Calgary Muslims target Islamophobia in response to hate-filled posters

The Hussaini Association of Calgary will hold a peace march Sunday afternoon, hoping to send a strong message days after anti-Muslim posters were plastered over the University of Calgary's main campus.

Lessons learned from other campuses show some Canadians may need education about different faiths

Students and staff at the University of Calgary responded by coming together to write messages of support and tolerance after the campus was blanketed with vulgar, anti-Muslim posters. On Sunday, a peace march will be held in Calgary. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

The Hussaini Association of Calgary will hold a peace march Sunday afternoon, hoping to send a strong message days after anti-Muslim posters were plastered over the University of Calgary's main campus.

"This walk will be against terrorism ,for unity, and we will address these Islamophobic issues as well," said the Shia Muslim group's spokesperson, Riyaz Khawaja.

Some of the 40 posters discovered Tuesday morning at the university depicted bearded men who appeared to be screaming, and made references to sharia law and genital mutilation.

Some posters also said Muslims should "keep their barbaric ways right where they belong" and some linked to Facebook pages that recommend that Islam be banned in Canada. 

The incident took place about two weeks after posters targeting the Sikh community were discovered at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

Larger pattern

Professor Mushegh Asatryan said the disturbing events are part of a growing pattern across North American campuses, not just limited to Alberta.

"It is especially ironic that this incident should have happened on our campus," said Asatryan, who teaches about Muslim and Arabic cultures at the University of Calgary. "It is generally a very diverse and inclusive environment."

Asatryan said universities should immediately take strong stances condemning these types of actions as soon as they occur. In the cases of both Alberta universities, administrators immediately condemned the posters and ordered them taken down.

He also said a "slower, but more effective, way to deal with [this kind of event] would be to educate people."

About 30 Sikh volunteers offered to tie turbans on people in their choice of colour at the University of Alberta in Edmonton after offensive posters were found on the campus. (Peter Evans CBC)

In Edmonton, university associations, staff and the World Sikh Organization of Canada also began that education process, holding an event to introduce the community to Sikhs.

An event called "Turban, Eh?" invited anyone and everyone to get a temporary turban tied on their heads, as a show of support for the local Sikh community and to educate others about the head coverings.

In Calgary, the Muslim Students' Association and university officials held an impromptu rally on the day the posters were discovered to show support to Muslims, but the Muslim Students' Association is also thinking of holding larger workshops. 

Inspiration from elsewhere

They may want to listen to the story of Sirajuddin Syed.

When the university student ran for council at the Durham College and Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa in 2015, the experience convinced him of the need to organize an anti-islamophobia conference.
Surajuddin Syed was the target of a hate-filled backlash after he ran for council at University of Ontario. (Supplied)

"Our election posters, a picture of mine was defaced with ISIS written on it,"  Syed recalled.

In 2016, following his election, the hate continued. He found banners promoting  the anti-Islamophobia conference he had organized vandalized.

"I was getting death threats, I was getting people messaging me personally," Syed said.

He shut down his social media accounts over the abuse.

But he said students at the University of Calgary should not be discouraged from putting together their own workshop.

"At the end of the day, you know you're doing something right if you have opposition coming at you," he said.

Some of the Oshawa students who were most interested in his workshop were those who did not know any Muslims at all in their personal lives, Syed said.

He'd been planning for an audience of around 250, but nearly double that number turned up.

Investigations ongoing

Meanwhile, Edmonton police are still looking into who was behind the incidents at the University of Alberta.

The Hate-Crimes Detail at Edmonton Police Service is "conducting an investigation to determine if an offence has occurred," said EPS media relations adviser Scott Pattison.

In Calgary, university security has released to the public a description of a suspect and says it is co-operating with police.