Members of Muslim communities in four Ontario cities will gather for demonstrations Saturday to “take a clear stand against violent extremism and terrorism,” according to organizers.
Rallies are planned in Ottawa, Toronto, London and Kingston in response to recent terrorist attacks in Ottawa, Paris and elsewhere.
The impetus for Saturday’s rallies came from many Muslims teenagers and activists who feel like “our faith is being associated with very unseemly elements,” said Shahzad Mustafa, an organizer of the Toronto event.
Mustafa, who is father to four girls ranging in age from 11 to 19, said it’s important to set an example to a younger generation that extremism must always be denounced and that Canadian Muslims have to continue being part of the national political discussion.
“It’s important to have a public reiteration and affirmation of our values, which are grounded in Islamic traditions of peace, human dignity and dialogue,” Mustafa said.
Recent terrorist attacks in Canada, France, Australia and elsewhere, carried out by religious extremists for perceived slights against Islam, have also given rise to a wave of anti-Muslim acts including attacks on mosques.
Shortly after a gunman stormed Parliament Hill on Oct. 22, 2014, killing honour guard Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a mosque was defaced in Alberta with the words “go home” spray-painted on the building. In November, a mosque in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., had its windows smashed. Within weeks, the same happened to a mosque in Kingston.
In France — site of attacks that left 17 people dead, including staff members of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo — there has been a wave of anti-Muslim bigotry and intimidation. The Union of Islamic Organizations in France claimed earlier this month there had been more than 50 anti-Muslim attacks in the country since the terror incidents, including the firebombing of mosques.
The French government, meanwhile, has been trying to counter propaganda from extremist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS calling for young French Muslims to join them in conflict zones like Syria and Iraq. A new website unveiled this week, titled Stop Jihadism, features a video that looks similar to propaganda from ISIS and other violent jihadist groups, but rather than glorify their actions the video aims to debunk their claims. The graphic images of crucifixions, beheadings and other acts of extreme violence committed by such groups are overlaid with warnings about what awaits any would-be holy warriors who want to leave France for a warzone.
“They tell you: ‘Sacrifice yourself with us, you will defend a just cause.’” one portion reads, followed by, “In reality: You will discover hell on earth and die alone, away from home.”
The website also features a rather simplistic checklist of sorts, with tips for parents on how to spot latent extremism in their kids. Has your teenager stopped listening to music? He might be a jihadist!
Here in Canada, the federal government just unveiled a sweeping new set of laws increasing police and intelligence powers, meant to counteract and diffuse terrorist plots, including a new criminal penalty for promoting or glorifying terrorist acts. A similar law already exists in France.
Those issues will likely weigh heavily on demonstrators this weekend.
Mustafa said Canadian Muslim organizations have been too reticent to weigh in such matters, with many “afraid to talk” about certain political questions, especially as it relates to terrorism.
“Muslims do need to be more involved in the political process, to make our voices heard,” he said. “I want to build bridges so our kids have something to aspire to.”