Quebec City mosque attack Islamophobia Montreal vigil

We have an obligation to never forget the Quebec City mosque attack

“Over a period of a year and a half, I worked on Ariel Nasr’s documentary about the Quebec City massacre, interviewing the families of the victims. It was one of the more harrowing professional experiences of my life, leaving me emotionally gutted.”

Five years ago I worked as an assistant on Ariel Nasr’s documentary about the Quebec City massacre, The Mosque: A Community’s Struggle. Over a period of a year and a half, we interviewed the families of the victims and other members of Quebec city’s Muslim community. It was one of the more harrowing professional experiences of my life, and I often finished the day emotionally gutted.

The victims were normal fathers, brothers, sons and husbands who loved their families, went to work every day, hoped and dreamed. Regular Canadian citizens like you and I. They included a grocer, a University of Laval professor and an avid sportsman. People who had immigrated to Canada looking for a better life. People who had integrated well into Quebec society, spoke French, and contributed positively to their communities. 

And they were killed in a hateful terrorist attack simply because they were Muslim. Because some of them wore robes and caps, grew their beards a certain way and were devoted to a different religion.

Azzedine Souffiane, 57, was a pillar of his community. A man of great generosity who devoted much of his time to helping new immigrants in Quebec city. He tried to stop the killer during the attack, and was gunned down. His widow then lost her only source of income, the shop they owned in Sainte-Foy. 

Khaled Belkacemi was a chemical engineer at Laval University. His children were getting ready to go to university, normal second generation Quebecers, fluent in French and English. 

Ayman Derbali, an IT consultant who also rose up to try to stop the gunman, survived but took seven bullets, including one in the spine that left him permanently paralyzed. 

In total, six people were killed, and five seriously wounded. 17 children were left without a father that day.

We tend to do okay, here in Canada, when it comes to being an open-minded, compassionate society. So the mind reels at how such a vicious, premeditated attack could still happen in 2017. Of course, hatred, ignorance and intolerance are always just under the surface of any society, no matter how civilized we may consider ourselves to be.

These days, all it takes is some misguided loner to fall down the wrong internet rabbit hole, to cut himself off from society, to let false notions fester inside of him, and the results can be tragic. Despite all the world being available to us at the click of a button, we are no more connected as a society than we were pre-internet. We are in fact more likely to be sealed off in our own little bubbles — deciding which news we consume, who we talk to and watch online, and which version of society, history and morality we adhere to. Such is the nature of our social media algorithms, which seem to reach into our guts and serve our subconscious fears and desires back to us on a screen.

Ironically, it’s this sense of modern isolation that the Muslims at the Centre Culturel Islamique du Québec sought to dispel, through real-life social connection and compassion. The CCIQ is a place for its members — largely but not exclusively immigrants from the Maghreb countries of North Africa — to meet regularly, commune, chat and hang out. It’s a place that gives structure to their burgeoning community, supporting them in a country that can be difficult to adapt to on a number of levels. 

After meeting with the victims’ families, under extremely difficult circumstances, what I remember most is how generous and hospitable they were, welcoming us into their homes even after their lives had been turned upside down.

How hard they worked, hopeful for a better future. 

How much they wanted their children to succeed and be happy.

How dignified they were in the face of the most senseless violence. ■

We have an obligation to never forget the Quebec City mosque attack

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