Just over two years ago, Muslim Canadians reeled from an attack at a Quebec mosque that left six men dead.
Fears over rising Islamophobia in Canada were heightened after the shooting, and made worse by statistics that solidified hate crimes against Muslims in the country are on the rise.
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On Friday, fatal shootings at New Zealand mosques brought up many of the same feelings — especially for the families of the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre victims who were forced to relive the trauma.
Boufeldja Benabdallah, head of the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre, said those are the families he is thinking of most as details of the New Zealand attack emerge.
“I’m convinced they are feeling a terrible pain,” he said.
“Imagine the children of those families here in Quebec who are hearing it on the radio and will watch their mothers cry and ask, ‘Why are you crying?”‘
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Hassan Douahi, who was at the Quebec City mosque for prayers on Friday, said he was heartbroken for the New Zealand victims.
“I don’t understand. I am really shocked and in my mind I think, ‘Why are those people attacking us, why?’” Douahi said. “We are not different. We are the same. We are only people praying. I don’t know.
“I think it will take a lot of time to let it go, to separate myself from it,” the Quebec resident added.
The similarities between the two shootings were noted by the National Council of Canadian Muslims as well. In a statement, the organization noted the shooter reportedly idealized mass shooters, including Quebec gunman Alexandre Bissonnette.
“The reality is that these horrific shootings and the Quebec City mosque attack on January 29, 2017, have left Canadian Muslim communities — and indeed, Muslims around the world — feeling very vulnerable and unsafe,” NCCM executive director Ihsaan Gardee said.
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Huma Saeedi, a psychotherapist who works with Toronto-based organization Naseeha – Mental Health, explained that individuals can be “set off or triggered by similar events or experiences” to an original trauma.
She noted that it’s important for Muslim Canadians to know feeling such distress is normal — even if they weren’t directly impacted by the Quebec shooting.
“There are many, many Muslims across Canada, and the world, that felt impacted and targeted as a group after the Quebec shooting,” she said.
“Whether it be the ones that were directly impacted or others that feel a connection to what happened in Quebec, it can lead to a re-occurrence of symptoms that might have been resolved or reduced.”
Some of those symptoms can include feeling highly emotional, anxious, angry or even having nightmares, Saeedi explained.
While normal, Saeedi said it’s important for Muslim Canadians to keep a close check on symptoms to see if they last for a prolonged time or worsen.
“If people are noticing they’re not feeling better in the coming couple weeks, then it might be time to check in with a family doctor or mental health professional,” she explained.
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For those who feel like they need help, Saeedi also recommended talking to loved ones or calling a helpline.
While Saeedi doesn’t think most people need to unplug completely, she said those feeling triggered should monitor their news consumption.
“It isn’t really helpful to know every gruesome detail,” she said, adding that it can be “detrimental” to recovery.
Dr. Katy Kamkar, a clinical psychologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, explained that these types of events can also affect people beyond specific communities.
With headlines, photos and videos plastered on screens, it can be difficult to unplug. Kamkar explained self-awareness is key.
“It depends on our individual tolerance level,” she explained. “For example, we could be at some point in our lives where we are able to watch tragic news. Sometimes we see that our threshold has gone down and our tolerance is not at that same level.”
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Kamkar said that it’s time to make lifestyle adjustments, often as simple as unsubscribing from a social media account, when it starts impact things like mood, sleep and appetite.
She noted one of the best ways Canadians can cope with tragedy is to stand in solidarity with those affected.
“People should really come together to show their compassion, to show their support and empathy,” Kamkar said.
“That’s really important in terms of building strength, building resilience and being able to move forward.”
— With files from Global News reporters Rachel Lau and Raquel Fletcher, The Canadian Press
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