Dr. Mim Fatmi. Photo: Jeremy Klaszus

Hate won’t stop me from taking up space in my city

No one should need to hide indoors to be safe.

Opinion

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In the wake of the seventh attack on Muslim women in Alberta over the last three months, I have a message for my fellow Muslim women: don’t be intimidated.

I know that several women have recently been assaulted for doing nothing more than being visibly Muslim in public spaces, and I know it’s scary. In the most recent incident, two girls under the age of 16 were attacked in Prince’s Island Park in Calgary by a 28-year-old woman who instigated the incident by shouting racial slurs.

This follows a series of assaults in Edmonton on Black Muslim women, all of whom were wearing a hijab. These women were sitting in their cars, waiting for the bus, or shopping. They have reported that hateful obscenities were yelled at them, including, “I’m going to kill you! Take off the hijab!”

It is incomprehensible that in 2021, women continue to face death threats for wearing a head-covering or for looking different. Not entirely unlike the sobering deaths of six Asian women in Atlanta, these Muslim women were simply living their lives when they were approached and physically assaulted by apparent strangers.

It is a disheartening reality that although the fiery reach of xenophobia transcends gender, it is very often women who bear the brunt of these attacks.

However, as demoralizing as these events are, I also know that responding with fear by retreating into our homes will only fuel this fire.

These Muslim women were simply living their lives when they were approached and physically assaulted by apparent strangers.

I am a relatively recent transplant to Calgary and have fully embraced my new home here. Living and working in the Beltline, I am lucky to be able to treat downtown Calgary as my playground. This means that even as a hijab-wearing woman, I often walk alone in the evenings along 17 Avenue, hop on the C-Train to get groceries, go for jogs along the pathways—very frequently through Prince’s Island Park—and I try to do all of this without letting fear get in the way.

The last thing I want is for these incidents to reinforce the misconception that our downtown communities are inherently unsafe. The attacks in Edmonton took place at various ends of the city, from shopping malls and transit centres to the University campus. No quadrant or neighbourhood is immune to hate. Even for those that choose to live as far away from the core as possible, there is very often an understanding that dining, night life, and recreation are all good reasons to come downtown.

The vibrancy of the community I know and love should remain inviting to folks young and old, families, couples, and anyone wanting to take a stroll through a public park.

As of July, I’ll be a newly minted psychiatrist at the Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre working with patients from all walks of life, including some of our city’s most marginalized populations. I am fortunate to be in a profession that aims to humanize the groups that much of society demonizes—and often points to as the source of danger within inner-city communities.

Recognizing that the folks who appear rougher around the edges are my neighbours and fellow citizens, I try to keep in mind the vulnerability that is required to even walk through the doors of my office. While my privilege in these interactions is still undeniably present, my lived experience as a visibly Muslim woman in Alberta is often what helps me to relate to their experiences of systemic discrimination.

I dread to think what might happen if we allow the narrative of hate to dominate our experience of the city. If we let this string of incidents targeted at Muslim women stop us from enjoying our neighbourhoods, we will only feed into the idea that we should be less visible. The reaction to xenophobia cannot be to hide away or be seen less, but rather to be seen even more: being so present and so visible that our importance to the fabric of this community cannot be denied.

The antidote to the poison of hate must be the very opposite of what bigots are demanding of us.

With pandemic fatigue and burnout looming large, none of us should be shying away from safely enjoying parks and public spaces. None of us should be afraid to walk, jog, or cycle on city streets or pathways, if we are able to. We should take the precautions that allow us to feel safe: travelling with a friend, maintaining increased vigilance, even taking self-defense classes. But we certainly should not allow hateful incidents to prevent us from taking care of our physical and mental health.

The antidote to the poison of hate must be the very opposite of what bigots are demanding of us: for each time we are asked to disappear, take up even more space. For each time we are told to take off the hijab, wear it more confidently. And the next time I am told to go back to where I came from, I’ll happily stand my ground knowing that I’m already at home in the Beltline, right here in the heart of the city.

Dr. Mim Fatmi is a psychiatry resident at the University of Calgary. After spending 15 years between Edmonton and Calgary, she remains an Oilers fan.

Independent journalism for Albertans.

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