Politics / Social issues

Woman dies in Montreal metro escalator accident, social media erupts in racism

Mohammed Rharouity was the one who persuaded his sister Naima to immigrate to Canada.

“I convinced her to come here, I told her Quebec has democracy and multiculturalism, that there’s equality between men and women here,” he told the Montreal Gazette.

But early Thursday morning, the police knocked on his door. Naima, his beloved sister, was dead.

Naima Rharouity had just dropped off her son at daycare and was making her way down the escalator in Montreal’s Fabre Metro when, police believe, her scarf was ensnared in the escalator. She may have reached down to untangle it, when her hair was also sucked into the mechanism.

Rharouity died on the scene. An autopsy was conducted late last week, but results have not yet been released.

The media descended on the Fabre Metro with an outpouring of shock, grief, and disbelief.

montreal woman strangled by escalator with scarfMontrealers gather at a memorial for Naima Rharouity outside the Fabre Metro station in Montreal.

But soon, the rumble of rumour: the victim’s scarf may not have been “pure laine,” but rather, a hijab (for a brilliant deconstruction of the media circus around Rharouity’s death, read Julien Day’s assessment of the ‘bottom of the media barrel’).

Confirmation came quickly with screaming headline in the Journal de Montreal: “ÉTRANGLÉE PAR SON HIJAB.”

Strangled by her hijab.

And suddenly, a reversal in tone. Tsk, tsk. What a shame. *Not only does the hijab oppress women, it kills them, too.*

Cue the racist, violent rhetoric that has characterized (un)civil debate since the introduction of the Quebec Charter of Values.

Tumblr user Le recherchiste masqué curated a cross-section of comments made to Huffington Post Quebec, TVA Nouvelles, and the Journal de Montreal Facebook pages:

“One less terrorist in Montreal. One less veil. One less ‘imported’ who won’t integrate – good riddance. She was doing her prayers in the escalator. The veil is dangerous – it’s ok in their countries, they only have camels, not escalators. I suggest that escalators be mandatory in Muslim households in Quebec. These women might finally understand that they live in a secular society – even the escalators are trying to make that point to them!”

And the clincher: “The Charter would have saved her.”

As a friend put it on Facebook: “Mon Québec s’éteint.” My Québec is no more.

naima memorial montreal escalator A shrine honouring Naima Rharouity outside the Fabre Metro station in Montreal.

When dancer Isadora Duncan’s flowing scarf was caught in the back wheel of a sports car, strangling her to death, fellow artist Gertrude Stein said: “Affectations can be dangerous.”

Much like Duncan, Rharouity’s hijab has been illustrated as an affectation – vanity shrouded in modesty. As usual, what she wore sealed a woman’s fate.

But did it matter that Rharouity was wearing a hijab?

It matters, argues Metro Montreal’s Judith Lussier. Initial details of the incident were vague – had her scarf been caught? Had she suffered from a malaise? There was also the small matter that the witness who had called in the incident had not stayed on the scene to help the woman. And considering the rise of recent hate crimes targeting Montreal’s veiled women, could Rharouity have been pushed?

And the police waffled on the foulard – pure laine or hijab. She was not wearing a hijab. She was wearing a hijab. It was a winter scarf that was caught. It was her hair. *It was Colonel Mustard with a lead pipe in the conservatory.*

naima hijab scarf montreal metroWe Are All Naima

So why were the police so vague on the nature of the scarf?

Perhaps, as Lussier suggests, to “protect the public” from the racism that such a detail might produce. And produce, it did.

Rharouity’s death has revealed the callousness of those who have sought to rob her of her dignity and humanity, instrumentalizing her tragic passing to serve a political agenda.

Let us instead honour the woman who tragically lost her life in a freak accident. Naima Rharouity was a beloved sister and wife, a mother of two little boys. A volunteer who helped new immigrant families adapt to Montreal. That, although she spoke French, she was taking French lessons so that she might speak the language like a Quebecer. That she dreamed of opening a daycare in her neighbourhood. That she mattered.

That she was more than her veil.


You May Also Want to Check Out:

In Defense of the Hijab: Musings on Free Choice

Rape Culture: What we really learn on University campuses

6 thoughts on “Woman dies in Montreal metro escalator accident, social media erupts in racism

  1. Anyone who can make a racist comment at such a terrible incident doesn’t deserve to be in this country point final.

    May she rest in peace and may her family know that most of us feel for them and see no difference between us. We are all human. This was someones mother, wife, daughter, sister… Have some respect and a heart.

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