By Salima Punjani
On January 27, 2017, a man attacked the Islamic Cultural Center in Quebec City, killing six men and wounding 19 others.
Since then, there have been numerous efforts to build a sense of social connectedness between Muslim and non-Muslim communities in Quebec. These initiatives have included vigils, an open-mosque day for people to come and learn about Islam, as well as Yusra, a benefit show at Montreal’s iconic Rialto Theatre to support families who lost loved ones in the attack. The concert showcased the talent of musicians from all different backgrounds, including Iraqi-Canadian hip-hop MC, The Narcicyst, AKA Narcy; DJ NDN and Bear Witness from A Tribe Called Red; Tali Taliwah; and a number of other artists who came together to support the families and create a space of joy, love and compassion.
We spoke to Narcy about Yusra, and the power of music to build social connectedness.
You named the event after an Arabic name, Yusra. What does it mean, and why did you choose it? What motivated you to organize the event?
I named the event Yusra because it is the literal translation of ease after hardship. I wanted to put together an event under the umbrella of love and positivity and togetherness, sort of a healing space for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Nothing motivated me more than our duty as citizens to look out for each other and because the men who fell victim to this atrocious act were fathers as well.
How do you feel creative collaboration and expression can break down boundaries? How do you feel it can potentially break down the idea of ‘the other’ as a threat?
As we saw, it works. Art brings people together whereas politics divides them. My music has always been a tool of empowerment for me and I feel like the vibrations pierce people to the core. It was a great night.
Could you speak about your experience as a Muslim in Quebec, and what motivates you to build bridges in an environment that can be challenging for people from a Muslim background to be accepted?
Being a Muslim anywhere in the world is perilous nowadays. From the Middle East to Pakistan and India, the world is testing our faith and patience internally and externally, so it’s not different anywhere.
Though there is a high rate of acceptance here, we cannot escape the hate that surrounds us. Canada has been good and bad. I’ve had moments where I’ve had to face some pretty extreme forms of hate, and others where dialogue and acceptance have played a big role in my day. So it’s a day by day experience. Canada, just like America, was built on the genocide of a people, and that history invites a great deal of adversity in the long run for multiculturalism. Until those demons of the past are dealt with, the present will never be rid of prejudice.
Can you speak to the importance of building connections and learning opportunities between the Muslim community and other members of the community? How can this help to overcome hate?
Montreal has been a blessing to build a diverse community of friends and family. Everything is literally a phone call away. So to hold this event in this space and be super cordial and have everyone facilitate it in under a week was magical. These moments show you how weak hate is.
Narcy contributed to the music video “Free”, which showcases 5 years of travels documenting orphans, refugees and other forgotten people as part of his efforts to overcome hate through creativity. You can visit his crowdfunding campaign or listen to his music to learn more.