A plea for understanding and civil discourse

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On Oct. 7, 2023, we marked a day of horror that triggered further events leading to grief, anger and death for thousands of innocent Muslims and Jews in Israel, Gaza and elsewhere in the world. Our hearts go out to the families and friends who have lost their loved ones in Israel and Gaza.

These events also brought an alarming rise in Islamophobia and antisemitism, locally and around the world. We have witnessed gatherings and actions calling for the killing of Jews and Muslims, as well as the destruction of Israel and Palestinian territories. Since the Hamas attack on Israel, many have expressed a sense of helplessness for preserving our own reputation as peaceful people while we watch hatred escalating in dangerous ways on our streets, pitting Canadian against Canadian.

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Last week, under the leadership of Mayor Jyoti Gondek, a small and diverse group of concerned, representative Calgarians met to discuss the negative effects of Oct. 7 in our community.

We heard of Jewish and Muslim parents afraid to send their children to schools due to threats and bullying.

We heard of incidents where synagogues and mosques were under police protection to deal with threats and vandalism.

We heard of dangerous gatherings in our city where hateful signs and placards were in evidence, calling for the elimination of Jews and Muslims. There is a fine line between protesting for peace and provoking war through words.

There is a common concern over the breakdown in the fabric of our society, where recognition of and commitment toward humanity, acceptance and understanding are withering. Our long-standing values and actions to stand up against prejudice, bigotry and discrimination are now under attack.

Amid all the grief, fear and tears, we still hold a shared responsibility to not be silent. We cannot allow tragedies in the Middle East to wreak havoc locally and lead to the breakdown of historic multicultural relationships built over time in our city.

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That is not to say that Calgarians should not express themselves by assembling peaceably on our streets; rather, organizers of gatherings must ensure that words and actions do not cross over the line to become hateful or supportive of violence. Peaceful expression of frustration and grief is important in any conflict.

Our police authorities are limited in what they can do to alleviate the situation. They can patrol and they can calm the threats, but the law is very narrow around the available enforcement actions in the murky territory of what constitutes hate speech or action.

Locally, elected officials are often called upon to cancel protests or direct the police to lay charges, both calls being clearly outside their jurisdiction. These are not the agents or organizations that can respond to global events playing out locally.

The response must come from Calgarians.

The response must comprehend that Calgarians have no ability to influence Israelis or Palestinians to end the turmoil, outside of our collective call for a return to humanitarianism. Where we do hold a great deal of influence is over our ability to come together as community, and communicate with each other, share ideas, discuss our common bonds and take steps to reduce tensions so we can create new levels of understanding and compassion.

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We must create opportunities to allow Muslim and Jewish citizens, in open forums, to seek accommodation and take steps to overcome the inherent decay that comes with allowing the growth of Islamophobia and antisemitism.

To that end, we have taken up the cause locally to host opportunities for compassionate dialogue and foster a renewed commitment to pluralism in our city. This is simply the beginning of what we aspire to build into a grassroots movement that reprioritizes harmony, civility and inclusivity in our city.

Mike Shaikh, Member of the Order of Canada and a Muslim

Ron Ghitter, Member of the Order of Canada and a Jew

Jyoti Gondek, Mayor, City of Calgary

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