Ottawa Shootings: Time to Reexamine The Collective Muslim Psyche

Canadians are still recovering from the horrific shootings which took place in Parliament Hill last week. There’s a lot that can be discussed as we try to make sense of this tragedy; much has already been said: the potential motives of shooter Micheal Zehaf-Bibeau, the growing trend of lone-wolf terrorism, the commendable news coverage by the CBC, the contrast with the attacks in 1984 or the need for better support structures in mosques.

One area which I believe deserves mention is the response of the Muslim community in the wake of these events, and more importantly, the need for reevaluating the reactionary attitude taken by Muslims in such circumstances.

Canadian Muslims went into ‘panic mode’ soon after the shootings made headlines on news networks. Statements of condemnations were released immediately by all major Muslims organizations ranging from the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) to the Canadian Council of Imams. Friday sermons of the week were dedicated to addressing terrorism across the country and we were told repeatedly to report any ‘suspicious’ activity. Mosques beefed up security and braced themselves for a backlash; some Muslims felt too embarrassed and fearful to face fellow Canadians the next day.

All this took place at a time when we had little information about Bibeau; early reports weren’t even clear on whether the shooter was Muslim, some alleged he was a recent convert.  A clearer picture later emerged of a deeply troubled man with serious mental issues, a drug-addiction and a well developed criminal history. So unstable was his state that his mother suspects this rampage could have been him lashing out at the government for delaying to issue his passport for travel to Saudi Arabia – not Syria, as earlier reports claimed.

It was also found that Bibeau had no links to ISIS or other organized militants – he was a lone-wolf who acted alone. This became quite evident when video surveillance of the attack was released; he appears in it very much like a character from the violent video games he used to fervently play. Islam did play a role in the shooter’s life, but early reports suggested his faith was merely incidental.

As expected, right-wing Prime Minister Harper immediately framed the shooting as a terrorist attack to advance his pro-war agenda and strengthen terrorism laws that sacrifice civil liberties. When Justin Borque killed three RCMP officers this summer for being ‘government officials’, the PM never bothered with any such measures of course. However, by Muslims also releasing pre-mature condemnations of terrorism and apologizing after every such event, are we not enabling false narratives and inadvertently linking ourselves to the attacks?

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The reactionary attitude of Muslims in Canada has followed this same pattern with other high-profile cases such as the Toronto 18 and the Shafia murders; the latter of which wasn’t even terrorism related. This is strategy is not specific to Canada of course. We saw a similar response in Norway after Andres Brevick shootings, in the US after the Fort Hood shootings and in Britain after the Woolich murders.

Ottawa’s Muslims should be commended for maintaining a strong public presence following the shootings; it was clearly needed and solicited powerful emotions. My goal is not to question the obligatory public relations exercises Muslim organizations have had to do post-9/11. I believe that the atmosphere necessitated it and I am glad our leaders stepped up to do so – we are heavily indebted to them.

But how much longer are we to continue doing this? How can we live as a healthy community if we become overwhelmed with guilt and fear every time a lunatic decides to commit a barbaric crime? How much longer should we pander to the unfair expectations laid out for us to meet?

A decade past 9/11

It is evident that ‘Islamic’ fundamentalism and global jihadism aren’t going anywhere, Western military intervention in Muslims lands isn’t coming to an end, and neither will these instances of ‘home-grown’ terrorism come to pass anytime soon. As a part of the cultural tapestry of this nation, we have to come to terms with the fact that there will always be someone from our faith, somewhere, committing abhorrent crimes. We need to be in a mode of existence which is aware and cognizant of that; not one that freaks out and is guilt ridden every time it happens.

A decade of condemning terrorism and participating in public relation exercises has done us little good. The events of this past summer have put us back to square-one; our image in the public eye is the same as it was on 9/11 – arguably worse. Our current strategies have clearly failed; it is evident we need to take a new path forward.

For starters, we need to stop thinking like immigrant minorities and demand that people treat us like we belong here. On a day following some national tragedy, or any day for that matter, we must firmly stand up to anything that falls short of dignified treatment—instead of bracing up for hate speech or snide remarks at the office. When we do encounter hate crimes, we too have to be strong and recognize that the perpetrators represent a fringe minority – instead of becoming disillusioned with society at large.

We must start holding others to a higher standard and assume they’re also intelligent enough to distinguish fringe Muslim extremists from the normative majority. If they fail to do so, we need to strongly point out their lunacy – instead of getting into apologetics. We can no longer entertain ludicrous questions about whether we condone honour killings, FGM or domestic violence – would a catholic ever be asked whether they condone pedophilia and child molestation?

