New Canadian Media
Thursday, 13 April 2017 10:20

Thanks, Hérouxville

by George Abraham in Ottawa

I come not to bury André Drouin’s legacy, but rather to praise him. In his way, he made a singular contribution to the debate about immigration in Canada.

Drouin, a former city councillor in the Quebec town of Hérouxville, passed away at age 70 earlier this month. He was famous, after a fashion, for having been the co-author in 2007 of a peculiar (and highly controversial) ‘code of conduct’ for new immigrants that made his community a lightning rod in the debate over immigration and the so-called “reasonable accomodation” of minority cultures.

You remember this one. Hérouxville is a little town with a population that is predominantly white, francophone and Catholic. Still, for reasons of its own, it adopted a code of conduct for new immigrants reminding them that women in the community must be allowed to show their faces, drive cars and write cheques — and that they’re not to be killed in public beatings, or burned alive.

The reaction of the wider world ranged from mockery to outrage — and Hérouxville quickly became a symbol for everything wrong with the Canadian conversation on immigration. Drouin did not coin the phrase “reasonable accommodation”, but he gave it its political currency in Quebec.

As an immigrant who had been in Canada barely five years when the Hérouxville controversy first surfaced, I felt profoundly offended. Where did this guy — who’d probably never met an immigrant or a person of colour — get the right to “prescribe” the outer limits of a society’s welcome? It built up my notion of Quebec as the least friendly of provinces for newcomers.

If the world today recognizes “Canadian exceptionalism” in the area of immigrant integration and citizenship, it’s partly because ordinary folks like Drouin — who had only a small-town bully pulpit — articulated in a democratic fashion fears that a lot of Canadians share, but are loath to voice for fear of ostracism.

Today, I think of Drouin differently. In fact, it was the non sequitur of Hérouxville’s immigration stance that inspired me to launch New Canadian Media.

I now believe Drouin did us a favour by articulating a sentiment that rarely gets aired in mainstream media: the notion that immigrants have obligations, too. Assimilation, integration or tolerance — whatever semantic approach you take to the process by which a nation accepts and weaves together newcomers, it is indeed a two-way street.

If the world today recognizes “Canadian exceptionalism” in the area of immigrant integration and citizenship, it’s partly because ordinary folks like Drouin — who had only a small-town bully pulpit — articulated in a democratic fashion fears that a lot of Canadians share, but are loath to voice for fear of ostracism.

I’d prefer Drouin any day to a lurking xenophobe who doesn’t quite know why he “fears the Other” – only that he does. He had the decency to speak his fears aloud, giving his society a chance to confront them.

In fact, I think it’s because of public officials and civic leaders like Drouin that Canada has not produced a Marine Le Pen, a Geert Wilders, a Heinz-Christian Strache or even a Viktor Orban. We largely have a mature discourse on the defining issue of our era — an issue that has proved to be extremely divisive and explosive in every other nation that has confronted it.

This was no accident. Every country that has a high immigrant population needs public forums and institutions where opponents of laissez-faire immigration can have their say, within democratic norms. Coun. Drouin used one of those forums to the hilt.

Today, I think of Drouin differently. In fact, it was the non sequitur of Hérouxville’s immigration stance that inspired me to launch New Canadian Media.

He wasn’t whistling in the wind, either. Like it or not, Quebec is Canada’s crucible on immigration policy. Recent controversies around finding a burial ground for Muslims, the carnage at the mosque in Quebec City and the earlier firestorm over one builder’s bid to have a condo complex just for people of a particular faith show that Quebec represents the bleeding edge of the immigration debate.

One doesn’t have to drive too far south from the town of Hérouxville to witness first-hand what an alternative to a reasoned, national discourse looks like. There’s a daily drumbeat of executive orders from the Trump White House, but the most dramatic ones — the ones that get reported and dissected endlessly — have had to do with immigration and visas. Why?

I believe it’s because Americans have been uncomfortable with their immigration policy for a long, long time, but have found few in Washington or elsewhere who would voice their fears. This has led to an untenable situation where you have as many as 12 million “illegals” in the country. Clearly, this is a policy that went off the rails decades ago.

Civic leaders like Drouin act as a ‘pressure valve’, staving off an immigrant-baiting political groundswell like the one we’re seeing in the U.S. We’d be far worse off without them.


George Abraham is the founder and publisher of New Canadian Media. Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca

Published in Commentary
Wednesday, 29 March 2017 09:59

“We All Have Xenophobia to Some Degree”

by Ashoke Dasgupta in Winnipeg

The Islamic Social Services Association recently organized a conference on the theme of “At the Heart of Human Rights is Human Dignity” in Winnipeg.

