Following last weekend’s shocking events – the terrorist attack on a mosque in Quebec City and the introduction of President Trump’s executive order that bans the entry of Syrian refugees and citizens from seven Muslim majority-countries to the United States – McGill students organised two demonstrations to showcase their opposition against racism and Islamophobia.
On February 1st, two protests took place on the McGill campus downtown. Initially, a single demonstration, “United We Stand #NoHate,” was organised by the McGill International Students Network (MISN). However, its original apolitical stance, which was later retracted from the event, caused some concern among certain students and led to the creation of a second demonstration, “Make Racists Afraid Again.” The demonstrations were both held at the Y-Intersection and in front of the Redpath Museum.
Daoud, one of the organisers of the MISN demonstration, explained that the purpose of the event was to show solidarity with the victims affected by the attack and the ban.
“We are here united against hate, and we feel we need an element of peace…we are trying to fight any oppression with simply peace and love,” Daoud said. “Being a Pakistani, my country was not on the list for the ban. However, I do stand for everyone regardless of what their religion is. If anyone is being banned, if anyone is not able to go home because of their background and ethnicity, I feel that it is not what we are working towards as a progressive society of today. We want to be as welcoming and open to everyone, and we should welcome everyone who wants love and peace.”
David, a U3 Political Science and Philosophy student who organised the “Make Racists Afraid Again” demonstration, explained that their rally was for those who felt the MISN event wasn’t political enough.
“Basically it was in response to very serious concerns by certain students that a very popular event was being organised that was very inadequate and even dangerous and detrimental to the actual purpose that it seeks to accomplish,” David explained. “It’s very dangerous to separate politics and social issues because they are inextricably linked and to suggest otherwise is to basically limit our options and undermine the fight against these social problems.”
Saima Desai, a U3 Philosophy student, voiced similar concerns about the MISN demonstration, but asserted that the “Make Racists Afraid Again” event was not in opposition towards it.
“There were parts of the event description that said that people that had anti-Trump signs would not be tolerated there, and the reason that I am at this protest is because I heard a lot of rhetoric recently about open discourse, engaging in civil conversations with racists and xenophobes and Neo-Nazis and I think that’s bullsh*t” Desai said. “I think that White Nationalists in the US are trying to undermine the very basis of civil discourse, I think that people that say that all we need to do is to sit down at the table and have a chat with the white supremacists are those very privileged and deluding themselves because I think that they don’t understand that for many marginalized people, for people of colour, for black folks, for indigenous folks, for queer and trans folks, this is a matter of life or death”.
“There are many rumours floating around, and this protest will be characterised as in opposition to the one organised by MISN. And I want to reiterate that it is not the case, we are not trying to target them or protest those people. We are trying to protest a political ideology and a system.” Desai asserted.
The two demonstrations eventually clashed at the Y-Intersection, as students exchanged ideas, chants, and arguments that at times led to heated debate between individuals.
Some students were critical of these clashes, telling The Bull & Bear that they felt let down that the initial demonstrations had morphed into a dispute. Beatrice, a U1 Arts and Science student who attended the MISN demonstration, explained that it was disappointing to see conflict between the two events.
“It turned into solely 15 to 20 minutes of people chanting and giving positive speeches, and telling their stories – a lot of positive and uplifting stuff, messages of love. And you have this other group come in and totally attack us and preaching these messages of violence…it turned into an hour of us debating back and forth, and that’s not what people came for,” Beatrice explained. “I think what happened today is representative of the potential conflict that can happen. We share the same fundamental sentiments. We are against Trump, we are against racism, sexism, Islamophobia, and fascism, but we are going about it in two different ways.”
Jonah Winer, a U2 Arts student echoed these sentiments, saying, “I think there was definite merit to what the counter-protesters were saying. I wish there had not been a fight between the two.”
Despite the clashes that occurred between the two demonstrations, students present at the event hoped that the demonstrations would have a positive impact on the McGill community.
As Winer explained, “I hope it makes people feel that they are not alone…to know that there are all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds that love them and want them here and think they are amazing and just want to be in solidarity with them.”