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Your anti-Muslim verbal assault overwhelmed us – but here’s what we would have liked to say

FACTS & ARGUMENTS

Go back? But to where?

Your verbal assault overwhelmed us, but the reaction of bystanders was comforting. Here's what you should know, Tayyab Rashid and Afroze Anjum write

Facts & Arguments is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

You know who you are. The day when thousands marched in Toronto, we were chatting congenially with two of our Caucasian friends. You chose to speak to us, the two South Asians.

We had just picked up our son, who had completed an entrance exam for a senior school. We were standing on the steps of the school with the vice-principal and another parent, when you spoke to us from the street in a loud, angry voice. "You are Muslims. You are terrorists. Go back to your country, we support you with our taxes."

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While we were struggling to find our voice, another parent intervened.

You called him "Nazi."

When the vice-principal stated clearly, "That's not acceptable" and called security, you left with a parting shot: "Canada is my country. Go back."

Our two sons, ages 9 and 11, stood in the backdrop and watched this story unfolding with fear-filled eyes.

As soon as you left, our friend immediately went to our sons, patted them on the cheek affectionately and reassured them, "You are safe." She then came to me and apologized for the incident.

"Apologize for what?" I said.

Your verbal assault overwhelmed us, but the behaviour of the witnesses comforted us and went a long way toward not letting us feel like victims. The experience also confirmed that when bystanders take swift action and engage an attacker, racial discrimination and bullying stop.

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On our way home, our younger son cried, "Will they send you back? But I am a Canadian, I was born here."

By profession, we are two psychologists, but we are parents first. We both were at a loss for words, shell-shocked by your angry explosion. Somehow we found ways to explain to our sons that no one will send their parents back. And we repeated, "One person yelled at us, three others confronted him."

When you decided that we are Muslim, you couldn't hold back a verbal assault. What made you assume that we are Muslim? My wife does not wear a hijab. I do not sport a beard. Yet you swiftly deployed stereotypical fear and anger. Perhaps these emotions have been smouldering inside you for a long time, inflamed by the winds of recent events.

You did not give us the opportunity to respond. In hindsight, and with the utopian hope that somehow our reflections may reach you, here is what we would have liked to say.

First, we are not terrorists. Islam forms the core part of our identity, but this core is not in conflict with Canadian values. Almost all Muslims want to live harmoniously in Canada. There is no evidence to suggest they fantasize about eternal heaven through acts of terrorism. Yes, it is also true that some individuals identifying as Muslim have committed acts of terrorism. However, a minuscule minority of fanatics does not define the myriad of ethnicities and sociocultural groups that make up Muslim Canadians.

Second, we do not siphon social benefits. Both of us are licensed psychologists and work in the public sector. We pay taxes. In the past 11 years, we have worked with struggling youth in Toronto's Regent Park, with survivors of domestic violence, with refugee families and with survivors of trauma and disaster. We are currently helping adolescents and young people untangle complex knots of mental health and stigma by boosting their resilience.

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Finally, evidence shows that when people from diverse backgrounds share their experiences, despite the challenges, they often create collective economic, social and cultural good for their communities. They also experience greater well-being, which in turn creates a shared sense of belonging. Canadians from diverse backgrounds have created this sense of belonging.

The day we met, history caught us amidst the crescendo of a protest march, echoing the intense conflict south of the border. If we were to widen the lens of time, we would realize we were all standing on land once inhabited by Indigenous people.

Instead of translating our ancestor's collective wrongs into meaningful right acts of reconciliation, some of us are resurrecting a similar historical pattern, this time with a new target: Muslims.

It seems the rise of populous politics has instilled a false consensus that somehow verbal assault of Muslims is okay – that doing so is somehow defending Canadian freedom, democracy and rights.

Go back, you say? Go back to where? Canada is our home.

Our intent in writing this piece is not to blame or to shame, but to promote a new path. We may find ourselves at opposite ends of a dark tunnel, our hearts and minds constricted, seeing nothing but darkness. But is that really what we want for Canada and Canadians?

Instead, let's shake hands, sit, look eye-to-eye, smile, listen with open hearts and curious minds and get to know each other better. It will be a good start.

Tayyab Rashid and Afroze Anjum live in Toronto.

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