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Op-ed: What happened in New Zealand has no borders

A Muslim Students’ Association Executive reflects on the recent mosque massacre
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The New Zealand attack has affected many Muslims, including U of T students. SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY
The New Zealand attack has affected many Muslims, including U of T students. SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

“Hello brother.” That was the greeting of a Muslim man who was the first to be met with bullets. 

On March 15, a white supremacist perpetrated a massacre in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. 51 innocent souls lost their lives due to a vicious and gruesome hate crime. But while this terrorist attack took place thousands of miles from Toronto, its origin and impact has no borders for Muslims around the world. 

The attack was fuelled by extremist anti-Muslim ideologies that have been tolerated, and even actively encouraged, by politicians and leaders around the world. It is not disconnected from the ongoing Muslim ban in the US or the rising anti-hijab contempt in Europe. Furthermore, the denial of the problem of white supremacy and the lack of its reporting by the media contribute to massacres like the one that took place in New Zealand.

Canada too knows the violent ideology of white supremacy very well. Two years ago, the Québec City mosque shooting took the lives of six Muslims and devastated the lives of many Canadians. In fact, the white supremacist New Zealand shooter wrote the name of the Québec mosque shooter on his weapon. This should be a wake-up call to Canadians: we need to acknowledge and address the existence of Islamophobia in our country. 

Earlier this year, students found white nationalist posters around U of T that decried  multiculturalism. In 2018, the municipal elections gave a platform to white nationalist individuals like Faith Goldy. At York University, just a few miles from our campus, a student showed up in a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat to a vigil for the victims of the New Zealand mosque massacre.

All of these examples have been largely tolerated and not condemned by our community. The perpetrators of white supremacy are hiding behind the banner of ‘freedom of speech’ as an excuse for their Islamophobia. But the tolerance of this anti-Muslim rhetoric has resulted in the loss of 51 lives. We need to draw the line between intellectual freedom and the spewing of hate. We cannot accept a version of freedom of speech that results in the deaths of innocent people.  

The massacre has impacted the lives of many Muslims, including U of T students — especially those who made their way to Friday prayers the next day. Within hours of receiving the news, we at the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) organized healing circles at the two Friday prayer locations to provide students with the space to grieve. We extended our support to the Toronto vigil by assisting in the marketing and promotion of the event. We referred students to wellness resources in the GTA to assist them in coping with the tragedy through an Islamically-principled approach.  

In turn, the campus community has been quite supportive through this process. As we arrived at Hart House to perform the congregational prayers that the New Zealand victims had just engaged in a few hours previously, we were welcomed by handwritten messages from the staff and students offering their support to the Muslim community. Our Christian and Jewish friends stood by us as we made our way to prayers. The kindness we received from our faculty and fellow students on campus was incredibly supportive during what was a dark day for Muslims. 

President Meric Gertler released a heartfelt statement in which he sent his condolences to the MSA and all Muslims on campus. His kind words helped us feel heard and acknowledged. 

Others, however, have made a meaningful effort to address the issue at its core. Professor Anver Emon, director of the Institute of Islamic Studies (IIS) has recognized the attack for what it is: a white supremacist attack. He highlights that the discussion on Islamophobia is long-term, and we must recognize its existence within our own lands. Emon has announced that the IIS will be hosting bimonthly discussions on difficult topics in order to advance our understanding of Islamophobia. 

This explicit recognition has a far greater impact on combating white supremacy. We hope that the U of T administration and the IIS can work together to address Islamophobia and eradicate ignorance both within our campus and in Canada at large. 

The Christchurch massacre can serve as an entryway into an important discussion on Islamophobia. However, we must remember that the attack is not an isolated incident. Anti-Muslim violence has existed as a global reality for years. Therefore, the efforts and discourse from our allies at U of T in alleviating the pain of the New Zealand massacre must address those continued realities as well. 

There is much work to be done at the university to support Muslims in their efforts to confront white supremacist ideologies and the violence they face around the world. And these changes begin when we make a sincere effort to recognize the problem of white supremacy.

Shahd Fulath Khan is a second-year Psychology, Neuroscience, and Political Science student at Victoria College. She is the Secretary of the MSA at UTSG.