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The Canadian government has (finally) decided to lay to rest its plans to introduce legislation that would force women who wear niqab (fabric that covers their faces) to show their faces when voting.

This comes as a relief, not so much because of the actual legislation, but because of the amazing amount of misinformation that has surrounded the discussions – both in the media and in political spheres – about this issue for the past couple years.  Chris Selley’s recent National Post blog article about this topic does a good job of exploring some of the misconceptions that arose in these discussions.

Proposing two main reasons for why the legislation was dropped, Selley first emphasises that “there is very little of a problem here to solve,” and tells us that  “According to Elections Canada, not a single elector attempted to vote with her face covered in the last federal election.”  Although, of course, the potential for someone to attempt to vote with their face covered in the future still exists on a hypothetical level, I think this point, as well as the fact that only a very tiny proportion of Canada’s population wears niqab, makes it pretty clear how much the panic around this issue has been totally blown out of proportion.

Selley’s second point is that:

either our government never had any intention of actually banning veiled voting, or it is so spectacularly inept that it couldn’t figure out how to do it. Indeed, it is very important to realize that at no point in this saga has legislation ever been proposed or enacted that would, in fact, force every voter’s unveiled face to be matched with a piece of photo identification.

Although the current legislation regarding voter identification was apparently supposed to make the requirements more stringent, one thing that it did not do was to require photo identification.  Voters must present either one piece of photo identification with their home address, or two pieces of identification that list the voter’s name, including one that also includes the voting address, or the voter can have another registered voter from the same riding vouch for them.  Note that only the first option necessitates a visual identification.  Moreover, thousands of voters vote by mail every election; none of them are asked for any photographic verification of their identity.  If Canada’s politicians are truly concerned about voter fraud (which is usually the main stated reason for wanting voters to show their faces), surely there are more effective ways to address this issue than to go after voters whose faces are covered.

Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand said publicly in 2007 that, according to existing legislation, there would be no point in forcing voters to show their faces, since visual identification was not a requirement; however, as Selley points out, the lack of photo requirement seemed to go right over the heads of some of Canada’s politicians:

“We just adopted this spring… a law designed to have the visual identification of voters,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper fumed. “That’s the purpose of the law,” he added, astonishingly.

Not satisfied with his boss’s gaffe, Tory MP Joe Preston—a real live member of the committee that OKed the legislation, apparently without having read it—then upped the ante. “I’d love for [Mayrand] to come here and try to explain to us what he doesn’t understand,” he said, causing numerous heads to explode in the few Canadian newsrooms that actually noticed what was going on.

(Having felt like my own head was going to explode at a few points while researching this issue for both blogging and academic purposes, part of me feels a little bit gratified that at least I’m not alone.)

Selley writes that even the proposed new legislation would not have actually changed the documentation required to prove a voter’s identity:

It would simply have required that voters show their faces whilst presenting the ID, photo or otherwise.

As I said at the time, the concern was that a veiled woman could provide photo ID but not have to show her face, rendering the photo ID pointless. And the proposed remedy was to allow a veiled woman to provide non-photo ID but force her to show her face, rendering the unveiling pointless. Pointless, that is, if the goal was actually to ensure Canadians’ unveiled faces are matched with photo ID before they vote. Unfortunately for all of us, the goal was nothing more than to capitalize on a hot-button issue.

The last sentence of this quote – that the panic around this topic was less about actual worries about voter fraud than it was about “capitaliz[ing] on a hot-button issue” – highlights, for me, the most disturbing part of this whole thing.  I followed a lot of the media hype around it in the fall, and much of it seemed to be from people worried that Muslims were taking over Canada’s political systems and forcing Elections Canada to allow them to vote with faces covered, despite a total lack of evidence that any of this was coming from Muslims, as well as the fact that the absence of a requirement of photo identification was part of the existing laws and not some concession being made to Muslim communities (who, again, had not even asked for any such concession.)  The comments on some of the news articles were even worse; women in niqab were portrayed as dangerous and untrustworthy, and as a foreign threat, despite the fact that, as voters, the women in question are necessarily Canadian citizens.

To be honest, if photo ID was required for all voters, I probably would not have a problem with everyone being required to actually show their faces in order to confirm their identities (although I would hope that this would be done in conditions that everyone would be comfortable with.)  However, considering that this is not the case, and that the hype around this issue has only served to paint Muslim Canadians as threatening and as non-Canadians, I am, like Chris Selley, “thrilled to see this ugly chapter in Canadian politics closed.”

