By any rational measure, it was a small thing.
Monday’s vigil in downtown Whitehorse for the victims of the terrorist attack on the Centre culturel islamique de Québec, that left six dead and 19 wounded, drew perhaps 200 shivering souls, huddled around flickering candles.
It was all over in half an hour, following brief remarks from community leaders and a moment of silence. Some words, symbolic lights, people standing in a circle in a small, out-of-the-way city.
Kwanlin Dun First Nation Chief Doris Bill called the violence directed at the Muslim community “despicable.”
“I look at the news and I’m absolutely disgusted by what I see,” she said. “And I think if we can make our little voice known here in the Yukon, we should.”
It remains a bleak reality that so many lives can be snuffed out by a single man with a heart full of rage, a brain full of nihilistic garbage, and the seemingly gleeful intent to inflict indiscriminate cruelty upon strangers.
Yukoners came out to huddle in the cold with strangers to show solidarity with the city’s Muslim community and to grieve the six men who died so needlessly. And also because of the fear that our little city is not immune to the cancerous type of hatred that can flare up and spoil so many lives.
“The only way to overcome our fear and grief in these moments is through love and unity,” said Muhammad Javed of the Yukon Muslims Society.
Sunday’s mass killing, for which a 27-year-old Quebec City man faces 11 charges, including six counts of first-degree murder, came on the heels of U.S. President Donald Trump’s racist and haphazard ban on all refugees, and citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries. It was a grim week, and many of us rightly fear things are going to get worse.
The election of Trump to the presidency triggered a lot of concern that the new administration would stumble, whether by incompetence or malpractice, into a needless and destructive war with, say, Iran or China.
But I think the much greater risk is that Trumpism will trigger a wave of violence undertaken by the extremist and white supremacist underbelly of his coalition. Far more likely than a shooting war over Taiwan is the spectre of even more spasms of civic violence in our own societies.
The common thread running through the most extreme of this new, extreme ideology has nothing to do with any policy debate over taxes or crime or the economy. It’s rooted instead in the gleeful will to punish and hurt its perceived enemies, be they immigrants, Muslims, women, leftists, or anyone else (the list is long).
It is an anti-politics: the desire to end such pesky obstacles to manly action through the use of intimidation, and, all too often, raw violence.
Jessica Lott Thompson of the Yukon Human Rights Commission told the gathering Islamophobia “must be spoken by name to be eliminated.” The first part of that statement is true. The latter is probably too optimistic. Poisonous beliefs cannot be fumigated from our democratic arena like an unwelcome insect. The best we can hope for is to name and confront the menace with facts and with love, and to sideline it as much as possible. This requires the constant work of democratic politics. Progress is rarely linear and success is never final.
The chance that this kind of xenophobic violence could stain our own communities here in the Yukon is remote, even infinitesimal. But it’s not zero. Ugly sentiments bubble up occasionally, and that’s just the tiny portion of such thought that shows up online. Northerners have always been good at looking out for one another. That’s never been so important.
The English poet W.H. Auden wrote a line on the beginning of the Second World War that Lyndon Johnson later repurposed (and slightly misquoted) for a speech warning of the perils of nuclear war.
“These are the stakes: to make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark,” Johnson said, before closing with Auden’s line. “We must either love each other, or we must die.”
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