MPO

Canadian Muslims should accept full political responsibility as citizens: loyalty to their country, critical of its policies

Just as I was about to write a follow-up to an earlier article on the anti-terrorism handbook published jointly by two Canadian Muslim organizations and the RCMP, a recent convert to Islam killed a member of the Canadian Armed Forces in Québec and, one day later, a shooter apparently self-identified as a Muslim attacked Canada’s House of Parliament in Ottawa. Muslim organizations were quick to denounce the attacks in the strongest terms.

Such disclaimers, while undoubtedly sincere, are no longer adequate to the security-obsessed political atmosphere that has been created in Canada. Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canada is once again a belligerent in a Middle-East war. Its avowed enemy (though it may have other adversaries it prefers not to identify) is the hyper-Islamist faction ISIS, also known as the Islamic State or Da’ish, its Arabic acronym. This organization, if we are to believe media accounts, clearly intends to carry the war to the enemy, wherever he might be. Including Ottawa, we may presume.

Muslims in Canada, who have lately been going to extraordinary lengths to dissociate themselves from what has been correctly labeled as an “ideology of violence”, may soon run out of workable options. The unanimous declarations of Canadian imams condemning Da’ish and its works as un-Islamic do not appear to be having any effect on either the Harper government’s determination to bomb far-away Muslim countries as part of yet another colonial-imperialist coalition, or on the hot-headed, single-minded and often deeply troubled young men prepared to act on the call of the group’s leaders to strike their foes wherever they find them.

Put bluntly, Canada’s Muslims are caught in a bind. Trapped between the shrill propaganda of the Harper government and its policy of punitive expeditions on the one hand, and the equally shrill call for jihad, seen as sanctified combat against the enemies of Islam on the other, what plea for moderation can prevail? In fact, the extreme nature of both positions ensures that extremism will prevail. Would Stephen Harper soon channel Pierre-Elliot (“Just watch me”) Trudeau of War Measures Act fame?

We need not have held our collective breath. Prime Minister Harper announced the St-Jean-sur-Richelieu attack in the House of Commons in response to a set-up question from an obscure backbencher. He then introduced legislation to strengthen Canada’s security services. These services—the RCMP and CSIS—already notorious for their disregard for, and hostility to, civil liberties, will gain draconian new powers to monitor, detain and arrest on suspicion or “reasonable assumption.”

What should Canada’s growing Muslim population do now? Public statements by individuals and organizations, while properly expressing abhorrence of crimes committed in the name of Islam, should be expanded to describe the current political context that the Harper government (and its arch-secularist Islamophobe allies in and around the Parti Québécois) has shaped. Muslim grass-roots organizations, while declaring their abhorrence of the crimes committed in the name of their religion, should be equally firm in demonstrating their loathing for the atrocities (known as “collateral damage”) committed by their government—and the coalition of which it is a member—in their name. Canada, they might well point out, has no United Nations mandate to bomb Syrian or Iraqi territory in whatever capacity. The country to which they as citizens owe allegiance is thus a party to aggression as defined by the UN Charter.

Citizen-based organizations and anti-war movements in Québec and the rest of Canada have already taken to the streets to protest Ottawa’s policy. Muslims should join such demonstrations and make their voices heard. They cannot afford to surrender their rights as citizens. Their determination to speak out against Canada’s policy of militarism should be as bold and forthright as their condemnation of the violent acts perpetrated in the name of their religion.

No more than they should accept collective responsibility for the acts of a handful of fools, petty criminals or, at best, misled young men.  Muslims in Canada cannot abdicate their duty as citizens to call their government to account for shaping the international climate that has fostered the rise of groups like Da’ish. Indeed, the finger of accusation should be pointed straight at Ottawa for its unconditional defense and support of Zionist crimes in Palestine and, by extension, for the oppressive and unjust status quo that prevails throughout the Middle East and stokes the fires of sectarian strife.

While it is a crime for Canadians to travel abroad to join the ranks of Da’ish, the Israel-based Lone Soldier Program benefits from tax-deductible status through the Ne’eman Foundation in Toronto. This program recruits mercenaries to serve—and fight–in the Israeli army against its Palestinian “enemies.”

None of these measures, however, should allow Muslims in Canada to avoid some communal soul searching. While they can and must reject collective guilt, they cannot remain indifferent to the exclusionist language that has, over the years, become accepted as religious discourse in mosques and, worse, in informal discussion groups and on the internet. The issue is less one of financial support of institutions by Middle Eastern sponsors of violence and obscurantism, and more that of legitimizing a retrograde political ideology—Wahhabi Salafism—that masquerades as religion. Curiously, while Da’ish has been identified as the enemy of the day, the sources of its political/religious program do not appear to bother either Washington or Ottawa, both of which maintain excellent relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, its principal state purveyor.

Canadian political leaders, and their security services, enjoy instructing Muslims in the steps they must take to head off religiously inspired violence. They should be politely requested to keep their advice to themselves and go about their information gathering without the willing cooperation of Canadian Muslims. If state surveillance and monitoring tools and skills are as well developed and extensive as Edward Snowdon’s revelations show, does the political police really need help from us?

Ultimately the task of Muslims in Canada should be to deconstruct the pseudo-religions ideology that has enabled extremism to carve out a niche in their midst. Only Canada’s Muslims themselves can do the job. At the same time they should accept full political responsibility as citizens: loyalty to their country, critical of its policies. Especially when those policies perpetuate the climate of sectarian violence now wracking the Middle East.

Muslim Presence Canada extends its heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of Corporal Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent who were killed while on duty.