It was attended by about 180 people, including many important speakers, but there was no local media coverage in the mainstream.

Andrew J. McLean, medical director of the North Dakota Department of Human Services and Chair of the Psychiatry Department at the N. Dakota School of Medicine, spoke on “Community Resilience and the Concept of the ‘Other.’”

He pointed out some unhealthy aspects of “otherization”: they are of less value; they are different from “me” and “us;” their differences are to be belittled; they are seen as “abject.”

“To work with another, you have to be able to admire something about them, even if you don’t like them,” said McLean.

The Rev. Dr. Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd, a United Church Minister, spoke on “Beyond Our Comfort Zone: the LGBTQ Community, Hopes, Challenges, Collaborations and the Right to Dignity,” pointing out that hate groups lump “undesirables” together: “A part of the brain lights up when we see another, but not if we ‘otherize’ them.”

Everyone has prejudices

“We all have xenophobia to some degree,” said Shepherd. “But we must learn to be in solidarity with one another. Openness and courage are necessary to build relations and trust across communities that usually distrust one another.”

The event featured several “Conversation Cafes". One pointed out that prejudice may be positive or negative. Love is a positive prejudice which blinds us to the beloved’s negative qualities. Hate is the opposite.

The world is too complex for individuals to analyze each individual or phenomenon individually, and we don’t usually have the time. Consequently we fall back on our past experiences to make quick decisions.

For example, one may glance at the colour of the sky before leaving home and decide to carry one’s umbrella because that sort of sky often signals rain in our experience. One may then carry an umbrella all day, yet it may not rain; but if we ignore our past experiences, we deprive them of meaning.

We may have had negative (or positive) experiences justifying our pre-judgements, but should not fail to revise them when confronted with evidence to the contrary, concluded the participant.

Indifference and Silence are Threats

The Emcee, retired CBC Radio Host Terry MacLeod, welcomed Danny Smyth, Chief of the Winnipeg Police Service, and Scott Kolody, RCMP Assistant Commissioner, on the second day. In his address, Smyth said, “Women in our community will be a big part of the solutions.”

MacLeod called Shahina Siddiqui, Executive Director of the Islamic Social Services Association, “the godmother of everything that happened here,” and Kolody called her a leader.

Their greetings were followed by a heartfelt video message from Marie-Claude Landry, Chief Commissioner, Canadian Human Rights Commission. “Indifference and silence are threats,” she said.

A participant asked MacLeod why there were so few media people of colour in the mainstream. He replied that rectifying it was now a major project at CBC.

Another asked the lawmen what was being done about the over 100 extremist groups like “Soldiers of Odin” in Canada. The “Soldiers” even have a Facebook page. The policemen replied that they were networking and exchanging information.

Trump phenomenon

Haroon Siddiqui, an Editor Emeritus of the Toronto Star, then spoke on Islamophobia.

“(U.S. President Donald) Trump is doing what he said he’d do,” said Siddiqui: “And the Trump phenomenon has already happened here. Dozens of mosques have been vandalized, and Muslims assaulted. The alleged killer in Quebec was a Trump fan. We need to stand in solidarity with one another. Muslims can’t be maligned any more than they already have been. The ‘alt-right’ is code for white supremacists; indifference and inaction imply complicity with the victimisers.”

"Though Muslims aren't interned, they feel a psychological internment."

“The only crime of Canadians refused entry to the U.S. was that they weren’t white,” continued Siddiqui.

"Trump is similar to (former Canadian prime minister) Stephen Harper. Both elicited white support from their electoral bases. Once it was rumoured that Jews were taking over the world; now it’s Muslims. People talk of women’s status in Islam, but Muslim women are being spat on and shoved by North Americans.

"Have those who say the Koran says to kill infidels ever read the Old Testament? Wars call for propaganda, but one can’t separate Muslims there from Muslims here. When we demonize one, we demonize the other.”

Shahina Siddiqui thanked the funders at the end: Canadian Heritage, Sargent Blue Jeans, and The Winnipeg Foundation.  


Ashoke Dasgupta is a Winnipeg-based journalist who has won three awards in Canada and Nepal.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Top Stories
Wednesday, 22 March 2017 20:45

Mayor Jeffrey’s Hypocritical Pandering

Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton

I don’t know why hypocrisy by politicians still manages to surprise me. Recently, it was being paraded in plain sight by Brampton’s Mayor Linda Jeffrey when she waded in on the recent controversy around Muslim prayer in Peel public schools.

But before I comment on Mayor Jeffrey’s latest hypocritical pandering, lets revisit Her Worship’s own entanglement with prayer in a public institution – her own council chamber.

