Ottawa

Silence not the way to fight Islamophobia in Ottawa, crowd hears

Muslim women say keeping quiet and turning the other cheek is not the way to fight Islamophobia in Ottawa.

'Whether or not I'm wanted I will be here resisting and I will not do it quietly'

A meeting was held at Ottawa City Hall Thursday night about Islamophobia and how to address it. (Simon Gardner/CBC)

There was standing room only at a forum on how to support Ottawa's Muslim community at City Hall on Thursday night.

Iman Al-Khatib told the crowd she escaped from war three times before coming to Canada.

Iman Al-Khatib and her family have lived in Canada for 15 years. She says people sometimes try to avoid her. (Simon Gardner/CBC)

"I really love it here," she says. "I am happy here."

She and her family have been in Canada for 15 years, but it's only recently that she's encountered what she believes is Islamophobia. She often uses public transit and says nowadays people seem to be making an effort not to sit next to her.

"I can see it in people's face and eyes. Some people, they kind of like, try to avoid me," Al-Khatib says.

'If it is safe for you to intervene, I urge you to'

Al-Khatib was one of many people at a well-attended forum on Islamophobia held at Ottawa City Hall, organized by a group called the City for All Women Initiative.

Haneen Al-hassoun, a second-year journalism student, is also a vice-president with the Carleton University Muslim Students' Association. (Simon Gardner/CBC)

Other Muslim women also shared experiences of Islamophobia and made it clear that, in their view, it's time to confront this form of racism directly.

Haneen Al-hassoun, a second-year journalism student at Carleton University, recounted an ugly incident where she was verbally attacked by a man as she waited to read poetry at an event.

"He looked very violent. He started yelling at me."

She says she did her best to ignore him and kept nodding her head, and that he then "spat on the floor and walked away."

Al-hassoun adds there were at least three people who witnessed the incident, but no one intervened. She believes that gave the man added power to keep up the hateful verbal attack.

"I don't expect anyone to put themselves in danger to protect me … but if it is safe for you to intervene, I urge you to help someone if you see them in that situation," she says.

'Why should I believe my silence will save me?'

Roua Aljied, a fourth-year engineering student at Carleton, told the audience her mother would like her to keep a low profile, to "mind my business, do well in school, live quietly."

But she's not following that advice.

Roua Aljied, a fourth-year engineering student at Carleton University, says she won't keep silent about Islamophobia. (Simon Gardner/CBC)

"Living quietly did not save the six Muslim men killed in a Quebec mosque. Why should I believe my silence will save me?" she asks.

Suzanne Doerge, who helped organize the event, says resistance to Islamophobia is getting stronger.

"I think there is a stronger message, there is a stronger message from the Muslim community, but also a stronger message from those of us who are not Muslim to say, you know, we are not going to accept this, this is not the Canada we want," Doerge says.

Roua Aljied received enthusiastic applause when she concluded her remarks with these words:

"I will not be silenced by people who say all lives matter, but do nothing to protect mine. Whether or not I'm wanted I will be here resisting and I will not do it quietly," she said.

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