London tragedy leaves shock, disbelief in Winnipeg wake
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/06/2021 (481 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
When Tasneem Vali heard four members of a Muslim family were dead, and one left fighting for his life, after being run down by a truck in London, Ont., she felt numb.
“I couldn’t fathom it. You know how you go through denial? It was denial,” she said.
Then, the worry set in. The vice-chairwoman of the Manitoba Islamic Association said she thought about her two daughters, who wear hijabs, and regularly go on walks and bike rides.
The family of five — a married couple in their 40s, their teenage daughter and nine-year-old son, and a 74-year-old grandmother — were mowed down Sunday while out for a walk, in what London police said was a targeted attack because they are Muslims.
Nathaniel Veltman, 20, of London, is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.
Amidst talk of hate crimes in Canada, Vali said she is comforted by the diversity of her daughters’ friends, and hopes their generation is more accepting. She’s also comforted by the diversity of the city overall.
“Islamophobia is real. It does happen in Winnipeg,” she said Tuesday. “I think we as adults could do a bit more of getting to know our neighbours, but speaking up when we see (Islamophobia) happening, and not just walk away and shake our heads.”
In 2016, a printed picture of bacon was mailed to the Waverley Grand Mosque anonymously. Months later, a slab of what was believed to be pork was left on a Muslim man’s windshield. In January, a teenage girl who wears a hijab shared a video with CBC in which she and her sister had been the target of hateful slurs while doing a curbside pickup.
Conversely, in 2017, less than two dozen protesters, who called on Canada to reject a parliamentary motion condemning Islamophobia, were drowned out by hundreds of Winnipeggers who called for unity.
“Winnipeg, in general, we have amazing friends, and they do speak up, and we’re warmed by that,” Vali said. “When something like this happens, we don’t feel isolated because of it.”
However, Islamic association chairman Idris Elbakri said he was so concerned about copycat attacks he warned community members to be careful if they went outside for a walk Monday night.
Elbakri said he can relate to the family in London — his own children are around the same age — and the pain left him “beyond words.”
Winnipeg’s Muslim community has been forced to grieve isolated from each other due to the pandemic.
“It’s very challenging because normally, when something like this happens, we gather together in the mosque… and share in the grief. That’s what we do in Winnipeg, just be with each other,” he said.
“Just not being able to do that is making things harder. People are shocked, and in disbelief.”
The association, which Elbakri said has received an outpouring of support from Winnipeggers, will hold a drive-in vigil at the Grand Mosque (2445 Waverley St.) at 8 p.m. Thursday. It will be livestreamed for those unable to attend.
“We’d like to do it drive-in… They can see each other through their car windows, maybe it would help,” he said.
The association has started discussions to improve mosque security, but Elbakri is not sure what to tell members when a reported hate crime occurs in broad daylight on a busy street with many witnesses.
He said Canadians have to come to terms with Islamophobia.
“Denial is convenient,” he said. “I’d like to be able to deny it if I could, it’s not something we’re happy to have, but it’s unfortunately the reality.”
The time for platitudes from people in power is over, Elbakri said, and he hopes provincial and federal leaders step up and demand change.
“I think we have difficult questions that we as Canadians have to start asking, and demanding our leaders to take this very, very seriously,” he said.
“I just really hope we don’t go through the same cycle of condemnation, sending thoughts and prayers, and then we’ll wait for the next round to happen.”
Abdul Ahad, who moved to Manitoba five years ago, recalled an incident at the time that stuck with him. At a dinner event, a Muslim woman, who wore a niqab, went to the stage to give a speech, and was the target of verbal cruelty from some in attendance.
Islamophobia isn’t always as obvious, but it is present, the University of Manitoba’s Muslim Students Association president said.
“There are things that I’ve learned: Islamophobia is there, we cannot deny this, it is a reality,” he said. “But it’s not something we can always see.”
Ahad called Sunday’s attack “unfortunate and really heartbreaking.” He can’t comprehend what could bring someone to inflict such harm.
“It’s incredibly difficult when people don’t get the real message of Islam, the true message. Instead, (they’re getting) what they see on the news or what they’re reading on social media, maybe the messages they’re hearing aren’t true, and that’s how they get motivated,” he said.
“Because they’re so full of hate, tragedies like this happen.”
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Tuesday, June 8, 2021 9:09 PM CDT: Adds photo of Tasneem Vali.