In the hours leading up Victoria Police’s Faith-Based Safety Forum, Mustafa Abousaleh, secretary for the Masjid Al-Iman Mosque, says his congregants experienced two hate-based attacks.
The first happened Tuesday afternoon when a group of Muslim women were standing together at a bus stop near the Mosque.
“Somebody just walked up to them and started attacking them verbally, saying things like ‘if you put a bomb in my house, I’ll put a bomb in your house,’” says Abousaleh.
The incident was recorded and reported to police by a friend, but Abousaleh says there’s a larger trend of hate crimes that have been going unreported.
“People don’t know what to do with it, if something happens they think whatever we’ll just swallow it but that’s the education component,” he says. “[These incidents] have to be reported not so the guy gets caught but because most programs that are done by the government and police are driven by statistics.”
The second incident happened during the nightly Ramadan prayers when a couple of people started swearing a the congregation. Police were eventually called but events like these have created fear in Victoria’s faith-based communities.
Victoria Police Chief Del Manak says that with religiously motivated attacks that have been happening, the police wanted to be proactive, adding that this was something people in the community were already talking about but was a chance to educate and inform community leaders.
“It wasn’t just about if an attack happens, it was about what’s the current state, talk about this in a way that is proactive and leads to a good, positive, educational discussion,” he says.
According to Manak the meeting ran 30 minutes longer than expected with 35 leaders in the faith-based community voicing their concerns and asking questions.
“Hate crimes can take form in many ways, it can be graffiti, in the form of vandalism, it can be a letter left behind, it can be hate speech, it can be a comment so there’s many different forms,” he says. “Hate crimes do not occur all that often, the concern is obviously a significant act of violence.”
Rabbi Harry Brechner of Congregation Emanu-El Jewish Synagogue says he left the meeting feeling affirmed but says with the number of recent violent attacks in the media, it’s hard for his congregation to not feel fearful.
The meeting focused on various ways of securing religious institutions in times of crisis, Rabbi Brechner says it’s really important to begin the dialogue.
“The police are there to serve us and protect us but they really do have excellent call times — they can pretty much get to all of the houses of worship, especially in the downtown core, within three minutes,” he says.
Discussion focused around ways to secure entrances and lock down procedures similarly to school protocol. Rabbi Brechner says the main focus was on safety and security but also keeping a open and welcoming atmosphere.
“I think having some basic procedures in place and then people have sense of what their role can be in a disaster — it doesn’t need to an active shooter — but I think with any emergency there should be some sense of what the procedure should be.”
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