I was watching an international soccer match when I saw the news of the horrific Paris Attacks come in through various sources on Twitter. I did not catch the exact second an explosion went on near Stade de France as my livestream was a bit choppy. But soon afterwards video was shared, and I saw the moment when the ball was at the feet of French footballer, Patrice Evra. Then the horrifying details and news reports came in. There are no words.
And the world mourned, Toronto mourned. We mourned for the innocent victims from all faiths and backgrounds. We also heard of the stories of heroes, who went out of their way to help others. One of the men, is Muslim. I could not pull myself away from social media for the first few hours. It was agonizing to hear the updates of the events. I had a friend, hijab-wearing woman of Arab descent, attending the match. I was concerned for her safety in the group and I was also concerned for her being an identifiable Muslim.
Thank God she was safe.
Initially, the tweets and the messages of disbelief and concern for Paris came in abundance. Calls for peace, reminders for journalists to confirm reports before sharing stories, requests to not give into hateful rhetoric; language matters.
Many of the tweets quickly evolved into simple messages of anger and hatred. I expected this.
There was barely enough time to grieve properly for all the victims, before I and countless other Muslims were pushed into fearing for our own safety. When I woke up one morning last week, I heard the news that a Muslim woman was attacked outside her children's school. She was beaten by two white men who pulled at her hijab and called her a 'terrorist' -- in broad daylight.
I am quite confident that this woman had nothing to do with the destruction and terror in Paris, or Beirut or Baghdad or Ankara. Nor is she responsible for any of the murders committed by ISIS or the acts of terror and violence executed in the name of her faith.
As she lay on the ground yelling' "Stop, please stop," her white, male attackers cared little for that striking difference. She wears hijab and is an easy target for their hatred.
That she lives in one of Toronto's most diverse communities is irrelevant.
Perhaps, we have a false sense of security. This is Toronto, after all. We are a safe city. We are a safe country. People are not attacked because of what they look like.
Well, no. Muslim women actually are and those incidents are growing across Canada.
Perhaps the recent political climate and ensuing vitriol has racialized Muslim women's bodies. The incessant discussion of their clothing and choices is a burden for many Muslim women to bear. It has exploded beyond political discussions marinated in ignorance and bigotry. It has escalated to physical attacks. I know of some Muslim women who are contemplating removing their hijabs as added protection. Because we can never be too safe. We can never take enough precautions. If a Muslim woman chooses to (un)veil, that is her choice. But she should never have to sacrifice a peaceful part of her worship, subsequently protected by the Canadian Charter of Freedoms and Rights, because she has little confidence that she won't be a victim of violence.
I have lived my whole life in Canada. I was born here. But I have experienced intense racism and Islamophobia after human tragedy that are conducted by violent extremists. I have dealt with microaggressions in daily life. I have been demanded to apologize and be accountable for unspeakable crimes by people I do not know, from a violent culture I am not a part of. That is exhausting and draining. In the meantime, I and many women of my community are on high alert. Some refuse to go outdoor unaccompanied, just in case. We are trying to organize martial arts classes; encouraging enrollment in kickboxing studios; we are checking up on each other and offering support. But we need to continue living our lives.
Should I walk around with a white flag or hijab? Should I wear my Montreal Canadiens jersey to prove my Canadian-ness and commitment to Muslim non-violence? Do I carry a sign so I won't be attacked? Should I wear a button that says "Extremists Suck"? Will people stop harassing me online?
I grew up in Halifax where I was taught the usual precautions about safety by my law-abiding parents. I signed up for a Women's Self-Defense class when I started high school.
But I have already had conversations about safety with my children. This morning I advised my son, who is fifteen, to step up if he sees a woman, any woman, getting attacked.
It is our responsibility as Muslims, Canadians to ensure the safety of our community members. But at this moment, the chances of that woman being Muslim are heightened. He knows this. Many Muslim kids know this.
I am teaching my children that it is their duty to enjoin good and forbid evil. They must fight for justice. The have to stand tall against all prejudice. That might mean my son getting involved and helping the victim of an attack, whether that is calling authorities or actually protecting someone with his body. His mothers, sisters, grandmothers and aunts are potential victims of those attacks.
I am thinking about having to phrase this properly to my 13-year-old daughter if she goes out with her friends: "Hey, Love! Keep your phone close and try not to get beat up by Islamophobic maniacs! Have a great time!" That doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.
There have been increased incidents of hate crimes after the Paris attacks. A Mosque in Peterborough was burned, a Hindu Temple was vandalized while the Priest was at a vigil praying for the victims of the Paris Attacks.
People are angry and lashing out. But retaliating against terrorism with violent racism is also terrorism.
Muslims have been demanded to apologize for attacks that Muslim leaders and Scholars have already publicly stated, have nothing to do with Islam.
Yet there are people, in Toronto, who refuse to see this. They expect any and every Mohammed, Fatima or Ali to make sure they publicly explain how committed they are to fighting radicalization and terror and if they are 'sorry' for the deaths in Paris.
Do I stop random, white men on the street and demand an explanation after gun violence or racism? Do I call up my local Church and demand that the Minister explain terror and have them denounce it? No, because that is ludicrous, even though that hatred exists here.
And at the moment, I am too busy trying to figure out how to ensure my emotional and physical safety, so the lengthy apology expected of me will be on the back burner (read: not coming- ever).
To speak up against these intolerable acts are our duties as Torontonians. I have been contacted by friends, family and colleagues who are horrified. And they understand my stress, my anger and my frustration. And they empathize.
It would be appreciated the rest of the city and the prominent media personalities showed some solidarity too. But a Muslim woman getting beaten and attacked in Flemingdon Park is far less glamorous to tweet or write about.
We are all horrified at the deaths of innocent people. Their geographic location is unimportant. To rally for peace is meaningless when a select group of your fellow Torontonians are being targeted and attacked. Speak up about it. Be as outraged and outspoken about the terror and violence elsewhere. It is happening in our own backyard.