Fear grows of reprisal on streets of Canada
Arabs and Muslims could be targeted
By CAMPBELL CLARK AND JANE GADD
With reports from Sean Fine, Dawn Walton, Ingrid Peritz, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse
Thursday, September 13, 2001
OTTAWA and TORONTO -- Arab and Muslim groups say they fear their members will become targets of vengeful people after Tuesday's terrorist attacks.
But on the streets, individual Arab Canadians say they don't feel threatened.
In Toronto, three elderly men strolling home from an afternoon service at the Masjid Darus Salaam mosque shrugged and smiled when asked if they feel more vulnerable.
"We are sad and worried and [we are] with Americans in this sad moment," said Mohammad Aziz. "We want the real culprits caught. We also are complaining against extremists and terrorists."
He said he feels no sense of personal threat resulting from finger-pointing against Muslim extremists in the news media.
His friend, Abdul Saeed, agreed, saying Canadians know better than to spread blame to the entire Muslim community. "Killing people is against our religion," he said.
But Canadian organizations said they had had reports of Arab Canadians being insulted or harassed and they appealed to a shocked public to avoid blaming all Arabs for the act of "fringe lunatics."
Police in some cities stepped up patrols around mosques, saying Arabs and Muslims could face threats or even violence.
The Calgary Islamic School closed yesterday, citing security concerns after a stranger entered the building seeking to discuss Tuesday's events.
And Atif Kubursi of the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations said the group had been told of several incidents, including one in which schoolchildren with Arabic-sounding names in Oakville, Ont., had been assaulted by classmates.
The Islamic Supreme Council of Canada set up phone lines in Calgary and Toronto for people who feel they are victims of racial or religious attacks. "I have seen in the past people try to label Muslims in Islam with these kind of horrific and terrorist attacks," said the council's Calgary-based spokesman, Syed Soharwardy.
"Please do not jump to the conclusion. We do not know who has done it. If someone from the Muslim community has done it, that person should be responsible, not the whole Muslim community."
In Montreal, police intensified patrols around 30 mosques after the site of the former Yunus Mosque on busy St. Laurent Boulevard was hit with a flaming canister of gasoline late Tuesday night.
Police say it's too soon to link the incident to events in the United States. "I'm not blaming anybody. We never made problems for anyone," mosque president Yilmaz Ekinci said yesterday.
South of the border, Arabs reported death threats, racial slurs and harassment in several cities. Vandals fired at least six bullets through windows of the Islamic Center in Irving, Tex. No injuries were reported.
Even though officials have yet to determine who is behind the terrorist attacks in the U.S., some Canadians of Arab descent said they feel they're under a cloud of suspicion.
One man who answered the phone at a Montreal mosque yesterday said he feels like "everyone is looking at us funny."
But most Arab Canadians interviewed on the streets of Canadian cities said they did not expect to be targeted.
At the Perfect Travellers agency in Toronto, which specializes in pilgrimages to Mecca, agent Shaukat Darsot said, "Most people in Canada are very fair, and we are well protected by the government and by the local police."
Wahida Valiante, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Islamic Congress, said she is concerned that governments might be incited to view Canadian Muslims as a threat.
Chantal Lapalme of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service said, "We do not investigate communities. We investigate individuals who are deemed to be a threat to the security of Canada."