Area Muslim, multicultural leaders condemn London killings, preach peace across racial, religious lines

Muslim and multicultural leaders in Southwestern Ontario condemned Monday's allegedly hate-motivated mass killing in London, and pleaded for peace across racial and religious borders.

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Muslim and multicultural leaders in Southwestern Ontario condemned Monday’s allegedly hate-motivated mass killing in London, and pleaded for peace across racial and religious borders.

Shockwaves were still being felt two days later in communities not far from where Nathaniel Veltman is alleged to have driven his pickup truck into a family of five of Pakistani descent, killing four as they waited to cross a street. A nine-year-old boy is in hospital with serious, but not life threatening, injuries.

“This is a sad moment for not just the Muslim community but for every Canadian who wants to live in peace,” Chatham-Kent Muslim Association president Hassan El-Khodr said. “What’s more at peace than a family taking a little walk on a side road and trying to enjoy their life. This represents a beautiful Canadian family, and on the other side you have somebody who (allegedly) decided to take their lives. It’s a very sad moment for everybody.”

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Richard Clarke of London, who lives with multiple sclerosis, walked to the front of the London Muslim Mosque on Tuesday to lay down flowers “from our family to theirs.” (MIKE HENSEN, Postmedia Network)
Richard Clarke of London, who lives with multiple sclerosis, walked to the front of the London Muslim Mosque on Tuesday to lay down flowers “from our family to theirs.” (MIKE HENSEN, Postmedia Network) Photo by Mike Hensen /The London Free Press

El-Khodr said he’s seen an outpouring of support from the Chatham-Kent community, which will come together to mourn Wednesday during a vigil at Tecumseh Park in Chatham at 6:30 p.m.

“I can see everybody is upset about it,” he said. “(Attacks targeting Muslims) did happen before, and I think it will happen again, but we promote love, care and understanding among the rest of us and we can live more at peace.”

El-Khodr said there are close to 115 Muslim families in Chatham-Kent, many of whom are close knit like Syed Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their daughter Yumna, 15, and Syed’s 74-year-old mother, who were killed in what police said was a premeditated attack based on the family’s Islamic faith. Fayez, the youngest family member, remains in hospital.

“I see the little boy left behind and I hope he survives,” El-Khodr said. “Any way you think about it, it’s so sad. We’re human beings, and evil exists … but to go that far and to kill a family because of something he didn’t like in his mind, we have to educate among ourselves. Those values and those actions should be condemned.

“Unless there are consequences for those who do those things, I don’t know what kind of rules and laws they can make.”

Veltman, 20, has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it a terrorist attack.

“Obviously, it came as a big shock to us,” Muslim Association of Woodstock vice-president Mohamed Ismail said. “Our prayers are with their family.”

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The tragedy hit closer to home for Ismail, whose in-laws are friends with extended family of those killed.

“We’re kind of at a loss for words,” he said.

There’s uneasiness within the Oxford County Muslim community of about 400, Ismail said, given Monday’s attack and other acts of hate against Muslims the past few years in Canada. Ismail said he’s stressed vigilance while adding there’s no indication a similar attack is imminent in Woodstock or Oxford County.

“You tend to stand out more,” he said. “(You wonder), ‘Should I be walking down Dundas (Street) now or looking over my shoulder? When I cross the road, will someone stop at that sign? It brings that sense of anxiety.

“We assume we’re safe, but when something like that happens down the road from you in a place you went to regularly before the pandemic, now suddenly you realize it’s not just Toronto and larger metropolitan areas. It’s smaller areas, and it brings it closer to home.”

While no Woodstock vigil is planned because of COVID-19 public-health restrictions, Ismail said the association is working with other faith and community groups, politicians and police in Southwestern Ontario to build bridges and dissipate hate in order to move forward once the pandemic passes.

“We can’t stop the lone wolf from acting the way they do, but maybe we can help the younger generation to be more tolerant,” he said.

Multicultural Association of Perth-Huron founder Dr. Geza Wordofa said a vigil is being planned for next Monday or Tuesday at Stratford city hall. The association assists newcomers to the area, and many in the growing local Muslim community have volunteered with the association.

“For me, I’m very, very sad,” he said. “We will not accept discrimination in our community.”

cosmith@postmedia.com

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