We Are All Mississauga

 

Mississauga is one of the most diverse cities in Ontario and that diversity is, in so many ways, an incredible blessing. 

While visible minorities have no doubt experienced racism in the city, the multicultural landscape of Mississauga makes residents -- younger ones in particular -- less fearful of some great foreign "unknown." We've grown up with diversity and the idea of disparate but coexisting cultures isn't new -- the GTA is, in many ways, defined by that very coexistence. Cities like Toronto, Brampton and Mississauga have incredible layers and pockets that celebrate and represent the global fabric of the cities. We have Chinatowns and Little India's and Italy's. We have Koreatowns and Middle Eastern garment stores and Polish and Ukrainian community centers. 

I've traveled somewhat extensively, and the cultural homogenization in some areas of Canada, the U.S., Europe and Asia is both stifling and isolating. If you look or speak differently, everyone stares at you -- sometimes with hostility. You can feel the fear and the distrust. You're subject to stereotypes and assumptions. While that can certainly happen in Mississauga, the proliferation of multiculturalism somewhat neutralizes that fear of the unknown. 

We are one of the luckiest cities on earth, so it's disappointing to see overt racism in the wake of the tragic Paris attacks that took place this past weekend. 

According to a recent article in The Globe and Mail, a Muslim woman experienced Islamophobia at a Mississauga Loblaws. Writer Shenaz Kermalli's younger sister Fatema said a woman asked her "not to blow her up" and that shoppers avoided standing near her in the check-out line. 

Kermalli acknowledges that, fortunately, the incidents were not violent in nature and that racism, as all visible minorities know, is (sadly) part and parcel of being alive. What astonishes her (and us, too) is that this happened in Mississauga. A diverse city, she points out, where Muslim Arab MP Omar Alghabra was recently elected. 

It also seems like Fatema was lucky. 

According to CityNews, a Muslim woman was recently violently attacked in Toronto near an elementary school in the Flemingdon Park area. Reports say that the woman was picking up her children on Monday when two men assaulted her. According to police, the attackers called the woman a "terrorist," punched her in the stomach and tore off her hijab (a traditional Muslim head covering). The woman's cell phone was stolen during the altercation and the police are treating the incident as a hate crime. 

As far as hate crimes go, police in Peterborough are also investigating arson at a mosque. In Kitchener, a Hindu temple (Hindus are not Muslims, but that distinction probably doesn't matter to people who are ignorantly and treacherously angered by brown skin) was vandalized

There have been petitions demanding that Canada halt its planned welcome of 25,000 Syrian refugees to the country by the end of the year, even though multiple experts have said that it's rare for settled refugees to plan or commit terrorist acts. 

While it's important to screen refugees, the people fleeing Syria are, in fact, fleeing terrorism and acts of violence committed by -- you guessed it -- ISIS/ISIL (among others). To close our doors and turn desperate people away because of heightened anxieties is to further isolate the needy and embolden the forces that seek to exploit fear and distrust of the west (an area where the actions of leaders are too often conflated with the values of the people). 

And that brings us back to Mississauga and the idea of stereotypes and misconceptions. 

Our city is, by and large, filled with incredibly tolerant people of all backgrounds. We've had cultural clashes, such as the ongoing mosque dispute, but we mostly live in harmony with one another. 

We're an example of multi-culturalism working -- and working well. 

We function well because of our openness, our tolerance and our lack of fear. When Muslims come to Mississauga, they aren't confined to ghettos, treated with distrust by residents and authority figures and isolated by abrasive and discontented stares and glowers. I mean, discrimination can and does happen -- but not as frequently as it might in more homogenized communities. Our city's treatment of newcomers neutralizes the feelings of hopelessness and alienation that might drive a depressed or frustrated person into the embrace of extremism. Extremist organizations like ISIS/ISIL work because they don't just instill terror in recruits or promise a spectacular afterlife (although they do both of those things) -- they extend a hand first. They promise everything from prosperity to recognition to a sense of belonging. They ask people to die or kill for a cause that unites them with a greater, broader community. Sure, they appeal to goons and violent zealots, but they also appeal to the displaced and disaffected. The lonely. The angry. The ignorant. 

Our values make us special. They're shared by so many, including the Muslims who live, work and play in Mississauga. They're not only positive, they're protective -- Canada has been spared so much of the tension plaguing Europe because it's adopted and enacted a fair, careful and intelligent immigration process. 

What should we (all of us, Muslims included) do in the wake of large-scale terror attacks? We should do as we have always done and coexist peacefully. The Paris attacks have not made Mississauga less safe from Muslim shoppers. If you would have never cracked a cruel joke about a bombing in a grocery store last week, why do so today? If you've never been afraid of the Muslim family next door, why worry now? Let's do as we have always done. 

Why? Because it's working. Wars against countries are simpler than wars against ideas. ISIS is all about ideas, even if they're attached to landmasses. The best way to combat ideas? Fight for hearts and minds. It's what we've always done. It's what we should continue to do.  

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