We shouldn’t be surprised when we see ‘social experiments’ of people standing up for Muslims – it is assumed that civilized people anywhere would defend an innocent bystander; shame on them if they don’t. We need to stop obsessing over how others perceive our faith and focus instead on how we are treating them.

We need stop issuing condemnations of terrorism and declarations of heresy when our fanatical brethren have run-ins with the law. Like other faith groups, we should instead offer public prayers, statements of condolences and expressions of solidarity. We must express equal outrage when people outside our community commit heinous crimes – not doing so hints at our disingenuousness and self-interest.

Malcolm X hit a turning point when he stopped seeing himself as a member of a maligned minority. He took his dignity into his own hands and refused to be at the mercy of the opinion of others – ‘ni–er’ became a slur too small and meaningless for him. Western Muslims need to collectively do the same. We need to get over our insecurities, stop pandering to the double standards others have constructed for us and demand our place as full-fledged citizens of this society.

Waleed Ahmed is a Canadian Muslim writer and activist based out of Toronto. 

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11 responses to “Ottawa Shootings: Time to Reexamine The Collective Muslim Psyche”

  1. H says:

    Very good article.

    In today’s world, there’s a subtle undertone when you’re a Muslim; if you don’t condemn x terrorist act, you support. It’s quite ludicrous. As was very well pointed out, you would expect any sane human being to condemn such an act, but for some reason it’s now a legitimate question aimed at Muslims.

  2. Umm Ayoub says:

    I think the most most important in theses circumstances, is to use this opportunity to gain knowledge and to spread knowledge about the stance of the Charia such acts, so the muslim do not fall in the trap of ISIS, and non muslims do not accuse Islam for such behavior.

    See the very nice answer of Dr. Salah Assawy about it (in Arabic, in English and and, for the first time, in French)

    https://www.facebook.com/SalahAlSawy?fref=nf

  3. John Howard says:

    Your views frankly are offensive to me and I suspect many non Muslims. These 2 murderers and let us be in agreement here that is what they are, did this in the name of Islam. If they had attacked a mosque and murdered Muslims calling out “For God and Canada” would you not call that terrorism against Muslims? The Canadian Prime Minister – YOUR Prime Minister called it for what it was terrorism pure and simple. You show great disservice to your fellow Canadians because if they had reacted differently and attacked their fellow Muslim citizens after these atrocities there would have been a major outcry and rightly so from the Muslim world. It did not which says much much about Canadian values of decency. . While Muslims keep committing atrocities in their host countries whether born there or not and doing so in your religion’s name then you will have to keep apologising or far more importantly stopping these wanna be Jihadists or at least helping the security forces that are desperately trying to do so. You are very fortunate to live in a place like Canada where you have freedoms and rights found very rarely in Muslim countries. Be grateful because if your fellow Canadian citizens had acted any less magnificent than they have the life of Canadian Muslims would be very different.

    • Sal says:

      That’s a tad bit unfair, don’t you think? Do you apologize for every person that your country kills in the ‘fight against terror’? If I even begin to consider your attitude and legitimize it, I’d like to expect my fellow canadians to do the same. Just like how we apologize for every death caused, why shouldn’t you too?

      Ah, but then your fight is against the evil people, you’d say. Double standards. Don’t expect something from us if you can’t even do so the same for yourself. It’s unfair. What happened is wrong, full stop. Mourn if you wish, but don’t expect is to be meek and apologetic every time something happens that we have no hand in. We pay the same taxes as you, we live and breathe the same air as you do. We’ve come to this land just as your fathers had come to it, a little while back. We are equal. Don’t forget that. Neither of us have to be more fortunate than the other. You benefit from us as much as we do you, so keep it that.

      • John Howard says:

        First of all I am not Canadian but if I were I would ask these same questions. It is not about taxes or working or living and breathing It is about what is being done in the name of your religion. There have been many ethnic and religious groups come here to Britain , Canada, the US, Australia etc. They have come because like your community they have felt and needed the opportunities and freedom that we can and have offered. Yes we have benefited from your coming but I would suggest that the opportunities and benefits that we have given you would be far in excess of what your own lands or you have given us. We do mourn our dead but because they are killed in your God’s name we expect you not necessarily to mourn with us but at least act as citizens and help us catch these terrorists. Here in Britain there is an extreme reluctance to do so and I suspect but cannot confirm it is a similar situation in Canada You have to prove your loyalty I am sorry to say because it is from your community that these terrorists keep coming.

