Initial reaction to Quebec shooting must be condemned

Remember last week when I said it can be extremely damaging when people go on social media and start spouting off about things before facts are verified?

I don’t ever carry an editorial theme from one week to the next, but things are getting bad. Imagine being named by police as a suspect in a terrorist attack and having it plastered all over the internet, only for the police to change their minds and call you a mere witness the next day?

That’s the situation Mohamed Belkhadir found himself in after being arrested upon fleeing the horrific terror attack in Quebec Sunday night. Not only was Belkhadir not a suspect, he had actually called 911 and was reportedly trying to give first aid to a wounded person.

Many media outlets reported that a man of Moroccan origin was a suspect in the attack. When police said he was no longer a suspect, most media outlets deleted or revised their reports. To be clear, both the media and the police are  responsible for establishing this false narrative. It took a letter from the Prime Minister’s Office to Fox News to get them to delete a tweet where they falsely said the suspect was Moroccan.

Prime Minister Trudeau hasn’t done much to impress me thus far, but I must give him a massive commendation for standing up for the truth, and for unreservedly calling the incident an act of terror.

There was no shortage of right-wing pundits, expressing with muted joy, how the suspects in the attack were Muslim. On the Canadian side, self-proclaimed libertarian Lauren Southern said two Syrian suspects were ‘confirmed on police radio’ (it appears the names were made up).

Rebel Media posted a video suggesting the mosque that was attacked had a ‘bitter rivalry’ with another mosque. Columnist Tarek Fatah tweeted “Alexandre was not alone. His Muslim accomplice has been made state witness to avoid any talk of MuslimOnMuslim terror.” He further suggested the Quebec and Canadian governments were “trying to cover up” that there was a Muslim shooter.

That tweet hasn’t been deleted. I am completely astounded by how prominent media figures with hundreds of thousands of followers on social media can so recklessly spread blatant misinformation.

Irresponsible behaviour like this must be condemned in the strongest terms, not only by the public and our political leaders, but by us in the media too. It tarnishes the reputation of not just Muslims, but of all of us who work in the media, as it damages our integrity and the public’s trust in us. There’s a reason we were taught in journalism school: “When in doubt, leave it out”.

As for the incident itself, it proves how ineffective and backwards President Trump’s ban on immigrants from Muslim-majority countries is. The fact that one of the world’s leading state sponsors of terrorism, Saudi Arabia, was left off the list shows how the executive order is just a thinly-veiled attempt to further isolate countries the United States already doesn’t like.

Muslims, proportionally, are the greatest victims of terrorism in the world. A 2015 BBC report shows that Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan were the countries with the most fatalities from terrorist attacks from 2004-2013. That’s why it wasn’t such a stretch to say it was a Muslim on Muslim attack — members from two largest denominations in Islam, Sunni and Shia, routinely kill each other in places like Syria.

Radical Islam is a problem, but to suggest that even 15 to 20 percent of Muslims support Shariah law, as pundit Brigitte Gabriel has, is disingenuous and fictitious. The Christian Science Monitor, of all organizations, has debunked that claim.

Putting up walls and targeting people based on their country of origin is not going to stop terrorism. Anyone from any race can carry out these vile acts, as demonstrated by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway and Dylan Roof in the United States.

The tentacles of radical Islam are at their slimiest on the web. Florida’s Omar Mateen was born and raised in the United States, and radicalized online, so Trump’s ban would have had zero effect. I was appalled to see White House press secretary Sean Spicer point to the Quebec attack as further rationale for the president being “proactive rather than reactive”, effectively using the slaughter of Muslims as justification for a ban on Muslims.

I don’t have any easy solution to put an end to acts of terrorism. What I do know is the solution starts here at home, by not remaining silent, speaking out against hate, anger and ignorance, and remembering what we as Canadians share in common, rather than what divides us.

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