In 2015, Brampton’s newly elected Chief Magistrate and her council acted on one of Jeffrey’s own campaign promises and dropped reciting the Lord’s Prayer at Council meetings, killing a 163 year tradition that went back to the first Brampton village council meeting of January 1853. This was done after a public meeting to discuss the plan was cancelled in the face of fierce public outrage. 

More recently, the Peel District School Board attempted to implement changes to the practice of Muslim prayer in their schools by providing prepared sermon texts by local Imams for the youth to use. This did not go over well with Muslim students, and in the process of receiving public delegations, a number of people expressed their opposition to any kind of prayer in a public school.

Some remarks had racist overtones. Public delegations were eventually stopped and the changes shelved.

"Have your backs"

Recently, in an interview on TVO, Mayor Jeffery said that she felt her expression of support for the Muslim community was needed after hearing from religious leaders, who were anxious about the tone of comments on social media and elsewhere. “I want people to feel welcome in Brampton; I want them to feel safe. I want them to know I have their backs.”

I am certain Brampton residents join me in wishing Mayor Jeffrey truly “had their backs” at Council. Given the endless squabbling and complete lack of cooperation among all Council members and Jeffrey’s inability to lead, Brampton has lurched from one debacle to another since Mayor Jeffrey was elected.

And many Bramptonians have been telling me they are fed up with Jeffrey’s constant taking credit for achievements that are in fact largely the work of her predecessor Susan Fennell and the previous council.

The funding of the Peel Memorial Centre for Health and Wellness, the original University plan, Brampton’s significant investment in expanded public transit, major infrastructure investment – all under Fennell. Jeffrey’s administration began with the failure to secure the approval to complete the LRT line through Brampton with the loss of $300 million in funding, and her record has not improved. 

Religious accommodation

Religious accommodation has been a fixture of life in Canada for years. Sikhs have worn kirpans, Muslim women the hijab, and for the most part Canadians have accepted diversity and gotten on with their lives.

While we must all defend the rights of our fellow citizens regardless of race, creed or colour, I believe politicians like our own Mayor need to remember their own public record before they wade in on any issue.

Jeffrey banned prayer in City Hall, and now supports it in Public Schools. Mayor Jeffrey needs to be reminded that, try as they might, even politicians can’t suck and blow at the same time, and voters have long grown tired of the hypocrisy of it all.


Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer. 

Published in Commentary
Tuesday, 21 February 2017 14:11

Trump and the Rise of Islamophobia

Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton

I believe it is fair to say that since 9-11, Islamophobia has been on the rise in North America.  With the rise of ISIL and attacks in this country and other nations, terrorist movements have given rise to a greater distrust of all refugees and immigrants, most of whom are Muslims fleeing the violence in the Middle East and North Africa.  

As an immigrant myself, perhaps I feel the impact of this trend more than my fellow Canadians whose journey to this country may have been many generations in the past.  As I watch the news, and particularly the fledgling and, to a degree, struggling administration of U.S. President Donald Trump I am growing even more troubled.

Trump’s recent Executive Order banning Muslim refugees or travel to the U.S. from a select list of seven countries has run afoul of the nation’s constitution and its courts.  But as Trump searches for a new way to achieve what his executive order has failed to do, I believe there will be long-term consequences. I believe Trump’s actions will encourage otherwise constrained and silent movements within the U.S. and in countries around the globe who have long wished for a legitimate platform to express their racist or xenophobic views in the hope that these views become the policy of their governments.

Meanwhile, here in Canada, we have two recent, troubling incidents that illustrate a very different response from our government.  First of all, this past weekend in Toronto, anti-Semitic notes were found on the doors of several units at a Willowdale condo building in Toronto.  In addition, notes with the statement “No Jews” were found on the front doors of several Jewish residences in a building on Beecroft Road, close to the Yonge Street and Park Home Avenue area.

Some of the notes contained anti-Semitic slurs and some neighbours reported that their mezuzahs – blessings traditionally posted on the doorways of Jewish homes – had been vandalized.  Mayor John Tory condemned the hate-motivated vandalism and said those actions do not reflect the city's spirit. “Anti-Semitism has no place in Toronto."

Anti-Islamophobia motion

This comes after the recent tragic murder of six Muslims at prayer in a Quebec City Mosque. Our government’s response to this tragedy was to debate Motion 103 in the Canadian Parliament.  Introduced by MP Iqra Khalid, the motion asked MPs to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.” 

