Briefs News

World in Brief: COVID19, fatal shooting, Strom Dennis and Sanders wins New Hampshire

Health experts from all over the globe gathered in Beijing last Sunday to discuss the Coronavirus, newly named COVID19. The experts from the World Health Organization were rushed as the death tolls and numbers of infected people drastically rose in the last week, reported the Agence France Presse. On Monday, there were 1,770 casualties in mainland China and 71,000 infected globally. Meanwhile, Canadians who repatriated last week and are currently in quarantine in CFB Trenton, are reportedly healthy and are expected to leave the military base on their anticipated departure date, reported Global News.

A 28-year-old man died and four were injured last Sunday in a fatal shooting in Hartford, Connecticut. Police had been dispatched in front of the nightclub where the shooting happened following previous disturbances, reported the Associated Press. Police were able to provide immediate medical assistance. Surrounding streets were closed until 7 a.m. on Sunday. Investigations are ongoing.

Storm Dennis continues to damage the UK with heavy rains and flooding. The nontropical cyclone has been devastating England over the weekend. It has been described as a historical bomb cycle as it brought a month’s worth of rain to parts of Wales in just 48 hours, reported CTV. More than 200 flood warnings have since been issued, a record number for the country. The damage caused by the storm could have been reduced if the area hadn’t been from trying to recover from last week’s Storm Ciara, which left eight people dead across Europe.

Bernie Sanders becomes frontrunner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination after winning the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 10. Official results came out on Wednesday morning, putting Sanders ahead of Pete Buttigieg with 25.7 per cent of the votes over 24.4 per cent. The victory was declared “the beginning of the end for Donald Trump” by Sanders’ team, believing they now have momentum. Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren came fourth while Joe Biden barely secured the fifth position with 8.4 per cent of the voters’ support.


Graphic by @sundaeghost

Briefs News

World in Brief: Swapping prisoners, U.S. shooting, and 43 casualties in New Delhi fire

The United States and Iran swapped prisoners last Saturday. U.S. citizen Xiyue Wang was released by Iran in exchange for Iranian Massoud Soleimani. Wang was held for spying charges and Soleimani for violating U.S. sanctions, reported Reuters. This is one of the few acts of cooperation between the two rival countries whose ties have been worsening since the election of President Trump. Leading efforts in appeasing U.S.-Iran tensions were scattered when President Trump retracted the U.S. as a signatory of the 2015 nuclear deal. After thanking Iran on Twitter for a “very fair negotiation,” President Trump said that the deal showed that U.S. and Iran “can make a deal together.”

At least 43 workers died in a factory fire last Sunday in New Delhi. The victims were workers sleeping in the factory. “Most who’ve died were sleeping when the fire broke out and died due to asphyxiation,” said Sadar Bazar’s assistant commissioner of police to Agence France Presse. Although the nature of the fire is still unknown, the Director of the Fire Department of New Delhi said the building did not comply with fire regulations. The Agence France Presse also reported that in many Indian cities, factories are utilized as dormitories for poor workers at night to save money. They are usually located in old and cramped neighborhoods where rent is cheaper.

Three were killed and eight injured in a shooting at a naval base in Pensacola, Florida last Friday. The three victims were honoured as heroes by the U.S. Navy for trying to stop the shooter, reported the Associated Press. The shooter, Mohammed Alshamrani, a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force, was shot dead by one of the injured sheriff’s deputies. Alshamrani was undergoing flight training in Pensacola, like many other members of foreign militaries. Whether Alshamrani acted alone, in affiliation to a broader group, or if it was a terrorist act, is still undisclosed.


Graphic by @sundaeghost

Briefs News

World in brief: deadly typhoon, Iranian women’s victory and religious violence in Burkina Faso

Oct. 10 became a historic day, as Iranian women were allowed into a football stadium for the first time in 40 years. The decision came after FIFA threatened to suspend Iran over their male-only policy that has been governing the country for decades. The Guardian reported that the death of Sahar Khodayari earlier this September had a major impact on the FIFA directive. The 29-year-old woman set herself on fire in fear of being jailed after dressing up as a boy, trying to attend a football match. Her tragic death fueled a national outcry, but resulted in more than 3,500 women finally obtaining their first ticket to a football game.

