SkyTrain attack on Muslim teen inspires fear, anger and forgiveness

December 7, 2017

By Randy Shore, Vancouver Sun |

Hate attacks like the incident earlier this week sow fear in the community, especially when the victim is young and female, local Muslim leaders say.

“It’s such a terrible disappointing thing to happen and terrifying for the young woman who was accosted,” said Haroon Khan, trustee at Al Jamia Masjid Mosque in Vancouver. “Women outwardly show their faith and modesty with the hijab and this guy became unhinged and assaulted her. It’s an assault on all people.”

Eighteen-year-old Noor Fadel was riding the Canada Line SkyTrain wearing a hijab Monday when a man accosted her, screaming insults and threats to kill “all Muslims.” When he tried to grab her head, fellow passenger Jake Taylor intervened.

The suspect, Peirre Belzan, 46, is charged with threatening to cause death or bodily harm and assault. Transit police are also recommending he be charged with sexual assault. While he has no criminal record, Belzan is known to police and apparently homeless.

“Incidents like this are upsetting and it makes you feel real anger,” Khan said.

There was also disappointment in the Muslim community that only one passenger stood up for Fadel.

“I hope most of us learn from this incident that keeping silent is as good as helping the attacker,” said Ajaz Ahmed, city manager for the National Zakat Foundation Canada. “This gives courage to cowards like (the man) who attack people they think are weaker than them.”

Fadel has since allowed her fear to turn to gratitude, that someone was brave enough to stand up for her.

Overtones of racism and Islamophobia in the public arena are encouraging the far right and strike fear in immigrant and religious communities, Khan said.

“The overall rhetoric out there seems to embolden this kind of thing,” he said. “You can look back at this past summer and the uptick in neo-Nazism. You see these characters out there fanning the flames of hatred, putting out racist pamphlets. Those things are very real.”

Far-right extremism has flared up around the world and in Canada, according to Ryan Scrivens, a member of the International CyberCrime Research Centre at Simon Fraser University who studies hate groups.

While Canada is home to well-organized, far-right groups, this week’s incident in such a diverse city is “shocking,” he said.

But since the World Trade Center attack by jihadi terrorists, anti-extremist law-enforcement agencies have been distracted from other threats, he says.

“When we started doing this work in 2011, right-wing extremism wasn’t even on the radar with law enforcement,” he said. “The media wasn’t reporting on it, even though there were instances of hate and violence not unlike what we saw in Vancouver.

“That is slowly starting to shift, but it’s very difficult to tell where (anti-extremist) resources are being spent,” he said.

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