Our thoughts also are with the other victims injured in last week’s tragic events. We wish them a swift and full recovery.

In reaction to the attacks, the Harper government is now wanting to toughen the country’s anti-terror laws, including a measure that would allow “preventative detention”.  

Let us beware of the roads we take in the name of security.

We believe, given the attitude of the Harper government, that such measures are likely to stigmatize communities, erode civil liberties, institutionalize discrimination and create a serious breech in basic human rights protection.

The sad reality is that today there is a general lack of knowledge of Muslims and of their religion, and a resulting tendency to accept simplistic and absolute caricatures.

Canadian Muslims, for their part, have at times been slow to participate fully in and to understand Canadian society.

We call upon our fellow Canadian citizens to exercise their obligation of critical vigilance and to oppose all discriminatory security policies.

We call upon all Muslims to discharge their duties as citizens and residents to the fullest and to participate fully in every aspect of Canadian social and political life.

We are determined to work together to find a better way to address security concerns in a manner which is in keeping with the Canadian values we all share and are committed to defending.

 

“What is truly “heinous” and “deplorable” is Mr. Harper’s sly use of coded language (“Islamicism”) to point the finger of opprobrium at Muslims and their religion. Viewed in the light of last week’s repeated acts of vandalism, the Canadian Prime Minister should be regarded as the biggest threat to the peace and security of Canadian citizens”

Despite Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s statement describing the profanation of the Centre islamique de l’Outaouais in Gatineau, Québec, a Muslim house of worship, as “heinous” and “deplorable,” Mr. Harper has much to answer for, and should be further pressed to do so.

For the outrages committed in Gatineau are the direct and predictable results of the Prime Minister’s remark, to a complicit Peter Mansbridge on September 7 2011, that “Islamicism” (sic) represents the “biggest threat to Canada.”

What is truly “heinous” and “deplorable,” however, is Mr. Harper’s sly use of coded language (“Islamicism”) to point the finger of opprobrium at Muslims and their religion, practiced by more than one quarter of humanity. In fact, viewed in the light of last week’s repeated acts of vandalism, the Canadian Prime Minister should properly be regarded as the biggest threat to the peace and security of Canadian citizens.

Until he fully and publicly revokes his characterization of “Islamicism” as threat, Mr. Harper’s words, and those of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, must be regarded as hollow.

But caution must be exercised in interpreting the obscene graffiti inscribed on the mosque’s doors and walls. The ostensibly Jewish identity of the Gatineau vandal, as expressed in the symbols used, should deceive no one.

Though Zionist extremists such as the Jewish Defense League make common cause with extreme right-wing political groups, and welcomed Dutch race hater Geert Wilders to Canada last year, the crude and clumsy nature of the Gatineau incidents point in another direction. The aim of the perpetrator(s) is to incite Muslims against Jews.

Such a tactic dovetails perfectly with Mr. Harper’s unyielding support of Israel, and his own government’s provocative posture on protecting religious minorities.

These tactics, in turn, feed into the Harper government’s broad policy shift that seeks to transform Canada into a “warrior nation,” an implicitly Judeo-Christian, neo-imperialist one at that.

Having labeled “Islamicism” a threat to Canada, Mr. Harper has now declared Iran the major threat to world peace. All the elements of an aggressive domestic and foreign “warrior” policy are in place, including the implicit designation of Muslims as an enemy within.

It should come as no surprise that marginal elements or agents provocateurs choose, or are designated, to act out such a policy at the local level. In fact, more such outrages can be expected, along with wider damage to property and possibly physical injury.

Reaction among Muslim advocacy groups has been thus far cautious. They have called upon local police forces to step up protection and surveillance, and bring the culprits to justice. CAIR-CAN, a measured voice of advocacy for Canadian Muslims thanked Mr. Harper for his “reassuring condemnation.”

In normal times and circumstances, such measures would be sufficient.

But these are no longer normal times and circumstances.

Muslim advocacy groups, and ad-hoc coalitions of Imams such as those who recently united to condemn unequivocally abuse against women, should now consider discussing the wider context that has seen increasing attacks on Canada’s (and Québec’s) Muslim citizens.

Stephen Harper must not be allowed to get away with apologizing for the results of policies consciously adopted by his government and actively promoted by the ministers closest to him. It may well be time for Canada’s (and Québec’s) Muslim citizens, along with their supporters among the broader society, to consider organizing themselves into self-defense groups that would step forward where police forces are unable or unwilling to do their job.

Such a step would help focus attention on the true instigators of vandalism of houses of worship, the propagators of Islamophobia, and the master planners of armed intervention and war in the Middle East: the Harper government.

*Fred A. Reed is a journalist, literary translator and author. He received the Governer General award for his English translation of  Le temps aboli : l’Occident et ses grands récits by Thierry Hentsch (Les Éditions du Boréal / Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal).

I am Abousfian Abdelrazik. I am Canadian. For about the last year, I have lived inside the Canadian Embassy in Sudan. For the last six years, I have been in Sudan against my will, because the Government of Canada will not let me go home to Montreal to see my children and my friends. The Government of Canada does not let me go back home because it falsely accuses me of being a terrorist.

In 2003, I traveled to Sudan to visit my sick mother. Without telling me, agents from CSIS recommended to Sudan that I should be arrested. I was thrown into prison because Canada asked; I was imprisoned and beaten and almost died. I was tortured. The Canadian government knows that Sudan tortures its prisoners, but it did not help me. Instead the Canadian government sent CSIS agents to interrogate me in prison. My lawyers have documents to prove all this.

