Quebec: Uniting to fulfil mosque attack victim's dream

Muslim community in Quebec City increases security after January attack and finds ways to honour the victims.

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    A sign saying 'no violence' and 'terrorism has no religion or identity' is placed at a memorial for the Quebec victims [Christinne Muschi/Reuters]
    A sign saying 'no violence' and 'terrorism has no religion or identity' is placed at a memorial for the Quebec victims [Christinne Muschi/Reuters]

    Mamadou Tanou Barry once dreamed of bringing a permanent supply of fresh water to his native town in Guinea

    But his dream was brutally cut short when a gunman opened fire on a mosque in Quebec City, killing Barry and five other Muslim men as they prayed.

    The attack at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre on January 29 sent shockwaves across Canada, and prompted candlelit vigils, rallies, and an outpouring of support for the victims' families and the larger Muslim community.

    Now, three months after the killings, Barry's family, their supporters, and the Guinean community in Quebec City have launched a campaign to commemorate all six victims - and turn Barry's unrealised goal into reality.

    Organisers hope to raise about $18,000 to establish two water wells in central Guinea, which is where Barry, a father of two, and his friend, Ibrahima Barry, a father of four who was also killed in the attack, were originally from.

    The wells will be dug in their memory, and in the memory of the other victims: Aboubaker Thabti, Abdelkrim Hassane, Khaled Belkacemi, and Azzedine Soufiane.

    "We can't replace these fathers," Souleymane Bah, president of the Guinean Association of Quebec, said. But the project will show the men's families that the world has not forgotten about them, he told Al Jazeera. 

    "All we're asking is for sensitivity, joy, and generosity from people, in the hopes of realising this dream."

    OPINION: Why the Quebec mosque shooting happened

    Organisers hope to build the wells in Guinea this summer in collaboration with a French NGO.

    Kim Vincent, another campaign volunteer, said the goal is "to create some sort of positive action as a result of such a horrible event".

    Security measures

    The Muslim community across Canada, and in Quebec in particular, is still coming to terms with the deadly attack.

    Mohamed Labidi, interim president of the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, said the first priority after the shooting was to re-open the mosque and bring some semblance of normality back to the Muslim community in the city.

    "We spent one week cleaning and putting the space back in order," Labidi said. "After, we tried to re-launch all the activities we did before," including prayer services, meetings, and Arabic lessons.

    "Especially for those who lived through the tragedy, who were eye-witnesses, yes, they were quite traumatised by it, and we feel it daily. But it didn't stop them from coming back to the mosque to pray."

    He said mosque officials have taken steps to provide greater security at the mosque, which prior to the attack was always open, especially during prayer times, giving anyone access to the building.

    The mosque is now locked, but about 1,000 electronic entry passes have been distributed to regular congregants, Labidi said, and plans to reinforce the building's glass facade and build more emergency exits are under way.

    He said putting a better security system in place was a long-standing priority, but the attack created a sense of urgency.

    "The hateful acts started with graffiti on the walls, continued with leaflets passed around to houses in the neighbourhood, and culminated with the pig's head" that was left on the doorstep of the mosque in June 2016, Labidi said.

    "All that put us on guard that something was being prepared. It was like a race against the clock."

    In the immediate aftermath of the attack, both Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard described it as "a terrorist act".

    But the alleged shooter, Alexandre Bissonnette, does not face explicit "terrorism" or hate crimes charges. The 27-year-old has been charged with six counts of first-degree murder, and five counts of attempted murder.

    Labidi said charging Bissonnette with "terrorism" is important because it would send a clear message to society at large "that hate can cause tragedies, [and] can cause audacious criminal acts".

    Anti-Islam rallies

    In the months since the attack, anti-Muslim rhetoric has seen a rise in Canada.

    Far-right hate groups, spurned on by Conservative Party politicians, have recently become more vocal, rallying in several major Canadian cities against a federal parliamentary motion on Islamophobia.

    Passed in March, the federal motion condemns all forms of systemic racism, including Islamophobia, and tasks a parliamentary committee to study the issue, and track hate crimes.

    Opponents said the bill would lead to Islamic law in Canada and stifle freedom of speech, and far-right groups held protests against it at city halls across the country, often shouting anti-Muslim slogans.

    OPINION: Quebec mosque shooting - Beyond the official rhetoric

    Mosques have been vandalised in Montreal and Ottawa, and Montreal police recorded a spike in reported hate crimes in the city immediately after the attack in Quebec City.

    Elsewhere, anti-Muslim protesters calling for a ban on Islam picketed outside a Toronto mosque in February, and several incidents of anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim graffiti have been reported.

    A poll released earlier this week found that 59 percent of Quebecers thought that racial discrimination is a "very serious" or "somewhat serious" issue.

    Still, Labidi said the Muslim community received a great show of solidarity and sympathy from people across Quebec and Canada following the attack, and that this openness and sense of inclusion is still being felt today.

    "There are very positive signs," he said.

    "It continues, and we hope it doesn't fade because I hope that everyone learnt the lesson from this, to have a better integration of Muslims and a better openness towards Muslims from their co-citizens in Quebec and Canada."

    Six people were killed in the attack on January 29 [Mathieu Belanger/Reuters]

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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