Two people were killed and nine remain missing as a result of the biggest typhoon to hit Japan in decades. Since the hit on Oct. 12, more than one million people have been urged to leave their homes. While Japan is frequently hit by typhoons, BBC has described Typhoon Hagibis as the worst storm in 60 years. It was reported that 270,000 homes have since lost power caused by flooding from the heavy rains. The last typhoon to have caused serious damage was back in 1958, killing over 1,200 people.

Sixteen people were shot dead while attending prayers in a northern Salmossi village mosque in Burkina Faso.  As reported by Al Jazeera, the armed gunmen who are yet to be identified entered the mosque on Friday evening and opened fire. It resulted in an ongoing climate of panic as citizens started to flee the area. For the past few years, the region has been struggling with ethnic and religious tensions advanced by armed groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS. More than 500,000 people have been forced to leave their homes since January due to extreme violence, the United Nations said on Friday.


Graphic by @sundaeghost


An environment of Islamophobia

Nationalism, bigotry and political apathy encourage hate rhetoric against Muslims

Following the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand on March 15, people continue to mourn the 50 victims that were slain. Among the victims was Hamza Mustafa, a 16-year-old aspiring veterinarian, Arif Mohamedali Vohra, a man who wanted to see his recently born grandchild, and Abdelfattah Qassem, a pillar of the community. That day, the victims just wanted to pray in peace.

Those affected by the shooting were just people who wanted to practice their faith during Friday prayer, be with their community, and return to their loved ones afterwards. But all of that was taken from them. At the forefront of the shooting is a rhetoric of hate and dehumanization of Muslims that is pervasive in politics and in the media. A framework has been perpetuated that situates Muslims as people who need to be regulated, managed and kept at a distance from Western countries.

Images of Muslims portrayed across media depict a monolithic group, uniquely oppressive culture, and lack any history besides a nebulous idea of a universal Islamic theology. In their theorization, political pundits paint an image that discounts the vastness of Islam, opting to create a fictitious idea of a uniform ideology that all Muslims share.

Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro—who allegedly inspired the shooter before the attack on the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City—argued in a PragerU video, makers of popular conservative “educational” videos, that there are more “radical Muslims” than people believe. Shapiro clearly argues that that there is a collective radical movement throughout the Muslim world, that hate America and the West.

Al Noor Mosque, the primary target of the shootings, refutes this idea; worshipers come from diverse backgrounds, like India, Pakistan, Palestine, UAE, and people born and raised in New Zealand. Each person embodies a rich history of Islam, that differs in practice, theology and lifestyle. Islam is only a part of their identity. As Muslims, we are as multifaceted as any other people; we have different interests, aspirations, dreams, and we don’t always agree with each other.

However, the media’s narrative eradicates the nuance and diversity in Muslim people’s lives.

Rhetoric, foreign policy and media coverage create a narrative that dehumanizes Muslims, enforcing an image unrepresentative of people’s lived experiences. The New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, infamous for his notion of “the disease of the Arab mind,” illustrates the unnuanced, ahistorical analysis of Muslim majority countries that is prevalent in popular discourse, a type of analysis that hinges on geopolitical strategy.

In an article published in September entitled “To Thwart Iran, Save Idlib,” Stephens sets the stakes for the battle of Idlib, a besieged city in Syria, listing ways countries will suffer from the battle of Idlib: “Europe, which could face yet another refugee crisis even as the effects of the last are felt in the resurgence of the far right.” In this strategic framework, Muslims are blamed for the rise of far right bigotry that in turn discriminates against Muslim people. With no dramatic flair, Stephens calls for the bombing of the Syrian Air Force, discounting the fact that civilians will be killed in the process. Muslim people seemingly have no agency in this worldview—we are merely a small part of a grand strategy that Western nations develop under the advisement of “experts” who have tangential knowledge of the diversity of the Muslim world.