For six years I have tried to go back home to my children, but the Canadian government took my old passport and will not give me another one. Without a passport, I cannot travel.

So I have been in Sudan against my will for six years now. I have been imprisoned and tortured. I am safer now because I live in the Canadian Embassy. But I miss my children in Canada; they grew up, and my ex-wife died. My teenage daughter is an orphan now, and still the Harper government does not let me to go home.

All this happened to me because the Harper government says I am an “Islamic extremist”. This is a lie. I am a Muslim, and I pray to my God, but this does not make me a terrorist or a criminal. My lawyers have letters from both RCMP and CSIS that say I am not involved in any criminal activity. Why would Canada’s police say I am not involved in criminal activity if I were a terrorist? Would the Canadian government let me live and sleep inside the walls of the Canadian Embassy if I was a terrorist?

Let me tell you a story: In March 2008, Mr. Deepak Obhrai, the Parliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, came to Sudan to talk to me. I pleaded with him that I wanted to come home to Canada to see my children. But Mr. Obhrai and the Prime Minister did nothing. In March 2008, Mr. Obhrai personally inspected my wounds from being tortured in Sudanese prisons. I showed Mr. Obhrai the scars on my body and back from being beaten. He saw that I was tortured, but he did not help me.

I understand Mr. Obhrai and the Prime Minister refuse to discuss my case and many other cases of Canadian Muslims in trouble now. Do they think we are not “real Canadians”? I tell you, I am Canadian, and so are my children; they are born in Canada. The Prime Minister has blue eyes and white skin, and the Governor General is a black lady. Is one of them more “Canadian” than the other?

I know many Canadians of all colors and religions are trying to help me. I pray for you and I want to thank you so much. My lawyers have worked for free for over a year. Almost 200 people have given money and bought me a ticket to come home. Many people have sent me letters to the Embassy, which are full of love and hope. You have never met me, but I thank you in my prayers every day. I want to fly home on April 3 and celebrate with you, InShahAllah.

All these gentle people who are helping me come from all colors and all religions. They belong to churches and teach in schools. But the Harper government threatens to charge them for aiding terrorism just because they bought my plane ticket to return home. Shame on you! Shame on you! Why would you want to charge Canadians who just want to help, when the Canadian police say I am not a terrorist? Do not be cruel this way.

It is very lonely to live in the embassy and I am sick and suffering. I hope to fly home on April 3, but if I am denied a passport, I will wait so my case goes to Court. I know that my fellow Canadians are not to blame for my situation, and even the RCMP say I am innocent. It is only Mr. Harper and his officials who do not let me go back to Canada.

But for my fellow Canadians who understand that I just want to go home, I want to say: thank you, thank you so much for helping me. When I am finally allowed to return to Canada, I hope I can meet all of you and say thank you for the love and support that you given me with your kindness and good wishes. You are always in my prayers.

kenneyandGalloway.jpg image by aidanski Pretty soon psychiatrists will be the only people qualified to report the news.

As the planet goes slowly insane, we were treated this week to a sorry vignette from the lunatic villas of our own country. George Galloway was finally and officially refused entry into Canada. The bureaucratic reason was that the British MP is a security threat.-What was he planning to do, kick a Mountie in the shins, sneak into a hockey game without a ticket?-

The real reason is that he opposes this country’s one-sided policy with respect to Palestine and the war in Afghanistan.-

Galloway did have a few supporters though, including Conrad Black, who now covers the Inmate Beat for the National Post. Black wrote that although Galloway was “a magnificent absurdity” he would provide good “entertainment” value if allowed in.-

Now that Conrad has made such a fine contribution to the Post, readers are wondering: Are theatre reviews from Garth Drabinsky next, perhaps investment tips from Bernie Madoff? Maybe Martha Stewart could do a nice behind-the-bars feature after taking the boys some home-made cookies?

While we were denying free speech to a five-times elected British MP, we were extending it to a convicted felon who renounced his Canadian citizenship before being caught with his entire body in the corporate cookie jar.And there is this little item for those who think Galloway really is a security threat. We gave security clearance and a job to a guy at one of our airports who was straight out of the Sopranos. As Auditor General Sheila Fraser pointed out, this choirboy was being investigated for a murder related to drug smuggling at a major airport! But rest easy. We would surely have weeded him out if he had planned on giving a speech.

No, George was just too much of an embarrassment to Canada’s shameful behaviour toward the Palestinian people. After 1,453 of them were slaughtered in Gaza by the Israeli Defence Forces, including more than 400 women and children, Canada had nothing to say about it.

We had nothing to say about it when the United Nations condemned Israel for its super-violent Gaza operation, noting the verified reports of Israeli abuses were “too numerous to list.”

We had nothing to say when Israeli newspapers published accounts of IDF soldiers who reported that there was a “permissive” attitude toward killing civilians during the assault. As one IDF squad commander put it in the New York Times, “What I felt was, there was a lot of thirst for blood.”

We had nothing to say about it when the Israeli military was forced to condemn as “unacceptable” shocking images printed on T-shirts ordered by some IDF recruits to commemorate the end of basic training.- As was reported at the time, “One of them bore the image of a pregnant Arab woman with a bull’s-eye superimposed on her belly, along with the slogan, ’1 shot, 2 kills.’ “-

The Israeli army condemned the practice, sort of: “This type of humour is unacceptable. Commanders are instructed to use disciplinary tools against those who produce T-shirts of this type.”- Humour?

