We need to talk about our responsibility for the Québec mosque shooting

by | January 31, 2017

I wanted to put this off. I tried using excuses for why I didn’t have to respond to this, at least not yet. But we need to do this. We need to talk about our responsibility for the Québec mosque shooting.

We need to start by making sure our voices are part of the chorus clearly and loudly condemning the attack, on every level. There should be no wavering in our disdain for the attacker and his motives, nor in the solidarity and fraternity we show the victims. Atheists and Muslims we may be, but those labels should not be used as tools to divide us or create enmity between us. The victims were our neighbours; they were our colleagues; they were our friends; they were our family.

Every life that was taken, everyone left hurt or terrorized, they were not “them”; they were us. This wasn’t an attack on “others”; this was an attack on us. They were not enemies. They were Canadians. They were people.

Their names were Ibrahima Barry, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Abdelkrim Hassane, Azzedine Soufiane, and Aboubaker Thabti. The two Barrys were immigrants from Guinea; Ibrahima Barry was a father of four. Professor Belkacemi was part of the Agricultural and Food Sciences department at the University of Laval. Karim Hassane was a programmer, and father of three. Azzedine Soufiane ran a butcher shop, and was popular in the community for helping people assimilate. Aboubaker Thabti was a pharmacist’s aide, having arrived here only a decade ago from Tunisia. Canada is a poorer country now, for lack of them.

[A collage of photos of the victims of the 2017-01-29 Québec mosque shooting: Ibrahima Barry, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Abdelkrim Hassane, Azzedine Soufiane, and Aboubaker Thabti.]

From left-to-right, top-to-bottom: Ibrahima Barry, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Abdelkrim Hassane, Azzedine Soufiane, and Aboubaker Thabti.

Let me make the following declarations crystal clear, and without qualification. I know I don’t speak for all Canadian secularists, humanists, atheists, or freethinkers. I don’t even speak for all Canadian Atheist contributors. Our pride is our openness to other ideas and worldviews, even when they conflict with our own. But if you don’t agree with these declarations, then you are not my ally. We may share a label, we may even share a platform, but if you don’t agree with these declarations, then we don’t share a cause.

  • As a Canadian secularist, humanist, atheist, and freethinker, I categorically and unequivocally condemn the use of violence against those one disagrees with, or dislikes. The only justification for violence is as a defence against violence being unjustly done to you or someone who needs your protection. It is never okay to use violence against someone who is not using violence themselves. To do so is always wrong; it is the act of a fool and a coward. Yes, even if you’re punching a Nazi.

  • As a Canadian secularist, humanist, atheist, and freethinker, I categorically and unequivocally condemn bigotry and intolerance against immigrants. Immigrants are particularly vulnerable members of our society, and far too often preyed on by malicious forces who seek scapegoats to tempt away the attention and anger of the masses, all while they conduct their own skullduggery. But we are all immigrants, all of us, if one goes back far enough. Our whole society is an immigrant society, and all the better for it.

  • As a Canadian secularist, humanist, atheist, and freethinker, I categorically and unequivocally condemn bigotry and intolerance against Muslims. There is room in this society, and this large country, for us both. And there is room for us to disagree, and discuss the differences in our views rationally and peacefully. That we diverge in our beliefs does not make us enemies; what would make us enemies is only if we did not listen to each other, try to learn and understand each others’ positions, and find a compromise we can both live with.

As a Canadian secularist, humanist, atheist, and freethinker, I stand with the victims of ’s attack. I offer my condolences, and extend a hand of friendship and support.

But even as I feel the pain of the attack against all of us and our shared values of peace, tolerance, and respect for diversity, I must not allow myself to forget that while this was an attack on us all, it was not all of us who were targeted. We are all victims of this attack, in a way, but Canadian Muslims in particular. It was they who were specifically targeted, in a place where they – predominantly – would be gathered peacefully, and vulnerable. We must not forget, and must not deny, that this vicious and cowardly attack was an act of islamophobia.

That cowardly, hateful piece of shit opened fire on people peacefully praying, shooting them in the back as they were bent over helplessly trusting in the goodness of our society and the people within it. He betrayed us as Québécois; he betrayed us as Canadians; he betrayed us as human beings.

I wanted to put this off. My excuse was that I wanted to wait to learn more about the perpetrator; I wanted to know – and it pains me to even admit the possibility – if he was one of us.

We need to talk about our responsibility for the Québec mosque shooting. Because we do bear responsibility.

