Last week Iqbal Hessan, a 22-year-old resident of Afghan origin living in the Cooksville area in Mississauga was arrested and charged with vandalizing St Catherine of Sienna, a Catholic church in his neighborhood. A CCTV camera caught him methodically going about breaking in, spray painting the words, ‘there is no Jew God,’ and defacing a statue of Jesus. Now needless to say the congregation was saddened, not outraged. But following Iqbal Hessan’s admission that he harbored thoughts of killing or hurting a priest the night he broke into the church, the priests and congregation became understandably apprehensive about what the future held in store for them. It is one thing reading about the destruction of churches and the killing of priests and Christians in other countries, quite a different story when it happens closer to home.
Iqbal Hessan’s father claims he is schizophrenic which should explain his anger and imbalance. But others believe there are other factors at play here. As things stand, he has not been charged with a hate crime because it is the Crown Attorney who determines if his actions meet the criteria and the Peel Police are waiting to hear back.
No need to over-react
But lets suppose for a minute that instead of the Catholic church being defaced, it was a mosque, temple or a gurudwara, politicians would offer condolence, voice concern, outrage and apologize very profusely. Other residents in the city would mobilize and help clean up like it happened when a mosque was defaced in the town of Cold Lake, Alberta. Apologetic residents cleaned up and assuaged the Muslim community that they were safe. The town’s Mayor Craig Copeland issued a statement reiterating that the mosque was an important part of the town and that he was disappointed that someone in the community could be behind the damage.
The peace-loving congregants of this Mississauga church aren’t getting that level of national attention. The congregants of Saint Catherine of Sienna aren’t protesting at City Hall demanding protection or answers. No organizations are putting out statements pressuring the authorities to consider this to be a hate crime and not vandalism. For most part it is being treated slightly more differently than if it were a case of someone spraying graffiti on a private residence.
Before the perpetrator who happened to be Muslim from Afghanistan was caught and identified, I saw a few statements on the issue from some local Muslim residents of Mississauga on a social media website. One called for the culprit to be sentenced to life imprisonment. Another suggested stoning. I winced as I read the first suggestion and cringed at the thought of the second one. Perhaps such would be his fate had this crime have occurred in some other parts of the world.
A dignified and mature reaction
But I am glad politicians haven’t stopped by the church to offer support, I am also happy the congregants didn’t take out a protest march to draw attention to this so-called act of insanity and intolerance. The reaction of the Catholic community displays maturity and rationality. There was no histrionics or hysterical behavior, no hatred for the man or the religion he professed. If there is any takeway from this act of vandalism, it should be the dignified reaction from an educated and tolerant bunch of Canadians. This is how religious groups should react to acts of hate and vandalism in a democracy. It is about keeping things in perspective, after all there is a lunatic fringe in every society and a lone wolf attack should not be seen to be the unraveling of Canada’s multicultural Eden. One random attack on a place of worship isn’t reason to believe that one’s faith is under attack.
In the months and years to come one should prepare to hear about more such acts of vandalism. After all, in fast shifting social and demographic landscape, places of worship could well end up being a place where disgruntled lunatics can vent their frustration.
Places of worship could be targetted
I am not sure about the demographic composition of the area around the vandalized Mississauga church but from what I hear, it has a large Muslim and immigrant population and it would be safe to say that Catholics are probably in a rapidly shrinking minority.
Churches, mosques, gurdwaras and temples could all be fair game for hate mongers and fringe elements bent on creating mischief.
Perhaps the best way to deal with vandalism against any place of worship should be simply to treat it as a law and order issue, no different from the way you’d deal with your house being broken into and burgled. After all vandals can only go so far and deface man- made structures that serve the purpose of collective prayer, they cannot destroy the religion. And there is absolutely no need to politicize the issue. After such acts there is often a tendency to draw mileage and profit from it.