As for Afghanistan, where our soldiers are dying so that certain sectors of that society may legally rape their wives, George might have had a few things to say about the kind of democracy we are spreading so sanctimoniously.

I look forward to that great champion of free speech, Jason Kenney, demolishing this troublesome fellow in a public debate.

Source

new-imageAS AESCHYLUS observed nearly 2,500 years ago, “In war, truth is the first casualty.”

This inevitably places freedom in jeopardy, for when truth is confined to the round file, censored and ultimately eliminated, fear begins to prevail over reason. Convinced that it is the way to safety—and with no evident alternative—people begin to take the path of least resistance. Yet safety is subjective, and heavily dependent on a narrative provided and controlled by those in power. Public ignorance enables the consolidation of power, and those ruled become mere puppets. As rulers seek to silence, it is the task of journalists to expose. When the former prevail, it is the people who lose.

Stroll down the streets of Gaza today and something becomes evident. It is not that newsstands resemble those in the U.S., where sensationalist tabloids and bubblegum for the brain have edged out the comparatively venerable daily newspapers and national publications such as Time, Newsweek and Life. No, such censorship in favor of sensationalism has yet to arrive in Gaza.

Rather, what one notices throughout Gaza today is the absence of news—even of the parasitical tabloid version. Scan our racks. The main newspapers, Al Quds, Al Hayat-Al Jadeeda and Al Ayyam—publications loyal to Fatah—are missing. Nor is this the first time newspapers have become the victims of censorship. This time, however, it is not solely, or even largely, the fault of the Israelis.

In June 2007, Ramallah’s Fatah-led government under Dr. Salam Fayyad banned the Hamas-affiliated Falsteen and Al Risalah newspapers. This past July 28, following an explosion which killed six Palestinians and injured more than 15, Hamas police forces confiscated Fatah-affiliated newspapers at the Eretz crossing and prevented them from entering Gaza. As a result of Hamas’ July 2008 ban, the Ramallah government began arresting media crews and journalists working for a Hamas-owned television station in the West Bank.

This media stand-off between Gaza’s Hamas leadership and the Fatah leadership in the West Bank has resulted in a number of journalists being arrested by both sides. Ultimately, of course, it has affected freedom of expression within Palestinian society. Moreover, the dispute continues to escalate, as each political faction attempts to control what information Palestinians may be permitted to hear or read.

In an interview, Taher Al Nounno, spokesman of Gaza’s de facto Hamas government, offered the following rationale for banning the three Fatah newspapers.

“We have given them some notes to make their report more professional, but they have refused to deal with us,” Al Nounno stated emphatically. “The three newspapers have been publishing lies and instigating [unrest]. They are a long way from professionalism in showing [both sides of the argument],” he maintained.

In a separate interview, Fatah leader Nimir Hamad, political adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, justified the decision to ban the distribution of Hamas-affiliated newspapers—despite the fact that Hamas has recently allowed Al Quds daily to be distributed in Gaza.

“Al Resalah and Falastin are both instigation and propagandist newspapers calling for strife,” Hamad asserted, “and…are publishing extremist and fundamentalist thinking.”

Not only does Fatah prevent Hamas TV crews from reporting in the West Bank, while Hamas prohibits Fatah- and Palestinian Authority-affiliated crews from working in Gaza, but both parties have jailed journalists, closed radio stations and confiscated media equipment.

An Ongoing War on Words

According to the internationally respected watchdog group Reporters Without Borders (RWB), at least nine news media outlets—three of them state-owned, the rest privately owned—have ceased operating in Gaza since June 2007. The RWB also has noted numerous incidents, including assaults and abductions, constituting intimidation of journalists by Palestinian authorities in both the West Bank and Gaza in retaliation for reporting deemed unfavorable.

Unlike the United States or most Western nations, neither Israel nor Palestine has a constitution (although both operate under basic laws). As a result, the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of the press are arbitrarily bestowed rather than guaranteed by law. The closest such guarantee is found in the Palestinian Authority’s Basic Law, which states that every person has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and expression, whether orally, in writing or through other means.

In 1995, however, the Palestinian Authority instituted a press law making it a crime to criticize the Palestinian Authority or the president. Although on the books for more than a decade, until recently it was not enforced either in Gaza or the West Bank—but the escalation of attacks on press offices, arrests of journalists and the cessation of newspaper distribution within Palestine speak to its current implementation.

The language of the law applies to domestic journalists rather than foreign news bureaus, which continue to operate out of their offices in the West Bank and Gaza. Due to the threat of arrest and torture, however, the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) notes that an increasing number of independent journalists are opting out of covering Palestine, seeing the risks as too great.

In a recently released report, HRW states that, “Over the past 12 months, Palestinians in both places [West Bank and Gaza] have suffered serious abuses at the hands of their own security forces, in addition to persistent abuses by the occupying power, Israel.”

The report further documents that since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, it has tortured detainees, conducted arbitrary arrests of political opponents and clamped down on freedom of expression and assembly. Furthermore, the report points out, its rival Fatah is guilty of exactly the same crimes in the West Bank: the torture of journalists and sympathizers, arbitrary detention and the closing down of media organizations sympathetic to Hamas.

Israel Leads the Way

Of course, Israeli censorship has long been a part of Palestinian reality. One recalls Prime Minister Golda Meir’s 1971 edict erasing Palestine and the Green Line from all maps produced in Israel, or Israeli occupation forces ordering the removal of Palestinian political symbols—flags, posters and more. Israeli authorities censored coverage of the first and second Palestinians intifadas, meticulously reviewing Arabic publications for “security”-related material, and enforced its ban on critical reporting with arrests, beatings and the confiscation of press cards. According to Reporters Without Borders, Israeli soldiers have shot at least nine Palestinian journalists, including reporters for the Associated Press, Agence France Presse (AFP) and Al Ayyam newspaper.

