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June 16, 2011

A crime against a mosque, a crime against us all

The Canadian Charger

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The vandals who attacked a Waterloo (Ontario, Canada) mosque a year ago did more than damage a building. They damaged a community. They broke windows and then they broke hearts.

They frightened the Muslims who faithfully attend this particular house of worship. But they also tore at the social fabric of Waterloo Region, a community that is wonderful because so many people from so many different ethnic and religious backgrounds get along so well together.

For all these reasons, a Kitchener judge delivered justice — and an important message — when he sentenced one of these criminals, Jesse Coleman, to 18 months in custody this week.

To be sure, Coleman was sent away for offences that went beyond his rampage at the mosque of the Muslim Society of Waterloo and Wellington Counties. He is a troubled 21-year-old who set fire to a house being built in Waterloo, smashed carts at a golf and stole a truck. The repair bills from these assorted misdeeds topped $160,000.

But the human cost of Coleman’s crimes is what is most disturbing. In Canada, Muslims are a small but growing minority. It is important for everyone that they feel welcome and accepted, especially considering the tensions and misunderstandings between Muslims and non-Muslims in other parts of the world that have led to so much pain and suffering over the past decade. The danger of Coleman’s offence is that it could make some members of the local Muslim community feel suspicious and persecuted.

We can’t allow this to happen. Nor should we forget that Coleman did what he did in Waterloo Region which had Canada’s highest rate of police-reported hate crimes in 2009. Coleman, of course, was not charged with or convicted of a hate crime. Yet his victims can be excused if they interpret his actions differently.

Coleman’s assault on the mosque cried out for denunciation. Without overreacting, Justice Gary Hearn’s wise and reasoned verdict did this. While acknowledging other factors were involved in this crime, the decision clearly shows that singling out and harming a minority group is intolerable. This message of tolerance and communal solidarity is a fitting rebuttal to the crude and inarticulate statement Coleman left at the mosque a year ago. Wednesday June 15, 2011

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M. Elmasry

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