Why are Muslim women living ‘in fear’ in this Canadian city? | News of Islamophobia
Canada – Dunia Nur was buying paint when it happened. Edmonton community organizer Alberta was speaking Somali with her aunt on the phone when a man in the store aggressively told her to “speak English”. When she tried to get out of the situation, he blocked her way.
“He was offended by the fact that I was speaking my language,” Al Jazeera told Nur, a Somali Canadian and president and co-founder of the Canadian African Civil Engagement Council. “I tried to move and then he blocked me.”
While the latest incident did not escalate further, Nur said it left him feeling insecure, especially after it happened shortly after a Muslim family was knocked down by a driver in London, Ontario in a deadly attack that police said was driven by anti-Muslim hatred.
It also came amid a string of verbal and physical attacks against predominantly black Muslim women in and around Edmonton since late last year – a reality Nur said has left many community members feeling scared to leave their homes. .
In late June, two sisters, Muslim women wearing hijab, were attacked by a man holding knives who threw racial insults at them on a path just outside the city. In other cases, Muslim women have been knocked to the ground while out on a walk or threatened awaiting public transit.
The city says Edmonton police have received reports of five incidents involving black women wearing the hijab since Dec. 8, 2020, and the police force’s hate crime unit arrested and filed charges against a suspect in each case.
But advocates of the Muslim community say incidents are often not reported. “We had a town hall meeting where a lot of women came out and actually said they had been attacked with knives before, they were told to go back to their homes, they experienced a lot of gender-based violence and crimes motivated by hatred – it was just reported, “said Nur.
“Black Muslim women are being attacked and they are being attacked because of anti-Black racism and they are being attacked because of Islamophobia[c] rhetoric and they are being attacked because they are women … I feel like we are now at a point where we are not sure what will happen to us when we go out. ”
The capital of the western Canadian province of Alberta, Edmonton was home to more than 972,000 residents in 2019, according to a municipal family poll.
In an email to Al Jazeera, Mayor Don Iveson’s office said some Edmontonas “have not received the message that racist and fanatical behavior is not welcome in our city.”
“There are systemic and long-term factors that contribute to this, there are also issues of specific prejudices in the hearts and minds of [Edmontonians] who need to know better – and there are many people who have been licensed, in various ways, to express their hatred in this community. And I, like most Edmontonians, want it to stop. Now, ”said the statement.
Iveson said Edmonton City Council supports calls to strengthen hate laws in Canada and has provided financial assistance to strengthen initiatives to address hatred and violence, including a task force to provide advice on how to make the community feel safe.
“The city, the Edmonton Police Service and the Edmonton Police Commission have responded with a work plan outlining 70 different actions that address the issues identified. “A more comprehensive strategy will emerge in early 2022,” the statement said.
The city council also passed a motion earlier this month directing Edmonton to engage further with blacks, Indigenous people and other communities of color to address harassment and violence.
The move also orders the mayor to write to the federal government “requesting a review and potentially updating the current definition of hate crime” for any racial, gender or cultural gap or prejudice, the city said.
Women ‘in fear’
But despite these measures, activist Wati Rahmat told Al Jazeera that “Muslim women are afraid” in Edmonton.
“I have had friends who have conversations about whether they should change the way they wear the hijab, or take off the hijab, or go out with a friend or not go out,” said Rahmat, who founded the Sisters’ Dialogue, a Muslim led by women, in response to attacks. The group is currently working on a safe service to accompany Muslim women who do not feel safe going out on their own.
Demands for more support in Edmonton come amid growing calls across Canada for the federal government to implement an action plan to curb Islamophobia, lawyers say. systematic racism and far-right fanaticism increase the risks of violence.
For many people, The June attack in London, Ontario – as well a deadly shot of 2017 in a Quebec City mosque and a fatal stabbing last year outside a mosque on the western edge of Toronto – show how deadly the problem can be.
“I do not think it is right for women to be afraid of going out,” Rahmat said.
Several Muslim advocacy groups, including the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), have also called for street harassment laws to be strengthened, as most of the recent attacks on Muslim women in Alberta have taken place in public.
Fatema Abdalla, NCCM communications coordinator, said at least 15 attacks on Muslim women were reported in the cities of Edmonton and Calgary over the past six months.
“These women were either on their daily walks or they were in a park or LRT [light-rail transit] STATION or some form of transit station, ”Abdalla told Al Jazeera, adding that the NCCM receives phone calls almost every week about verbal abuse targeting members of the Muslim community across the country.
“There are cases like these that we need to prevent from happening so that they no longer lead to such devastating attacks as the one we saw in London, Ontario,” she said.
Meanwhile, Muslim community leaders are taking steps to try to stop the violence on its own. Noor al-Henedy is director of communications at Edmonton’s Al Rashid Mosque, which organized self-defense courses for Muslim women this year.
While the community felt it was necessary to provide women with concrete means to get out of a bad situation – and the courses attracted overwhelming interest – al-Henedy said they also reflect a disturbing reality.
“It’s very sad and frustrating to be honest with you and I think it makes some people a little angry that we have to do this, that we have to use these measures,” al-Henedy told Al Jazeera in an interview. Marsh.
“We are worried about the next generation; we worry about our daughters, ”she added. “When a 15-year-old comes and tells you that she is too scared to cross the street, walking from school to home, it is extremely disturbing. A heartbreaking hail.
Nur at the Canadian African Civil Engagement Council said the organization is also working to provide psychological support as well as information to Muslim women to know what to do if attacked, including how and to whom to report an incident of violence.
She called on international organizations such as the United Nations to push Canada to take action to respond urgently to the situation in Edmonton.
“We need international attention and solidarity because we cannot do it ourselves and our public officials are failing us. “We need international help and intervention,” Nur said. “We are not right. We are really not well.”