According to HRW, blame for the wholesale destruction of freedom of the press and of expression in Palestine originates with political protection and funding by the United States and the European Union of Israeli and Palestinian security forces. This bias, moreover, ensures that the abuses continue. In its report, HRW calls upon the enabling nations to cease providing aid to all agencies, regardless of affiliation, implicated in serious violations of human rights and to publicly criticize abuses committed by West Bank and Gaza security forces.

Without such intercession by the international community, Israel, Hamas and Fatah will continue restricting freedom of expression, abusing journalists, closing media offices, confiscating equipment, preventing the distribution of newspapers, and assaulting journalists during demonstrations—all of which serve to prevent information from reaching those directly affected. It also renders the entire world ignorant of facts—facts which in time will lead to a peaceful resolution of the longest running conflict in the Middle East.

Award-winning journalist Mohammed Omer reports from the Gaza Strip, where he maintains the Web site <www.rafahtoday.org>. He can be reached at <gazanews@yahoo.com>.

By Randa Farah (Jamelie Hassan has given Muslim Presence authorization to use the work Kian on their website)

kian_release1Grassroots movements, world-renowned writers, scholars and artists have joined hands in opposing the war in Iraq, pointing to the benefits of dialogue and the dangers of monologue. The war itself has revived discussion of Samuel P. Huntington’s morbid theory that civilizations are inherently different and therefore doomed to clash.

One piece of art challenging Huntington’s hypothesis is Jamelie Hassan’s Kian, which consists of a calligraphic representation of a single Arabic word.

To find this piece of word art, conceptualized for a public space, one must visit King’s University College at the University of Western Ontario. In Arabic, kian is the abstract noun form of the verb “to be.” It also means entity, or the inner soul. A derivative of kian is al-Ka’en, the Arabic noun for being or Being, the latter in reference to God. Another important derivative is al-Kawn, which means the universe or cosmos.

As an artwork, Kian symbolizes the rich, tangled history of East and West so beautifully captured in Amin Maalouf ’s Leo Africanus, which describes the life and journeys of Hassan bin Muhammed al- Wazzan al-Fasi, the Arab legal scholar born in Muslim Granada in the 15th century. The book opens with the following passage:

I, Hasan the son of Muhammad the weighmaster, I, Jean-Leon de Medici, circumcised at the hand of a barber and baptized at the hand of a pope, I am now called the African, but I am not from Africa, nor from Europe, nor from Arabia…From my mouth you will hear Arabic, Turkish, Castilian, Berber, Hebrew, Latin and vulgar Italian, because all tongues and all prayers belong to me. But I belong to none of them.

When teaching my students about the contribution of the Arab-Muslim empire to European civilization, I draw their attention to the many English words that have Arabic origins: alchemy, algebra, algorithm, alkali, cotton, giraffe, hazard, lemon, lute, magazine, mocha, monsoon, muslin, racquet, sherbet, syrup, tariff and zero, for example.

In the context of London, Ontario, Kian attests to the long history of Middle Eastern migration to the city; Jamelie Hassan’s father, for example, settled in the city in 1914. The London mosque was established in 1955, the first in Ontario.

Canadian culture cannot be unscrambled from its eclectic sources, stretching back to indigenous inhabitants such as the Attawandaron, who lived in the London area before the first European settlers arrived. Kian thus signals a community that embraces knowledge and incorporates difference rather than excluding on the basis of it. As I marvelled at its brilliant green Arabic letters, I was aware of a public point of reference in London recognizing me—an immigrant from the Middle East—as part of the social and cultural landscape. Undoubtedly, the mounting of Kian in a public space, on the facade of a prominent educational institution, beckons the public to engage in a dialogue about our knotted histories. In this sense, Kian symbolizes time and space, together in the universe in peace.

By Shelina Merani

My six year old insists on wearing Spiderman underwear. The friendly non-unionized salespeople humor him as he confidently proclaims that Spiderman is the “good” guy.  

Spiderman and other action comic characters are notoriously oversimplified as good or evil. Psychologist Marshall Rosenberg explains.  When an individual is labeled as evil, a desire rages to turn off one’s feelings towards the person we are harming. He cites the use of language in Nazi Germany as being a key to how the German people did such horrible things to other human beings.  

The “evil” discourse has been used repeatedly by world leaders in the context of the “war on terror.”  We’ve all heard the now infamous term, “axis of evil” coined by Canadian David Frum and used by President George Bush.  Tthirty percent of Bush’s speeches have employed this term.  Prime Minister Stephen Harper has taken a similar approach, defending the mission in Afghanistan amid rising casualty rates, “…this incident illustrates the evil that they are fighting and the goodwill and the nobleness of the cause that they are taking to the Afghan people.”

Popular shows like CSI view bad actions as not evil but “wrong” and take their viewers into important question when uncovering crime- the motive.  This becomes unnecessary if someone is the devil incarnate.  

“Why do they hate us? asked President George Bush after September 11th, “ They hate our freedoms – our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.”

The Defense Science Board, an independent advisory body to the US Secretary of Defense disagrees. In a study they conducted in the Muslim world, they recognized that  it wasn’t US freedom that was so hated.  “In the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering.”

