Thunder Bay·Audio

Impact of Paris attacks felt by Muslims in Thunder Bay, prof says

A professor at Lakehead University says a limited understanding of world events such as the attacks in Paris last week can lead to further aggression abroad, and at home.

Lakehead University's Walid Chahal says lack of historical context leads to stereotyping

A girl holds a sign during a rally by members of the Muslim community of Madrid outside Madrid's Atocha train station, January 11, 2015, in solidarity with the victims of a shooting by gunmen at the Paris offices of the satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo, and against Islamophobia. (Juan Medina/Reuters)
A professor at Lakehead University says a limited understanding of world events such as the attacks in Paris last week can lead to further aggression abroad and at home.

Walid Chahal was reacting to the killings of 17 people in Paris last week at the hands of three men who have frequently been portrayed in the media as 'radical Muslims.' 

Chahal said if people are not reading beyond the headlines they might miss the fact that the killers were French-born, and the first police officer killed was a Muslim.

Walid Chahal says everyone would benefit from a wider understanding of the attacks in Paris. (Lakehead University)
Without knowing all the facts, Chahal said, people draw conclusions that can be hurtful, even in far away places like Thunder Bay.

"We are impacted by that too when certain groups are presented or portrayed in a negative way and you are kind of affiliated, although we have many identities or we play many roles, but you're impacted by that too if the perception is negative then you don't want to reveal your identity of that part of you," Chahal said.

"People are going to stereotype you or put you in a particular box and this is what you are and who you are and it's all there is about you and so it becomes a sort of master status for you," he added.

'Politics of aggressiveness'

The implications of the misunderstandings go beyond personal relationships, said Chahal, who is also a member of Thunder Bay's anti-racism committee and on the executive of the regional multicultural association.

Chahal said he frequently discusses world issues in the classroom and encourages students, and others, to "raise some serious questions about why people go to an extreme."

"If we have more simplistic, more reductionist ways of portraying people and issues, then really, we don't understand things well and if we don't understand things well, then we're going to repeat the same things," he said.

History repeats itself when citizens and leaders fail to consider the historical contexts or the root causes of violence, Chahal said.

"If we follow this politics of interference and politics of aggressiveness, that's not going to solve the problem," he said.  "We follow violent means to solve all of our problems. That's not going to solve the problem internationally. It's going to give rise to more violence. You get rid of one group and another group will form."

Chahal said he is in no way condoning or justifying the "crazy, horrific" attack on the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

But he said those responsible should be referred to as "criminals, first and foremost."

Chahal said killing goes "against the entire Islamic principles.

"If you take one life unjustly, it's like you took all the lives in the world, and not just human lives," he said.