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Archive for the ‘Event’ Category

Written by guest contributor Fathima and cross posted at Run Like the Wind

On July 4, the Vancouver branch of No One is Illegal, Canada’s foremost immigrant and refugee rights group, will be holding a Movie Marathon Madness event. Films to be screened at the event include Home Feeling: Struggle for a Community, about Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood; You are on Indian Land, about the 1969 protest by Mohawk Indians against violations of the Jay Treaty by Immigration and Customs officers; and Brown Women Blonde Babies, about the thousands of Filipina women who work in Canada as domestic workers.

In its entirety, the event schedule showcases the gamut of oppressive realities that mark Canada’s history and contemporary existence. They cover topics as varied as the ongoing systemic racism targeted at working-class African-Canadians, the WWII internment of Japanese-Canadians in British Columbia, and current intersections of sexuality and immigration policies. On Canada Day, when we are asked to congratulate ourselves on how well we treat our ethnics, screenings like these expose the lived realities of marginalised peoples across Canada. These are realities that resist reduction into easy parades of colourful clothing and exotic foods. This is not a diversity of commodifiable cultures, but a diversity of class positions, gender performances, linguistic practices, and race identifications. This is a diversity of privileges and discriminations. In discussing them in public spaces, we highlight the many injustices that are enacted on a daily and systemic basis in Canada by the Canadian nation-state.

What I’m saying here is simple: for many of us, it is difficult to celebrate the creation of a state that was founded on the theft of territory from its indigenous inhabitants, a state that has continued to refuse to address in any meaningful way that inaugural violence. For many of us, constructions of Canada as a nation of polite peacemakers ring hollow, because we know too well the myriad and systemic ways by which Canada oppresses its indigenous peoples, its migrant labourers, and its racialised poor, among others.

What I’m saying is simple: it’s July here in Toronto as I write this, summer has finally broken, and I’m enjoying the day off from work, but I have no flags to wave.

Meanwhile, media darling Tarek Fatah has a post on his blog entitled “An Arab Canadian’s way of celebrating Canada Day.” The approximately 300-word long post can be split into three basic sections. Only a few sentences have anything to do at all with the titular Arab-Canadian, Omar Shaban, who Fatak singled out for attention for having a Facebook status on the morning of July 1 that read “Happy Genocide Day Canada.” The rest of the post – approximately two-thirds of it – is about comments that Fatak claims Ali Mallah, VP Ontario of the Canadian Arab Federation, made on “a Muslim cable TV show” in which Mallah said the election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad was valid. Fatah fails to give the name of this show or the date of this episode. Nor does he specify if Mallah was speaking in an official capacity. Needless to say, Fatah also fails to note that the election results and discussions about Western involvement are arguments currently raging across the world, including in Canada by Canadians (who aren’t Arab). Fatah adds some visual oomph to his post with screenshots of Shaban’s Facebook page, including a pixelated photograph of Shaban in a ghutrah. It’s worth noting that this photograph is not Shaban’s profile picture, which means Fatah must have clicked around to find it. The post closes with a screencap from the CAF website showing the names of its Executive Committee, of whom Shaban is VP West. In short, there is very little of any substance in Fatah’s post, primarily because he provides almost no commentary at all, but it is valuable as an instructive example of sloppy and xenophobic citizen “journalism.”

To begin with, there’s the issue of post’s title and subtitle, which are “An Arab Canadian’s way of celebrating Canada Day” and “As Canadians celebrate their country’s birthday, Canadian Arab Federation VP says, ‘F**k Canada Day,’” respectively. Were Fatah so offended on behalf of the upstanding citizens of Canada (of whom, according to Fatah, Shaban is apparently not one) that he felt compelled to devote an entire blog post to criticizing Shaban, one imagines he’d have actually done so. That is, one imagines he’d have actually written a blog post on how misguided Shaban’s politics are. But this Fatah does not do. Instead, he barrels right along without so much as a by-your-leave into a criticism of Mallah. Apparently, one Arab-Canadian can stand in for the next, the implication being that, after all, they’re all the same: not really Canadian.

I don’t know about the rest of Canada, but I’m insulted on behalf of my intelligence.

But in presenting Shaban and Mullah as interchangeable, Fatah isn’t only making a comment about Arab(-Canadian)s or CAF. He is also collapsing all critique of Canadian oppression with support for Iranian oppression. I’m not sure how one makes that leap in logic, but Fatah manages to do it without the slightest assistance or provocation.

Nor does Fatah have anything to say about the CAF as an organisation. He leaves all that to the imaginations of his readers who, with few exceptions, are only too happy to chorus “go back home.” Happy Canada Day to you, too.

But who exactly are the Canadians who, according to Fatah, are en-masse celebrating Canada Day? Certainly they aren’t the survivors of Canada’s residential schools, who have spent years trying to hold the Canadian government responsible for the mass murder and rape of indigenous children. On June 11, 2009, a group of indigenous elders released the following statement: “A year ago, ‘Prime Minister’ Steven Harper exonerated his government and these churches with a hollow ‘apology’ that released them from any responsibility for their murder of our children. Today, we declare that these institutions are not absolved from their guilt, or their liability, for their murder of our people.”
Perhaps these insufficiently grateful denizens should also be sent back home? … Oh, wait.