The strategic rhetoric and analysis conducted on Muslim countries blames the rise of the far right in Europe on refugees, a supposed problem that intersects economics, culture and demographics, rather than analyzing the roots of the far right. Politicians and pundits stoke Islamophobia—as well as other forms of white supremacy—as a means to gain power. Moreover, policies are implemented as a method to gain economic and political power over Muslim countries.

The rise of hateful rhetoric revealed deep-seated forms of white supremacy. Nigel Farage, one of the champions of Brexit, and many others in the leave campaign, trafficked in anti-Muslim bigotry, using “swarm” imagery to frame refugees and migrants travelling from Muslim majority countries to the UK. Brexit emboldened bigots and brought anti-immigrant rhetoric to the forefront. The normalization of white supremacy rhetoric has tangible negative effects on Muslims living in Western countries.

In the EU-MIDIS II, a report by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights about Muslim discrimination, 27 per cent of respondents have experienced some form of harassment for being Muslim, while 39 per cent of the respondents felt some form of discrimination five years before the study. In another European report by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, it is stated that hate crimes committed against Muslims typically increase after a terrorist attack and target Friday prayers. Both reports also mention how hate crimes are underreported due to the lack of trust in the effectiveness of the policing system and lingering feelings of shame. The hate Muslims are facing is well known to government agencies, however, people are seemingly supporting or apathetic to the injustice.

We are faced with increasing hate against Muslims and it is important to remain vigilant against forms of white supremacy. This process does not stop at voting; we also need to hold politicians and public figures accountable for their words, actions and policies they implement. It is not enough for politicians to talk about immorality of discrimination—their stance should be reflected in the policies they implement.

Beyond the realm of electoral politics, there needs to be a radical shift in the way Muslims are depicted. Muslims are diverse. We span many countries, and have different ideologies. It is not on Muslims to share their stories to help white audiences understand that we are people. The power rests with people who have influence on media, academics and foreign policy.

Rest in peace to all the victims affected and condolences to their families.

Graphic by @sundaemorningcoffee


75 minutes of silence, 25 years later

Former university associate professor George Abdou speaks out about the 1992 shooting

With a gun pointed at his head, George Abdou remained silent for 75 minutes. He was in a room with a man who had already shot several of his colleagues. The smell of blood on the shooter’s hands was pungent. The firearm was no bigger than a toy gun Abdou had bought for his sons.

In court, the shooter was asked why he didn’t kill Abdou. “I didn’t kill him because he was not afraid of death,” the shooter answered.

On Aug. 24, 1992, Valery Fabrikant, an associate professor from Concordia’s engineering department, walked onto the ninth floor of the Hall building and killed professors Aaron Jaan Saber, Matthew Douglass and Michael Hogben and the chair of the electrical and computer-engineering program, Phoivos Ziogas. Hogben and Douglass died on the scene; Ziogas and Saber died a few hours later in hospital.

At the time, Abdou was an associate professor in Concordia’s engineering department. He had only been there for a year, having transferred to Concordia from the University of Windsor. He lived in St-Lazare, outside of Montreal, because it was halfway between Cornwall, Ont.—where his wife worked—and Concordia’s downtown campus. “I loved the place. The kids were happy in St-Lazare. We had a very nice house,” said Abdou in a recent interview with The Concordian. The incident on Aug. 24 ultimately changed everything.

At around 2:30 p.m., while working in his office with a PhD student he was mentoring, Abdou heard gunshots. He told the student to leave and stepped out of his office to find his door scratched and five bullet casings on the floor in front of him. To his right, he saw a secretary, Elizabeth Horwood, bleeding. She had just been shot in the thigh.

