In 2016, don't let the fear of Islam grow, writes Calgary doctor

Dr. Ameer Farooq loves his neighbourhood in northwest Calgary. That's despite the recent incident of anti-Muslim graffiti at the Tuscany LRT Station.
This is an example of anti-Muslim graffiti left at the Tuscany LRT Station in Calgary on Dec. 3, 2015. Dr. Ameer Farooq writes that this incident and others like it across Canada have affected the way he and his wife live their everyday lives. (CBC)

Public Space is CBC Calgary's online portal for opinion. Dr. Ameer Farooq submitted this piece. He calls on Albertans to stand up to Islamophobia.

We moved to Calgary from Edmonton in July of 2014 for the start of my residency in general surgery at the University of Calgary. For my wife and I, this was our first real move away from our home. We suddenly were faced with the prospect of living in a new city with no friends or family.

Our fears were unfounded because, after moving to Tuscany in northwest Calgary, we quickly realized how lucky we were to live in such a loving neighbourhood.

Our neighbours, in particular, had the special ability to welcome people to this community. We traded food, and my wife and I loved hearing the sounds of children and their parents at the playground. By the time our daughter was born in April of 2015, my wife and I were reassured that we lived in an embracing neighbourhood like Tuscany. We could not think of a better place to raise our daughter.

Calgary police released this image and several others of two male suspects wanted in connection with anti-Muslim graffiti at the Tuscany LRT station in December 2015. Two men were later charged. (Calgary Police Service)

Anti-Muslim graffiti hits close to home

However, on the evening of Dec. 3, there was a disturbing incident near our home. That evening, the Tuscany LRT station — as well as a car — was vandalized with racist graffiti. The offender sprayed "kill the musilums [sic]" using paint. Emblazoned alongside the words were symbols of white supremacy.

Calgary police quickly described the incident as a hate crime. Two men were eventually arrested and charged with public mischief. The Crown is still looking at whether the men will face charges related to hate crime.

This incident in Calgary forms part of a broader pattern of Islamophobia across Canada. Recently, the mosque in Cold Lake, Alta., was — again — vandalized. The words "Go home" were spray-painted on the building. A mosque in Peterborough, Ont., was burned down. Even more troubling is the vitriol and violence being directed toward Muslim women, especially hijab-wearing women. Muslim women are now signing up for self-defence classes as a result.

I am worried for my wife

On a personal level, these incidents have affected the way that I live my everyday life. My wife wears the hijab and I worry that, every time she goes out of the house, she will be harassed or even hurt. While we as Muslims have all experienced the occasional Islamophobic slur in the past, in the wake of San Bernardino and the Paris attacks, it seems like Islamophobia is somehow justified now.

Amira Elghawaby, with the National Council of Canadian Muslims, put it this way in a recent article: "Islamophobia must be considered as offensive and as socially unacceptable as any other hate-mongering out there, whether anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, or sexism."

Hatred has many manifestations

Amira Elghawaby is right. The hatred being displayed toward Muslims stems from the same roots as any other act of hatred. It is the same hate that the Nazis espoused towards Jews, or ISIS espouses towards the West. No surprise, then, that the vandals in Tuscany painted the swastika as well on the wall.

I can understand the fear that we all have — the fear that someone may try to hurt our loved ones because of some crazy ideas from sick and twisted minds.

It is in times like this that I call upon my fellow Albertans to fight that fear with compassion and communication. And Albertans have always stepped up to do precisely that.

People gather in front of a memorial in Paris to remember the 130 people killed in attacks on Nov. 13, 2015. Dr. Ameer Farooq says he feels like Islamophobia has somehow become justified in some people's minds in the wake of the San Bernardino and Paris attacks. (Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images)

Community response has been very encouraging — so far

When the mosque in Cold Lake was vandalized the first time, an entire community came together to undo the damage.

My neighbours and others in Tuscany similarly came together to post messages of love and support at the LRT station.

The next time that you hear someone shout out something Islamophobic on the street at a Muslim woman, as a Muslim lady told me about happened to her recently, be a good neighbour. Respond like like my neighbours in Tuscany.

In 2016, don't be a bystander to bullying and intimidation. Show those few amongst us who are filled with hate that love, indeed, does conquer all. Love thy neighbour, and stand up for those who need your support.

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Dr. Ameer Farooq

Member of the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council

Ameer Farooq is a member of the Alberta Muslim Public Affair Council (AMPAC) and is a general surgery resident at the University of Calgary. He is the author of a number of award-winning essays as well as the Canadian Medical Association Journal "To Essayer" contest.


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