Baranyai: Girl who cried ‘scissors’ spotlights core values
Khawlah Noman and her mother Saima Samad, (right) arrive at Pauline Johnson Public School in Toronto, Ont. on Jan. 12, 2018. (Stan Behal/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network)
It was a tale worthy of Aesop himself: the girl in hijab who cried “man with scissors.” The villagers reacted with sympathy and concern. They rushed to her aid, cameras rolling.
In the original fable, when a real wolf finally appears, nobody responds to the boy’s cries; the wolf devours his flock. In some versions, the boy himself is eaten.
Things turned out rather differently in the girl’s story. When they found out there was no attack, the villagers devoured each other.
Police investigated the alleged slashing of an 11-year-old schoolgirl’s hijab as a hate crime. The story received international attention, with responses from all levels of government. On Monday, police concluded the assault never happened, unleashing a cascade of finger-pointing.
Some people expressed concern with media outlets’ unusual decision to publish the name and image of a minor. Some condemned the school board’s failure to consider the implications before inviting the family to join their spokesperson on camera. The board, for its part, noted police had tweeted out the name of the girl’s school the morning of the alleged attack, necessitating a communications response.
In the spirit of any good fable, all these parties have lessons to learn from this unfortunate story. But the finger-pointing didn’t stop there.
People were angry at being duped. All but the most noxious voices could see their way past attacks on the girl, who is only 11. But they didn’t spare the mother.
People questioned the motivation for her tearful on-camera appearance, rather than indulging the simplest explanation: she believed her daughter. Some called attention to her niqab, as though her choice of head covering signalled dishonesty. There were calls for charges to be laid from the usual suspects. Rebel Media promulgated a theory the mother had coached her child to lie.
In an apology to all Canadians for the pain and anger the incident caused, the family said in a statement they had “assumed it to be true just like everyone else.” Indeed, people around the world took the child at her word when she said a stranger had cut her hijab as she walked to school. Politicians who had responded with heartfelt statements condemning Islamophobia were berated for their credulity.
Oddly, many reacted to this-is-not-Canada statements as though they’d received a scolding. Yet surely they were the opposite: expressions of faith in the openness and compassion of the majority of Canadians.
Instead of walking back his response, the Prime Minister doubled down on the context that made the story seem credible.
“Unfortunately we’ve seen a pattern over the past months of increased hate crimes against religious minorities,” he said. “We are a country that defends freedom of religion, defends freedom of expression, and defends people’s rights to go to school and not be fearful or harassed. It is fundamental to who we are.”
There are over a million Canadians who identify as Muslim, according to the 2011 Census (the last time Canadians were surveyed on religion). Since then Canada has welcomed many newcomers – chiefly from Asia, the Middle East and Africa – including over 40,000 Syrian refugees. A chance to go to school free of fear or harassment is not something they took for granted, if in fact they got to go to school at all.
There is a danger false accusations may make people skeptical about real hate crimes. That is one lesson of this tale. But just as important is our response to the lie.
Our leaders are right to affirm inclusiveness is a core Canadian value. Not every Canadian has the privilege of taking it for granted.