Locally, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie is strongly supporting Mississauga-Erin Mills MP Khalid in her push to end systemic racism in Canada. Mayor Crombie also said “Eliminating systemic racism, religious discrimination and Islamophobia is a national call to action. No one should ever have to think twice about calling Canada home.”

Substance, not symbolism

While I feel this a well-meant act in the face of unspeakable violence and tragedy, racism affects a broad spectrum of people and it is short-sighted of our government to single out Islamophobia in their motion. Racism is in itself an act of violence and the murder in that Quebec City Mosque is that racist violence made manifest.  It is an act of extreme cowardice, and an insult to God.

Our government should condemn all racism equally, and with total conviction. Symbolic acts like Motion 103 should be backed up with a new, comprehensive review of the legislation and enforcement powers that can give meaning and force to such well-intended symbolic gestures.

I know from personal experience the sting of distrust, disrespect, and prejudice that racism inflicts on those who are new, or different, or who worship in a different way. Racists ignore the reality that you cannot judge a race or a religion, but that if we are judged at all, it is based on our own behavior, our own actions.  

President Trump’s anti Muslim, anti-immigration and refugee rhetoric may not, in itself, lead to the rise of Islamophobia and xenophobia, but the fact that a sitting President has stoked such sentiments should be reason for great concern for us all. The response of our Canadian government should be one of substance, not symbol. 


Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer.
Published in Commentary
Wednesday, 04 January 2017 10:51

From Helwi Hamdoun to Nabil Warda

Commentary by Khaled Salama in Mississauga, Ontario

Last summer, I had an interesting debate with a young, well-travelled Qatari friend in Doha. Not unlike millions of others around the world, he was curious to know what I thought of Donald Trump’s chances winning the Nov. elections.

“He is going to win;Donald Trump will be the incoming President,” I said emphatically, many months before the elections.

My friend was shocked. When he pressed me to back up my prediction, I explained: it’s not because Trump is the best candidate and nor is Hillary Clinton the worst nightmare, but the American people want Trump and they will make sure that Trump will be the next U.S. President.

Clearly intrigued, my Qatari friend moved closer, in an effort to speak more privately.

My reasoning went something like this: the profile of immigrants to both Canada and the U.S. has changed over the years and it’s not hard to understand the anxiety in both countries.

For me, two names personify what I see as a sea change in the attitude of immigrants to Canada over the last 80 years: Helwi Hamdoun of Edmonton and Nabil Warda of Montreal.

Canada in the 1930’s

I painted for my skeptical friend the story of Canada’s first mosque that was built nearly 80 years ago in the Alberta city of Edmonton, at a time when the number of Muslims in Canada was less than 700 . With such a small number of Muslims, most of whom had migrated from Lebanon and Syria, the community didn’t have a lot money.

They worked on farms, and some of them learned to trade in fur, the main commodity in Canada at the time.

As Edmonton’s Muslim community began to grow and prosper, they felt that their religious life was being hampered. After several meetings, they concluded that a mosque is urgently needed to accommodate the small number of Muslim families who wanted not only to guard their traditions, but also have a place to socialize, party, and give back to the community as well.

The real heroes were actually heroines, the wives of those hard-working Muslim men. These women, who had challenges with the English language, knocked on the doors of businesses in their community. They were led by Helwi Hamdoun, who managed to fund-raise exactly $5,750, despite the dire economic circumstances caused by the Great Depression.

They managed to raise money for their project and get donations from non-Muslim business owners, lawyers, politicians and members of the community who donated generously. Thanks in part to support and land from the then Edmonton mayor John W. Fry, the community broke ground for the mosque in May 1938. 

To me, as an Arab immigrant to Canada, the story of the first mosque is essential to the fabric of Canada. Without Christians, Jews and other non-Muslim Canadians, the mosque wouldn’t have existed. I’ve read that I.F. Shaker, a Christian Arab, was the master of ceremonies at the opening.

The building itself was inclusive. In addition to the prayer hall, it had a social and recreational venue in the basement, with a donated piano to also entertain guests from different faiths. The mosque also housed ovens to make baked goods that could be donated and served free-of-charge to neighbours and friends.

Canada of today

I compare that with what I see today.The issue is not in Islam as a religion, but rather with some of today’s Muslims who choose freely and willingly to migrate to Canada, but have a different approach, with goals that are irreconcilable with Canada’s diversity and multiculturalism.

Here’s what I have witnessed first-hand:

·         Some Muslims believe that – only because they’re Muslims – they are better than everybody else

·         Some of them teach their kids not to greet people from other faiths on their religious occasions or holidays

·         Some feel offended when they see Christmas decorations in public places

·         Some of them will not send their kids to public schools and will provide them with home schooling or other forms of secluded education

This leaves us with a new reality, a new ideology within our society, which brings me to my second character study: Nabil Warda, the Montreal real estate developer who wants to build a community exclusively for Muslims.