Within the articles on this blog, and in its comments, you will easily find attitudes that support what the murderer did. You will easily find arguments, reasoning, and logic that can be used to justify taking extreme action against Muslims. And not just in this blog; in the atheist community in general it would be no great task to find several popular figures espousing ideas and views that could be used as justification for the act.

Oh, of course no one’s actually advocated violence explicitly. That would be far too obvious. Even in the most extreme circles of the “alt-right”, few if any come right out and say the most vile and disgusting things they believe. Very few come right out and explicitly admit that their position is based on intolerance and hatred, let alone going so far as to openly condone violence.

But what they do is offer is a platform of ideas from which it is only a small, easy leap to violence. Then they shrug and proclaim innocence and surprise when one disturbed “lone wolf” makes that leap.

They use language and arguments that demonize and dehumanize the other – in this case, Muslims. They preach fire about how “something must be done!” because those people or what they represent are a particularly grave threat to society. Anyone who counsels reason or moderation in how we approach the issue is put down, mocked, called a fool or worse for not recognizing the threat.

This very blog has been host to people denouncing the values of multiculturalism and tolerance for diversity that are the vaccines against the diseases of hatred and intolerance that inspire acts like ’s. This very blog has seen people writing comments claiming that being Muslim is incompatible with being part of liberal, secular society. This very blog, its readers and contributors, have propagated ideas that could have been entertained by the killer, and offered as justification for what he did. Yes, yes, yes, again, no-one suggested anyone should go on a killing spree. But you don’t get from not having any opinions about Islam to the kinds of beliefs the shooter must have had about it without passing through some of the positions championed by some of the contributors and commenters on this blog. We may not have been the final inspiration, or even the direct proximate cause, but we could have been a stepping stone on his path.

And as we denounce religious moderates who deny responsibility when their beliefs provide inspiration and justification for extremists, we should denounce those of us who deny that we have responsibility when extremists find inspiration and justification from our ideas.

We need to acknowledge the poison in our midst. We need to acknowledge that we have sometimes advocated ideas that could lead to and justify intolerance and bigotry. We need to admit that we have sometimes been careless in our critiques of Islam and Muslims, allowing our ideas to be too easily co-opted by real bigots and haters. We need to find better, smarter ways to make our arguments, so that they cannot be used to justify intolerance, discrimination or violence.

We need to take responsibility.

Of course we must continue to criticize bad ideas and irrationality, wherever we find them. And of course that includes criticizing both Islam and Muslims, from time to time. Done poorly, it is easy for our criticisms of Islam and Muslims to be warped into urges along the path toward violence. But there are ways we can make these criticisms that make it functionally impossible for real bigots to capitalize on them.

We need to acknowledge our responsibility, and the first step along that path is no longer denying it. It’s depressing how often I see atheist writers showing a cavalier and arrogantly ignorant attitude to concerns about islamophobia. Some even go so far as to pretend there is no such thing. As if the man who walked into a mosque to shoot praying Muslims in the back was really only pissed off about skin colour. Or maybe it was over a parking space.

You know what one Canadian islamophobe was doing the day a killer targeted a mosque to murder Muslims while they were peacefully praying? He was posting a rant against islamophobia, calling people who were concerned about it fools. He was mocking the people who were denouncing islamophobia because of – and these are his words – in their warped imaginations, the possibility of antipathy towards those who practice Islam. He was brushing aside every attempt to call out islamophobic bigotry, nitpicking at semantics until nothing anyone said out of concern for the welfare of Muslims mattered. And then while he was publishing his post arguing that we shouldn’t care about antipathy toward Muslims, six Muslims were murdered… solely because of one person’s antipathy toward them. But hey, only fools denounce the type of bigotry that led to those Muslim deaths, because that just gets in the way of denouncing Muslims, and that’s what really matters, right David Rand?

As of my writing this, he hasn’t written anything since. I’m somewhat morbidly curious what he’d have to say now. No, really, I’m not. Fuck him.

We need to do better than that. We need to stop fighting against the existence of islamophobia – especially based on idiotic semantic quibbles that ultimately don’t matter one squat, even if they were sound. We need to start acknowledging that, yes, islamophobia is real, it really exists, and unfortunately some of the things we say could be used in support of it. We don’t need to stop criticizing Islam or Muslims, but we do need to be more careful of how we do it, so that our words can no longer be co-opted by dangerous extremists.

