Azzedine Soufiane died a hero one year ago Monday night. Witnesses say the father of three tried to tackle a gunman who burst into a Quebec City mosque at the end of evening prayers and was shot in the head.
The 57-year-old butcher and grocer, who one customer said sold the best calf liver in the capital, was among the six who died and the 19 who were injured in a heinous attack that forever marked Quebec and Canada last Jan. 29.
As we look back and look within on this sombre first anniversary, as we reflect on the lessons learned – and the lessons that ought to have been learned – from this tragedy, it is important not to lose sight of the victims. Who they were, who they left behind and the lives they led before they were cruelly cut short matters. They must be, and must remain, a focal point of our collective act of commemoration.
That term — victim — becomes a label, a faceless category that dimishes the human toll of a senseless crime like this. Whether it’s 14 women or 20 first graders or six Muslim men, a shared tragic status has a tendency to overwhelm individual identities and blur personal details.
These were fathers and sons, brothers and friends, before they were victims. They left behind six widows and 17 orphaned children. They are loved and they are missed.
Ibrahima Barry, 39, was the father of four young children, between the ages of 2 and 13. He worked in information technology for the Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec. In addition to his own wife and kids, Barry helped support his extended family back in the Republic of Guinea, in West Africa.
Ditto for his fellow Guinean, Mamadou Tanou Barry, who hailed from the same village. The two shared a name, but they were not related. They were close friends, but they were like brothers. Tanou Barry, 42, worked as an accountant and had two children and a wife. Some saw it as poignant that the two Barrys should die together.
They have names. They may sound foreign to some ears, but these were average folks with ordinary preoccupations. They had jobs and responsibilities and families. They may have been born elsewhere, but they were living the Canadian immigrant dream.
Khaled Belkacemi, 60 was a professor of food sciences at l’Université Laval. His wife was also a professor in the department. Belkacemi, an agricultural engineer, had degrees from his native Algeria as well as the Université de Sherbrooke. His area of expertise was the preservation of food. He was also an avid cook, boxer and joker. Belkacemi was a father of three.
Abdelkrim Hassane, 41, was also born in Algeria. He worked in information technology for the Quebec government. Hassane left behind a wife and three children, including an infant.
Aboubaker Thabti was a 44-year-old pharmacist who came to Canada from Tunisia. He was a hard-working family man with a wife and two kids, who toiled nights, managing only a few hours sleep. Thabti was also known for lending a helping hand to other newcomers. He lived a very short distance from the Centre culturel islamique de Québec where he was killed.
There are also the 19 injured, whose lives were forever altered by the shooting. Aymen Derbali will never walk again. The soccer-loving father of three was hit by seven bullets a year ago, leaving him a quadrapelegic. His hope now is to leave a rehab centre to return home to live with his family.
They were Muslims. Their presence in the mosque that night attests to their shared religion. Their faith made them targets for the lone gunman who stormed their place of worship that night, no matter how much some seek to deny this inescapable fact.
There are some who might only think of the victims as Muslims, as if a person can be reduced to a single characteristic. In an increasingly polarized society where their religion is often singled out as a source of discomfort, a reason for tension, a threat, some will use this as reason to hate. It should remind us instead of our common humanity.
We may pray to different Gods, or no god at all, we may have different beliefs or adhere to different lifestyles, we may come from different countries and backgrounds and cultures, but we are all humans who pay taxes, have hobbies, play with our kids and brave the frigid Quebec winters. In the end, we are more similar than we are different. There is more that unites us than should divide us.
That this even requires underscoring is a symptom of a worrying societal malaise that demands to be addressed. But on this day, it is important to remember the casualties of that terrible night a year ago as people.
Azzedine Soufiane. Ibrahima Barry. Mamdou Tanou Barry. Khaled Belkacemi. Abdelkrim Hassane. Aboubaker Thabti.
A butcher, an accountant, a professor, government workers. Fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, friends. Quebecers, Canadians, Muslims.