Most disturbing to me was a statement he made in an interview he gave to the Montreal Gazette in which he was quoted as saying, “We would share services between us and live with people who believe that life on Earth is not only to eat and sleep but that there is something else, and to try to live as close as possible to the monotheist ideals which started with Abraham.” 

Really?

Diversity, peace and equality

Why don’t these people just follow the Koran, which has lots of verses that suggest co-existence (“diversity”), kindness (“peace”) and the principle that all individuals are equal before God (“equality”).

To me, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms can literally be found in the Koran, which was written thousands of years ago, and yet many of today’s so-called followers deny others the right to live peacefully.

Let me just cite one verse from the Koran that has been interpreted as follows:

"O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)”

I sincerely wonder why Warda decided to immigrate to Canada in the first place.

This sort of narrow-mindedness bothers me. I don’t find it surprising that lots of people in Canada now feel that it’s important to screen newcomers who want to live in our countries. Are these anxious people to blame?

Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch is proposing a values test for all new immigrants. I suggest that we should seriously consider the factors that have led her to make such a proposal.

Unfortunately, we'd rather debate the fallout from her proposal, rather than examining the root causes that may be behind it.

Khaled Salama is an Egyptian-born journalist, columnist, radio host and reporter for Arab media. 

Published in Commentary

Commentary by Phil Gurski  

The surprise – at least to some – victory by Republican candidate Donald Trump over his Democrat rival Hillary Clinton in Wednesday’s U.S. presidential election has already led to speculation over what a Trump administration means at both the domestic and international level.

At home, he has been hawkish on immigration and may try to deport millions of undocumented American residents. Outside the U.S., he has vowed to tear up trade agreements like NAFTA and impose tariffs on trade partners such as China.

On the environment, he has expressed skepticism about global warming and threatened to cancel the US commitment to the Paris Accord.

But what about terrorism? What can we expect from a Trump presidency on the international and U.S. “war on terrorism”?

Future policies are difficult to determine and much can change, although we can guess some of the incoming administration’s moves based on statements made and positions outlined during the campaign, even while recognizing that these are rife with inconsistency.

A few of Trump’s possible approaches will have a near-term positive effect on our collective battle against violent extremism, but on balance they will make things worse. Here are a few things to watch for:

  • On defeating the so-called Islamic State (IS), Trump vowed to go on the cyber offensive and recruit NATO to “invade IS strongholds in the Middle East and ‘knock the hell out of them’”. Assuming that he orders a more robust military response to the terrorist group, the effectiveness of that response will depend on the precise measures deployed. Special forces raids on identified high priority targets – think the successful killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad in May 2011 – are the least likely to result in collateral damage or raise much objection. After that, it gets less easy. Drones are one tool, although the effect on innocent bystanders is probably higher than reported. Airstrikes are even less targeted. The worst scenario is a boots on the ground invasion as in the case of Iraq in 2003, which would give IS or others a new base of support (invasions tend to do that). In the short term, terrorist groups lose territory and influence but, in the longer term, the ideology underpinning these groups simply finds a new home. IS has already celebrated the Republican’s victory and stated that the “billionaire fool” will ruin the US and allow IS to take control of the country.
  • On allying with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Trump could leverage combined assets to speed up IS’ demise. The down side is that Russia is also targeting groups with which the US is allied. More importantly, Russia is trying to keep the Assads in power and a continued Alawite regime will invite more terrorist opposition down the road.
  • On immigration, Trump has vowed to stop the immigration of Muslims “until we figure out just what the hell is going on” and to refuse entry from countries associated with terrorist groups. He has also criticised any intake of Syrian refugees and would submit those who do come to “extreme vetting”. While this policy could prevent some terrorists from infiltrating the U.S., it does not cover those who come from otherwise “safe” countries such as France, Germany or the U.K.. It should be stressed, however, that the number of terrorists using the immigration/refugee system is dwarfed by the true “homegrown” threat of those born and radicalized to violence entirely in the U.S .(and for which there is no immigration or citizenship revocation “solution”). Furthermore, Trump has essentially made Muslims, including those born in the U.S., feel like unwanted citizens and this helps to feed the extremist narrative that the West hates Islam and does not allow Muslims to practice their religion freely (hence the call for hijrah to Muslim areas such as IS’ Caliphate).
  • Current U.S. President Barack Obama was big on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) and even convened a summit on this issue in February 2015. It is highly unlikely that President Trump will have much time for CVE, seeing it as “wimpy”. This is unfortunate as CVE, while not a panacea, is an important part of counter terrorism strategy. Conversely, were the President to support CVE, it is hard to see how American Muslims buy into the administration’s efforts in light of Trump’s vilification of them.
  • On the domestic terrorism front, Trump has actually paved the way for an increase in the threat level, but not in a direction assumed by most Americans. The greatest terrorist menace in the U.S. comes not from Islamist extremists, whether foreign or domestic, but from a variety of right wing groups ranging from sovereign citizens to radical militias to white supremacists. The Trump campaign gave voice to these actors and it is likely that we will see a continued spike in the activity of such groups. It is ironic that a huge increase in the existence of these extremist organizations during the Obama years, as reported by the U.S. Southern Poverty Law Center, may be surpassed under a Trump administration. This, together with Trump’s avowed support for the Second Amendment and desire to protect gun rights, could make the U.S. a much less safe country. Groups like the Ku Klux Klan have already welcomed a Trump presidency and are likely to feel emboldened under his rule.

