Shortly before 8 p.m. on Jan. 29, a gunman opened fire indiscriminately into a crowd of children, men and women who were worshipping during evening prayer at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec in the Quebecois provincial capital. Six men were killed including Dr. Khaled Belkacemi, a professor at Laval University’s School of Agricultural Sciences and Food.
Alexandre Bissonnette, a student at the university, was arrested shortly after the incident and is now the sole suspect in the shooting. He has been charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five-counts of attempted murder while using a restricted firearm.
A week after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Martin Robin and Bissonnette, who met at Laval University in Quebec City in 2014, discussed Trump’s ban prohibiting entry to travelers from a number of Muslim-majority nations.
Robin expressed that his exchange with Bissonnette drew fear when he heard Bissonnette discuss alt-right viewpoints such as severely limiting immigration to Canada based on race.
Quebec City in particular, has a murky history of far-right, xenophobic politics that have recently culminated in hostility toward the Muslim-Quebecois community. Last June, during the month of Ramadan, a gift-wrapped pig’s head with a note reading “Bon appetit” was left on the doorstep of the same mosque in which last week’s shooting took place.
In October, a number of far-right groups joined Atalante Quebec, a white nationalist organization, to protest immigration at the Citadelle in Quebec City, unfurling a banner over the National Assembly reading “Death to terrorists, Islam Out.”
Bissonnette is notorious among his friends and across social media for his own far-right views.
“It’s with pain and anger that we learn the identity of terrorist Alexandre Bissonnette, unfortunately known to many activists in Quebec for taking nationalist, pro-Le Pen and anti-feminist positions at Laval University and on social media,” noted Francois Deschamps on his Facebook page “Bienvenue au Refugies,” which translates to “Welcome Refugees." The post first appeared following Bissonnette’s first court date.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a statement immediately following the shooting at the mosque, explicitly identifying the attack as an act of terrorism against Muslim-Canadian citizens.
“We condemn this terrorist attack on Muslims in a center of worship and refuge,” Trudeau said. “diversity is our strength, and religious tolerance is a value that we, as Canadians, hold dear.”
Trump, of whom Bissonnette is a fan, has remained disturbingly apathetic. Trump’s Twitter account, often used as a sounding board to express his sympathy and horror in the wake of terrorist attacks perpetrated by Muslims bears no mention of the Quebec City attack.
During a phone call with Trudeau, Trump offered his condolences but has otherwise kept himself out of the conversation.
“Today there were terror attacks in Turkey, Switzerland and Germany - and it is only getting worse,” Trump tweeted back in December. “The civilized world must change thinking!” Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the Quebec City attack as an act of terror, however, suggests that it is actually Trump who must change his thinking to benefit the victims rather than pin them as threats.
Trump also kept silent about white supremacist Dylann Roof’s 2015 killing of nine black worshippers at a historic church in Charleston, South Carolina, and was silent after Roof’s sentencing to death in January as well.
Trump and the Islamophobia that he espouses are but a symptom of a rapidly-expanding, international, white supremacist movement, of which Richard Spencer’s alternative right ideals bear the torch in the United States.
In 2012, Spencer ran an essay contest where he posited the question “Is Black Genocide Right?” His movement has since adopted alarming Nazi symbolism, which Spencer defended as being “in the spirit of irony and exuberance.”
It is absolutely vital that the Baruch College community continues to take pride in being one of the most diverse campuses in the country, especially since undergraduates in attendance represent over 160 different countries.
Today’s rocky political climate leaves many bumps in the road ahead for our fellow students and faculty members who are also members of marginalized communities.
Therefore, it is important now more than ever that students and faculty members unite and display solidarity with Muslim-American peers and with peers of all other targeted groups.