muslims, politics, Uncategorized

Rich immigrants shouldn’t kid themselves: a rant

Dislaimer: the following rant is meant to sound preachy, though the employment of the second person “you” can easily be substituted with a more sobering “I.” Feel free to do so when reading!

Immigrants, rich or poor, coloured or not, are settlers.

Much like the Europeans who invaded and settled in North America centuries ago, people continue to leave or escape their home countries. Most do so in search of a better life. The direction, I would guess, generally flows from south to north, and from east to west. It‚Äôs an era of transitory places. Whatever you may think of the term ‚Äúglobalization,‚ÄĚ technology has made travel a lot easier, thus making the world more homogenous.

The irony is that while ‚Äúglobal homogeneity‚ÄĚ takes place, human beings‚ÄĒindividual persons‚ÄĒare more likely to live through a more varied set of circumstances. This results in a more eclectic string of experiences that ¬†should ultimately reflect back a single self.

If you‚Äôre any sort of an immigrant, chances are that dislocation and outsider-ness characterize (at least in part)¬†your sense of self. The feelings of not belonging to any place, and of being rootless, make up the framework through which you look at the world. Hopefully by applying this lens to your surroundings in both space and time, a unique sense of where you are eventually emerges. Maybe it‚Äôll give you an accurate, perhaps, even original understanding of the land you‚Äôve claimed, a piece of real estate that shouldn’t really belong to you.

Still, the increasingly post-modern era is in some ways an age of ignorance and heedlessness. This affects everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, creed, or sexual orientation. All you need to be an ignoramus is a central nervous system, some limbs, and a crappy attitude. True, because they got here earlier, white people, by occupying strategic places of political, social, and economic power, generally exercise more clout. They’re more likely to be well-off.

But the number of rich and educated coloured folk is increasing. The immigrant class is becoming indispensible for modern, secular countries with relatively low birth rates. You can live a pretty decent and comfortable life now, even as an immigrant (though countless still face systematic discrimination and economic subjugation), especially if your parents did all the hard work, and all that’s left for you to do is kick back and enjoy the fruits of their labour. Wealth means comfort, and comfort can lead to complacency, both physical and intellectual.

It‚Äôs important then to remember that, no matter how tough you think your life is, no matter how boxed in you feel by circumstance, no matter how much you cry about the cards that God dealt you‚ÄĒif you live in this part of the world, if you‚Äôve got a family with a steady income to put food on the table and a roof over your head‚ÄĒthen, my friend, it‚Äôs no use in denying that you‚Äôre a resident of this world‚Äôs Elysium.

And yeah, like I said, you‚Äôre enjoying all this off of the corpses of countless Native Americans, and as the lucky recipients of the ‚ÄúWhite Man‚Äôs‚ÄĚ tainted gifts of human ‚Äúprogress.‚ÄĚ Your hands may not be white, but they sure as hell aren‚Äôt clean.

So, you owe it to yourself, to your family, to those dead Indians, and to everybody else you share this land with to have some understanding of how the world works, of how history informs the present, and of how the circumstances of your life affect the way you see yourself. Still, of course, not all take this seriously.

It’s way easier to be lazy and complacent. It’s feels nicer to dabble in something and have it taste good for a few minutes, instead of actually dedicating yourself to that thing over time to reach a level of serious/true understanding.

To make it more vague: it’s easier to think you’re smart and informed by experimenting occasionally with knowledge. All the while you’ve made no real impact on the world, and have not neutralized your privilege with the kind of risk necessary to make the planet a more just place. Going through the everyday motions is too seductive, while striking out with will and vision means risking what so far has made your life much more comfortable than the lives of the 99% (of the world, really).

New immigrants are just as susceptible to this trap as those who feel more connected with this country. If your colour indicates third-world origins, then all the more reason to identify and change the unjust aspects of privileged societies‚ÄĒsocieties that have rolled over (and buried) indigenous populations in the same overall spirit that they, at one point in time anyway, colonized their way to become imperial powers.


Canada’s Muslims: From detoxing radicalisation to citizenship

Published on Al Jazeera English on February 3rd, 2014

On January 14, the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) issued an open letter to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The letter urges the prime minister to disinvite Rabbi Daniel Korobkin as a member of the delegation accompanying him on his first trip to Israel.

NCCM’s Executive Director Ihsaan Ghardee pointed out that Korobkin introduced and praised¬†Pamela Geller¬†and¬†Robert Spencer¬†last September at a¬†lecture¬†sponsored by the Jewish Defense League (JDL). Both Geller and Spencer are part of¬†Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA),¬†a hate-group according to the¬†Anti Defamation League¬†and the¬†Southern Poverty Law Center.

In response to NCCM, the Harper’s Director of Communications Jason MacDdonald recently brushed aside the group’s recommendation with the following¬†statement¬†made on behalf of the Prime Minister’s Office: “We will not take seriously criticism from an organisation with documented ties to a terrorist organisation such as Hamas.”

NCCM is now suing Harper for libel.

This exchange is just the latest episode in a battle that Canadian Muslims have fought since 9/11 – the battle to shape Canadian public opinion on issues related to Muslims and Islam.

The public opinion of fear

The tragedy of September 11, 2001 has induced an urge among many people in the West to ask questions about the ethical beliefs of Muslims. This urgent curiosity has created a vacuum within Western nations, waiting to be filled with answers. Canada is one such society, and Canadian Muslims have a vested interest in answering these questions correctly. Groups like NCCM have tried to ensure that the right answers fill these vacuums.

Unfortunately, it can be argued that the loudest and most prominent answers in Canada have not come from individuals or groups that represent the bulk of Canadian Muslims. This, according to numerous polls, has resulted in widespread Islamophobia.