All in all, it is difficult to see any long-term pluses on counter-terrorism under President Trump. Initial successes against IS and others through military action will more than adequately be offset by his propensity to provide ammunition for future supporters and groups through his position on Islam and immigration.

The Trump presidency – whether one or two terms – will possibly leave us in a worse position vis-a-vis terrorism than the one we find ourselves in now.

Should he choose his advisors wisely and build on existing successful approaches, we may collectively be better off. And yet, a significant terrorist attack on U.S. soil attributed to a foreign actor – inspired, planned, directed or executed – would create a whole new set of variables and responses. Let us hope that such a scenario does not transpire.

Phil Gurski worked for more than  three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and the forthcoming Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield). He blogs at http://www.borealisthreatandrisk.com/blog/

 
Published in Commentary
Wednesday, 03 August 2016 11:21

Brexit: an Immigrant’s Perspective

by Ramna Safeer in Kingston

The hate towards immigrants that has risen exponentially after the Brexit vote is sending chills down my spine an ocean away.  

According to the BBC, several mosques in London were sent a suspicious white powder with “Paki filth” scrawled on the envelopes. Britain’s National Police Chief’s Council reported a 500 per cent rise in hate crime incidents just before and after the referendum.

As a daughter of two proud immigrants, who planted their Pakistani roots in Canada a few years after their marriage, I can’t help but feel targeted.

While dozens of post-Brexit comments on my social media attempted to steer attention away from the anti-immigrant focus of Campaign Leave, I couldn’t help but wonder what the “take back control of our borders” rhetoric and its violent aftermath must look like to Britain’s many immigrants. 

Racial prejudice

Taha Khan is a university student and Youtuber living in a town just outside Cambridge. His Pakistani parents moved to the United Kingdom 13 years ago from Saudi Arabia, where they were also immigrants. 

The post-Brexit atmosphere is definitely a racially charged one, Khan said, with underlying tensions bubbling to the surface.

“When I go to the villages and towns around Cambridge, where I live, they predominantly voted Leave,” he told The Journal over the phone. “That changes your preconceptions about people when you know that they might have voted on racially prejudiced lines, you’re a lot more wary.”

Khan, who is Muslim, said he and his family might be reacting subconsciously to the exponential rise in hate crimes against Muslims. 

“The sharp increase in confidence of racists has led to the sharp decrease in confidence of minorities to be visible,” he said. 

The end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan is called Eid. Celebrated by billions of Muslims across the globe, Eid is a chance to spend time with family and wear cultural clothing such as shalwar khameez — a cultural outfit often worn by Pakistanis on special occasions. 

Due to the upsurge in attacks against Muslims, Khan said Muslims may be feeling increasingly hesitant about wearing such clothing in public and in general, not being “outwardly Muslim”. 

“On Eid, I wore trousers and a shirt. Now that I think about it, I don’t recall it being a conscious choice, but I didn’t wear a shalwar khameez, maybe because it’s such a white area. We kind of live invisibly in this predominantly white city.” 

"Independence Day"

According to The Independent, British Muslims are experiencing a rampant rise of faith-based attacks, particularly people who outwardly identify as Muslim, such as women who wear the hijab — even though British Muslims aren’t exactly few and far between. As of 2011, over two million Muslims called Britain home. 

As the referendum result was finalized on the night of the vote, leader of the Leave campaign Nigel Farage claimed that June 23 would go down in history as the country’s “Independence Day”.  

As a colonial and imperial superpower that once exercised an often violent control over what is now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh — and given the backlash against these same people following the referendum — Farage’s “Independence Day” isn’t just ironic. It’s downright mockery. 

