Sunday, February 12, 2017

Churches and the Quebec Mosque Killings: "Silence Has Consequences"

Three days should be long enough, I thought, to see how many church groups had posted statements or prayers about the terrible murders in the Quebec City mosque.

So I went online, checking out the home pages of national church bodies. I visited 20 websites; eight groups had posted calls to prayer or expressions of solidarity and concern; 12 had not.

I posted my findings on Facebook. “Canadian churches say they want to be relevant to society, that they want Canadians to know they care about a hurting world,” I wrote. “So, three days after the terrible murders of Muslims in Quebec City, how are they doing?”

I then went on to list my findings, naming the groups that had mentioned it—and those that hadn’t.

(I also checked other faith groups;  a couple of  national Jewish websites condemned the attack, but I found nothing on Hindu, Buddhist or Sikh websites—groups that, admittedly, have less of a national presence.)

Immediately, some people protested. “A website isn’t the only way to be relevant and show concern for hurting people,” said one.

“You don’t know if an e-mail or phone call was made,” said another. “Maybe they wanted to keep it private and personal.”

Others noted that some church groups aren’t really very tech-savvy, don’t update their websites very often, or might have complicated layers of approvals before they can post anything like this.

All valid points—to an extent. Some groups do take longer than others to make decisions. And just because nothing is mentioned on a national website doesn’t mean members weren’t individually expressing their concern. And statements on websites are not the only way churches can show they are relevant.

But at a time like this, with so many dead and a nation in shock, that seems to be the minimum any faith group could do, and as quickly as possible.

Why? One reason is because that’s where most people today look for information—online. This is especially true for younger people, who don’t tend to read printed denominational magazines.

Posting something on a website is also a way to tell those who are grieving that they aren’t alone. Not saying anything says the opposite: “We don’t care.”

Finally, a posted statement clearly tells anyone who sees it that hate of any kind isn’t welcome here.

And that, in the end, might be the most important reason posting a statement. One thing that was emphasized again and again following the murders is that people of goodwill and good hearts need to speak up for those who live in fear because of their race or religion. 

That was the message delivered by Liberal Member of Parliament Joel Lightbound, who represents the riding where the killings occurred.

In a moving speech in the House of Commons, he apologized to Muslims in Quebec City “for having observed stigmatization, ostracization over the past years.”

He had “seen the mistrust, the fear, the hatred among my peers,” he said, but had not “done enough” to counter it.

Silence, he concluded, “also has consequences.”

One person who knows that only too well is Winnipegger Shahina Siddiqui. In an article on the CBC Manitoba website after the killings, she noted that the seeds of the murders “were sown and nurtured by deliberate campaigns to foster Islamophobia.”

For a long time, she said, “language that dehumanized Muslims and demonized Islam was creeping into our discourse . . . and being accepted uncritically as truth by society at large.”

This point was reinforced by Andrew Coyne, a columnist for the National Post. While we shouldn’t try to censor speech, he wrote, that doesn’t mean “we should not govern our own.”

“We are all of us engaged every day in the construction of a moral order: By our accumulated individual examples, the words we use, the acts we condone, we can make it one that encourages decency and compassion towards others, or the reverse. This is particularly true of those in positions of leadership, political or other.”

“Other,” in my mind, includes faith groups. If, God forbid, anything like this should happen again in Canada, I hope more of them are quicker off the mark in speaking up for the kind of Canada we all want to live in.

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