So what are these policies that are so hated and have actually led to the dehumanization of individuals, less freedom and curbed civil liberties?  The questions of Afghanistan, Iraq, Guatanamo Bay, and our own Canadian story, Mahar Arar are but a few examples of “collateral damage” and what many citizens would consider plain wrong.  

Mahvish Khan, an Interpreter at Guantanamo writes in her diary, “… each time, I’m struck by the ordinariness of Guantanamo Bay, the startling disconnect between the beauty of the surroundings and the evil they mask.”

What is this “evil” she is describing?  As was reported to the Washington Times by an FBI agent, detainees at the U.S. military prison have been shackled to the floor in fetal positions for more than 24 hours at a time, left without food and water, and allowed to defecate on themselves.  Other details brought forward by lawyers acting on behalf of prisoners have noted force-feedings resulted in prisoners vomiting up substantial amounts of blood.

In his witness statement, Mahar Arar talked about his extraordinary rendition, “They are doing this to people and it is wrong, wrong, wrong. This is an evil practice, and I want them to acknowledge it.”

Let’s hope that acknowledging our own capacity for doing wrong will be the starting point in recognizing the humanity of the “other”.   

 

 

 

 

 

By Shelina Merani

My six year old insists on wearing Spiderman underwear. The friendly non-unionized salespeople humor him as he confidently proclaims that Spiderman is the “good” guy.

Spiderman and other action comic characters are notoriously oversimplified as good or evil. Psychologist Marshall Rosenberg explains. When an individual is labeled as evil, a desire rages to turn off one’s feelings towards the person we are harming. He cites the use of language in Nazi Germany as being a key to how the German people did such horrible things to other human beings. 

The “evil” discourse has been used repeatedly by world leaders in the context of the “war on terror.” We’ve all heard the now infamous term, “axis of evil” coined by Canadian David Frum and used by President George Bush. Tthirty percent of Bush’s speeches have employed this term.  Prime Minister Stephen Harper has taken a similar approach, defending the mission in Afghanistan amid rising casualty rates, “…this incident illustrates the evil that they are fighting and the goodwill and the nobleness of the cause that they are taking to the Afghan people.”

Popular shows like CSI view bad actions as not evil but “wrong” and take their viewers into important question when uncovering crime- the motive. This becomes unnecessary if someone is the devil incarnate. 

“Why do they hate us? asked President George Bush after September 11th, “ They hate our freedoms – our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.”

The Defense Science Board, an independent advisory body to the US Secretary of Defense disagrees. In a study they conducted in the Muslim world, they recognized that it wasn’t US freedom that was so hated. “In the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering.”

So what are these policies that are so hated and have actually led to the dehumanization of individuals, less freedom and curbed civil liberties? The questions of Afghanistan, Iraq, Guatanamo Bay, and our own Canadian story, Mahar Arar are but a few examples of “collateral damage” and what many citizens would consider plain wrong. 

Mahvish Khan, an Interpreter at Guantanamo writes in her diary, “… each time, I’m struck by the ordinariness of Guantanamo Bay, the startling disconnect between the beauty of the surroundings and the evil they mask.”

What is this “evil” she is describing? As was reported to the Washington Times by an FBI agent, detainees at the U.S. military prison have been shackled to the floor in fetal positions for more than 24 hours at a time, left without food and water, and allowed to defecate on themselves. Other details brought forward by lawyers acting on behalf of prisoners have noted force-feedings resulted in prisoners vomiting up substantial amounts of blood.

In his witness statement, Mahar Arar talked about his extraordinary rendition, “They are doing this to people and it is wrong, wrong, wrong. This is an evil practice, and I want them to acknowledge it.”

Let’s hope that acknowledging our own capacity for doing wrong will be the starting point in recognizing the humanity of the “other”.

By Hussein A. Hamdani, Kamran Bhatti, Nabila F. Munawar

Until the early 1990s, the Muslim community in Canada played a marginal role in society and politics as a distinct group.  The early immigrants believed their sojourn in Canada would be temporary one and did not take much interest in Canadian politics. The bulk of Muslims are fairly recent immigrants, still with roots in their countries of decent. The majority seemed to take more interest in the affairs of those ‘home countries’ than in Canada.  As a result of these and many other complex factors, the Muslim community was significantly outside the margins on many indices, including political and social participation.

It is partly because of this realization of a sense of marginalization that the community began to function as a coherent force in national politics and voice demands in the name of the community as a whole.  Earlier, Muslim activism was fragmented. It tended to be restricted to agitation for specific national or regional causes (Kashmir, Palestine, etc.). Political involvement took place within the general context of racial and ethnic polarization, and did not define the participants as specifically Muslim.

Recently, a number of seminal events catapulted Muslims to the centre of the political stage. The tragic events on September 11th and the 2004 invasion of Iraq brought Muslims to the forefront of national and international concern.  Muslims found themselves, intentionally or not, at the very centre of Canadian politics.  It seemed that all of a sudden, everyone was talking about Islam and Muslims. The media microscope resulted in a growing political activism and evolving sense of identity-formation.

For the first time, major Muslim organizations in Canada organized conferences and meetings to discuss what it meant to be a Canadian Muslim. The idea of ‘back home’ was quickly fading in these discussions and debate sprang about the formation of a new Canadian Muslim Identity. Major papers were published and articles printed on this topic.

The evolving role of Muslims in Canadian politics raises some important questions about the future of Canadian democracy. It has also raises questions about the limits of tolerance and the paradoxes of democracy.  The impact of September 11 and the ensuing anti-terrorism laws contributed to an atmosphere in which Muslims felt harassed and under suspicion. They became the primary victims of an erosion of civil and political liberties that threaten to undermine Canadian democratic life.  Interestingly, the new- found Muslim political activism came at a juncture when their civil liberties were the most threatened.