“I started to comfort her and, at the same time, she was screaming, ‘Where is the other secretary?’ So we entered the chair office,” said Abdou. By the time Fabrikant returned, Horwood and another secretary had fled. “Then he simply pointed at me [and told me] not to move and pointed the gun at my head for 80… about 75 to 80 minutes,” recounted the former Concordia professor.

Abdou stood beside Fabrikant in the room, looking into his eyes and watching his finger on the trigger. The perpetrator of the attack—a Belarus-born émigré—was talking on the phone with authorities, who were trying to calm him down. “You didn’t kill anyone,” the police told him. “Things are going to be better than you think.”

Abdou’s mind was racing. Not only was he worried for his life, he was also anxious about the well-being of his two sons. Abdou had left his sons, aged four and six, along with the son of a visiting professor, with a new babysitter. “She told me, ‘By 4 p.m., if you don’t come, I’m going to leave them in the street,’” Abdou remembered.

He looked at the clock. It was 4:15 p.m. “What are the three going to do in the street?” he thought. None of his friends knew where the babysitter lived, and he wasn’t able to reach anyone anyway.

“In the meantime, I had a feeling of guilt. If I did anything wrong and [Fabrikant] dies because of this, I’m going to [be] the killer now,” Abdou told The Concordian.

Swat teams arrived at the office and stood by the door. As Fabrikant was taking his finger off the trigger to give the phone to security guard Daniel Martin, who was also in the room, Abdou kicked the gun away from the assailant’s hands with his left foot.

“I ran toward that gun and I lay down on it,” Abdou said. “When I looked back, the security guard dropped the phone and he went and held [Fabrikant]’s arms. I went back to him and I was kind of hysteric, asking ‘Why are you doing all of this?’ The security guard was screaming ‘Open the door.’”

In response to Martin’s shouts, Abdou exited the room, awkwardly holding the shooter’s gun. He immediately realized the authorities had confused him with Fabrikant. He threw himself and the gun on the ground and was handcuffed by police. It was only after subduing Abdou that police realized their mistake.

Abdou was driven to the police station where he wrote his own official statement because the arresting officer didn’t speak English and couldn’t transcribe his statement correctly. The professor was eventually able to get a ride from the station to the babysitter’s home, where he found the three children safe.

That night, a Monday, friends came to see him. “Everyone was interested in the story, but I couldn’t take it,” Abdou said. At 8 p.m., less than five hours after the shooting, Abdou collapsed. “I woke up the next day. I cried a lot,” Abdou said, pausing intermittently.

Fabrikant’s trial spanned a year. Abdou was the last witness to testify. Throughout the ordeal, Abdou’s eldest son was the most affected. “I was trying to hide the event,” the professor explained. “But apparently he went to school [and] they were bringing him the newspapers, so he was aware.” To get a fresh start, the family eventually moved to New Jersey.

In April 1993, Abdou got a call from the dean of NJIT asking him to come in for an interview. When he finally responded in June, the dean told him: “I don’t want to know when you are coming, I want to know if you’re coming, yes or no.” Three months later, Abdou visited NJIT’s Newark campus for the first time with his wife and met the dean.

Abdou had requested a tenure position, money to buy equipment for a seminar and a desired salary. When he arrived on campus to discuss these requests, the dean was on the phone in his office but was pointing to an envelope on the table. “After he finished the call, he said, ‘This is your first cheque, we didn’t know where to send it,’” Abdou recounted, laughing.

The former Concordia professor has been at NJIT ever since. He is now the associate chair of the industrial and manufacturing engineering department.

Despite having a difficult childhood at times, Abdou said his two sons have been very successful.

“They both finished [school], they’re both physicians. I’m so proud of them.”

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth


Things that affected us this summer

I did not see the shooter. I did not see a bullet. I did not see any blood. I did not know the loud sounds I heard were gunshots. I saw the chaos. I was alone. I did not know what was happening. I was scared.