We were all victims of the attack in Québec, in a sense. But it’s very difficult to admit that we were also all perpetrators in a sense. We who allowed our community to become a platform for the kinds of ideas and attitudes that led to this attack – whether we were actively pushing those ideas, or merely being bystanders – we need to take responsibility. We need to take a stand. We need to fight the bile in our midst.

I don’t know if the perpetrator of this cowardly, stupid crime was actually one of us. It doesn’t really matter, though. It’s problem enough that he could have been. And I won’t stand for that anymore.

I know my community does not condone violence or terrorism, and has always explicitly proclaimed as much. But that’s not enough. I will also not allow it to be a vessel where extremism can fester and grow while we politely look away and pretend it’s not there. I demand no less of any community, religious or otherwise; and so I demand no less of my own.

Being a force for good elsewhere in the world begins by dealing with the evil in our own community.

8 thoughts on “We need to talk about our responsibility for the Québec mosque shooting

  1. bruce van dieten

    Agreed. And thanks for the force and clarity of your position.

  2. David Ackerman

    This past Sunday, as the blog rightly said, all Canadians became victims of hatred and bigotry and violence. What a shame, in this day and age of reason and unbelievable advances in science and knowledge and of the reality of our true nature and place in the Universe.

    Ignorance breeds fear. Fear breeds hatred and violence. What I find incomprehensible is that the perpetrators accuse “Muslims” of violence and they turn around and commit the crime they are voicing themselves against. But of course those perpetrators are ignorant, violent, and have no place in our civil society.

    I am an atheist, but I am so not by accident, and not because I am a follower. I am so because I studied all three Abrahamic religions very carefully. I read the Old Testament, the Talmud, the New Testament, and the Quran. Only after studying those three religions carefully, I qualify myself to pass judgement that they are all based on the same myths.

    I wish the general public would educate themselves about Islam. Here are some surprises for you Christians and Jews:

    1. Allah is the actual name of God in the Bible. Remember the Bible was not written in Egnlish, it was written in Hebew and Greek. The “EL” in Israel, Ishmael, Gabriel, Manuel, etc is Hebrew for Allah. Arabic and Hebrew are both Semitic languages and their vocabulary is almost identical. When Jesus died on the cross, he said “Elahi, Elahi, lama sabaktani”, which is exactly what a Muslim person would say, using the same words to express the same meaning. God in the Old Testament is Elohim, and those Muslims who were murdered in Quebec city would have repeated the words “Allahum” in their prayers and supplications, which also means Elohim. Jews, Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

    2. The Quran has an entire chapter entitled “Mary”, to honor the mother of Jesus. In that Chapter it mentions the story of the birth of Jesus even more eloquently than Mark, Mathew, Luke or John. In this Chapter, it says the Mary the Mother of Jesus is the most honorable woman who existed and who will ever exist. Even the New Testament does not give Virgin Mary so much honor.

    3. In Islam, Jesus is the Messiah, he was born of the Virgin Mary, and he performed miracles just like his life story in the New Testament. Jesus is as important a prophet and spiritual leader for a Muslim child as he is for a Christian child.

    4. Muslims await the return of Jesus Christ just as much as Christians do and they believe that will happen soon in the “final days”.

    5. The Quran mentions the lives and examples of all Biblical prophets, including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Isaac, David, Solomon, John the Baptist, the 12 disciples of Jesus, Jonah, etc. It’s the same belief, the same teachings, the same moral standards. Islam is deeply rooted in Judaism and Christianity.

    6. It says in the Quran that if you do not follow the teachings of Moses and Jesus, then you are NOT a Muslim. Islam acknowledges the presence and reverence of the Torah by Moses and the New Testament teachings of Jesus.

    7. In the Quran, God created Adam and Eve and it mentions their downfall from the Garden of Eden just as it does in the Old Testament.

    8. It the Quran the life and deeds of Abraham are to be revered and followed by Muslims.

    9. In the Quran, it mentions the story of the Flood and Noah and the ark, exactly as it is narrated in the Old Testament.

    I can go on with hundreds of examples of how Islam is essentially the same religion as Judaism and Christianity.

    So what is all this hatred for? Muslims are essentially Jews and Christians, following the same God, the same moral standards, and believing in exactly the same teachings of the Torah and the New Testament.

