I don't remember where I was when the news came to me. Not precisely. What I do remember was the feeling of a drop in my stomach, a hollowness in my throat, a tension that pulled upwards from my brow through my eyes, mouth, jaw. And I remember thinking - of course this was bound to happen - so please let it be treated with respect.
Azzeddine Soufiane, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Aboubaker Thabti, Ibrahima Barry and Abdelkrim Hassane – I will hold your names.
When I #RememberJan29 I think on that visceral feeling, I think on that immediate acceptance that this was seemingly inevitable, and most important for me - I think of my own failure. Not in that moment – but of all the times I failed before.
I am not a Muslim, but many people have thought I am for a lot of my life. The body I inhabit carries signifiers that fit a stereotype. And so to a certain extent, I have felt Islamophobia first hand. When I was about fourteen, I was physically attacked one night - my head smashed against a rock for being a "Paki Terrorist." And my reaction following that was to make a practice of adorning myself with symbols that showed that I was in fact a Hindu. As if the people ignorant enough to hold that type of hate would be able to tell the difference. And in that moment I failed my brothers and sisters, my uncles and aunties. I failed them in so far as my immediate reaction being an attempt to declare to the oppressors "I am not the thing you hate!" - rather than declare that the hatred is unfounded, irrational; rather to declare that it was offensive that the hate should be harboured in the first place. I failed because when someone drew a line to say “you are other!” my reaction was to draw another line and say “but I am not them!” I failed because that reaction speaks to a larger legacy of colonization, an Empire that had infected my mind to have me beg for the privilege to belong – even if it comes at the expense of others. But I don't hold guilt for that failure. Because guilt is not productive.
When I remember January 29th, I ask myself - why did it come as no surprise? Was I just jaded? Cold? Unfeeling? When I was attacked as a child, generally speaking, very few people in the "mainstream" of my home in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia believed me. Or worse, some of those who did believe - put the blame on me for looking intimidating. Maybe that's why it came as no surprise. I learned that the wellbeing of some, in this case bodies such as mine, were inconsequential to the comfort of maintaining an ideal image of a tolerant society.
But that was years ago – shouldn’t I believe that we’ve changed?
I find it hard to believe that we have when a South Asian family's hotel in Alberta can be burned to the ground with them inside and I see little to no coverage – I find it hard to believe that we have changed. When a Muslim kid in Hamilton is beaten unconscious with a baseball bat and the news is more concerned with debating whether it was a hate crime or not than the wellbeing of the child – I find it hard to believe that we have changed. And maybe that’s why it came as no surprise?
I want to put blame on those around me who didn't care enough to listen for years. Who didn’t care enough to accept that this hatred festered and was left unnoticed while it consistently wore away at the part of my mind that could hold a belief that lives such as mine were of value. But I don't hold blame for that. Because blame is not productive.
I went to an interfaith ceremony at a local Masjid that had opened its doors. While hate was surfacing in Toronto, many people came to say "No" and offer their support. We all crammed in. Standing room only. And I heard from many speakers. An old woman, not a Muslim woman, a neighbour had tried her best to make it out to just be there despite her wavering health. She could only make it for a few minutes before she had to get back to bed - but she showed up to offer her support. And I looked around, at all the speakers. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders - I listened to all the names of organizations that had offered support - or sent a letter, their regards - and I asked myself where were the Hindus? Why was there no representation from any Mandir?
And I was angry. I was angry that I did not see leadership from Hindus… but I also don’t hold that anger. Perhaps distress – that maybe we Hindus in that moment drew a line again to say, “we are not them.” Or “Don’t bring us into it.” I hope that’s not the case. Because when I began to declare my Hindu identity all those years back, I also took the time to learn that to accept this principle of drawing a line, to accept this principle of a border – is to accept illusion. Borders are illusions. The idea that I am not you is an illusion.
So I wont harbour guilt, or blame. Not even anger. I will #RememberJan29. Azzeddine Soufiane, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Aboubaker Thabti, Ibrahima Barry and Abdelkrim Hassane – I will remember you as my family. And I will remember the day when my family was taken from me. And I will recommit on this day to try as hard as I can to never draw a line, never accept a border, and always remember that we are in this together.
January 29, 2018