A shocking incident that occurred during the election campaign was the bullying of an elderly woman making her way to an event featuring People’s Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier and American political pundit Dave Rubin.
Around 100 protesters, some rowdy and acting violently, gathered outside the sold-out event, held at Mohawk College in Hamilton on Sept. 29, and 81-year-old Dorothy Marston and her husband were blocked from attending.
Video footage shows three masked individuals blocking Marston’s path while shouting “Nazi scum, off our streets!” One of them was identified as Alaa Al Soufi, 27, the son of a successful restaurant owner in Toronto.
Within days, Husam Al Soufi issued an apology on Facebook on behalf of his son that read in part: “Alaa regrets that he did not step aside and/stand up against the act of verbal abuse that occurred against [Marston], and would love the opportunity to personally extend his apologies to her.”
Nevertheless, Soufi’s restaurant was targeted with a barrage of hate mail and death threats and subsequently closed its doors out of safety concerns. After an outpouring of public support, the restaurant reopened under temporary new management.
Last week, Alaa Al Soufi was arrested and charged with two counts of intimidation, two of disguising with intent, and one of causing a disturbance. Two other men were charged as well.
In the wake of such incidents, there are those who seek revenge, those who look for justice, and those who want to make amends. This one has seen elements of all three.
On one hand, this story is further evidence of the division incited by groups like the far-left Antifa. But on the other hand, it has elements that reaffirm as much as disparage our human nature. In the end, the story has less to do with race and politics and more to do with our capacity for forgiveness and understanding.
‘Reason and Tolerance’
Soufi’s restaurant is a realization of the Canadian dream. As immigrants, Husam Al Soufi and his family opened the first Syrian restaurant in Toronto and made a success of it. Cuisine is a great cultural equalizer. The food of any nationality can be appreciated for what it is and not what it represents. Much like music, it is removed from the weight of politics and can be enjoyed on its merits, opening a door for the culturally uninitiated. By making good on the ample opportunities afforded by our free society, the Al Soufis enriched the city they call home.
The outpouring of support for the family and the restaurant in the aftermath of the Hamilton incident was well placed, but it is easy to be sympathetic when there are no personal stakes. For all the support the Al Soufis received, there was little in the way of public commiserations for Marston.
This could have made her family bitter and angry. Instead, in a display of magnanimity, Marston’s son David Turkoski paid the Al Soufis a visit at their restaurant. He shared a photo via Twitter with this comment:
“What a wonderful privilege and honour it was to meet Mr. and Mrs. Soufi. They are an amazing addition to my Canadian family. Reason and tolerance without screaming and fear is what we need. Fears have to be addressed or they grow. I now have a fellow Harley-riding brother.”
Torkoski’s mother was clearly victimized, but as one of the few parties with a right to anger, her son was quick to forgive. Able to see through the politics, he displayed the generous good nature of Canadians.
Masks of Chaos
It’s important to make a distinction between the right of peaceful assembly and the violent, subversive tactics favoured by groups such as Antifa.
The bullying of a senior citizen is a signpost of vileness and a lack of any sense of decency. In healthy societies, the elderly are given much the same consideration and understanding reserved for children. They are the canary in the coal mine for the humaneness of a society. Mrs. Marston deserved to be treated with the dignity that her age and life service has earned. She had a right to attend the event, just as protesters had the right to demonstrate—but without masks and without aggression.
Extremists on the left and right are eroding society’s capacity for peaceful protest by using a set of tactics aimed at shutting down venues, speech, and ideas they disagree with. It’s an assault not only on free speech but on free thought. One needs only to look south of the border—Portland in particular—to see how Antifa protesters regularly resort to violence and intimidation to silence those they don’t agree with.
The Antifa types only seem capable of acting en masse as a cynical rabble bent on destruction. In the confines of a functioning democracy, wearing a mask is a sign that one has lost touch with his or her humanity. The anonymity afforded by a mask creates an unsettling disconnect between a person’s actions and his or her accountability for those actions. It’s akin to the Twitter mobs who, under the veil of the internet, allow the ugly part of their nature to come to the fore.
Those on the extreme right are no better. Cowardly relying on hate mail and death threats, they hide behind their keyboards, damaging the lives of others for their own twisted justifications. Thankfully, for this lot, much of their activity is limited to the confines of their online message boards and rarely rears its head in public.
Setting Things Right
Individual responsibility is the cornerstone of a thriving society and the fundamental agreement we have with one another.
One can only speculate what led the younger Al Soufi to align himself with aggressive extremists. He may have psychological burdens, or he may have fallen in with the wrong crowd and been co-opted by a cause he didn’t fully understand. The particulars are not all that important. Our default should be to assume the best and keep a path to redemption open.
Hopefully, this young man will learn the necessary lessons from his ordeal and arrest and come out the other end a contributing member of society working toward a better future for his family and his community.
There’s no justifying the aggression of masked individuals infringing on the hard-earned rights of Canadians. They must be stopped and set right. But setting things right, as Turkowski exemplified, means our transgressors must be met with forgiveness.
Ryan Moffatt is a journalist based in Vancouver.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.