On Feb. 1, the McGill International Student Network (MISN) held a rally entitled “United We Stand #NoHate” in order to “reflect [MISN’s] support for the Muslim community” in light of the troubling “recent events” around the world. The event was widely understood as a reaction to the Trump administration’s travel ban against Muslim countries and to the recent terrorist attack against a mosque in Quebec City, in which a gunman killed six Muslim men—Azzeddine Soufiane, Abdelkrim Hassane, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Ibrahima Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, and Boubaker Thabti—while they were praying.
Some students criticized the rally for taking an apolitical stance, as it pitched itself as an inclusive event and explicitly stated that Trump supporters were able to participate. McGill Against Austerity organized a counter-protest, called “Make Racists Afraid Again,” which took place simultaneously and claimed the initial demonstration was “cowardly” because of its apolitical stance and refusal to explicitly condemn Trump. The afternoon of the event, the “Make Racists Afraid Again” protesters proceeded down to the “United We Stand” rally unfolding at the Y-intersection, interrupted the speech of a McGill student and Syrian refugee, and verbally confronted participants.
While taking an overt or directed political stance is an essential aspect of protest, the decision of “Make Racists Afraid Again” to interrupt the “United We Stand” rally was disrespectful, ineffective, and morally reprehensible. Taking a stance against Islamaphobia, xenophobia, and other forms of bigotry is crucial; however, it must be done with consideration of those who are most vulnerable.
The events of the past week have been deeply disturbing, and McGill students may be experiencing a range of emotional responses to news from the United States and Quebec City. Some may be angered or frustrated, while others may wish to express solidarity and compassion for those affected. All of these sentiments are valid. However, condemning the desire of some students to show love and support to the Muslim community, instead of hate for those who have harmed it, is unacceptable.
Some Muslim students from countries targeted by Trump’s ban were present at the “United We Stand” event, and voiced their appreciation for the show of solidarity. In condemning the solidarity demonstration, “Make Racists Afraid Again” showed disregard for the needs of individuals most affected by recent events. Those who have the privilege to speak out without fear of harm are needed in the fight against those who target marginalized groups. In doing so, students must be diligent that their voices do not speak over those they wish to support.
The affected individuals in this case sought not only to express solidarity in the face of adversity, but to mourn the tragedy in Quebec City. Lost in the debate over opposing Trump was the need to remember the victims of the recent shooting. Protesters can hold onto their anger and their political convictions, but those grieving must be afforded the opportunity to do so in their own way. It is inexcusable that neither the organizers of the counter-protest, such as McGill Against Austerity, nor its participants, including Students’ Society of McGill University Vice-President External David Aird, demonstrated this sensitivity.
Not only was this counter-protest insensitive, it undermined the message behind both demonstrations. The counter-protest purported to “make racists afraid,” yet the only people it succeeded in frightening were those at the “United We Stand” rally. In effect, the “Make Racists Afraid Again” protesters mistook “United We Stand’s” alternate priority for cowardice. Furthermore, the haphazard way the counter-protest was organized and carried out made its message unclear and misdirected. This needless conflict between the protests overshadowed the central message of both rallies: That McGillians simultaneously stand with the Muslim community, and against those who would do it harm.