News of the vicious murder of the family in this province has hit the headlines all over the world. From the BBC in Britain to Al Jazeera and Reuters, the story of a hate crime taking place in sedate London, Ontario, has cast a deep pall over Canada’s reputation as an open and inclusive society. The victims were Salman Afzal, 46; his wife Madiha, 44; their daughter Yumna, 15; and a 74-year-old grandmother whose name was withheld. A nine-year-old boy, Fayez, was seriously injured and is recovering in hospital. The Mayor of London described it as an act of “unspeakable hatred.”
A police officer in London stated quite clearly that “[T]here is evidence that this was a planned, premeditated act, motivated by hate. We believe the victims were targeted because of their Islamic faith.”
It was not the first such hate crime, and, sadly, won’t be the last. And it came in a week when Canadians were still reacting to the events at the old Kamloops Residential School in B.C. It is hard to take. There is an idea that people are “basically good”, whatever that means, but the regular news of acts of hatred against “others” makes me wonder.
Then the report arrived that a local woman had tried to deface the rainbow road crossing at the corner of Prescott and Reuben by trying to cover it with tire marks. This may, or may not prove to be the case, but nevertheless the idea of such a thing upset me, and I thought: why? It’s the question that always comes to me when I hear of these acts of violence and hate. There is a poem by Liverpool poet Roger McGough in which he says: The difference between people who love and people who hate, is that people who hate have to explain what they mean”. What is the explanation for this kind of hate crime? What is it that makes people hate others who believe differently, have different coloured skin, speak a different language, or any other element that differentiates them from the hater?
You may disagree with someone else’s political beliefs. You may not approve of someone’s lifestyle. You can even have genuinely felt moral arguments against someone’s position on anything. But does that mean it’s all right to hate them, to act against them in an outburst of violence? What makes it acceptable to hate, just because you don’t agree, or even like?
Whatever it is, it goes deep into the hearts and minds of people, people who you would never expect it from. And it seems to come out when the circumstances allow it to be expressed. The social climate, something in the air, seems to spark unacceptable ideas and actions. And, no matter what we may think of this country, we know only too well the horrific history we have in this area. Indigenous people, Japanese and Chinese immigrants and citizens, Jews and Moslems, are a few of the groups that have inspired hateful acts in Canada. Some of them even mandated by government decrees and legislation.
There seems to be no end to the imagination some people show in coming up with finding someone to hate. “They don’t belong here”, is a phrase they like. It leads to people being told to “go back where you came from”, even when they came from here. Toleration means you accept other points of view, or another person’s values and principles, without having to agree with them. Some believe that “others”, whether ethnic, religious, or gender-based in identity, are somehow a threat to “our way of life”. Really? So vandals, arsonists and murderers more accurately reflect “our way of life”? Those who try to, literally or figuratively, to wipe out those of whom they disapprove are more in line with Canadian values?
Irish politician, John Philpot Curran, said “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt”, although the quote is often falsely attributed to Thomas Jefferson. No matter who said it, the truth remains: we need to be vigilant and not allow hatred to pass unrebuked.
Whether it’s a comment you hear from a friend or in a coffee shop, whether it seems reasonable or dogmatic, we have to stand up and protest against racism, or any other form of discrimination. And those who perpetrate violent acts, physically or symbolically, against those “others” need to be told in no uncertain fashion that they do not speak for us, do not reflect the values of our society. Unless, of course, the sad fact is that they do? Silence means consent. It doesn’t really matter what you think of someone, they deserve respect as a fellow human being. Just because you don’t know them, the fact remains that we all have our story, one that needs acceptance, respect, toleration, and empathy. On the face of it, it doesn’t seem too much to ask, does it?