I had just finished eating chicken pot pie with my parents at the Canadian Pie Company and looking for a monster costume for my cousin’s fifth birthday present. They dropped me off at the Eaton Centre so I could pick up a pair of shoes I had tried on earlier that day. They went to look at apartments and agreed to pick me up as soon as I was finished. Just before 6 p.m., I called and told them I was done. My mom asked if I wouldn’t mind hanging around the mall a little while longer—they had one more apartment they wanted to see.

Shortly after this conversation, I found myself on the second floor, immediately above the Urban Eatery. I walked south towards Queen Street and made my way down the escalator directly in the middle of the mall, on route to Shoppers Drug Mart to kill some time. On my descent, I heard popping noises, and remember thinking that they sounded like balloons bursting.

The next few moments were chaos. I saw a crowd of people whip around from the backside of the escalator I was riding and start to run up as quickly as they could. I remember the faces. The panic I felt prompted me not to think about why they wore those expressions, but only to run. I sprinted up the “down” escalator as quickly as I could, and ran into the closest store— Guess Accessories.

In hindsight, this was not the best decision, since a child playing hide and go seek would know not to choose to hide in an open-concept white store, surrounded only by glass.

A group of about ten of us were ushered by a woman who worked at the store into the employee room at the back. The woman came in, and told us we were on lockdown— the store had received a message that there was a shooter in the mall. Those were the only details we received. I hid behind a couch, beside a mother and her daughter.

I don’t know how long we were in the back room. It was a precarious situation to be in. I was unsure of how the situation would unfold. I sent a brief text message to my mom at 6:33 p.m. Someone is shooting in the mall…I’m safe and in the back of a store.

The store was notified to open its doors and we were told that we could leave. While we were huddled in the room, a woman who worked at the store told me that that was the second time they were notified to go on lockdown. Something had happened a few moments earlier and they had been notified to close the store, but she told me they had received a message telling them everything was fine and to reopen. After hearing this, I chose not to leave the store immediately. I did not want to go back into the mall if it wasn’t safe. It was a bizarre feeling—I knew I had to go back if I wanted to get out.

When I left the employee room, a woman stood at the front of the store and yelled at me to run as fast as I could towards the nearest exit. It was only then that I realized how disoriented I had been running up the escalator. I could have hung a right instead of going into the store and been safe and out on Yonge Street in a few seconds.

I ran out as fast as I could before the building was locked down. I still had no idea what had just happened but what I did know was that I wanted to get the hell away. I ran down Yonge Street until I was away from the mall. I called my parents, who had not heard from me since the text message—it had been about half-an- hour. They came to pick me up, and on the drive home told me that they wanted to call me right after the text message was sent, but decided not to in case my phone rang and the shooter found me where I was hiding.

It is one month later and I don’t know how to explain what I am feeling except rattled. It seems so ludicrous to me that so many of us, right at the epicenter of the shooting, only found out what happened inside the mall days after the fact and are continuing to be filled in on the details weeks later.

There are thousands of perspectives and so many details that people will carry with them forever. It did not feel real until I read and saw news reports about what had happened. I left Toronto the next day, and started my first day of journalism school here at Concordia the day after that. It felt both unsettling and liberating for me to leave the city immediately after the shooting.

Two men were killed as a result of the shooting and six were injured in the gunfire. Of the fatally wounded, one was killed instantly and one remained in critical condition until June 11, when he died as a result of his injuries. One of the surviving victims, a 13-year-old boy, was shot in the head while in the food court with his mother and older sister. He was released from hospital a week later, wearing a custom helmet to protect the part of his skull that was removed to reduce brain swelling.

The motive behind the shooting was believed to have been a personal dispute between the shooter and the two men who died—all members of the same gang. The alleged shooter currently faces two first-degree murder charges and six counts of attempted murder.

I did not know the young boy who was shot in the head, the two men who died, or any of the other victims, but feel connected in some eerie way to the people who just happened to be inside the mall on that Saturday afternoon.

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