The fear and pain of Muslim friends
by Carol Goar, Editorial Page Editor, Toronto Star, 13 September 2001
HE HUNG back timidly, waiting for a chance to speak to me. His name is Hani Taki. He is a Muslim high school student and a member of The Star's community editorial board. "Please,'' he said with quiet urgency. "Don't blame all Muslims.''

I assured him that The Star would not stereotype any religious or ethnic group in the aftermath of Tuesday's horrific terrorist attack. I told him such generalizations are repugnant and contrary to this newspaper's values.

But even as I spoke, I was sick at heart. I knew there would be a backlash and I feared it would be aimed at Muslims or Arabs or immigrants from the Middle East.

Taki is all three. He was born in the United Arab Emirates, came to Canada 14 years ago and is proud of his Islamic traditions.

I quailed at the thought of this open-hearted young man - and thousands like him - being targeted for a crime that shook his world as much as mine.

Sadly, the backlash has begun.

Mosques in this city have received phone threats. Muslim women have been harassed. A handful of students with Arab-sounding names in Oakville were assaulted by their schoolmates. A man in St. Catharines has been charged with uttering death threats.

Canadians must speak out against this kind of ignorance and hatred.

We are a nation known for its tolerance. We welcome newcomers from around the world. We value their contribution to the multicultural society we have built.

Prime Minister Jean Chrétien set the right tone yesterday.

"I want to emphasize that we are in a struggle against terrorism, not against any one community or faith,'' he said.

But it will take more than that to reassure the minorities in our midst. They need to hear from their neighbours, their co-workers, opinion leaders and the media that Tuesday's events will not change our national character. They need to see us stand up to the racists and bigots who spread blanket condemnation, with no evidence.

Taki wasn't the only one who was feeling uneasy at Tuesday's community editorial board meeting.

Lily Fernandez, who was born in Singapore to Indian parents, talked about the way she is always detained at airports "because some people think I look Arab.''

Rina Chandarana, who is East Indian, worried about her Muslim friends. "They're good people,'' she stressed.

All of us are feeling a bit insecure right now. We need to reach out, not lash out.

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