Muslims report no backlash in Sarnia

Marco Vigliotti

Sarnia’s Muslim Association has condemned the attacks on Canadian soldiers in Ottawa and Quebec as “senseless” acts that “go against Islam and all of its teachings.”

Aruba Mahmud, the group’s outreach and education secretary, says the deaths of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the hands of suspected radical Islamists have “deeply troubled Muslims here in Sarnia, and across Canada.”

“When I heard about it, I thought what a sick thing to do,” she told the Journal.

Cirillo, 24, was gunned down Oct. 22 as he stood guard at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. His killer Michael Zehaf-Bibeau then charged the halls of Parliament before being fatally wounded in the ensuing gunfight with security and police personnel.

Vincent, 53, was killed Oct. 20 after he and another Canadian Forces member were struck by a car while walking through a parking lot in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que.

The driver, Martin Couture-Rouleau, was shot dead by police following a dramatic car chase.

While expressing concerns about the potential for the attacks to stoke anti-Muslim animosity, Mahmud – who wears a hijab – said she believed Sarnia to be a welcoming and tolerant community.

“I think (a negative backlash) is always a fear,” she said. “(But) Sarnia is very friendly. People have been wonderful, they have reached out.”

Muslims have become targets for retaliation in the wake of terrorist attacks perpetrated by those with radical Islamist sympathies.

The fear of reprisal after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States was so great that some Islamic leaders urged their followers to avoid wearing religious garbs, Mahmud said.

Even Sikhs, she noted, were advised to be cautious when wearing their turbans in public.

Mahmud said she has experienced that sort of anti-Muslim hostility first-hand, including during a recent trip with her father to a mall in neighbouring Port Huron, Mich.

Upon seeing them, a man at the mall, she said, loudly declared to his cohort that he “didn’t want to get his head chopped off.”

And just last week, vandals smashed the windows and spray-painted racist messages on the exterior of a mosque in Cold Lake, Alta.

Community members in the northern Alberta city, however, quickly rallied to the Muslim community’s defense, pitching in to clean and repair the religious centre.

“(These sorts of events) can bring out the ugliness of retaliation but there’s also a lot of beautiful examples,” Mahmud added.