The Trauma and Emotions I Experience After Anti-Muslim Hate Crimes
Last week, a man in London, Ontario deliberately mounted the curb and struck a family of five going for an evening walk — four died, while the youngest, a 9-year-old boy, survived but sustained serious injuries. It is believed they were targeted solely because of their Muslim identity and faith. They were just out for a family walk.
As a Muslim myself, I was overwhelmed with emotions as soon as I heard the news, and in the days following. It wasn’t the first time I’ve felt a roller coaster of emotions due to Islamophobia, or anti-Muslim sentiment, and I know it won’t be the last. It took me back to other attacks against Muslims — the Quebec mosque shooting four years ago, the Christchurch attack in New Zealand, and the numerous attacks this year alone against predominantly Muslim women in Alberta. Muslims in Canada have been dealing with considerable hate that has only gotten worse since 9/11. Twenty years later, anti-Muslim sentiment is still rampant amongst Canadians — 46% of Canadians have an unfavorable view of Islam, while 52% believe Muslims can only be trusted “a little” or “not at all.” It’s no wonder Muslims in Canada, and around the world, are feeling the impact of this hate.
When something like this happens, I experience a multitude of emotions, sometimes separated over days and some days all at once. It’s hard to describe how intense the fear, anxiety and trauma can feel, especially when I’m not the victim. While I was not run over, and I have not been a victim of a serious hate crime, I know it just as easily could have been me in that situation. When it could happen to any of us, it happens to all of us.
Almost immediately, I was struck by fear. Am I safe? Could I be next? A couple of nights after this family was killed, a person close to me took her kids to a park. She expressed how she was so scared for their safety, how she looked over her shoulder and eyed everyone who walked by, wondering if they would hurt her family. My fears are not just for my safety, but for the safety of those around me as well. Sometimes my mom wears traditional clothing, and I got anxious about what would happen if someone saw her dressed like that. My usual fears that manifest as a result of my mental illnesses — such as “does everyone hate me?” “Is everyone looking at me?” “Do I belong here?” — become louder after hearing of these crimes. Anti-Muslim hate crimes in Canada more than tripled between 2012 and 2015. On top of that, many people have the audacity to make it seem like my fear is not valid or justified — like I’m exaggerating the impact. The gaslighting makes me furious.
Beside the fear is anger. How could this happen? How can we say we care about everyone and are inclusive when these crimes happen time and time again? How do people not see how bad it is? I feel angry that there seems to be very little action to address anti-Muslim hate and that it almost always seems to be exclusively Muslims who care about this, especially when the initial media hype dies down. Does our safety not matter because we are brown? Because we look different? I get angry when I think about how rampant anti-Muslim sentiment is within the country. I am angry that the media almost always portrays Muslims in a bad or violent light. I’m angry that I constantly feel I have to defend Islam because of the misconceptions people have. I realize that most of my anger is a cover for some of the more vulnerable, raw emotions I feel.
Grief and Sadness
My depression has been overwhelming since this latest attack. I have been exhausted and saying I’m sad doesn’t do it justice. I am beyond sad. I am heartbroken, I am empty while also being full of grief. Innocent lives were taken. Again. For no good reason. I have cried every single day — for the family that died, for the little boy that “survived,” for what the community has lost, and for every single one of us who died a bit inside too. It is depressing and heartbreaking to think that someone could take another life solely because of their beliefs. I think about how many times I’ve gone for walks or ice cream with family, wearing traditional clothing after our evening prayers. I cry because assimilation and abandonment of culture is often the price we have to pay for our safety.
Whenever something like this happens, people express outrage and anger. They take to social media and express their shock and disbelief, and promise their allyship. Politicians make statements offering thoughts and prayers. And then everyone moves on. I feel hopeless about things getting better. As much as I want to believe that this time will be different, I know it will be just like all the others. I feel hopeless about the fact that 55% of Canadians believe Islamophobia is “overblown” by politicians and 42% believe discrimination against Muslims is “mainly their fault.” How do I fight stats that staggering? The problem feels too big. It makes me feel like it can never be fixed. It makes me want to give up.
Finally, after being overwhelmed by all of these emotions all at once, I go numb. It becomes too much and I disconnect. As someone who has always dissociated when things get hard, it scares me how easy it is to slip into numbness. I try my best to stay connected, stay present, and be with my thoughts and feelings, but sometimes I shut down. I go into a hyper-exhausted state and can’t do much. There are times when I welcome the numbness, and other times I seek it out whether it be with alcohol or distractions. While I know it isn’t the best way to handle things, I also know that stepping back and shutting down for a while can keep me safe so that I can address it when I’m less activated.
While this is not an exhaustive list of the roller coaster of emotions, it covers some of the big ones. That being said, I find some light in our community — in seeing our resilience and ability to survive despite all the hate. I see our ability to believe in the good in people and find the light. I see our strength and perseverance to educate others, share our culture and welcome others with open arms. Our fear, our grief, our hopelessness will not tear us down. It will not erase us. We will continue to be proud of who we are, and hold our heads high. We will respond to hate with love and respond to darkness with light.
Photo by M.T ElGassier on Unsplash