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Canadians take part in a protest against the anti-Muslim immigration policies of the Trump administration in the US in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, January 30, 2017. Canadians take part in a protest against the anti-Muslim immigration policies of the Trump administration in the US in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, January 30, 2017. File:Chris Wattie/Reuters]
07
February
2019

Politics of fear is the real threat Canada is facing

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Published in News

Visiting my Syrian family, who I co-sponsored with nine other families in early 2017 and helped them settle in Canada, is always fun.

I get to indulge in some shockingly sweet black Arab shay (shocking because I only take milk in my tea), revel in their increasingly improved English skills (we no longer pull up Google Translate!) and watch Hannah, my five-year-old, prance out of their daughter's room, dressed like she's going to a ball - complete with a long flowing dress, a tiara and sparkly nail polish.

Dalia, who is eight, adores Hannah and insists on dressing her up like a doll each time we visit - to which Hannah dutifully obliges.

My visit this last weekend was no exception. But I went to their home feeling worried too.The arrest and subsequent release of Hussam Eddin Alzahabi, a 20-year-old Syrian refugee in Kingston, Ontario, by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) on January 24 weighed heavily on my mind. While Alzahabi had been cleared of all charges, a younger man who he had been acquainted with was still being held on terrorism-related offences.

The suspect hasn't been identified, which means we don't know if he is a newcomer to Canada. However, neither that nor the fact that Alzahabi was released without charge mattered to the political zealots in our country who grab on to any opportunity to warn Canadians of the imminent dangers immigrants pose to our society.

It is pathetic how even our political leaders can't be trusted to act responsibly in the face of an ongoing police investigation that clearly has the potential to inflame racial tensions. Conservative leader Andrew Scheer took the lead by releasing a provocative statement hours after the RCMP informed the media about the arrests on Friday. It's "clear that Canada's refugee screening process needs to be seriously examined", he said. "Conservatives will continue fighting against Justin Trudeau's attempts to weaken Canada's national security laws and implement real policies to ensure that Canada's streets and communities are safe."

Far-right individuals and groups heard Scheer's call to action and swiftly took action.

On the day the arrest of Alzahabi and his unnamed acquaintance was made public, men believed to be affiliated with the far-right anti-immigrant group Soldiers of Odin showed up at the al Rashid mosque in Edmonton. According to the mosque's spokeswoman Noor al-Henedy, two men entered the premises and appeared to be "scouting the building". One of the men was wearing a toque printed with the Arabic word for "infidel".

After leaving the mosque, the men got into a confrontation with community members in the mosque's car park. One of the men later claimed on social media that he went inside the mosque to use the toilet, and he was near the mosque "to catch real Muslims walking in to possibly answer questions".

A day later, on January 26, protesters in Red Deer, Alberta gathered to call for stricter rules on immigration. They circulated posters claiming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's agenda supports terrorism, "mass Muslim immigration" and starting the "process of Sharia law". Soldiers of Odin and members of other far-right, anti-immigrant groups were also present at this protest.

When events like these happen, several questions burn through my mind - and likely many Canadians' minds: Is Canada's multiculturalism facing a real threat? Do people who hold these sentiments put lives and futures of children, like eight-year-old Dalia, at risk?

Incredibly, Dalia's father Ahmad, who says he felt welcomed by and had countless friendly interactions with Canadians since arriving in Toronto, does not think so.

When I asked him what he thinks about the unnamed youth who had been charged with terror-related offences, he gave me a very straightforward answer.

"He is only one person," he said. "There are 25,000 Syrians who came to Canada. There could be one bad one. Even if there are 1,000 bad ones, what about the 24,000 who are good?"

It's simple logic. But Scheer and his supporters don't seem capable, or willing, to accept it.

How much longer are they going to continue stoking the fears of Canadians? And what devastating consequences will their fear-mongering have on the lives of refugees like Dalia and Ahmed?

Last Tuesday marked two years since one of the worst terrorist attacks in Canadian history - The Quebec City Mosque shooting that left six Muslims dead. The far-right attacker, Alexandre Bissonnette, was upset about Canada's open stance on refugees.

Clearly, there is a terror threat in this country. But perhaps it's the politics of fear that is the real perpetrator.

This article was first published in Al Jazeera English on February 3, 2019.

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Shenaz Kermalli is a independent journalist specializing in geo-politics.

Follow her on Twitter here