Muslim Awareness Week hopes to inspire dialogue and understanding
MONTREAL -- Almost three years after the attack that left six people dead and 19 injured in the Grand Mosque of Quebec, the Quebec Muslim community continues to promote dialogue to counter prejudice.
The 2nd Muslim Awareness Week (SSM) kicks off on Saturday and will host a variety of activities until Jan. 31 including events to discover Algerian and Syrian food in the Montreal region and open doors in participating mosques in the metropolis.
"There are no dress guidelines," promised Samira Laouni, founding member of the SSM. "There will be resource people in each participating mosque to answer questions. Our goal is that we talk to each other and that we can offer a safe space for people who want to know each other and ask questions."
Laouni explained that the majority of activities take place in the greater Montreal region because most of the 300,000 Quebecers of Muslim faith are settled there. The Quebec region, however, has not been forgotten.
"We have a lot more activities in and around Montreal, like in Laval, Brossard and Longueuil, but Quebec too is very concerned. Their citizens' committee is organizing a big supper, open to the public, on the day of the commemoration, in the church just next to the Great Mosque. They also organize conferences and round tables," said Laouni.
THE SCARY PARADOX
Three years since the January 29, 2017 tragedy, Laouni observed that the momentum of solidarity coming from the four corners of Quebec and Canada is still very present, but on the opposite extreme there has also been a "meteoric rise" in hate speech towards Muslims on social media.
"That's what scares us the most! It is this categorical, but very clear opposition between the pole that hates us and the pole that is very sympathetic to our cause and that considers us as full citizens and who wants, together with us, an inclusive Quebec for all," said Laouni, who admits to having received countless counts of hate speech launched at her, sometimes very virulent.
She has also campaigned for the organization C.O.R (communication-ouverture-rapprochement interculturel) for 10 years believing that the situation has gotten worse since the Quebec mosque attack.
"In my organization, we receive people who transfer the hate messages they receive to us, to ask us what to do. What action to take Unsurprisingly, many of these hateful comments on Facebook and Twitter target Muslim women. These are quickly referred to the police and aid organizations since the psychological consequences are significant," said Laouni.
The objective this week is therefore to 'break a glass ceiling of prejudice', hence the idea of creating Muslim Awareness Week which focuses on dialogue and exchanges between citizens.
"The tragedy made us think a lot. Someone committed an immeasurable tragedy, the first of its kind after that of Polytechnique (...) Polytechnique, it was because it was women and there it was because it was Muslims who prayed," observes the MAW spokesperson. "We see that these are people who know nothing at all about Muslim people and who, behind their screen, think they are allowed to say anything."
She and the MAW volunteers would very much like Muslim Awareness Week to one day extend outside major urban centres, particularly where far-right movements, such as La Meute, thrive.
"It is being done for the moment in Quebec and Montreal, but I hope that it will expand and happen for example in Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivieres and elsewhere. We have to reach out to our regions to get to know our fellow Quebecers," said Laouni.
ACTIVITIES IN MONTREAL
- Panel organized by the Center for the prevention of radicalization leading to violence carrying forms of discrimination against various minorities, January 28 between 9 a.m. and noon at Place Dupuis.
- Commemorations of the 2017 Quebec Mosque tragedy, Jan. 29 at 5 p.m., Montreal City Hall (space limited) and Jan. 29 at 11 a.m. at McGill University.
- "The Mosque: a Community's Struggle" documentary film screening, Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. at Concordia University and Jan. 30 at 6 p.m. at McGill.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2019.