On Monday, January 30, 2017 many Nova Scotians woke up to the shocking news that six Muslim men -- IT worker Mamadou Tanou Barry from Guinea; analyst and programmer Abdelkrim Hassane from Algeria; Laval chemical-engineering professor Khaled Belkacemi originally from Algeria; Aboubaker Thabti, a pharmacy worker; Azzeddine Soufiane a geologist from Morocco who ran a halal grocery store; and Ibrahima Barry from Guinea who worked for the Québec health-insurance bureau -- all were fathers, sons, husbands, and respected community members -- had been shot and killed while at prayers in the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec in Ste-Foy, a suburb of Québec City. Five others were wounded and remain in hospital – two in critical condition.
It was a shattering experience for the victims, their families, the members of the Muslim community in Québec City and across the country, and for Canadians of every colour, creed, and faith.
In an act of grief, solidarity, sympathy, and conviction to oppose such macabre and senseless hatred and violence, Nova Scotians poured into the Grand Parade square in the heart of the city at the invitation of Halifax mayor Mike Savage and the members of the regional council.
It was a mammoth gathering -- I estimated well over 2,000 -- the largest such assemblage I've witnessed in the Grand Parade (outside of entertainment events).
A sea of candles illuminated the square as the Mayor, the Nova Scotia Minister of Immigration, Lena Diab, Imam Abdelkader Tayebi of the Umma Mosque, Imam Zia Khan of the Centre for Islamic Development, and other members of the Muslim community spoke -- not only of the senseless violence committed in a house of prayer, but also of the warmth, compassion, and solidarity they had felt and experienced throughout the day from fellow clerics, officials, and citizens of the province. And importantly, of how for them Canada represented the antithesis of such intolerance and hatred.
It was a profoundly moving event; one in which Nova Scotians stood together to make clear this was not a vision of society that they condone or espouse.
There were tears, there were hugs, there were gestures of greeting and solidarity and fellowship. There was music, there was song, there was drumming. There was applause, even moments of mirth as smiles conquered tears, as despair retreated before hope. The sweet aroma of candlewax filled the square, flickering tapers illuminated it, and a sacredness seemed to hover in the cold winter air.
But most of all, there were people -- of every kind, colour, age and gender. New immigrants and those who have called Nova Scotia their home for uncountable millennia stood -- proverbially shoulder-to-shoulder -- and recognized their common humanity, their common hopes, and the common threats to our desire for a peaceful existence.
A life in a world where bonds are stronger than divisions, where compassion outweighs antipathy, where -- to paraphrase Martin Luther King -- people are judged by the content of their character and not by the colour of their skin, their language, their gender, or where they choose to worship, if indeed they profess a religious faith at all.
"Diversity is our strength," read one placard, and who would wish it otherwise? In our veins flows a common blood, our hearts beat with a common pulse, our tears are equally salty, our joy is equally contagious. Our fates on this blue orb are intertwined resting upon the continuing health of our climate and ecosystems. When poverty, hunger, abuse, loneliness, violence, and desperation afflicts us, our suffering may be individual, but our plight is identical. Who could fail to recognize that? In whose eyes can we look that fail to mirror our own?
And finally, neither unnoticed -- nor unmentioned -- were the bellicose and intolerant policies being promulgated south of our borders by the current American president, Donald Trump, and his administration. There was strong and affirmative applause to suggestions that Canada must not succumb to such an intolerant and xenophobic vision.
This is not what our country is. This must not be what it becomes.
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