight of a veiled woman did not fill me with fear; Where it was normal to have friends with a Christian mother and a Muslim father. Where it was not unusual for a friend sleeping over to take time out to lay down a mat for evening prayer. But despite all this, I can understand the emotion behind the rising tension. Fear is one of the most basic human emotions, and as such, it is incredibly effective in controlling people and making them forget the social conditioning that has fostered things such as empathy and compassion. Religion can be a powerful tool, as it goes beyond the human plane of existence into something otherworldly. As such, men can be convinced to give their lives and do unspeakable things for what they believe is a greater or higher cause. To this extent, the concept of a human being motivated by reasons you cannot see or understand is terrifying.
“Islam is a religion of terror.” Turn on the news, and you might see Bill Maher headlining this debate, spouting facts and statistics on why be believes that Islam is inherently evil. But as a history major and a student of social science, this argument is logically flawed. Islam is often presented as a religion of terror in comparison to Christianity, in which the doctrine of loving thy neighbor as taught by Christ is contrasted with stories about rewarding martyrdom with seventy-two virgins. But is it not that same Christian compassion that spurred the Crusades, which beginning in 1095 saw the plundering and pillaging of the Holy Lands in the name of Christianity? Or is it a different bible that was used to justify such atrocities as the violence in the Belgian Congo during colonization, or the rhetoric of the Ku Klux Klan in pre-Civil Rights America?
My point is not to whitewash Islam or villainize Christianity and those, like myself, who practice it. My point is to show that neither Christianity or Islam are inherently evil. They are neither inherently violent nor inherently peaceful. All holy texts can be used and selectively quoted to promote any manner of acts. A thorough reading of the Bible will make that evident, as many passages are understood in the context of the historical time, or as symbolic rather than literal. At the end of the day, people are accountable for their actions, both those who influence and those who allow themselves to be influenced. Free will dictates that we are the makers of our choices, and as such are wholly accountable for the choices that we make. Christianity teaches love of the neighbor as the most important teaching of Christ, and yet many “people of God” commit unspeakable crimes in the name of religion. Do not misunderstand: I do not focus on Christianity to be biased to one side of the argument, merely because it is the religion I know best, and so can speak of most thoroughly.
People love. People hate. People birth and people kill. Not religion. If this is a truth, then to use examples of radical Islam as a basis on which to view all Muslims is illogical, bordering on dangerous. Your personal prejudice is on you, and if your beliefs cause you to see one human life as less than another, then that is also on you and cannot be blamed for anything other that your lack of knowledge and understanding.
I will end by saying that there is currently a vigil being held for the victims of yesterday’s events (https://www.facebook.com/events/226743947787244/). While I am a thorough supporter of activism and action, I implore you to educate yourselves. Activism without knowledge is naive at best and pandering at worst, so read. Read broadly, and widely, even those opinions that may differ from yours and cause you to examine, challenge, and possibly strengthen your beliefs. I write because I have come to appreciate the value of knowledge and opinionated discussion. It is this ability to learn continuously and grow that makes us human, and it is not a skill that we should take for granted in any capacity.