Just days ago in London Ontario, a twenty-year-old white man named Nathaniel Veltman drove his pickup truck into a family of five as they were on a walk together on Sunday, June 6th. In an Islamophobic terrorist attack police are calling premeditated, Veltman took the lives of four of the family members, leaving just one—a nine-year-old boy—alive in the hospital with serious but fortunately non-life-threatening injuries. Father, Salman Afzaal (44), Mother, Madiha Afzaal (44), Daughter, Yumna Afzaal (15), and Grandmother Talat Afzaal (74) were all killed as a result of the attack.
The members of the Afzaal family were brutally murdered on what was meant to be a pleasant June walk, where the family would often go on to enjoy the weather and to greet neighbors as they passed. A monstrous white terrorist chose to act violently in response to seeing a Muslim family living happily in Canada, reminding us that white supremacy, white rage, and white violence is alive and well in Canada, and it holds deadly consequences for marginalized peoples.
Canada holds a rich history of horrific treatment toward people of color. Currently, the discourse has been surrounding the genocide of indigenous people, when in late May the discovery of 215 bodies of children from Canada’s largest residential school was found in mass unmarked graves, prompting Canadians to acknowledge the rampant white supremacy in our country and to ask ourselves why our governing systems and leading religions uphold these white supremacist ideals and how we can change this.
Now we’re reeling from the murder of an entire family of people who were doing nothing but raising their children, enjoying Canada, and practicing their faith, and it makes many of us wonder how and when this could possibly end.
The truth is, white supremacy is a systemic issue that sits in the roots of our country, hell—white supremacy is in the soil that grew the roots. It’s so deeply intertwined in our history, in our policymaking, and in our day-to-day lives that it’s synonymous with the Canadian government. There’s a hatred that flows through this country that isn’t going to subside until the people and groups of people in power are dismantled and are active in the fight against white supremacy.
When I was looking into the Afzaal family’s story, I found some statistics that—although are not surprising if you’re paying attention—are still quite harrowing. According to The International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, Islamic Social Services Association, and Noor Cultural Centre, 46% of Canadians have an unfavorable view of Islam–more than for any other religious tradition, 47% of Canadians support banning headscarves in public (compared with 30% of Americans), and 42% of Canadians think discrimination against Muslims is “mainly their fault”.
When racism and islamophobia are this mainstream and normalized in a country, violence occurs. These Islamophobic thoughts impact our actions, our prejudices, and our humanity in regard to Muslim people, and at times it turns into something as evil and as deadly as familicide. This is what’s terrifying, and ultimately deadly about white supremacy and this is why our thoughts and actions need to change as a whole.
Often, when an act of terrorism is perpetrated by a white person—regardless of how heinous the act is—many media outlets will flock to humanize the terrorist, and this has already begun in the case of Nathaniel Veltman. Even news articles that are disparaging Veltman and trying to suggest his motives or prior actions are now using an image of him running a marathon on a beautiful, green summer day. Some news outlets are using an image of Veltman smiling and proudly holding a fish he just caught.
This is an example of white supremacy in our media and our subconscious. This is a twenty-year-old man who heartlessly murdered an entire family, not an article about a boy at a fun summer camp. I can’t help but ask myself where the hell Veltman’s mugshot is, and what images the news articles would be using if it had been a Muslim man who ran over a white family. I can promise you that there would not be an image available of the man smiling or not looking sinister if the racial roles were reversed.
A huge candlelight vigil was held just this past Tuesday, where many people from the Muslim community and people paying respects came to mourn the lives of the four people who passed and to show support and solidarity to the nine-year-old boy who just lost his entire family in just a few minutes of true hell. I can’t express enough the devastation of this situation, and the heartache I feel for the Muslim community and this little boy.
In order to see an end to these horrible acts of terrorism, and this blatant racism that runs rampant in our country, we first have to look inward to ourselves. As a white person myself and to all the white people who may read this, we need to do better. We need to release our prejudices; we need to educate ourselves, and we need to expect more from our leaders. It’s up to the people in political and social power to be better and to do better for our country.