My Facebook feed was buzzing with worry and fear: half a world away, Beirut had fallen victim to a terror attack. My Muslim and Arab contacts shook while Western/white peers stayed silent.
Then the news of Paris started spreading. As the attacks unfolded, I found myself both horrified and terrified: please, let it not be Muslims! I wish I were surprised by my thoughts, but an attack on a western country means more than senseless Western deaths. With every attack, Muslims, and non-Muslim Arabs and South Asians everywhere would be targets of retaliation. As it became clear that Daesh (ISIS) was behind the attack, I logged off Facebook.
I had evening plans. I was set to celebrate Diwali – a Hindu holiday – with a number of South Asian friends. We quickly reached out to each other and questioned our Friday outing: Would it be appropriate to celebrate on a day like this? More importantly, would it be safe?
On Saturday, Facebook released French-flag filters. It outraged a fraction of my Facebook users as tragedies in Beirut, Syria, Japan and Mexico were not acknowledged. I understand: their lives and the lives of their loved ones were largely ignored due to their geographic and economic situation. Posts displayed mixed emotions: sympathy and betrayal.
The questions kept running through my mind: What if a Daesh sympathizer(s) attacked Canada? What if anti-Muslim extremists attacked me, my mosque or my friends? What if born-and-raised Muslims, in fear of radicalization, decided to turn on converts, on me? What will my family (non-Muslim) think of me – will they reject me, will they defend me, will defending me come at a price to me, to them?
By Sunday, a friend asked how I was doing. I answered: “I feel like I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop!” To my dismay, that same afternoon, the news broke that a mosque in Peterborough, Ontario, had been intentionally set on fire. Unnecessary apologies from Muslims, Imams and mosques began flooding in. Muslims, Arabs and South Asians quickly began trying to explain the differences between the faiths, cultures and excluding violence from Islam.
I turned away from social media and instead turned to my friends and loved ones. I checked on them, on their kids and their families, and they checked on me. I didn’t want to filter questions or comments, or make political statements or apologies; I just wanted to crawl into a hole.
Monday morning, my best friend found note in her mailbox:
Canada is no place for immigrants or terrorists. Go back home!
The note was reported to the police but I cannot help but worry for my friend, my fellow Muslims, Canadians and humanity.
Following the Paris attack, we did not only lose lives, we have collectively lost part of our humanity: when the bombs and guns go off – we lose humans; when retaliation missiles go off and fires are set – we lose humans; but when groups of people fear their fellow men – we lose our humanity.
So not only do I pray for Paris, Beirut, Syria, Japan and Mexico. But as a Muslim, a convert, a Canadian and mostly as a human: I pray for humanity. And I pray that my fellow humans remember their own humanity and compassion.