IT is the stuff of nightmares. A Pakistani family that had moved to Canada apparently to build a better life was mowed down by a hate-filled, sick mind as they went out for their evening walk in the city of London, Ontario. This gruesome crime has sent shockwaves across Canada as well as Pakistan for its sheer barbarity. Four members of the Afzaal family lost their lives in this clearly Islamophobic attack, while a child survivor is receiving treatment.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has rightly termed it a “terrorist act” while a local police official says the family was targeted “because of their Islamic faith”. The attack in Ontario highlights the growing toxic nexus between Islamophobia and white supremacy in Western states, and the need for foreign governments to check this dangerous trend before more valuable lives are lost.

Read: Canada mourns a 'model family' cut down on an evening stroll

In many Western states, far-right groups and individuals have begun to assert themselves violently. Perhaps the bloodiest example of this was witnessed in the New Zealand city of Christchurch in 2019, when an Australian extremist went on a murderous rampage targeting some of the city’s mosques. Earlier, in 2017, Canada had witnessed an outrage when a white supremacist had targeted a Quebec City mosque. Moreover, hate crimes targeting Asian-Americans have multiplied in the US during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, while in March, US intelligence chiefs raised the alarm over possible domestic mass-casualty attacks against civilians by white supremacists.

There are different reasons for the growth of white extremism and terrorism. Much of this has been fuelled by conspiracy theories such as the ‘great replacement’ idea which roughly states that immigrants, particularly Muslims and people of colour, will ‘replace’ native Caucasians and Europeans. This hateful rhetoric has found many takers as immigrants move to the West in considerable numbers and in many cases, after years of hard work, establish themselves successfully in their new homes. For the far right, these immigrants are the perfect targets, as they are blamed for taking local jobs during periods of economic stagnation and ‘sullying’ the local culture due to their faith and practices.

The response of the Canadian government has been admirable, as Mr Trudeau and senior members of the country’s political establishment have rushed to the site of the tragedy to console Muslim citizens and condemn this act of terrorism. In many ways, this mirrors New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s impressive handling of the Christchurch tragedy. Leaders of Muslim states, including Pakistan, should learn lessons from their foreign counterparts on how to treat minorities with respect and compassion, particularly after terrorist attacks. The child survivor of this outrage must be provided the mental and emotional care he needs after witnessing such massive trauma. Western states need to do some serious soul-searching to counter the twin ogres of Islamophobia and white supremacist terrorism before more damage is done.

Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2021

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