  4. Michelle Astley says:

    I am a non-Muslim and I sought out this web-site to better understand what your community is feeling following this event. I hope that more Canadians are trying to understand and questioning. Since last week I have been asking myself one single question – why was this so immediately labelled a terrorist attack while Borque’s actions were not? Borque stated his political motives clearly and yet there has been no media hype calling him a terrorist.
    I watched the events at our Nation’s Capitol unfold on national television – “Canada Under Attack” was the headline, repeated over and over. Within hours it became clear to me that this event was being ‘used’. The Canadian people were informed over and over that we are not immune to the ideology if radical Islamists and terrorism. We are also not immune to the Borques of the world but we don’t make much fuss over that.
    No, I am not a conspiracy theorist. I am not educated but I am not stupid. The media coverage was clearly inflammatory. The out-pouring of international condolence was unsettling, I am not aware of any such statements being offered after Borque shot several police officers for his own politically-motivated reasons.
    I am sickened and saddened that we have been so quick to attribute this gunman’s actions to some Islamic belief, radical or otherwise (about which I know absolutely nothing, I admit). This gunman had problems OBVIOUSLY, as all murderers do. Nobody, Muslim or otherwise, kills innocents unless there is some psychological problem. I am afraid this just adds fuel to the ‘war on terror’.
    I am fortunate and grateful to be Canadian, but am somewhat embarrassed at present by our collective lack of discretion. I am hopeful that there are many others, like me, who wish well to ALL regardless of our differing religious or cultural beliefs.

  5. Sandy Wong says:

    This is so offensive to me..why are muslims always the victim?! Two brave unselfish patriots were brutally murdered IN THE CAUSE OF ISLAM… Not Christianity, Judaism or any other religion…BUT ISLAM!! It’s the only ideology that promotes beheading, murders, rape slavery and other ghastly acts on non muslims… But even so those of this religion murder each other daily Sunni against Shia … So yours is a blood thirsty ideology and until western cultures societies and nations own up to this we will continue to see attacks murders and the like.. So he was a “loan wolf” eh? So that makes it alright I guess and that he was a “convert” not a real born n bred muslim then he’s not taken seriously.. That is what I came away with in your article.. Funny your people brace for the backlashes that NEVER HAPPEN IN OUR SOCIETIES.. Thus becoming victims of non hatecrimes… Sickening how the Ottawa police chief pandered to the muslim community and leaders after those dreadful murders reassuring YOU THAT YOU WERE SAFE! What about us non muslims??? Apparently we are not safe and just good for paying taxes and welfare for those who have come to milk “the great white cow” yes we are are all aware of what the more cynical of you call Canada… I feel sick at heart at the spineless kowtowing nation we have become… If you will not integrate please go back… Your religion of “peace” is killing us!

    • John Howard says:

      M/s Wong is stating what a lot of non Muslims are saying . Please to all the followers of this religion understand no matter how much you want to deny it many here in the west see the problem as a Muslim one. You can disagree as much as you like but as well we know perception is 9/10’s reality. The change must start with your community because what at the moment is anger could get a lot worse and no one, no one wants that.

  6. Ton Ček says:

    The writer of the above article states that “we need to get over our insecurities, stop pandering to the double standards others have constructed for us and demand our place as full-fledged citizens of this society”. Demanding place as full-fledged citizens of western societies requires that Muslims start integrating into rather than trying to transform western societies through demands for changes such as sharia, halal certification, polygamy to name a few tenets central to the intolerant Islam religion. Once Muslims fully embrace every aspect of secular laws and show their allegiance to the country they reside in rather than to a centuries old ideology they may become full-fledged citizens of western societies.

    • zain says:

      Ton, i would like to point some faults you have with your comments.
      1) When muslims go to any country, and live there as citizens, they are religiously obliged to follow the laws of that country, so to say that muslims are trying to establish sharia (a completely different legal system) would be incorrect. Scholars have stated that those who enter non-Muslim countries have to adhere to their respective laws and regulations even if they entered those countries illegally, and they have no excuse for breaking those laws, since they were entrusted to abide by those laws upon entry into those countries.

      2)When have you seen muslims stand outside a shop and demand to have halal certification. Most businesses simply put in certification because they can make a couple more bucks by appealing to a broader market. Also halal certification is only a very recent thing coming into western countries. Before that muslims lived in Europe, with no halal certification, and were fine. They just bought meat products from butchers who were muslim. No one demanded halal certification, you simply gave it to us for your own profit. A lot of businesses also export products into muslim countries where all food is certified upon entry. Most halal certification has nothing to do with ”demanding muslims” rather more than another means to make profit.

      3) Muslims are not the only ones practicing polygamy, rather countless other atheists who believe monogamy isn’t sustainable. I’m not sure how such a personal belief has to do with integrating into western society.

      4) Please before you make assumptions, why don’t you think about the truths of what you’re writing.

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