The Other London

//The Other London

The Other London

A couple of Sundays ago, while relaxing, watching the Junos, stoked to hear Feist sing with Tragically Hip’s band, my daughter texted this: Brutal news someone ran over 5 pedestrians on purpose in Hyde Park

She then quickly texted Hyde Park and Gainsborough and 2 confirmed dead so far

This kind of news is so very shocking it’s disorienting. I mean, I know the corner of Hyde Park and Gainsborough well, it’s not far from my daughter’s house. But my brain deflected, trying to place the horror safely elsewhere, in some other, more violent place, like say Hyde Park, London, England.

Vehicular manslaughter doesn’t happen here. Mass murder either. (Turns out it’s the first in London’s history.) But now: it does and it has. Our beautiful Forest City, marred forever by this unspeakable violence. 

I’m reminded of the terror unleashed on my mother’s beautiful home province of Nova Scotia last spring when 22 were killed and three injured. At the time, I sent a note to a cousin who still lives there and she was so angry, not wanting her beloved – and friendly! – birthplace to have garnered international attention for such reasons. I feel the same way about London, Ontario, Canada. This is NOT who we are!

In the days that have painfully unfolded since that tragic Sunday night, police have labelled it a hate crime and added terrorism allegations to murder charges. Three generations of a family were brutally wiped out: Syed Afzaal, 46, his wife, Madiha Salman, 44, their 15-year-old daughter, Yumna and Syed’s mother, Talat, 74. Nine-year-old Fayez was recently released from hospital, and, aside from injuries he must recover from, it is beyond heart-wrenching to imagine the enormity of his grief. I would expect he’ll also suffer from PTSD: one minute he was safe, enjoying a walk with his beautiful family on a lovely, uncharacteristically warm spring evening, and the next?!

And as we know, an event like this does not happen in a vacuum; many others are impacted, like witnesses and first responders. The entire city feels traumatized. The London cabbie who was told by the killer, “Call police, I killed somebody,” is “shaken” and “terrified” according to the company’s president. He was enjoying a quick break in the Cherryhill mall parking lot a few kilometres from the site of the attack. After the killer’s directive, the cabbie realized that the front of the man’s truck was severely damaged and covered in blood. When the suspect was taken into custody? He was laughing.

Laughing . . . Thankfully, most of us will never know this depth of madness, anger, hatred, psychological breakdown. This, from a Time magazine article on killing from a few years ago, by Jeffrey Kluger: “Evil isn’t easy. Say what you will about history’s monsters, they had to overcome a lot of powerful neural wiring to commit the crimes they did. The human brain is coded for compassion, for guilt, for a kind of empathetic pain that causes the person inflicting harm to feel a degree of suffering that is in many ways as intense as what the victim is experiencing.” In other words, something has to seriously malfunction (beyond war/soldiering, which is, obviously, another discussion).

The outpouring of compassion for this London family has been comforting, reassuring and tremendous. A mountain of flowers at the crash site, along with a sign “Love for all, hatred for none”. Thousands of people attended a vigil at the mosque, ironically near the parking lot where the killer was apprehended. Colourful chalk hearts, most drawn by children, adorn the sidewalks from the crash site to the mosque (approx. 7 km), as well as various places throughout the city; my north London neighbourhood is decorated with them. A gofundme account set up for Fayez nears $1 million. We are wired for compassion.

“Othering” though, the kind that has been spouted in recent years by some politicians, on social media and in some mainstream media outlets, contributes greatly to this kind of descent into madness. My husband reminded me the other day, that at one point in human history “the science” – and we’ve all been warned to follow “the science” on the pandemic! – was behind the belief in the superiority of the European race.

From Smithsonian magazine: “The American sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois once wrote, ‘The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.’ His words were borne out, in part, by science. It was the century when the scientifically backed enterprise of eugenics – improving the genetic quality of white, European race by removing people deemed inferior – gained massive popularity, with advocates on both sides of the Atlantic. It would take the Holocaust to show the world the logical endpoint of such horrific ideology, discrediting much race-based science and forcing eugenics’ most hardline adherents into the shadows.”

The way to pull as many as possible from the shadows? Knowledge. “One of the big pieces is tackling the ignorance that is the foundation for hate,” says Nawaz Tahir, chair of the Muslim advocacy group Hikma and spokesperson for the London Muslim Mosque, “by developing community and anti-racism programming that helps us to attack that ignorance.”

The killer of the Afzaal family apparently had a couple of Muslim friends, which makes his crime confusing. Although anonymity can be a factor, right? Look at how people viciously attack on social media, due to its faceless nature.

According to the London Free Press, Syed Afzaal “is being remembered by the nursing homes where he worked as a caring physiotherapist who made a major impact”. His wife Madiha, “had recently completed her post-graduate work in civil and environmental engineering at Western University.” According to CBC news, their daughter Yumna, “graduated from the London Islamic School, where she had painted a floor-to-ceiling mural before she left. It features an image of the Earth floating in space beside the words, ‘Learn. Lead. Inspire.’” She had wanted to leave a legacy for the school. Community-minded people, living their lives in an inspirational way.

My grandkids don’t say the word “hate”, it’s such a bad word; they call it the “h” word. And the “h” word has no place here, in London, Ontario, Canada, nor anywhere.



  1. Hilary+Slater June 17, 2021 at 9:45 pm - Reply

    Such a horrific ordeal.. for the victims, and your city, and all of us watching on, unable to stop these insanities.
    We are not them. We are the good people, the ones who have no connection with the madness..
    fortunately we are greater in number, but still powerless at times like these.

    • Rita Hartley June 17, 2021 at 11:52 pm - Reply

      Absolutely horrific! And it’s true, we must keep in mind “fortunately we are greater in number”. It helps to ease the anxiety. We all must work hard tho toward equality for all. Call out bad behaviour and speech when we observe it. Inside we are all the same colour and that colour is LOVE ❤️

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