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OPINION: We can all do something to counter hatred

Published on

Tara Jeffrey

When Aruba Mahmud asks a room full of Sarnia elementary students if they think she was born in Canada, not one raises a hand.

The 32-year-old outreach and education secretary for the Sarnia Muslim Association is often asked “what country are you from?” or “how do you handle the Canadian winter?” before having to explain that she’s in fact a born-and-raised Sarnia girl.

But she’s not discouraged; even in the wake of a deadly terrorist attack at a Quebec mosque and a controversial U.S. travel ban targeting individuals from Muslim majority countries; even as she scrolls through the racist comments on her Facebook timeline, or speaks through tears at a frigid, solemn vigil on the steps outside Sarnia’s City Hall.

She trudges on.

Aruba chooses hope, and so do I.

It’s easy to be disheartened by the hateful rhetoric that so easily circulates in my small, largely conservative town. Mahmud has been pushing to speak in local schools, where alarming anti-immigrant sentiments have been reported — to help break down the ethnic stereotypes and Islamophobia in Sarnia-Lambton, a place some 60 Muslim families call home.

That includes eight Syrian Refugee families who have been finding work, learning English, attending school and obtaining drivers licences as their 12-month private sponsorship windows come to a close. Mahmud tells me they’re the proudest Canadians she’s ever met.

Harboring an irrational dislike for Muslim people — or Christian, Jewish, black, aboriginal, LGBTQ people for that matter — is not something you’re born with. Intolerance is not in our DNA. If today’s political climate has taught us anything, it’s that words are a powerful tool: they can inflame hatred and incite violence.

So why not choose to use them for good? It’s easy to feel like we can’t make a difference from our own little corners, but I choose to believe we can.

Not sure where to start? Here’s a few ideas:

Become an ally: Reach out to your local Muslim, immigrant and refugee communities and let them know you stand with them. A simple note of support goes a long way.

Educate yourself: Consume a variety of legitimate news sources, engage in healthy discussions (bonus points if it’s in person and not the comments section) and do some fact-checking before you share that offensive post or repeat something you overheard at work.

Contact your MP: Politicians across Canada are being bombarded with constituents urging them to stand up for Canadian Muslims living in an increasingly volatile environment. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association provides a handy template on its website.

Talk to your kids: Websites like are a good start, with educational videos and a pledge to reject Islamophobia in all its forms. The Lambton Kent District School Board has sent home a newsletter expressing its commitment to inclusivity and safety for all students, and providing a list of resources for students and staff who may have trouble coping in the wake of recent world events.







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