    If those ignorant perpetrators would take the time to learn what it really says in the Quran, a lot of their fear and hatred may well evaporate. If they would take the time to remember that Moses and Jesus were also from the Middle East, that should give them enough reason to pause and think. Jesus was a Palestinian Jew, as is clearly mentioned in the New Testament. Christianity is an Eastern religion, and only hijacked and re-packaged by the Romans in 325 AD and force-fed to pagan Europeans over the ages. The Middle East is home for many Arab Christians and Arab Jews, and not only Muslims. They all lived together peacefully for centuries.

    I hope we will educate ourselves about the true essence of things before we judge them. Education and honest research into the true nature of things is what will take humanity out of its divisions, biases, racism, hatred, and violence.

    I hope that Canada will not fall in the slippery slope of hatred and bigotry. I hope that all Canadians would use common sense, rationality, reason, and science to guide their lives and that future generations would put the God of the three Abrahamic religions into permanent retirement.

  3. Tim Underwood

    I do not fear Islam or Catholicism, I just ridicule the perpetuation of these delusional practices.

    Secularist, humanist, atheist, and freethinkers are routinely persecuted in most the countries dominated by Islam or Catholicism.

    One day we will have a Canadian Prime Minister who will ask, when entering one of these effective theocracies, “Who is your secular leader?” Half, in round figures, of all countries that have risen above the bare minimum of primitivisms, are secularists, humanists, atheists, and freethinkers. They are just violently suppressed within their own countries.

    Aside from my insensitive reaction to your heartfelt expression of grief, when I look at the pictures of these latest interfaith victims, it is obvious to me that they are also victims of genocidal fables.

    A week or so ago around 400 IS fighters, fleeing a city they had occupied, were blown to shreds by high altitude bombers where they had regrouped out in the desert. If we looked at the photographs of any of these young IS fighters, we would surely grieve their horrific end. High explosive bombs kill by a disintegrating shockwave. Of course these young IS fighters were deluded, but who is at fault for this?

  4. Indi Post author

    It’s starting to come out now that the alleged perpetrator, Alexandre Bissonnette, is not probably an atheist. He appears to have been a Christian, judging by his fandom of apologists like William Lane Craig, and a very stupid book about atheism’s amorality that makes dumb claims like that Western secular values are actually Christian values and that atheism could lead to sharia law.

    Nevertheless, it’s also coming out that he was a fan of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. If we assume Bissonnette is Christian, then gee, I wonder what parts of Dawkins’ and Hitchens’ writings he found inspiring? That’s a rhetorical question; the answer is obvious. It must have been their Islam-bashing, which both have been very sloppy about on multiple occasions. Both have said stupid, careless, unnecessarily over-the-top things about Islam and Muslims.

    This is exactly what I was concerned about. There’s nothing wrong with criticizing Islam or Muslims – in fact, quite the opposite. But some people – far too many – do it carelessly, with no regard for the very real consequences of their over-the-top rhetoric.

    I fully expect defenders of such writers to cry out “not their fault”. And in a direct sense that’s technically true. But in a broader sense, one that takes into account the reality of the political and social climate we live in, those who knowingly provide intellectual justification for bigoted extremists – even if unintentionally – *do* bear responsibility for that.

    If we want to continue criticizing Islam and Muslims – and I do – then we must be smarter with how we do it. We must avoid over-the-top rhetoric. We must avoid demonization. We must make our criticisms in a way that they cannot be easily seized upon by bigots and violent extremists. We must not ignore the evidence of the social climate toward Muslims; we must be adult about how we criticize Islam and Muslims.

  5. Randy

    “We need to start by making sure our voices are part of the chorus clearly and loudly condemning the attack, on every level”

    As an organization, sure, YOU do. But “we” certainly do not. I do condemn the attack, and I’ve said so elsewhere. But I am in no way, morally or otherwise, required to actually say so. I do it here because I need to, in order to make my point. Many other people have died, some in bias attacks, and I’ve said nothing about them either (and neither have you) because we both recognize there is NO obligation to do so.

    There seems to be almost an orgasmic glee among certain people that finally, finally something happened, and it wasn’t a Muslim terrorist attack. They feel this single event justifies all they’ve been pushing about so-called “Islamophobia”, because up to now so many alleged hate crimes have been proven by police to be staged, but now people are definitely dead, so there will be no debunking of that. It’s gross and disgusting to see how this has been used.

    “Atheists and Muslims we may be, but those labels should not be used as tools to divide us or create enmity between us”

    This is a remarkably blind comment. Read their holiest book. Just open it to a random page, and just READ what they think about you, as an atheist, in particular. Seriously. Don’t be stupid, and don’t make other people stupid. If the supernatural part of this phenomenon were removed, you would be screaming from the rooftops for something to do be done about these right-wing haters. But because it’s got that magic, it’s all AOK by you. That’s called hypocrisy.

