The Next Chapter

Why Ausma Zehanat Khan wrote a novel inspired by the 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting

A Deadly Divide puts Muslim cop Esa Khattak in the aftermath of a deadly attack on a mosque in Quebec.
A Deadly Divide is a novel by Ausma Zehanat Khan. (Alan Klehr, Raincoast Books)

This interview originally aired on June 1, 2019.

Real-world events inspire Ausma Zehanat Khan's thrilling novels. Her most recent book, A Deadly Divide, was inspired by the recent wave of mass shootings in places of worship: the Easter Sunday church bombings in Sri Lanka, the Christ Church mosque attacks in New Zealand and the Quebec City mosque shooting in 2017.

In A Deadly DivideMuslim cop Esa Khattak and his partner are called to Quebec in the aftermath of a mass shooting. To discover the truth, they have to unravel threads of fear, racism and politics.

Real tragedies inspiring fiction

"I think [these stories] allow me to uncover why crimes like these take place. What's underneath them and what's the motivation? What is the deeper mystery in the human heart that would allow something like this?  It's important to understand how people get from a place of seeming normal to being able and willing to enact this kind of violence. It's a way of telling stories that may seem inaccessible at a human level."

A Muslim protagonist

"[Esa Khattak] understands that his community is vulnerable and that they feel the weight of suspicion and fear from the dominant groups in society. They're also carrying this weight of a particular political discourse and discourses in popular culture about what the perceptions of this community are. As a practicing Muslim, who derives strength and comfort from his faith, he knows that intimately. He can see those points of vulnerability that his colleagues may not be able to see and he would obviously not be blinded by the same prejudice in the case of some of the characters in A Deadly Divide. In that sense, he's able to give comfort to his co-religionists, but never loses that edge of his own as a law enforcement officer."

Growing dangers in Canada

"There is a rapidly increasing number of white supremacist groups. They're attracting members and recruiting members across all social strata. They're sophisticated in terms of how they use online platforms and how they're able to recruit. What they're doing in terms of how they're spreading their message is currently understudied.

"I learned that the groups that have been promoting this agenda often call for violence against Muslim communities, but not, of course, exclusively against Muslim communities. They're also against communities of colour, Jewish communities and, in some cases, women. It's a growing movement. I think often that people who aren't directly experiencing the effects of either hate speech or hateful incidents don't appreciate how it's moving or edging toward the mainstream."

Researching for authenticity

"The stories are closely aligned to events in real life. For the books to have an impact, veracity and authenticity, and for people to find my point of view credible, they have to know that I've put this kind of work in and this kind of research.

"Another big thing for me is that we simply don't know enough about these pressing human rights issues of our day. I'm hoping that this will give people a chance to get an introduction to those issues."

Ausma Zehanat Khan's comments have been edited for clarity and length.


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