So, to extrapolate from Fatah’s article, to be Canadian is to refuse to acknowledge that Canada is deeply invested in oppressive policies at home and abroad. Yet there are many of us who, for a variety of reasons, claim ownership of Canada, and who, as a result, feel it is ethically incumbent on us that we recognise and resist the oppressions that Fatah totally elides in his post. In other words, it is because we are residents and/or citizens of Canadian that we are opposed to mindless displays of nationalism. Home is not for us the hollow utopia that Fatah has constructed, but a deeply contested space. Thus, at the same time that we resist oppressions that marginalise us, we resist oppressions carried out against others in our names by the Canadian government. This too is a practice of citizenship, but perhaps one more self-aware than what Fatah prefers.

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Sally Armstrong. Image via Guelph Mercury

Sally Armstrong. Image via Guelph Mercury

For a while now Sally Armstrong has been documenting the situation of women in Afghanistan through her books and documentary. She recently spoke at the University of Guelph fundraising breakfast and Guelph, Ontario’s Guelph Mercury covered the talk given by Armstrong  – a journalist, it seems, on a mission.

Now anytime the idea of a non-Afghani, Western/Northern person trying to save Afghani women is presented I can’t help but wonder if  long lasting solutions are being sought, and usually they are not. The micro-level problems are highlighted at the expense of another culture and/or religion while the macro-level causes of the problems are completely ignored and those who are at fault at the macro-level are rarely held accountable. Unfortunately, this is how this Guelph Mercury piece read. The Guelph Mercury reports that Armstrong is

swinging against the international political correctness that is keeping Afghan women under lock and key.

Together, Armstrong and the Guelph Mercury paint a bleak picture of the condition of women in Afghanistan.

Of the Taliban Armstrong says

“They murder them in public, in front of their children, by shooting them in the face”

Of the situation of women in Afghanistan the Guelph Mercury says:

And though there is a small but growing group of Afghan women who are working to improve conditions, there is still a lot of work to be done.

Eight years after the Taliban was brought down, women are still being kept behind walls, kept out of schools, kept in purdah and kept out of civil life, she said.

and:

Afghanistan is the only country in the world where the suicide rate is higher for women than it is for men.

About 85 per cent of the women are illiterate, a state they equate with blindness.

Though schools for girls have now opened, they receive no funding from the Afghan government

I do not doubt that situation for women in Afghanistan is dire. I do doubt however that the problem is as simplistic and black and white as is depicted by this oh-so-common narrative.

As much as I dislike the Taliban, and as much as I despise their view of women, I also recognize that even they are not the monolithic entity Western media depicts them as. To assume all Taliban members would do such horrendous things as shoot women in the face denies the possibility in our mindset and discourse that perhaps dialogue and educational  opportunities could arise with at least some of them. It also is only one step away from generalizing about all Afghani, and even all Muslim, men. Additionally, the men who make up the Afghani Taliban are Afghani men. The men who make up the Taliban are their men. They are the brothers, fathers, sons, cousins, etc. of the same women so many here in the West want to “save.” How will painting these men as monsters actually help Afghani women? By simply criticizing their actions with one sweep of the criticism brush we are not helping Afghani women at all and further alienates the men in their lives. We are not recognizing the relationships, as well as possible dependencies, Afghani women have with Afghani men. We are refusing to recognize that Afghani women may have male allies in their midst.

A better way would be a less patronizing and more nuanced way. Understanding not only their cultural and religious context as well as how they ended up as they are – a.k.a. colonization – would be necessary. The British (who condescendingly created Afghanistan’s borders) forcing opposing ethnic groups to live in one country resulting in years of civil war and the subsequent devastation of the economy and education of the country, the imperialistic invasions by Russia and the US, and now the US’s “war on terror”, have all had devastating effects on Afghanistan and its people. They have created situations and realities that make resources that we take for granted, and based on the exploitation of which we make our judgements, very difficult to attain in Afghanistan. As a result of such devastation the women have suffered most, as is what usually happens.

If women in the West do want to help Afghani women they would be better off questioning the tactics and purpose of their governments’ current “war on terror”, one of the effects of which has been the further radicalization of many young Muslim men who have felt targeted and victimized by this war. A war in which we too, as Canadians, are involved. To deny the role this war has played in worsening the situation of women in Afghanistan would be the real injustice. Therefore, as mentioned earlier, understanding the effects of this war on the people of Afghanistan, including on the situations and motives of the men of Afghanistan, is necessary in changing the situation. Since you critcize international political correctness, I would say that challenging your own government’s role in the perpetuation of these dire situations for Afghani women may be the truly non-politically correct thing to do, Ms. Armstrong.

Culture and patriarchy do indeed play a role, and they should be challenged as well. However, they are being challenged and resisted by the women of Afghanistan. The Guelph Mercury says that

…though there is a small but growing group of Afghan women who are working to improve conditions, there is still a lot of work to be done.

But the work of these women should not be discounted. Organizations like RAWA have been working for Afghani women for years now. Additionally, if the country were not in a war with Western forces then there would most likely be more such groups. However, years of civil war and foreign invaders and occupiers have made this difficult.

Although Armstrong, and people like her, may have good intentions, their approach comes across as insulting. Helping is not a bad thing. But it should not be done with the assumption that there is something wrong with the people one is helping. Whether it be the assumption that the women one is helping just aren’t capable of helping themselves (instead of criticizing and trying to change the macro-level forces which may hinder) or whether it be the assumption the men of that culture are all oppressive monsters, both taint the altruism with self-righteousness and condescension. And that doesn’t help anyone. To have real change macro-level factors, which hold back entire nations, need to be challenged, questioned, and changed. Otherwise, all other solutions will be temporary as the people will still be facing macro-level oppressions.

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