Without the benefits and resources that Britain reaped from these colonies, there would be no “great” in Great Britain. But with one word, five letters, “Leave”, Britain has turned its back on the millions of immigrants whose lives are woven into the country’s history, while halfway around the world, I still feel the violent consequences of the referendum. 

This comment first appeared in the Queen's Journal. Safeer is the Journal's editorials editor.

Published in Commentary
Wednesday, 03 August 2016 11:21

Brexit: an Immigrant’s Perspective

by Ramna Safeer in Kingston

The hate towards immigrants that has risen exponentially after the Brexit vote is sending chills down my spine an ocean away.  

According to the BBC, several mosques in London were sent a suspicious white powder with “Paki filth” scrawled on the envelopes. Britain’s National Police Chief’s Council reported a 500 per cent rise in hate crime incidents just before and after the referendum.

As a daughter of two proud immigrants, who planted their Pakistani roots in Canada a few years after their marriage, I can’t help but feel targeted.

While dozens of post-Brexit comments on my social media attempted to steer attention away from the anti-immigrant focus of Campaign Leave, I couldn’t help but wonder what the “take back control of our borders” rhetoric and its violent aftermath must look like to Britain’s many immigrants. 

Taha Khan is a university student and Youtuber living in a town just outside Cambridge. His Pakistani parents moved to the United Kingdom 13 years ago from Saudi Arabia, where they were also immigrants. 

The post-Brexit atmosphere is definitely a racially charged one, Khan said, with underlying tensions bubbling to the surface.

“When I go to the villages and towns around Cambridge, where I live, they predominantly voted Leave,” he told The Journal over the phone. “That changes your preconceptions about people when you know that they might have voted on racially prejudiced lines, you’re a lot more wary.”

Khan, who is Muslim, said he and his family might be reacting subconsciously to the exponential rise in hate crimes against Muslims. 

“The sharp increase in confidence of racists has led to the sharp decrease in confidence of minorities to be visible,” he said. 

The end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan is called Eid. Celebrated by billions of Muslims across the globe, Eid is a chance to spend time with family and wear cultural clothing such as shalwar khameez — a cultural outfit often worn by Pakistanis on special occasions. 

Due to the upsurge in attacks against Muslims, Khan said Muslims may be feeling increasingly hesitant about wearing such clothing in public and in general, not being “outwardly Muslim”. 

“On Eid, I wore trousers and a shirt. Now that I think about it, I don’t recall it being a conscious choice, but I didn’t wear a shalwar khameez, maybe because it’s such a white area. We kind of live invisibly in this predominantly white city.” 

According to The Independent, British Muslims are experiencing a rampant rise of faith-based attacks, particularly people who outwardly identify as Muslim, such as women who wear the hijab — even though British Muslims aren’t exactly few and far between. As of 2011, over two million Muslims called Britain home. 

As the referendum result was finalized on the night of the vote, leader of the Leave campaign Nigel Farage claimed that June 23 would go down in history as the country’s “Independence Day”.  

As a colonial and imperial superpower that once exercised an often violent control over what is now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh — and given the backlash against these same people following the referendum — Farage’s “Independence Day” isn’t just ironic. It’s downright mockery. 

Without the benefits and resources that Britain reaped from these colonies, there would be no “great” in Great Britain. But with one word, five letters, “Leave”, Britain has turned its back on the millions of immigrants whose lives are woven into the country’s history, while halfway around the world, I still feel the violent consequences of the referendum. 

Published in Commentary

by Samaah Jaffer in Vancouver 

Near the old Jewish quarter of Baghdad, at Al Rasheed Street, there is a meandering alley named after the Iraqi poet Al Mutanabbi,” read Shawk Alani, the organizer of the ninth Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here” reading in Vancouver. 

The reading, quoting Phillip Robertson’s 2005 report, “The death of Al Mutanabbi Street,” was the first of many during an evening in commemoration of Iraqi literature. 

On Mar. 5, 2007, a car bomb devastated the famous bookselling street. Since 2007, writers, activists and artists have marked the anniversary of the attack with literary readings as part of a project called “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here.” Spearheaded locally by the Pandora’s Collective at the invitation of founder Beau Beausoleil,  the annual event has  included readings from Vancouver writers like Bonnie Nish and Hadani Ditmars.

This year, readings were held in over 20 cities across North America, Europe and the Middle East. 

“I think the idea of Al-Mutanabbi Street ‘starting here,’ is to put context to history, and to say that these issues are not just issues that are local,” said Shawk, who prefers to be referred to using her first name. “These politics cross borders, there is relationships between what happens here and what happens in Iraq.” 

