‘Unity is powerful’
Cape Bretoners join nationwide protests against Islamophobia
On one of the coldest days of the year, Cape Bretoners came together to show warmth toward those feeling the chill of change in some governments’ policies toward those of the Islamic faith.
For Muslim Sohaila Abdo, the 60 people who gathered in front of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality Civic Centre on Saturday afternoon were an indication of hope for a better future for immigrants to this area.
“Racism and negativity comes from fear,” said Abdo, who came to Canada from Egypt and now works as a settlement counsellor with the Cape Breton Island Centre for Immigration. “The solution to that is not only to accept differences but to welcome it.
“Unity is powerful — we don’t believe in bans or walls or caps.”
Those who attended the rally Saturday afternoon were part of a series of nationwide protests, National Days of Action Against Islamophobia and Deportations, being held over the weekend to protest the growth of Islamophobia in the U.S. and Canada.
U.S. President Donald Trump issued an executive order last week that put a hold on people from seven predominantly Muslim nations from entering the U.S. A federal judge in Washington State temporarily blocked the order on Friday that applied nationwide, reopening the borders for the time being and the U.S. state department reversed the cancellations of visas under Trump’s order.
In Canada, an attack on a Quebec mosque that left six dead and recent acts of vandalism have also given rise to tensions in this country.
Abdo says she know from working with immigrants that learning about their differences can be rewarding and can changes lives. She asked those attending the rally to open their minds and their hearts to the new residents.
“Invite your new neighbour to supper,” said Abdo. “Get to know them as people. Learn about their differences, learn about their experiences and where they come from. This is what is going to make a difference. It’s that experience that will erase the fear and will diminish the racism, whether it’s here or anywhere else in the world.”
Her message was echoed by Jeff Ward from Membertou, who spoke about how the Mi’kmaq welcomed everyone to this country.
“What is the opposite to love? It’s not hate. The opposite of love is fear — people fear what they do not know,” said Ward, who reminded the audience that the Mi’kmaq were this country’s original greeters. “So people don’t know about Mi’kmaq people, they don’t know about Islamic people, Arab people, Middle Eastern people, wherever the people are from they don’t know about them so they fear one another. We need to learn about one another. How do we battle fear and how do we battle that is through knowledge and to share that knowledge with each other.”
Dr. Monika Dutt, one of the organizers of Saturday’s rally, said people in this community need to work on this country’s issues and work to address them.
“As much as we’re a welcoming diverse country, which we hear a lot of, I think we also need to look at the problems we have here but as a community talk about them and then work to address them,” said Dutt. “I don’t think Cape Breton is different from anywhere else.”
Amanda McDougall, who was involved in bringing Syrian refugees to Cape Breton, said Cape Bretoners may have been hesitant at first about the program but once they learned more about it, quickly extended a welcoming hand.
“Cape Bretoners are remarkable,” said McDougall. “In the span of only a couple of months, tens of thousands of dollars were raised, families actually came here and continue to live here which is an amazing thing. They feel welcomed and feel they’re a part of the community so at first, yes, it may be a little difficult but it’s the most beautiful thing to do.
“I don’t want to sound cliché but I do think love is stronger than hate. ”
Sohaila Abdo, a Muslim who now works with immigrants, was one of the speakers at a rally in Sydney on Saturday afternoon against Islamophobia and deportations. About 60 people attended the rally.
Jeff Ward from Membertou beats a traditional drum during a rally in Sydney on Saturday afternoon, part of a national weekend of protests, against Islamophobia and deportations.
About 60 people attended a rally in Sydney on Saturday afternoon against Islamophobia and deportations.