Statistics Canada¬†estimated¬†in 2011 that around a million Muslims live within Canadian borders. The Muslim community’s relative youth, and therefore lack of cohesion, make it difficult, from a media and public relations standpoint, to project their voice – especially with regard to issues like terrorism, perhaps the biggest hot-button issue, post-9/11. After all, there are many other voices to¬†contend¬†with.

A primary example of this predicament is manifested by the Canadian public’s reaction to the so-called phenomena of¬†radicalisation¬†–¬†the rather vague process through which well-functioning individuals become violent extremists. One incident aptly illustrates this kind of perception.

In 2006, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) arrested 18 individuals in Mississauga, Ontario who were suspected of plotting bomb attacks on Parliament Hill and downtown Toronto. Only a handful ended up being convicted and imprisoned.

Subsequent to this event, a narrative of¬†radicalisation¬†and¬†fear¬†was strengthened in Canada, and continues to impact the Muslim community today. The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service’s (CSIS)¬†actual expenditures¬†for fiscal year 2005-2006 was $356 million, which was $71 million more than the previous years. Prior to that, increases in CSIS’s budget since 9/11 hovered around $10 million.

One interesting piece of evidence of this prevailing narrative can be found in the rather short-lived fame of certain “de-radicalisation” or “detox”¬†centres¬†set up in the GTA since the 2006 arrests. Groups like the¬†Al Sunnah Foundation¬†offer to “detoxify” Muslims who are exhibiting signs of extremism. A 12-step “theological detoxification” programme is then applied to wash away the patients’ deadly ideologies.

Exactly what these signs of “radicalisation” are is still anyone’s guess, and the Al Sunnah Foundation, led by Ahmed Amiruddin, along with other like-minded groups have failed to secure government funding. Nevertheless, Amiruddin and¬†figures¬†like him, knowingly or unknowingly, have gained media¬†attention¬†and notoriety for their work, and have, in some ways, become unofficial¬†spokespersons¬†for the community.

Their talk of “deradicalisation”, along with Canadian law enforcement’s¬†magnified focus¬†on catching radicalised Muslims, have dominated the public sphere’s concerns about the Muslim community. The reality is that such a representation of Muslims in Canada is mediated by fear and bears little resemblance to reality.

Actual radicalisation occurs at a miniscule level within the community, and though an important concern, still poses a relatively small threat to the wider society. Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper noted last year that there is¬†no “mass phenomenon”¬†of radicalisation in Canada.

Meanwhile, a truly representative voice within the Muslim community remains absent, and the public narrative about them continue to be influenced by those on the outside.

Omar Khadr and his fellow Canadians

Perhaps the most illustrative example of Canadian Muslims’ failure to shape public opinion is the tragic case of Omar Khadr.

Rightly¬†described¬†by Canadian Senator Romeo Dallaire (one of the few Canadian voices to advocate for Khadr) as “the only child soldier prosecuted for war crimes”, Khadr, a Canadian citizen, was only 15 when he killed US combat medic Sgt First Class Christopher Speer with a grenade in 2002. He was then captured and sent to Guantanamo Bay almost immediately, and would have remained there indefinitely had he not signed a¬†plea deal¬†in 2010 that saw him plead guilty to five war crimes. He was eventually¬†repatriatedback to Canada in September 2012, where he serves the rest of his sentence.

A nation-wide¬†survey¬†conducted in 2012 by Abacus Data, a polling and market research firm based in Ottawa, showed that 53 percent of Canadians saw Khadr as a security threat and shouldn’t be allowed back in Canada.

A large section of Canadian society viewed Khadr and his family as the worst example of Muslim extremism in the post-9/11 era, and chose to overlook the fact that by any standard, Khadr should be seen as a child soldier. In fact, Canada played a leading role in developing the international Optional Protocol on the Rights of the Child in the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, which came into effect in 2002.

It is important to note that this public relations debacle exists today partly because of the Muslim community’s own inaction.¬†For instance, one of the few Canadian civil society groups that regularly advocated on behalf of Khadr was the¬†Coalition for the Repatriation of Omar Khadr, a broad-based effort made up of mostly non-Muslim individuals.

Many Muslim activists were involved, but the bulk of Canadian Muslim community failed to project a loud enough voice with regard to this issue. Further evidence of this can be seen in the frustration from Khadr’s crusading Canadian lawyer at the time, Dennis Edney.¬†“I have never met someone like Omar who has been so abused and so abandoned by those who should know better,” said Edney in a 2008¬†lecture¬†held at the University of Toronto at Mississauga. “I keep looking for that Muslim voice, I’m tired of Muslims hiding.”

In the end, the repatriation of Omar Khadr was a result of the plea bargain Khadr took, combined with sustained international condemnation by groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as limited domestic Canadian pressure.

A future of fear

The great Muslim Canadian public relations debacle has not gotten better in the era of Stephen Harper and his right-wing Conservative Party who rule the House of Commons.

As long as the Canadian Muslim community fails to influence and shape public opinion on the defining issues of the post-9/11 age, the narrative of fear and suspicion will continue to dominate their relationship with the rest of Canada.

Politicians like those from the¬†Parti Quebecois¬†(FR) will continue to exploit this climate by using the politics of fear, best exemplified by the Parti’s proposed “Quebec Charter of Values”¬†bill, which seeks to forbid government employees from donning religious garb while working.

Groups like NCCM are trying to change the tide, but if larger organisations like the¬†Islamic Society of North America-Canada (ISNA-Canada)¬†don’t follow suit, the vast majority of Canadians will continue to ignore the problem.