January 17, 2007

Simple mischief?

Vandals ransack Muslim school in Montreal | CBC News

59% of Quebecers say they're racist: poll | CBC News

Last night, a Muslim school in Montreal, École des Jeunes Musulmans Canadiens (JMC), was attacked. Twenty windows of the building were smashed, while the windows of the bus were shattered and garbage dumped in the aisle. My 6-year old nephew is a student at the school.
Montreal police said it is too soon to tell if the vandalism can be considered a hate crime.

"We're treating this as a simple mischief right now," Const. Laurent Gingras told CBC News on Tuesday.

This occurred a day after the results of a poll were released revealing that nearly three out of every five Quebecers consider themselves at least mildly racist. They won't call it a hate crime, because they only do that when Muslims are the suspects and not the victims.
[The poll] found 36 per cent of Quebecers have a bad opinion of Jewish people, while 27 per cent have a poor opinion of blacks. Fifty per cent have a bad opinion of Muslims.

These numbers don't surprise me, though I grew up and lived most of my life in Quebec. I'm curious to see more of a breakdown as to what parts of Quebec were more likely to admit racism. Montreal, where the attacks took place, is generally quite a functional multicultural society, though there have been a number of recent incidents that have marred that reputation. I spent two years in Gatineau, a far less diverse community despite it's proximity to Ottawa, and the racism there was far more blatant.

Some suspect a correlation between this poll and the attack on the school, proposing that perhaps this attack was a reaction to the survey results. That doesn't make much sense to me. This isn't a reaction; rather, it is an illustration of the poll results; it is an example of the 59% racism in the province, and a reflection of the 50% of the population that has a poor opinion of Muslims. Who would react to a poll in such a way?

What is disturbing about events like the one today at JMC is how it might affect the children. These are very young students; I doubt they understand why people might feel hatred for them. For a 6-year Muslim child from a Muslim family going to a Muslim school, with little interaction with people of other beliefs, this can potentially shatter their early beliefs about the sheltered society they live in. In 2004, the library of a Jewish elementary school in Montreal was set ablaze by a firebomb launched by a masked man. A year later, a 19-year old Muslim was charged in the attack, and sentenced to two years in prison.

Many children, inspired by Saturday morning cartoons, grow up with a very polarized view of the world, one of heroes and villains. For the young child gazing at the shards of glass in his classroom or ashes of the library he used to love, it becomes very easy to believe that the world really is that simple, and that the villains are truly lurking at every corner. It also becomes very easy to declare who the villains are.

In this country, children this young shouldn't even know how to hate. But we insist on teaching them.


  1. Subhanallah, what a terrible state of affairs, for a school to be attacked!

    I find the racism of the inhabitants of Canada and the US to be quite ironic and misplaced, considering that the majority of the population are immigrant in origin! Who can say, hand on their heart, that Canada is the land of their great ancestors?! When people display such a love for the dirt they live on, they should be reminded that they will be reunited with it soon enough. What horrors will face them in the kabr for the arrogance they display? Subhanallah, i cannot even bear to imagine it. I seek refuge in Allah from the punishment of the grave.

    Please remind your nephew about the real world. There are good people, bad people, and mixed up, confused people. It is our duty to educate them, even if it feels like we're talking to the walls. How many enemies of Islam, became its greatest defenders? These are lessons the children must learn. Not to take the actions of others on face value, but to try and connect with individuals in order to alter their negative perceptions & bring the best out of them. With Allah's help it can be done.

    On top of this, why do you suppose 50% of Quebecers have a bad opinion of Muslims? We can blaim the media all we like, but perhaps some of these people have witnessed anti-social behaviour from members of the Muslim community. Or perhaps they have never witnessed the kindness and generosity of Muslims, as we are so busy segregating ourselves around the mosques, we rarely engage with our non-Muslim neighbours. This happens a lot here, where immigrants who have lived and even raised children in the UK, barely speak English! I'm not just talking about house-bound women, but working men too!

    Inshallah, a lot of this will change with our generation, as we are out there in the work places and in the schools, and universities, rubbing along side the non-Muslims, for better or for worse.

  2. Somewhere down the line, you gave me the impression that Canada is more or less free of racism.

    I guess now I have to believe that the problem is deeper than I believed.

  3. That's terrible news. Unfortunately I'm not surprised :S

    This stuff also used to happen at my Islamic school way back when. And we always had this faint atmosphere of distrust, and even fear, of the people living around the school. It was sad, really.

    The response of the police is so typical. If you think about the unfairness of the system, it's oh so very frustrating. But in the end, everyone gets his or her just desserts, whether or not they know it.

  4. iMuslim: Most of Canada is actually quite tolerant. Quebec, the second largest province, is "a distinct nation within Canada" (don't ask), and has a character all it's own. I like a lot of things about that character, but it's largely responsible for the sense of superiority they have over the rest of the country.

