Racist graffiti on campaign signs 'distressing,' says London Muslim leader

A prominent member of the Muslim community in London, Ont., says the defacing of a Liberal candidate's signs with racist graffiti is "deeply distressing," but it is does not represent the views of most people in the city.
A prominent member of London's Muslim community says that voter turnout has been lower than average in this community in prior elections. But some grassroots efforts have been undertaken to improve this turnout in the current election. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

A prominent member of the Muslim community in London, Ont., says the defacing of a Liberal candidate's signs with racist graffiti is "deeply distressing," but it is does not represent the views of most people in the city. 

More than a dozen signs belonging to Khalil Ramal, the Liberal candidate for London-Fanshawe, were defaced with the works 'Arab Scum' and found Wednesday.

"We know by no means is this the greater view in London, Ontario," said Hassan Mostafa, the president of the board at the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario, in an interview with CBC Radio's Afternoon Drive.

"London is the most inclusive, wonderful city to live in...unfortunately, you get a few bad apples that ruin it for the rest."

Strong, active community

Mostafa describes London's Muslim community as a strong, active one, with nearly 30,000 members in the city. He also said the community is used to some Islamophobia and minor incidents of racism, but some comments from the campaign trail are adding fuel to the fire. 

"What's most disturbing is most of the rhetoric comes from the prime minister, comes from our leaders," he said. "When we look to our leaders for leadership and guidance to preach about tolerance and inclusiveness we unfortunately get quite the opposite."

The graffiti on Ramal's signs is just one case during this federal election that's taking a toll on London's Muslim community, Mustafa said. The discussions about banning the niqab at citizenship ceremonies and for public servants are also affecting some people.

"There is a sentiment in our community, especially the ones who are very identifiable like women who wear the hijab or any form of Muslim covering, some of them are not as comfortable going out in public," he said. "They are only going out for essential trips outside the home for fear of more dirty looks, for fear of verbal assault and it's unfortunate, it really is."

But Mustafa said that some positive outcomes could result from the negative actions of late.

"What it's actually done in our community is galvanize our community... It's incidents like these that I really think are just going to get people to come out and vote."

Low turnout

Mustafa said Muslims traditionally have had a lower voter turnout that the national average. In the last federal election in 2011, he said the estimate among Canadian Muslims was 30 to 35 per cent but grassroots efforts are trying to change that and raise that percentage substantially.

Cheryl Collier, an associate professor of political science at the University of Windsor, said that voting in Canada tends to increase when issues prompt voters to get involved in an election.

"One of the things we know about Canadians is they tend to vote against things, much more so than for things," she said in a telephone interview on Thursday night.

In elections where voters are satisfied with either the status quo or the projected outcome, Collier said they won't show up at the polls.

When they get upset about the issues, they vote.

"If they think though that they're strongly motivated to vote against something — either against a government, against a policy, or maybe against some event that indicates a party is moving in a certain direction, then that might be a strong motivator to get them out the polls when they normally wouldn't," she said.


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