A man reportedly tied a noose in front of two women in hijabs and said, 'This is for you!'
The rise of Islamophobia in the West has permeated even Canada, a country that has welcomed Syrian refugees with such zeal that John McCallum, its immigration minister, once told the New York Times, "I can't provide refugees fast enough for all the Canadians who want to sponsor them."
Last month at a light rail station in Edmonton, an elderly man reportedly walked up to two women in headscarves, tied a noose with a rope he removed from his pocket, and told them, "This is for you!" Then he sang "O Canada." A suspect was apprehended by police but released without charges.
Such incidents don't happen as frequently as they do in the U.S., but they still do happen. And this incident, in particular, shook the community.
In the wake of the hateful episode, local activist Janelle Venne came up with an idea to show the Muslim women that love from their neighbors trumps hate: handing out flowers to those wearing hijabs. A handful of women have jumped onboard, among them Nakita Valerio, a graduate student at the University of Alberta.
Upon hearing about Venne's project, Valerio, the vice president of Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council (AMPAC), decided to reach out and offer to help. She told A Plus in writing how important it is for non-Muslims to be allies with people who are targeted for their faith.
"When someone else stands up and says, 'No, this isn't right. Islamophobia isn't welcome here. We love Muslims exactly as they are,' how can we not join forces with that person, uplifting and amplifying that message through positive endorsement and love?" Valerio said.
"We wanted to take back the message, 'this is for you,' and put a positive spin towards it," Venne told the Edmonton Journal in the video. "I hope that we can make hijabi Muslim women feel as safe as other Canadians because they deserve to be just as the rest of us."
The response from the community seems to have been incredibly positive. Valerio said she's encountered plenty of joy and surprise when she gives out the flowers, but mostly relief. "You could feel women exhaling a lot of pain and mistrust. I personally felt that shift in myself to letting myself love again and feel less fear," she said.
She also wrote in a Facebook post that people who have seen or heard about what she's doing go out of their way to provide support — by buying her chocolate and coffee, or giving her rides to the station.
"While standing there with flowers on the platform, countless non-Muslim men and women smiled at me, nodded their heads, gave a huge thumbs up or outright thanked me for what this group was doing under the guidance of Janelle," Valerio wrote.
"I have heard a lot of rhetoric about how Islamophobia and discrimination are 'un-Canadian', but we have to remember that Canadian society is not only not free of colonization, dispossession and disempowerment — it was also built on it," Valerio said, adding that not all people who hate Muslims fear them.
"They hate out of ignorance and because they perceive things they associate with Islam as being a threat to what they hold to be true in terms of their personal identity and power," she noted. "People who hate Muslims need to do a few things to not only let go of their hatred but also to liberate themselves from the limits it imposes on them."
Valerio encouraged those who feel hostility towards Muslims to "just reach out" and communicate. "There are thousands of scholarly resources they can be directed to if that is the kind of knowledge they seek," she said. "Even more important, however, are human connections, friendships, vulnerabilities shared between people."