If you’ve ever driven through Canadian suburbs in the evening, chances are you’ve seen older adults in turbans strolling sidewalks or women in loose, colourful pants and scarves draped around their heads rocking the comfiest sneakers in the park.
Going on walks is a therapeutic act, especially for those who are older. People like my parents or grandparents cannot just go to the gym due to accessibility issues. Since many immigrant families live in communities outside the city, walking is a common pastime in the morning or often after dinner.
Most evenings, the Afzaals, a family in London, Ont., would take a walk around the neighbourhood, greeting neighbours and friends. On Sunday, they were killed in what police have described as a deliberate attack motivated by Islamophobia.
Members of three generations of the family died when a 20-year-old man allegedly plowed his pickup truck into them: Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their daughter Yumna Afzaal, 15, and Salman’s mother, Talat Afzaal, 74. Salman and Madiha’s nine-year-old son, Fayez, remains in the hospital.
During a time where racial and ethnic minorities in Canada have already felt the brunt of COVID-19, this news hit home for many of us across the country. When restrictions were first implemented last year, governments gave those wanting physical exercise a pass. Public health officials continue to advise Canadians to go outside and get fresh air during a time that can take a toll on mental health.
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While some Canadians may be shocked by this killing, the ingredients for this tragedy have long been in the making. Police-reported hate crimes against Muslims in Canada grew 253 percent from 45 to 159 reports between 2012 and 2015 and continued to increase between 2018 and 2019. We keep pretending that this isn’t Canada, but our national amnesia following the Quebec mosque attack in 2017 clearly laid out the glaring warning signs of white nationalist violence.
A friend of mine once said: “September 11 happened only once but for Muslims, every day is September 12.”
After what happened to the Afzaals, a visibly Muslim Pakistani family just taking a walk, many Muslims are second-guessing this basic right. Photos of the family float in our family chats, and although no one said it that Sunday night, I could feel an immediate sense of “that could be us” rippling through our minds.
My family, often donning our traditional dress, regularly goes out for a walk around the neighbourhood. When I was younger, my parents would walk to my elementary school in shalwar kameez to pick me up and we’d walk back together. I treasured these moments because the likelihood of street violence and theft when on foot seldom afforded us the luxury of casual walks back in Pakistan. Now, this mundane activity again feels like a fear-filled endeavour when my mom goes for a stroll.
Walks were all we many of us had during this pandemic. This alleged hate crime has taken that away too.
Zahra Khozema is a Pakistani-Canadian journalist currently based in London, U.K.
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