Islamophobia: Lessons from Canada on how to respond heinous hate crime

Four four members of a Muslim family mowed down by a pickup truck in Ontario, Canada PM called it "a terrorist attack."


On Saturday June 12, Salman Afzaal (46), his wife Madiha (44), their daughter Yumna (15) and Salman’s 74-year-old mother, Talat Afzaal will be laid to rest in London, Ontario, Canada. On Sunday June 6, the family was out for their regular evening walk, dressed as always in salwar kameez, when a 20-year-old white male, later identified as Nathaniel Veltman, mowed them down with his truck and drove away. The Salman Family were killed and their youngest, nine-year-old Fayez, is the only survivor currently in hospital being treated for massive injuries.

The attack is a “premeditated hate crime against muslims”, said reports quoting London Police. The accused, now under arrest hasbeen charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.

Canadaian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called this a “terrorist attack” and recently visited the community and said, “To the Muslim community in London and to Muslims across the country, know that we stand with you. Islamophobia has no place in any of our communities. This hate is insidious and despicable – and it must stop.”

London city in southwestern Ontario is stated to have a close knit Muslim population, many who migrated from Pakistan. According to news reports, Canada’s The House of Commons had also observed a moment of silence for the victims. Trudeau added that Islamophobic attacks are happening in Canada and that the nation must “not become desensitized to this violence. We must not accept this as normal. Every time we witness such hate, we must call it out.”

While thousands continue to lay flowers and pay homage at the scene of the hate crime and elsewhere, the community of London, Ontario has also shown the world how to respond to communal hate crime. Across religious beliefs, community leaders have reached out to the residents, and grieved the murder of the much loved family that had migrated to Canada from Pakistan, and had roots in pre-Partition India. Salman Afzaa a physiotherapist, Madiha Salman (44) who was close to obtain her PhD at Western University in Civil engineering; daughter Yumna Salman, who on graduation from the local islamic school had pained an inspirational mural, and was now finishing grade 9 at Oakridge Secondary School and the much loved matriarch of the family have become symbols of love and charity and united a diverse community in the wake of their passing.

One of the most visible symbols of that is a Gofundme fundraiser started by a close family friend and neighbour Sana Yasir. However, what stands out is that the donations collected will only be used for “sadaqa-jariya” on behalf of the Salman family. Speaking to SabrangIndia over the phone from Canada, Sana Yasir said that sadaqa-jariya is an Islamic concept that will benefit others in this life, and also the family in the next life. 

Sana Yasir told SabrangIndia, that while the community is grieving deeply they are not afraid. No one is hiding their Muslim identity or way of dress. “I wear a hijab, and though I do get the odd stare now and then I have never felt any threats. This was the first time we witnessed such Islamophobia here,” she says. Salman Afzaal and his family often wore Salwar Kameez and the older women draped a dupatta on their head. They walked around the neighbourhood most evenings spending some family time together and also greeting the neighbours. “Aunty Madiha would take my sister to school and her son. She brought us food when my mother was unwell. There is not one person who will have anything negative to say about the family. They were such good people, and such a big part of the community and the university,” said Sana, a student of the same university as the couple. “We live down the street… They were family friends, and my little sister is heartbroken at the loss of her close friend Yumna who had texted her a day before the horror,” she said.

The donations have been coming in waves from across the world, and if the pace keeps may even touch a million dollars. According to Sana, the London Muslim Mosque, and Islamic Relief  are supporting the fundraiser along with the London muslim community. Fayez, the sole survivor, is said to be in a stable condition in hospital and has his aunt and uncle with him. “Fayez has a very strong support system-his immediate family, extended family, and the London community,” said Sana. 

While the community, and the family and friends of the victims are being brave there is no denying that the cold blodded murder of the Salman family is yet another reminder of Islamophobia now rampant across the world Including India.

However, the response from the Canadian administration and London Police Chief Steve Williams was quoted as saying, “We understand that this event may cause fear and anxiety in the community, and in particular the Muslim community, in any community targeted by hate. I want to reassure all Londoners that all of us on the call today and many others stand with you and support you. There is no tolerance in this community for individuals who, motivated by hate, target others with violence.”

According to CNN, Trudeau said before the House of Commons, “This killing was no accident. This was a terrorist attack motivated by hatred in the heart of one in our community.” Earlier detective Superintendent Paul Waight of the London Police had said, “There is evidence that this was a planned, premeditated act, motivated by hate. It is believed that these victims were targeted because they were Muslim.”

According to CTV new the accused Nathaniel Veltman, 20, who faces four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder, appeared via video link. The courtroom was closed to the public and a publication ban has been put in place on the proceedings. Meanwhile, the London Muslim Mosque, which the family belonged to, has called for a national summit on Islamophobia between all levels of government stated the news report.

Image courtesy: Sana Yasir


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