The arc of xenophobic terror – whether "inspired" by the Islamic State or white supremacists – has recently increased in frequency and breadth. Within the past month alone, Flint, Portland, suburban Virginia, London, Manchester, Brussels and Paris have all witnessed acts of violence intended to maim, kill and sow division.
While governments have the responsibility to protect their citizens, there is much that each of us can and must do to ensure that our social fabric is not ruptured by the nihilistic ideology of a few.
First and foremost, we must challenge xenophobia within our social circles: Whether it's casual racism at dinner parties or the dinner table; offhand remarks on social media; or rants in private. And let's be clear – such conversations occur within all communities. Polite silence in response to dehumanizing speech is equivalent to acquiescence. We must continuously send unequivocal signals that such attitudes will not find sanction. This was demonstrated by principled individuals who confronted a racist tirade by a mother demanding a "white" doctor for her ailing son at a Mississauga clinic.
Another example: a grassroots initiative by more than 200 imams, teachers and chaplains who signed a statement refusing to perform funeral prayers for the perpetrators of the London Bridge attack. This action finds precedence in Islamic jurisprudence, and is not taken lightly. Its intent is to deter extremists who may think that their actions may somehow find sanction. Leeds Imam Qari Asim said: "We needed to send a strong message – effectively, you're not welcome in our community either in life or in death."
Surprisingly, Oxford professor Tariq Ramadan disparaged this effort, calling it a "publicity stunt." While he condemned the terrorist attacks, nonetheless, Prof. Ramadan characterized the perpetrators as possible "victims," who may have been "instrumentalized" by nefarious agents. This is a very dangerous attitude, for it absolves individuals of moral responsibility for their actions. While violent extremists may be misguided, they make a conscious choice to kill. They must be held accountable. Islamic teacher Rehanah Sadiq, one of the signatories, couldn't be clearer: "Every individual is accountable for his or her deeds. No one else is responsible."
As individuals, we can also engage in "cross-fertilization" of empathy by means of acts that breed goodwill across communities. We have witnessed such profound efforts in response to recent acts of terrorism. Quebec Imam Hassan Guillet, who spoke at the funeral of Azzedine Soufiane, Mamadou Tanou Barry and Ibrahima Barry, reminded us to extend empathy to the family of the alleged murderer.
Imam Mohammed Mahmoud intervened to protect the van driver from an angry mob, after the van had plowed into worshippers leaving the Finsbury Park Mosque, killing Makram Ali. Mr. Mahmoud, with the help of bystanders, restrained the driver, while exhorting people to wait for the police to arrive. The imam is credited with saving the man's life.
In Cairo, Coptic Christians have organized daily iftars for Muslims breaking their fast, by spreading out tables with home-cooked meals. All are welcome. This goodwill gesture is in defiance of Islamist militants who have targeted the Christian community, murdering scores in recent attacks on churches and a bus convoy.
Right here in Canada, the family of Christine Archibald honoured her legacy of compassion by encouraging people to donate their time and money to charitable organizations in her name. Ms. Archibald, killed in the London Bridge attack, was a social worker who respected the inherent dignity of every one. Muslims can honour Ms. Archibald's memory by directing their end-of-Ramadan charitable efforts with the message "Chrissy sent me."
When we engage in acts of kindness across communities, we recognize our common humanity and the spirit of human resilience. It is the moral foundation of our society. This is what the extremists seek to destroy.
One year after the assassination of Jo Cox by a right-wing extremist, her husband, Brendan Cox, wrote in The New York Times: "We all have to play our part, by building closer communities and by showing that we stand united against hatred – no matter where it comes from."
This is a message we must take to heart, with the resolve that love, compassion and empathy will defeat hatred, division and racism.