    “But if you don’t agree with these declarations, then you are not my ally”

    Whether I agree with them or not, I am not your ally. How could I ever ally myself with someone who seeks to partition atheists with blanket divisions such as these? It’s unethical, and it’s dangerous. This was the downfall of Atheism+, and you’ll probably follow the path of so many before you… PZ Myers, Richard Carrier… By the way, atheism STILL hasn’t recovered from that debacle, and has less political power than ever, despite growing numbers. Thanks!

    Further, as a Canadian skeptic, I continue to note your wilful exclusion of skeptics form the original SHAFTS acronym (which you implicitly include by your ordered reference to secularists, humanists, atheists, and freethinkers, but not skeptics). It’s plainly intentional on your part, which ought to disturb anyone interested in rational critical thought and empiricism.

    Further, I totally reject your claim that I am an immigrant. You’re trying to dissociate me from my land. I was born here, and I am as indigenous as anything else that was born here, from the ants to the polar bears.

    “we don’t share a cause”

    Yet you blog at a place called Canadian Atheist, and what you say blows back on me. I am obligated to confront it. If this was “The Indi Show” or whatever, I probably wouldn’t bother. Maybe you ought to change the name. For honesty.

    “I wanted to know – and it pains me to even admit the possibility – if he was one of us”

    It’s irrelevant who he claims or claimed to be, as regards atheism, because there is nothing within atheism, and indeed nothing within even Trump-ism (apparently he was a fan of Trump) that advocates killing people at all, much less a mass slaughter. That’s what makes us, and even the Trump-ists different from Islam. Whatever motivated this guy did not come from atheism, or even from the right. Maybe there’s something unique in francophone circles. But other than the same nutjobs that have always existed, nobody has been calling for this, anywhere in English Canada or American.

    “Fuck him. We need to do better than that”

    I don’t care about that guy. We need to do better than YOU. Have you checked out Wikipedia’s list of terror attacks in recent years? Have you checked out the Pew polls and other polls of Muslim opinion worldwide? Why let facts get in the way of a good holier-than-thou rant, right?

    When someone suffers a bias attack, The inconvenient reality is that it doesn’t make them better people than they were. It makes them victims. This is the failure of the regressive left. Being a victim is NOT a virtue. It doesn’t make a person right or moral or good. It doesn’t negate the ideology they were pushing onto their children, at the very least.

    “I know my community does not condone violence or terrorism”

    That’s absurd. The “community” you appear to be aligning with is notoriously violent. It authorizes its use of violence by declaring that everyone else is a Nazi, as you’re essentially doing on this very blog post. Surely you saw that mom who kicked her young son crying onto the street for voting “Trump” in a school mock election. Surely you saw the Trump office that was firebombed. Surely you saw the damage done at UC Davis to prevent a Trump speaker from speaking. Surely you saw the Trump supporter who was recently mobbed, rabbit-punched and almost killed. What is this pattern, if not terrorism?

    1. Indi Post author

      So what exactly is your *point*?

      Seriously, you’ve picked random sentences from the post and “responded” to them, but you completely ignored the entire thesis of the post.

      Do you actually disagree with it? Do you actually believe that people who criticize groups that they know are socially vulnerable and frequently targeted for harassment and discrimination *don’t* have a responsibility to make their criticisms in ways that are difficult to be used to justify further harassment and discrimination against them?

      I can’t actually discern any actual point to your comment, besides that you’re still butthurt that I don’t consider skepticism by itself to be worthy of mention (which I’ve already explained to you *twice*) and that you *really* don’t like the straw man you’ve created that you want to believe is me (apparently you think I’m some kind of Nazi-fingering, asshole-punching, Atheism+ supporter, when I’ve *never* said anything in support of Atheism+, I’m not really into calling people Nazis, and in this very post condemned punching people you disagree with).

      So what *exactly* is your point?

      1. Tim Underwood

        Islamophobia, and its older brother, anti-Semitism are interfaith issues. We have to always, it seems, respond to these charges by reminding monotheistic practitioners that we are of no faith and hence, not involved in their interfaith warring. Likewise, we are not involved in their ecumenical coming together.

        Probably the only place we encounter their thought world is in the field of literary criticism. They really hate us for indulging in this activity when it comes to their literature which they deem to be above criticism.


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