    Though I don't think segregation is the issue here as much. I find this to be the case with Toronto, Canada's largest and most diverse city, where there are these huge pockets of only Muslims. There aren't really many areas in Quebec (as far as I've seen) that have these little Muslim ghettos. I haven't seen major language issues with parents not knowing how to speak English or French though. By law, actually, children whose parents come from non-English backgrounds must study in French. And they even pay immigrants to take French courses when they arrive in the country.

    As far as my nephew is concerned ... his father, my brother, is a much smarter and much more upright person than I am, so I'll trust that he'll handle the situation well.

    Saira: Yes, it's quite sad. Something similar happened in Ottawa last year actually, but got hardly any attention. This one at least made the major news channels in Montreal.

    Isha': I don't think anywhere is entirely free of racism. Every society has it's issues. That being said, Canada really is a lot better than most other places I've visited (and I've travelled quite a bit.)

    Asmaa: I've always had this pristine image of Toronto Islamic schools, that everything was nice and functional and everyone got along.. perhaps that's not the case. How did your school react to these incidents? Would you have any other suggestions?

    So far, no one has been implicated in the attack. I suppose we'll learn more in the near future about who was responsible for this. Certainly, there is a double-standard, but whether they want to call it a hate crime or not is irrelevant to me. As you said, "dessert" will eventually be served.

  5. Wow, that's the image of Toronto Islamic schools that you have? That's pretty far from the truth.

    Actually, the school that I used to attend recently built an actual fence around the school that they can lock so people can't vandalise. Unfortunately it used to happen a lot. And now it looks like a prison :S

    But to be fair, people who do stupid things like this are the minority. I really do think that the majority of people are understanding and tolerant.

  6. Why do you mention the bombing of the Jewish school last year and the subsequent arrest of the Muslim youth? How does that relate to the story?

  7. Asmaa: That's pretty sad, that they have to fence off the entire school to keep it safe from vandals. I often have an idealized view of the Toronto Muslim community when I see beautiful masjids popping up all over the place that are well populated for every salaah, and when I see so many excellent scholars there. It took us 10 years to finally build the masjid we wanted in our area, and there still has been no progress on the school we've been talking about for ages. So when I see schools and masjids being built in TO, I have this admittedly misguided view that everything is going smoothly and everyone is happy.

    Anonymous: I mentioned it because it happened in the same city, with school children around the same age being exposed to racial attacks before they might fully understand why they'd be targetted. I realized that I ended that paragraph rather abruptly, but chose to keep it regardless to illustrate that the children of other communities also encounter similar challenges.

  8. Are you an anti-semite?

  9. Anonymous: You have got to be kidding! What could possibly move you to ask Faraz such a question? Does writing the word "Jew" suddenly make him a racist? I've never read a single anti-semitic (or should i say, anti-Jewish) word on Faraz's blog. I can only imagine you were being sarcastic...

  10. Anonymous: No. I have objections to the term "anti-semitism" itself, however. I don't think that racism toward Jewish people deserves its own word. Whether a person is discriminating against Christians, Muslims, Jews, Blacks, Whites, or whatever, it's all equally bad in my opinion. No particular form of racial discrimination warrants a special term.

    iMuslim: Thanks for the elaboration. :)

  11. Welcome to the real world - where some people seem to take a simple explanation and twist it to make themselves look like victims all the time. This, of course, is the foreign policy of Israel and it's clear that Mr. or Mrs. Anonymous wants to play that perpetual angle.

    Faraz, I suggest we unleash Tayyab on whoever did this horrible and despicable crime against the school - he'd go crazy on them and it'd be well-warranted. ;)

  12. I find it a little disappointing that you (and your readers) are so easily swayed by a single poll and a single incident.

  13. Nauman: Anonymous is harmless.

    I'd rather not get Tayyab involved. He's too cute to get angry.

    s: Where have I swayed? I'm just citing the article, and haven't made any accusations or theories of my own.

  14. I don't know who Tayyab is, but after reading Faraz's response, i can only imagine (and pray) that he is an ickle relative of yours!

    Bro, read this. I think you'll find it interesting, inshallah.

  15. Tayyab is the 5-year old brother of my 6-year old nephew whose school was defaced. He's a brilliant kid masha-Allah, but can be quite a character if he gets upset about something.

    Thanks for the article; I did find it interesting. There is a lot of common ground, certainly, between Judaism and Islam. There are differences that certainly can't be ignored, but in the absence of Muslim schools, I'd rather children go to a school that has at least some regard for ethics and morality than a generic public school. But the ideal, at least for me, remains the establishment of good Muslim schools.

  16. When I was in Montreal as a liberal delegate, I developed a strange friendship with a frenchman staying in my hotel and after talking for a little while I noticed he was very annoyed that I was there as a liberal delegate considering I looked very Muslim, was born outside Canada and I was not white.