SHAFAQNA- A Windsor teacher whose three young children were traumatized as their mother was threatened and verbally abused by a stranger, simply for wearing a hijab, is hoping to use the incident to help educate the community about the ugliness of discrimination.
“I’m hoping to have an open dialogue — Muslims are a fabric of our community,” said Dalal Boulbol.
It was a piece of fabric wrapped around her head, while she was driving her kids to school Thursday morning, that appeared to trigger the fury of a motorist in the next lane at a red light.
The middle-aged woman in the other vehicle rolled down her window, so Boulbol did likewise, thinking someone might be looking for directions. What followed, she said, was a foul-mouthed stream of obscenity-laden curses and threats.
“‘You f-ing terrorist! Go back to your own country!’ Then she used the B-word,” Boulbol recalled, not wanting to repeat the vulgar words. Boulbol said she started laughing, in part to comfort her three children, ages four to eight.
That’s when the other driver went ballistic, grabbing the steering wheel, shaking it in fury and then gesturing with slicing motions across her throat, her face contorted in rage. The light changed, and Boulbol continued south down Howard Avenue, the angry woman turning left onto Highway 3.
The kids, she said, “just didn’t understand what happened, I told them I laughed because it was just nonsense.”
But it wasn’t over.
Boulbol, as on every school day before she begins her own job as a public school teacher in the city, drove her three children into the parking lot at Al-Hijra Academy, a Muslim-based school just outside Windsor. It was as she was hugging them goodbye that the other motorist pulled in, leaned out the driver’s window and continued her tirade. “‘You f-ing B! You f-ing terrorist!’” she shouted, according to Boulbol, again refusing to say the words herself.
This time, school principal Waheeda Khan, teachers, parents and dozens of children were there to witness it. Someone wrote down the licence plate number and a vehicle description, and the Ontario Provincial Police were notified.
“I didn’t notice the fear lingering around me until that first interview” —Dalal Boulbol.
Essex OPP spokeswoman Const. Stephanie Moniz said Tuesday an officer spoke to Boulbol and “the other party involved,” who then placed a call to the school to apologize. Moniz told the Star she had no further details.
Since then, Boulbol said her kids are anxious on their trips to school, asking mom: “‘Is she coming back?’ My son is waking up a lot at night.”
Born and raised in a city that prides itself as one of Canada’s most multicultural, Boulbol said she’s always felt Windsorites have her back. What surprised her after the first media report on last week’s incident was how friends and family began urging her not to continue speaking out publicly for fear of a backlash against her, her family and the local Muslim community.
“I didn’t notice the fear lingering around me until that first interview,” said Boulbol.
Al-Hijra principal Waheeda Khan appeared reluctant to be interviewed Tuesday, telling the Star she didn’t see any reason for the story to be reported. “We filed a complaint — the things that need to be addressed are being addressed,” she said.
“People are afraid to speak out, and they’re scared because they don’t want to become an even bigger target,” said Remy Boulbol, a former executive director of the Rose City Islamic Centre.
Remy Boulbol, who is related to Dalal Boulbol by marriage, said it’s not uncommon for women wearing the hijab in the streets of Windsor, whether walking on the sidewalk or driving to work, to have a stranger flip them the finger, give them dirty looks or even scream something nasty. She said she was recently walking to a downtown lunch date “when a man walked past me, said, ‘F U, go back to your country and take all your people with you.’”
Remy wears a hijab, a head covering which leaves the face exposed, in her day-to-day life, but Dalal said she wears hers mostly when dropping off and picking up her children at their Muslim school, as a sign of respect to her religion.
As an educator herself, Dalal Boulbol said she understands the reluctance of her kids’ school to shine a spotlight on the hateful incident. “It’s a school, they have to think of the children … but as a community, we need to move on this,” said the elementary school science teacher.
The Boulbols meet Wednesday with Sgt. Wren Dosant, the Windsor Police Service’s newly appointed and first-ever diversity officer.
“People of stupidity and intolerance who are uneducated, they live amongst us — when people feel threatened, that’s when you cross the line,” said Dosant, who hopes to help with a community response.
Those caught in a similar situation should take note of details and report it to police, said Dosant. Even if police don’t feel a crime has been committed, he said officers can talk to the offending party.
“This is a reminder that no community is immune to something like this,” said Ronnie Haidar, spokesman for the Windsor Islamic Association. Windsor is home to almost 20,000 people of the Muslim faith.
Remy Boulbol said it’s “crazy” that, as a Windsorite, she’s expected to answer for the terrorist acts of someone from a foreign land, just because they share the same religion.
“I’m not going to apologize for some piece of garbage,” she said.
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