Leenat Jilani is a lawyer, Londoner, visible Muslim woman and human-rights advocate.
They were killed within walking distance of where I live. A Muslim family, out for an evening stroll.
I walk the same path they took, pray at the mosque where they prayed and even attended the same high school as the daughter. These faces I have seen as I grew up in this community – gone.
Heartbroken? Yes. Shocked? No.
London is my home. But hate, racism and Islamophobia have a deep history here. The Ku Klux Klan established a presence in London in 1872, sowing their hate within the fabric of our city. Fast forward to 2017, when an anti-Islam protest was initiated in this city by the Patriots of Canada Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA); roughly 40 members and supporters attended. London has been and still is a hot spot for right-wing extremism, Islamophobia and white supremacist activity.
Growing up in northwest London, my family was one of the few visible Muslims in our neighbourhood. Our home and car were targeted and vandalized monthly. Each time we would just wash off the yolk and clear away the shells, but the stench and fear remained. My parents were always putting on a brave face for their children, playing it down by telling us that it must just be some mischievous kids on the block. After reporting this to the police a few times we gave up, as nothing came of it. But I knew it worried them. They never wanted me to travel alone, especially at night. We had conversations about how the way I looked made me a target, how I needed to be more careful than other kids.
Years before Yumna Afzaal walked the halls of Oakridge Secondary School, my friends and I faced severe opposition from parents – and even some staff – who didn’t want us to create a safe space for Muslim students to practise their faith. This is my London, my Canada.
If we deny that we have a problem, then we will never address the root cause. This is not a lone attack or an incident that occurred in a vacuum. It is a reflection of our city and our country as a whole. Nor are Islamophobia, Indigenous rights, anti-Black racism and antisemitism separate problems. They are all a part of structures created from a colonial past. One that has benefitted from divide-and-conquer policies and depended on “othering” those who are different.
If Canada calls itself a mosaic, then that mosaic is under attack by those who want to destroy it with our blood.
Yet, there is always hope. Thousands attended the vigil at the London Muslim Mosque on Tuesday. People from all walks of life came out to show solidarity to the Muslim community – strangers assuring us, “we are with you, you are loved.”
Just as it took the support of one teacher to stand up as an ally and support the Muslim students at Oakridge Secondary School when I attended all those years ago, what this community needs right now is you. Every Londoner, every Canadian, needs to be an ally. Stand up against the overt aggression but also, perhaps more importantly, against the microaggressions and other forms of racism you have ignored for far too long in your daily lives. Do you speak or act differently when the person looks different than you? Do you politely ignore the racist, Islamophobic, antisemitic, anti-Asian or anti-Indigenous comments you hear from your colleagues, your extended family, your political party? Letting those seemingly big and little things go has brought us here, to this.
I have to commend Jeff Bennett, a former Progressive Conservative Party candidate for London West, for calling it out as it is. “We must take stock of the part we play,” he wrote in a widely shared Facebook post. “No more saying, ‘Oh grandpa is not really racist. He was just raised differently.’ Well that ‘differently’ is not okay. Canada has a racist, unacceptable history. It’s time we call it out, own it and take action.”
Every Indigenous issue is our issue. Every anti-Asian hate crime, every Islamophobic attack, should be seen as a crime against all of us. Every Black life lost senselessly is interconnected. Our colonial past is still affecting us in our everyday lives, making it easier for some to live, while others continue to suffer.
I hope my neighbours in London choose to stand up in solidarity and take action. I hope you all do.
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