This paper will draw a profile of the Muslim community in Canada; discuss some historic obstacles to Muslim political participation; explore a number of the seminal events that facilitated an emergence of a political consciousness; highlight some of the emerging trends that developed as a result of this consciousness; examine the 2004 Canadian Federal Elections; and finally, suggest ways to further increase Muslim political participation in Canada.

Who are the Muslims?

According to Daood Hamdani, Islam is now very much a Canadian religion and the Muslim community is a microcosm of Canada’s multicultural mosaic and a reflection of Islam’s universality.  One-quarter to one-third of Muslim Canadians were born here.
While some Muslim immigrants came to Canada to flee religious and ideological persecution and escape the occupation of their homelands, the vast majority came to seek a better life.  They had the skills and qualifications and were looking for opportunities.

Muslims are among the most highly educated groups in Canada.  Twenty-seven percent of those working in what economics call the “prime labour force group” have university degrees, compared with seventeen percent of the general population.  Since Muslims are mainly in the working age population, they contribute far more to sustain and strengthen the social security system than draw from it. While five workers support one retired person in Canada as a whole, Muslims have fifteen people in the working age group to support each retiree.

According to the 2001 National Census (Census), between 1990 and 2000, the Muslim population increased by a blistering 128% by far the largest percentage increase of any religious group in Canada.  Islam is now the third largest religion in Canada trailing only Catholicism and Protestantism.  The population of Muslims in Canada is estimated to be approximately 650,000, 45% of whom reside in the Greater Toronto Area.    Important to consider is the fact that many new Muslim immigrants came from lands ruled by tyrants and dictators and they were often uncomfortable publicly pronouncing their faith out of fear of possible persecution. The Census also confirmed that median age of the Muslim community is 27, the lowest of any faith group.  In other words, the Canadian Muslim community is the most educated, affluent, fastest growing and youngest community. All signs indicate that this community will increase in political and economic clout.

Historic Obstacles to Participation

Canada has an unflattering history in denying racial and religious minorities political enfranchisement. The effects of these exclusions have implications today. Many minorities may not feel comfortable or welcome politically participating because of these historic obstacles.   The Japanese, Chinese and South Asian Canadian communities were all specifically excluded from voting rights and experienced infringement on their civil liberties at one time or another.

Clearly, the 1918 expansion of the franchise to women was significant. However, white women campaigned for the right to vote by capitalizing on the anxiety over the deterioration of the Anglo-Saxon race,  and organized against the expansion of the franchise to people of other racial backgrounds.

In 1920, the Solicitor General of Canada, the Hon. Hugh Guthrie, during a debate on the Dominion Elections Act, brazenly said:

So far as I know, citizenship in no country carries with it the right to vote.
The right to vote is a conferred right in every case…
This Parliament says upon what terms men shall vote…
No Oriental, whether he be Hindu, Japanese or Chinese, acquires the right
To vote simply by the fact of citizenship…
(Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada, 1997:81)

Such racial exclusions to the franchise were not eliminated until after the Second World War.  The right to vote and to be a candidate for office was enshrined in the 1982 in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Besides these and other systemic barriers to Muslim political participation, the immigrant condition was also a barrier to increased political participation. The vast majority of Canada’s Muslims arrived in Canada in the last 30 years. Being transplanted from one social milieu to another is, for most immigrants, a very disruptive experience. It requires transformations in their identity, their social relations, their cultural habits, their linguistic capabilities and their institutional knowledge and skills.   The longer that one lives in their new country, the transformation becomes easier.

The Emergence of a Political Consciousness

A number of seminal events starting with the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the Palestinian Intifada in 1987 and the first Gulf war catapulted Muslims into the centre of the political stage in Canada. Years later came the tragedy of September 11th, the war on terrorism, the attack on Afghanistan, the passing of terrorism related legislation, the Maher Arar controversy and the second invasion of Iraq. These events and the anti-Islamic culture surrounding them intensified Muslim activism and a definable Muslim political consciousness emerged.
September 11, 2001
The single greatest motivation for increased Muslim political activism seems to be September 11th, the ensuing anti-terrorism legislation and the “war on terrorism.” The Anti-Terrorism Act outrages many Muslims, and motivates them to engage in the social discourse.
In addition to the broad and ambiguous definitions, this Act gave the government the power to arrest people “preventatively” to impose conditions without laying criminal charges, to tap telephones more easily, and to detain persons under a security certificates without publicly revealing the evidence against them. It gave cabinet the power to decide what organizations were labeled “terrorist”, with minimal due process, and to impose penalties for supporting or facilitating such organizations and their members, even if the person in question knew of no specific terrorist acts. The legislation also allows cabinet the power to involve the military more easily in enforcing domestic order, to keep information secret that would previously have been public.

A joint brief by a coalition of Muslim organizations and Toronto’s Urban Alliance on Race Relations was particularly concerned with the use of “religious, ideological and political” motivations in the Act’s definition of terrorism this inherently meant that those whose religion or politics differ from the institutionalized norm are more likely to be targeted under this Act. Currently, there are six Muslim men who are held under these security certificates. Neither the accused nor their lawyers have had the opportunity to examine the government’s evidence against them. These certificates are seen by many Canadian citizens as legal abominations. Muslims around Canada were outraged and felt the need to organize and address these problems. One such organization is Ihya Foundation (Ihya).

