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Muslims endure racism, intolerance

Harper's 'Islamicism' comment hurt community, psychiatrist says

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They say time heals all wounds-- but not for North American Muslims a decade after 9/11, says a clinical psychologist in Winnipeg.

"There's the trauma of this attack... and there's the trauma of being labelled or associated with terrorists," said Dr. Rehman Abdulrehman at the Anxiety Disorders Clinic at the St. Boniface General Hospital.

"For some reason, it's OK to label Muslims... you have to imagine the impact that has on mental health.

"People are automatically assuming they have terrorist views," said the Muslim, who also teaches at the University of Manitoba.

A mental health journal in the U.S. reported that 82 per cent of Muslims felt unsafe in the U.S. after 9/11, and half had increased levels of depression and anxiety. There have been similar findings in other western countries, he said.

At the same time, public perception of Muslims has gotten worse long after 9/11.

"What we're finding is people's anxiety subsided but fear or misperceptions about Muslims is higher." Surveys in the U.S. and the United Kingdom show a more negative public opinion of Muslims as time has passed, he said. Canada's not much different, he thinks.

Leadership and the media have fanned the flames of racism and intolerance, and it's hurting people, said Abdulrehman.

"When you have a public figure who makes a statement like Stephen Harper it lends credence to those beliefs."

The prime minister said in a recent TV interview that the terror threat in Canada is still primarily "Islamicism."

"It's a shame when we target any group of people with stereotypes about them," said Abdulrehman who grew up in Winnipeg.

"I just hope people are mindful of the impact of racism on mental health. There is a very strong correlation between the two," he said.

Muslims born here are treated like outcasts too, he said.

An aboriginal woman wearing a head scarf was told the same thing. "She said, 'I am in my own country.' "

Abdulrehman is hopeful Muslims and non-Muslims unite to dispel the ignorance and fear.

"There are a lot of really good people out there," he said.

"There needs to be a societal change," the psychologist said. And there needs to be a change in terminology that doesn't equate Islam and terrorism, he said.

"I wish I could invite Stephen Harper to have a conversation with me."

Civil liberties don't have to be sacrificed for safety, said Ellen Judd, whose partner Christine Egan was the only Manitoban killed by the 9/11 terrorists a decade ago.

"Why was it so easy to board airplanes with knives and box-cutters?" she asked. "Why were airplane cockpits not locked? Why did the intelligence warnings of the months before Sept. 11, 2001, not result in obvious and effective protection and save all those lives?" Judd asked.

"I am sure we all want to avoid further deaths and that we know killing methods will vary. We live in a violent world where better precautions are necessary and responsible.

"It is important to remember that violation of civil liberties would not have been needed to save those killed on Sept. 11, 2001. Let us have effective vigilance and respect civil liberties."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 10, 2011 A9

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