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A brush with bigotry in Harbourville

Phil Vogler took this great photo during high tide at Harbourville, N.S., on a September day.
A shot of Harbourville, the scene of a recent confrontation between two men and several Muslims praying on the beach at sunset. -CONTRIBUTED

Incident involving shouting, threats startles Muslims enjoying sunset on the beach

HARBOURVILLE, N.S. —

Bigotry has reared its ugly head in Kings County.

This manifestation of such an atrocious way of thinking has, perversely enough, manifested by the beautiful waters of the Bay of Fundy, in Harbourville, ruining what promised to be a peaceful sunset prayer for Moe Marzouk and another Muslim family who wished to remain anonymous.

“We were sitting on the beach having a bonfire, and two guys came out of the cottages near where the fish market,” Marzouk said, noting he recognized one of the two.
“As soon as I saw him, I thought he was coming to say hello, and I welcomed him and introduced him to my friends there,” Marzouk said.

The intent of the two approaching men was not nearly as jovial as Marzouk expected. Once they got into earshot, they confronted him and his friends, asking about what they were doing at the time Marzouk and his friends were in the midst of praying at sunset.

“He started asking, ‘Why do you pray to the east?’ As soon as my friend started answering, he started swearing at us,” Marzouk said.

The first of the pair from the cottages began shouting about how offended he was at the sight of Marzouk and his friends, all Muslims, praying.

“He started saying how seeing us do that ‘offends God and Jesus.’ Then, his friend started saying he felt threatened when he sees us,” Marzouk noted. “He started talking about there are many people coming to Canada from the Middle East, and how that makes him feel more and more threatened.”

From that point, Marzouk recalls, the situation become more intense.

“I kind of got into a loud argument, and then they started threatening us,” Marzouk said. “One of them threatened us with a stone to the face, and another said something about throwing us into the ocean from there.”

Eventually, one of the two assailants mentioned something about “owning the beach,” exhorting Marzouk and the others to leave.


DISAPPOINTMENT

What disappointed and frustrated Marzouk the most about the ugly encounter he had at Harbourville were two things.

The first of those two things is the fact that the incident he just dealt with was not the only manifestation of xenophobia he’s experienced since coming to Canada.

“I’ve been in Berwick for almost three years, and I’ve been here in Nova Scotia since 1995, in Halifax and Bedford,” Marzouk said. “I’d always hear racist comments and people would pass by, and it would just be done and over with.
“I knew one of the guys who approached us on the beach; I knew him well. I wasn’t expecting that to come from him.”

The second thing that frustrated Marzouk was the fact that this was not a conversation between only adults.

While the two men shouted invective, swore and threatened Marzouk and his friends, there were children present.

“That was really upsetting,” Marzouk said.

A member of the family with Marzouk at the beach at the time of the incident noted she immediately sent away her children when the shouting began, appalled at the vulgarity the pair were using.

“They started saying some pretty Islamophobic things, talking about how we belonged to ‘an invader religion,’ and it was pretty scary,” she said. “It’s muddled, in terms of memory, but after a while I went around to my husband and asked for him to give me the cellphone to call the police.
“The kinds of things they were yelling sounded like something out of the New Zealand shooter’s manifesto.”


POLICE INVOLVEMENT

The decision to call the police was not one lightly made, Marzouk noted, as the intensity of the argument and the vehemence of the slurs and anger directed at them only increased as time went on.

Marzouk noted he and the others expected things to eventually peter off, and that cooler heads would prevail.

To their dismay, things only got worse as they tried to reason with the pair shouting at them. Marzouk described how one of the two men shouting at them confronted his friend, as she called the police.

In a call with Kings County News, she said one of the men talking to them was mere inches away from her face.

“He started asking her to fight him,” Marzouk said. “When we said the cops were coming, they took off and went back to their cottage.”


RCMP RESPONSE

Corporal Jennifer Clarke, an RCMP spokesperson, confirmed that the police did respond to an incident at Harbourville on July 14.

“We were dispatched to a complaint of uttering threats in Harbourville at 10:13 p.m. The matter is still under investigation.”

No charges have been laid.


BYSTANDERS

Although the harassment and threats were damning enough on their own, Marzouk said another layer to his frustration came from what others nearby did at the time, to help – absolutely nothing.

“There were six or seven people, not far away from us, having another bonfire. No one did anything,” Marzouk said. “They heard everything and were bystanders.”

After watching that response, Marzouk said he’d like to see more awareness and more people standing up for others enduring harassment and abuse – and threats of violence.

“Even if you don’t know whose fault it is, or who is right or wrong, if you feel someone is threatened, call the cops,” Marzouk said. “You can’t just assume someone else will do something about it.”


LEARN MORE

Marzouk has a message to people who feel compelled to harangue and bother people not like them, alluding to what he told the two men he dealt with in Harbourville: “Maybe you should read more and learn more.

That’s how you counter ignorance.”

Marzouk noted he’d like to see more awareness of this kind of thing, nothing his brother in Mississauga fared much worse in an attack by two men that almost claimed his life, leaving him in a coma that lasted weeks.

To show how undaunted they were by the threats and anger directed at them, Marzouk and the friends he was with during the incident returned to relax at the same beach the next day.


COMMUNITY RESPONSE

The community of Berwick is not going to sit by idly in the face of bigotry, either. Shortly after Marzouk posted about the incident on social media, a community member decided to show solidarity, and called for an event to take place at the site.

According to a social media post for the “One Community – One Love Bonfire” event, area residents plan to gather at the Harbourville beach on July 27 to eat, play some music, socialize – and above all – show their support for everyone else, regardless of faith or where they came from.

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