Canadian Muslims express outrage over killing of Sikh leader Religious News

Muslim advocates in Canada have expressed anger and concern over allegations that India may be involved in the killing of a Canadian Sikh leader, stressing that Muslim and Sikh Canadians have long supported each other. .

Last week, a diplomatic row between Ottawa and New Delhi escalated after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government would investigate “credible allegations of a possible link” between Indian government agents and the killing of Hardeep Singh Najjar. has been

The row has led many Muslim activists in Canada to call for more protections for minorities, with some calling for a tougher stance against India, which has aligned itself with Muslims led by right-wing Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Alleged discrimination.

Najjar, a prominent Sikh leader who called for an independent Sikh state in India, was shot dead outside a Sikh temple in British Columbia province in June.

“It was widely known that there were agents of the Indian government operating in Canada and targeting members of the diaspora community,” Stephen Brown, head of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) advocacy group, told Al Jazeera. “

“But to go to the point where someone will be killed outside a synagogue in broad daylight, the purpose of doing that is to send a message.”

Brown added that Canadian Muslims want the Trudeau government to “take action” to guarantee their safety. “I would say there’s outrage, but there’s also real concern that right now they’re not safe,” he said.

India denies the allegations.

The Indian government has dismissed Trudeau’s allegations as “ridiculous” and has called on Canada to stop the activities of what it describes as “terrorists”, a reference to Sikh separatists. Gives those it considers a security threat.

Canada and India have expelled diplomats from each other’s countries amid the dispute, and New Delhi has suspended visa services in Canada over alleged threats against its consular staff.

India has accused Najjar of being “involved in terrorism” – a charge rejected by his colleagues, who say such claims are part of a campaign aimed at targeting India’s northern Punjab region. I want to defame the Sikhs who are advocating an independent state in the name of Khalistan.

The separatist struggle became particularly violent in the 1980s when then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered a raid on a Sikh temple to root out leaders of the Khalistan movement. Gandhi was assassinated by two Sikh bodyguards in 1984, sparking anti-Sikh riots and deadly attacks.

In a statement last week, India’s foreign ministry said Canada’s “unsubstantiated allegations seek to divert attention from Khalistani terrorists and extremists who have been sheltered in Canada and continue to threaten India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” are”.

India has long expressed concern over political activity in Canadian Sikh communities.

But Brown said that regardless of how the Indian government views Najjar or Sikh activism in Canada in general, the important thing is that the slain leader never faced any charges as a Canadian citizen. Had to.

“Our government, our law enforcement agencies didn’t think Mr. Najjar was a terrorist, didn’t think he was a threat to this country. And that’s the only thing that matters,” he told Al Jazeera. told.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused Indian government agents of being involved in the murder of Hardeep Singh Nanjar. [Mike Segar/Reuters]

Brown added that freedom of expression – whether against foreign states or against Canada’s own government – ​​is central to Canadian identity.

“If you’re not able to openly express your opinion about the world because you’re afraid that an agent of a foreign government will kill you or target you, then you’re not going to be able to do it,” he said. don’t have an open society,” he said.

‘Pressure not to talk’

Other Muslim community advocates echoed the sentiment, calling on Ottawa to reassess its relationship with New Delhi and prioritize human rights in its foreign policy.

For years, Muslim activists have denounced the rise of Hindu nationalism in India under Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, which they say has led to discriminatory laws and an increase in mob violence against religious minorities. is made New Delhi has dismissed the allegations of rights violations as politically motivated.

Taha Ghayoor, executive director of Justice for All Canada, a rights group that combats Islamophobia, said the Najjar case – and recent allegations that India may be involved – has fueled fear in Muslim communities.

“For example, Indian Muslims here in Canada are very worried about speaking or saying a word about what is happening in India because they know that they or their family members in India There is a very serious possibility of retaliation against.” Al Jazeera.

“Many Indian Muslims are under a lot of pressure not to speak out. So, it’s fear.”

Ghayoor said Sikhs and Muslims in Canada are united by the fact that they are both prominent religious minorities.

He added that Muslim and Sikh leaders in Canada are now “talking about the hatred, both local and international,” that affects their communities.

A sense of insecurity

The Canadian government has not released evidence to back up its allegations against India, saying its investigation is ongoing.

Last week, Trudeau called on New Delhi to cooperate with the investigation. “We request the Government of India to work with us, take these allegations seriously and allow justice to take its course,” he said.

Shaheen Ashraf, a Montreal-based Muslim community lawyer, expressed confidence that the prime minister would not make allegations against India public without credible evidence.

“There are some rogue states that do this kind of thing, but I didn’t expect India to do that,” he told Al Jazeera.

Ashraf said he was “shocked” and “disappointed” after learning of the possible role of the Indian government in Najjar’s murder, adding that violence never solves a problem.

He also emphasized that Canadians of all faiths and backgrounds are doing well.

Still, Muslim Canadians have faced deadly violence in recent years.

A far-right gunman shot and killed six people at a mosque in Quebec City in 2017, and in 2021, a man in London, Ontario, deliberately ran over a Muslim family of four. was killed, in what authorities described as an act of “terrorism”.

Abdul Fattah Tawakal, head of the London Council of Imams, noted that after the attack two years ago, local Muslims received strong support from Sikhs, with members of the Sikh community volunteering and attending Muslim community events. Distributed water.

“It’s a beautiful gesture, but it shows a level of solidarity very clearly and really focuses on a sense of recognition of our common humanity.”

Canada is a vast country that is home to diverse Muslim communities, but he said in London that Muslims are still reeling from the 2021 attack and the suspect’s trial, which began earlier this month.

“There is a sense of fear. There is a sense of concern among people about a lack of security or a sense of security,” he told Al Jazeera.

“If you have foreign governments that are intervening and able to do these kinds of things… it can increase the sense of insecurity.”

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