It has taken almost a week to order my thoughts on the atrocity committed in Québec City on January 29, 2017. Similar to the Polytechnique Montréal Massacre, I began with denial (this can’t be real) and slowly sank into the realization that of course it is real, and more than that, predictable.
Québecers came out by the thousands to mourn the men: Ibrahima Barry, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Azzeddine Soufiane, Khaled Belkacemi, Abdelkrim Hassane, and Aboubaker Thabti. The majority of people are sympathetic to the victims and their families and find the actions of the killer deplorable, shameful, and literally hate-filled.
But there is a faction of Québecers that obsess on national identity, that will define only pure laine French speaking people with exclusively French or Québec ancestors as true Québécois. Québec was populated with Catholic families that bred to the point of exhaustion. It was common in my youth to hear “my grandmother had 20 children, 14 of whom lived,” or “my grandmother had 16 children, 6 of whom died.”
During our Quiet Revolution when Catholicism was roundly rejected, and coinciding with access to modern birth control, the birth rate dropped dramatically. Most Western nations count on immigration to boost our population. There is a misplaced ideal that Europeans will continue to emigrate to the Americas as they did in the middle of the 20th century. Well, Europe was a great place to live if you take away those nasty World Wars. I venture that much of that immigration would never have happened if their homelands had not been invaded and bombed, if their economies had not been decimated. Why leave Europe in any great numbers now?
Immigration is now from a different part of the world. Québec wants French speaking immigrants, so they are going to come from the nations that were under French colonial rule – and today most of those countries in parts of Africa happen to be largely Muslim. Québec’s Catholics had a long and well documented anti-Semitic bent, and now there is a way of thinking that since Québec became secular, ANY community that is very religious is wrong, or backwards, or out of touch – or not in line with the Québec identity.
There is a strange expectation that a French immigrant, that may leave their country devout in their religion, will arrive here and embrace our secular pork-loving ways immediately. (Québecers REALLY love pork, it all its renditions.)
As Muslims became visible through attire, language, or customs, the focus on the “other” switched from English, or Jew, onto this new community. Hijabs are ripped off women’s heads, nasty insults are freely thrown about, and mosques are vandalized. WIthout getting to know any Muslim individually, the whole group is assumed to have a set of beliefs that are inconsistent with Québec society.
I still find it hard to comprehend the radicalization of a non-Muslim born North American into an ISIS supporter. It is rare and when it happens it is front page news, and adds fuel to the fire. It is almost exclusively young men seeking a mission, a profound reason to fight something in the name of some ideology.
I sadly am not surprised that a pure laine Québec youth would self radicalize against the Muslim community when even our provincial governments spend inordinate amounts of time trying to decide how to contain and tame and assimilate the Muslims who live here. Even the fact that they won’t eat pork at a maple sugar shack is seen as an affront to our culture.
In this violent world it pains me to say, of all the types of violent attacks against specific communities, the massacre at the Québec City mosque does reflect the worst of my society, and in some ways was painfully predictable.
I am glad I have no children to worry about. I am glad that more of my life is behind me than ahead of me. I pray for peace in this divided world. I may hold my hands differently when I pray than another person does, but my prayers are the same as those who mourn the world over.
Peace be upon you.