Kelowna students speak out against terrorism, bigotry

A plea for compassion came from each speaker, along with a call for further empowerment through education.

Bigotry and further violence are not the answers to trouble erupting around the world, say UBC Okanagan students who gathered Thursday in response to recent terrorism attacks around the globe.

Nearly 100 students wearing mourning-black gathered for the event that featured 10 speakers from a number of the university’s cultural groups.

Their aim, explained the event’s organizer Ryan Kaila, was to stand together and remember those who have suffered and bring light to the darkness surrounding the world today.

Darkness, explained several students, that has seeped into Kelowna.

Kaila said that his fellow UBC Okanagan student Rhoma Khurram Nawaz recently experienced some of the anti-Islam sentiment that has turned up in larger urban centres this week.

“She went to a bar downtown and was refused entry. They weren’t allowing anyone from ‘Arabia’,” said Kaila, quoting the person who barred the UBC Okanagan student who had used her Pakistan-issue ID at the door of the unnamed establishment.

Kaila said the account of racism “hurt” and didn’t represent the harmony that students at the university enjoy.

Nawaz has refused to name the business and when she spoke on behalf of the school’s Pakistan  association, she didn’t touch on the incident, instead offering a message of compassion.

“It makes us sad when we see hatred and racism … It is just confusion and misinformation that makes people feel this way, and I hope we as students at UBC Okanagan can play a part in changing that,” Nawaz said.

A similar message came from each speaker, along with a call for further empowerment through education.

As became clear in the hours following the Paris attack, there is more focus on violence against western nations than there is for their Muslim counterparts, even though the attacker is the same.

Just the day before the Paris attacks that left 129 dead, two terrorist led suicide bombings in Beirut left 41 dead. On Friday , another suicide bomber targeted the Baghdad funeral of a political enemy, killing 18.  There were no social media outpourings of grief or profile picture filters for Beirut and Baghdad, as there was with Paris.

“These attacks are almost always linked to Islam and Muslims,” said Adnan Bhat, who spoke on behalf of the school’s Muslim Association. “People say, ‘where are the Muslims, why are they not condemning these attacks?’ In reply to that I will quote Dr. Johnathan Brown from Georgetown University,  when he was asked the same question. He said ‘what universe do you live in?”‘

Muslims, said Bhat,  have been tripping over themselves to condemn terrorism and extremism for 15 years now.

“All you have to do is Google ‘Muslims condemn,’ and look for yourselves,” he told the crowd.

Even their condemnation, however, hasn’t done anything to stop the terrorists, and a solution to their ongoing misdeeds will require involvement from all communities– western and Islamic alike, said Bhat.

He also pointed out that it’s important for Canadians to remember that Syrian refugees are not the enemy, they’re escaping one.  And, he said, Canada has a stringent screening process that he trusts.

“I know one thing for sure, if we want to succeed we have to remain fully human,” he said. ” To close our hearts to love and other humans, we have already lost.”

A number of local organizations have stepped up and pledged their support of efforts to bring refugees to the area.

The Catholic Diocese of Nelson,  Mission Creek Alliance Church and United Churches have all sponsored families. At least one family has arrived, while others are expected in coming weeks and months.

The province has also set up a toll free number at 1-877-952-6914 that private sponsors and community groups can call to get help navigating the bureaucracy of refugee sponsorship