Ihya Foundation is an Islam-inspired, Toronto-based, not for profit organization that stands for social justice. Ihya has held several events addressing the climate of the Muslim Canadian political landscape. For example, within weeks after September 11th, Ihya organized an event titled “Healing the Wounds: Uniting in the Aftermath of September 11th”. At this event, former mayor Barbara Hall, as well as many leaders of the Canadian Muslim community discussed ways of healing and building bridges between the various communities in Canada. In September 2003, Ihya organized the Muslim communities first “Toronto Muslim Summit” where a broad, cross-section of the community gathered to discuss the most important issues affecting the community. The subsequent document was sent to all area politicians. In December 2003, Ihya organized a lecture with North America’s leading Islamic scholar, Hamza Yusuf and one of the Americans responsible for drafting the new Iraqi constitution, Dr. Noah Feldman titled “Islam and Democracy: A clash of Civilizations?” Over 1,500 Muslim and non-Muslim attendees listened as the two speakers discussed how to foster a Muslim political identity in Canada. These are just a few of the many events that Ihya organized to facilitate the emergence of a Canadian Muslim identity and community empowerment.

Mobilization for the 2004 Federal Elections

The Muslim community recognized its political power when it exercised its right to vote. In a system that gives one person, one vote, numbers count. According to the Census, no other religious community has increased its numbers in Canada in the last 10 years like the Muslim community.

The 2004 Federal elections (2004 Elections) were unique because it was the first opportunity after September 11th, for Muslims to express themselves at the ballot box about issues that concerned them. According to Hamdani, in the past, only 49% of Muslims participated in casting a ballot during elections.  However, all signs indicated that these elections would be different.

Journalists and political scientists began commenting on the potential impact of the Muslim community on the 2004 Election. An Ottawa Citizen article’s headline declared “City Muslims awaken to emerging power”.  The article reported that the Ottawa Muslim population is the second largest voting bloc in the city – nearly double the combined strength of Jews, Hindus and Sikhs.  Their sheer numbers make Muslims a potential force to be reckoned with, “a veritable power block in certain ridings.”

Muslim Canadians recognized their new found political clout.  Nearly two months prior to the declaration of the federal elections, the Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) published a report called “Elections 2004: Towards Informed and Committed Voting.” Based on an analysis of public statements, electoral objectives and legislative voting records of each of Canada’s 301 elected parliamentarians, the CIC evaluated each one’s record on 20 different domestic and international issues, including promotion of closer ties to Muslim countries and support for domestic civil liberties. The report also highlighted, much to the surprise of many, that Canadian Muslims represent a swing vote in 101 electoral districts, nearly one third of all ridings, where they hold a anywhere from 1.8% to 13.5% of the vote.

Others were not so surprised.  Riad Saloojee, the Executive-Director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations – Canada (Cair-Can) wrote an opinion piece in the Ottawa Citizen, just three weeks before the elections. In the piece, he gave notice to the various candidates [perhaps directly to the 101 districts where Muslims held the swing vote] what the Muslims may be looking for in their elected representatives. He stated that Muslims want: a review of the anti-terrorism legislation; more thorough scrutiny of the Public Safety Act and its unprecedented executive power in collecting and sharing information on Canadian citizens; an overhaul of the non-transparent security certificate process; oversight of our security agencies to ensure that racial profiling — which does exist in Canada — stops; and the need for increased debate and participation in policies on security and safety.

The 2004 Elections were extremely exciting for Muslims. A record number of ten Muslim candidates ran. As a community, for the first time they felt that their vote represented something of value. As well, it was clear that the usual Liberal monopoly on the Muslim vote was in jeopardy. Alliances began shifting.  Approximately 10 year ago, Muslims would not have voted for the New Democratic Party, because of its support for abortion rights. However, in the 2004 Elections, there were 6 NDP Muslim candidates – the most candidates for any party.  The most prominent NDP candidate was Monia Mazigh, the wife of Maher Arar, the Canadian who was detained and tortured in Syria.

The results of the 2004 Elections were excellent for Muslims. Three Muslims were elected, including the first ever Muslim woman, Yasmin Ratansi. Perhaps more importantly, the CIC proclaimed that over 80% of the Muslims who could vote, did so – surpassing the national average by nearly 20%.

Such a strong showing made international recognition as many dailies in the Arab world mentioned the impressive electoral showing. As well, the Jerusalem Post recognized the new awakening of the political influence of the Canadian Muslim community in an article dated August 17, 2004, titled “Muslim Power in Canada.”

Suggestions to increase political participation of Muslims in Canada

Although the 2004 Elections proved to be a banner year for Muslim Canadians, there needs to be a sustained effort by the community and the respective governments to maintain political participation.

In a paper titled, “Inclusion and Exclusion”, Anver Saloojee argues that the government has a responsibility to actively encourage the widest possible political participation by members of racialized and newcomer communities. It can do this by working with community-based organizations to reverse the trend towards voter apathy and declining voter turnouts.

Secondly, the government should assist in the viability of organizations representing the interests of the Muslim community. Saloojee posits that there is a mutually reinforcing relationship between formal political participation and the strengths of community organizations.  The financial and organizational well-being of the latter is essential prerequisites for a healthy democracy.

In summary, the Muslim community is maturing socially and politically in Canada. They are developing a sense of confidence.  This confidence is a catalyst for political empowerment. However, it is too early to tell if the massive political participation in the 2004 Elections can be replicated.  More transparent lines of communication must be established between the Muslim community and the respective governments.

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