Mosques urged to improve security after Oslo shootings.
Postmedia News Jul 29, 2011 – 9:26 PM ET | Last Updated: Jul 29, 2011 9:27 PM ET
By Catherine Solyom
MONTREAL — A week after a massacre in Norway fuelled by anti-Islamic sentiment claimed the lives of 77 people, Muslims preparing for Ramadan across Canada are being urged to install surveillance cameras and bars on mosque windows, and to talk to police and school principals about emergency plans should an incident arise.
The Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations, based in Ottawa, is calling for these and other measures as part of its “Muslim Community Safety Kit” sent to Muslim associations across the country this week.
“Our experience has been that in the aftermath of high profile incidents, whether national or international, there is on occasion an uptick in anti-Muslim rhetoric and reports of Islamophobic hate crimes,” said Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the council. “But we don’t expect a widespread backlash against the Muslim community. It is not a community living in fear. Our shared grief for the victims in Norway overwhelms any fear of a backlash.”
There have been reports of mosques being vandalized and other incidents in Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, Waterloo, Ont. — some following the 9/11 attacks, others after the uproar over a cartoon depicting Muhammad in a Danish newspaper in 2005, and more recently around the well-publicized burning of a Qur’an in Florida, Gardee said.
According to a Statistics Canada report released in June, the number of hate crimes increased by 42 per cent from 2008 to 2009, the last year for which statistics are available.
While the number of hate crimes against all racial groups rose in 2009, proportionately the largest increase involved hate crimes against Arabs or West Asians, more than doubling from 37 incidents in 2008 to 75 in 2009. Religiously motivated hate crimes against Muslims went up 38 per cent.
Mosques in Montreal have been taking safety precautions for years, said Salam Elmenyawi, president of the Muslim Council of Montreal. But along with locking doors and trimming shrubs around buildings to stop culprits from hiding out in them, Montreal mosques have also been opening their doors to the public and reaching out to non-Muslims.
“We receive hundreds of people,” Elmenyawi said. “Some come to confront us and walk out happily with a change of views.”
Elmenyawi said the reasonable accommodation debates of 2007 and 2008 set off a particularly troubling time in Montreal, where three mosques were vandalized. Then again there was no apparent trigger to the most recent incidents against a mosque in Dorval, Que., in April, where windows and doors were broken and a computer stolen — despite the surveillance cameras. The same mosque was vandalized four times in 2009.
“Like any business, we have to have close-circuit TVs, so people don’t come in and defile the place. The ABCs of security should be acted upon but without connections made (with the massacre in Norway). Becoming paranoid is not healthy and will not create the atmosphere we wish to live in.”
Elmenyawi and Gardee say they’re troubled by constant negative portrayals of Muslims in the media, here and abroad, which can translate into rocks thrown at mosque windows. The day of the bomb blast in Oslo and subsequent shootings, pundits and journalists were already blaming Muslim extremists — much as they did after the Oklahoma City bombings, also perpetrated by a so-called homegrown, Caucasian terrorist who had nothing to do with Islam, noted Gardee.
“It was the same situation with Norway. They had to retract their statements but by then the damage was done. They had already cast a cloud of suspicion and reinforced a sense of fear of the other, in this case the Muslim community.”