During Saddam Hussein’s reign, writers and intellectuals were servants of the state who produced literature praising the regime, for which they were rewarded.

Recreating Al-Mutanabbi 

The evening at Simon Fraser University’s Vancouver campus was an immersive experience, where guests were greeted with a classical Iraqi playlist as they entered and offered cardamom tea. 

Alani introduced the historical and political significance of the event, reminding the crowd of the pitfalls of the literary culture that was being celebrated. During Saddam Hussein’s reign, writers and intellectuals were servants of the state who produced literature praising the regime, for which they were rewarded. 

The readings included the original and translated works of the 10th century poet, Al-Mutanabbi, read by Wadood Hamad, adjunct professor in chemistry at the University of British Columbia. 

Hamad also read the poetry of one of Iraq’s most famous and influential poets of the 20th century, Muzaffar Al-Nawab, who wrote on the themes of love, politics, philosophy and existentialism. 

Iraqi writer Dima Yassine and Palestinian filmmaker and songwriter Sobhi Al-Zobaidi performed original works that reflected on their lived experiences and memories of their homes. 

“Art is an outlet; it is a place where we put our pain."

Sara McIntyre read an excerpt from Inaam Kachachi’s American Granddaughter, a novel about a young Iraqi-American who serves as a translator during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In the passage, the protagonist must stage a raid of her own grandmother’s house, as it’s the only way she is allowed to see her. 

Alani issued a trigger warning prior to reading from journalist Anthony Shadid’s book Night Draws Near. 

The excerpt, titled “A boy who was ‘like a flower’” dealt with the funeral of two teenaged boys who were victims of an unattributed attack. The scene addressed a raw, intimate moment of sorrow, anger and frustration that was all too common during the Iraq War.           

In addition to the readings, Shawk showcased a short film by Iraqi creative director Mustafa Al-Sumaidaie, featuring the rebuilt Al-Mutanabbi street today, and played Walid Gholmieh’s Symphony No.2, “Al-Mutanabbi” B. Flat Major. 

Shawk’s grandfather collaborated with the Lebanese composer to produce the piece, which was meant to provide listeners with an auditory experience similar to that of reading Al-Mutanabbi’s poetry. 

Readings provide healing 

“I think it’s important to make spaces that are critical, events that are a bit more involved, bringing more critical thought into people’s consciousness,” said Shawk of her involvement in the initiative. 

She said that bringing the story of Al-Mutanabbi Street into consciousness and awareness was the first step, but she also felt the need to give people an opportunity to act upon this knowledge. 

“Doing readings by other people is kind of like sharing that thing that has been externalized, and realizing that actually there are so many ways in which we have the same experiences.”

To inspire action, Shawk screened a video clip featuring Iraqi-born artist Wafaa Bilal: 168:01, an art installation in Windsor, Ont. that includes a 12-metre bookcase filled with 20,000 blank books. Bilal hopes to swap each of the blank books for a real book that will be donated to the University of Baghdad’s College of Fine Arts. 

Shawk said the significance of hosting this reading is about saying, “I’m here, I’m a part of this city now, and I want to bring to people’s awareness things that are happening in the other place where I also belong.” 

She indicated that for members of the Iraqi and Arab diaspora, the event also represented an opportunity for “dealing with the emotions, the crisis, the trauma, all in a way that’s productive.” 

Shawk noted that the Iraqi diaspora is quite diverse and unique in that there have been multiple conflicts over the past 50 years during which large populations emigrated, either as refugees or by choice. 

“Art is an outlet; it is a place where we put our pain. You take the pain, you externalize it in a piece of art, and then you can step back and look at it and deal with it in a different way, and you can share it with other people,” said Shawk. 

“Doing readings by other people is kind of like sharing that thing that has been externalized, and realizing that actually there are so many ways in which we have the same experiences.” 

Shawk added that “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here,” enables Iraqis — a group that has been historically victimized and portrayed as weak, unhappy and constantly being killed — to partake in creating an alternate history for themselves. 

Reflecting on her own birth in Baghdad in the wake of the first Gulf War, Shawk explained, “You can create a space in literature where you can celebrate life, resistance, and existence.”

Publisher's Note: This report has been updated to correct the history of this initiative: this was the ninth – not the first – edition of the reading. We regret the error. 


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Books

TWO hundred people gathered on Saturday at Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus to attend the HOPE (Healing Opportunities through Prevention and Education) Project’s 2nd Annual Symposium on Mental Health and Addiction in the Muslim community. The HOPE project was formed in 2014 under the umbrella of the Muslim Food Bank and Community Services (MFBCS). The […]

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