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This post was originally published at Muslimah Media Watch.

Last week, Canadian Governor-General Michaëlle Jean caused a huge storm in the media by eating a piece of seal heart while on a visit to an Inuit community in Nunavut, northern Canada.  In the context of increasing international (and domestic) outrage against the seal hunt in Canada, Jean had this to say about her act (all quotes from this article):

“These are ancient practices that are part of a way of life,” Jean said, framing her gutsy gesture as an act of solidarity with the Inuit. “If you can’t understand that, you’re completely missing the reality of life here.”

(For those of you wondering what on earth this has to do with Muslim women, don’t worry, I’ll get to it.)

Michaëlle Jean. Source: Canadian Press, via Toronto Star website

Michaëlle Jean. Source: Canadian Press, via Toronto Star website

Enter PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.)  Let me be clear that I am a strong advocate that animals should be treated ethically, and that I don’t oppose the objectives of an organisation like PETA.  Their methods, on the other hand, are horribly problematic, and PETA has come under criticism time and time again for campaigns involving offensive representations of slavery, the Holocaust, the KKK, non-status immigrants, and women (several times over.) (Warning that some of the linked articles contain partial nudity and/or images of torture of humans and animals.)

PETA’s response to Jean eating the seal meat was predictable:

“It amazes us that a Canadian official would indulge such blood lust. It sounds like she’s trying to give Canadians an even more Neanderthal image around the world than they already have,” said Dan Mathews, vice-president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

After essentially labelling traditional Inuit hunting practices as “blood lust” and Neanderthalic, the PETA spokesperson claimed that the indigenous people’s hunt was not the main target of their anti-seal-hunting campaign.  However, as the article then tells us,

That doesn’t mean animal-rights activists approve of Inuit seal-hunting traditions. PETA yesterday likened Jean’s sampling of seal heart to “taking part in the beating of women in the Middle East because it is part of local practice.” (emphasis mine)

Yeah.  So what we can learn from PETA is that:

1. The Middle East is the only place where beating of women happens.

2. Beating of women is an integral part of Middle Eastern cultural practices.  (You know, they’ve probably got it on all their travel brochures.  “Come visit the Middle East, and celebrate our cultural pride by taking part in the time-honoured tradition of woman-beating!”)

Do I even have to go into all the ways that that’s wrong and offensive?  It’s as if people have these images of oppressed Middle Eastern women (usually interchangeable with Muslim women, of course) just waiting around in their heads so that they can be expressed in metaphors that are completely out of context. Sigh…

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More a “boy who cried wolf” than a Cassandra1, Ezra Levant has been busy sounding false alarms on Canada’s human rights institutions while promoting his new book Shakedown: How Our Government is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights. The Nanaimo Daily News reports: “Free speech is being trampled in Canada under the guise of protecting human rights, says Calgary author, journalist, lawyer and political activist Ezra Levant, who was in Nanaimo on Friday.”2

Levant’s mission to curtail the powers of Canada’s 14 human rights commissions was inspired by his own case with the Alberta Human Rights Commission, launched by complaints regarding his decision to publish eight of the infamous “Danish cartoons” in the Western Standard. And so while Levant castigates all attempts to limit the exercise of free speech by appeal to the human rights commissions, he reserves particular concern for Muslim Canadians’ application to them. “It’s a soft jihad, not with bombs and guns but I put it to you it was far more effective . . . I tell you that did more to our culture of freedom than 9/11 did.”2 (Perfectly correct, Mr. Levant: The post-9/11 breach of Muslims’ and Arabs’ rights and liberties at the hands of the Canadian state – particularly egregious examples being the extraordinary rendition and torture of Maher Arar, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmed Abou-Elmaati, Muayyed Nureddin, and Benamar Benatta3 – absolutely pales in comparison to your courageous battle to publish eight political cartoons.)

Levant labels this “soft”, stealthy mode of jihad “lawfare”2, a term he defines to mean “the hijacking of Western legal processes by Islamic radicals.”4 His blog entry on lawfare quotes long passages from National Post columnist Barbara Kay’s “excellent Op-Ed” on soft jihad: “The soft jihad is gradualistic and law-abiding, but no less desirous of Islamic domination of the West than its violent counterpart. Soft jihad strategy exploits liberal discourses and weaknesses in our legal system . . .”5

Fortunately for us Canadians, reality bears scant resemblance to the Levant-Kay model of maleficent Muslims insidiously exploiting the liberal state to achieve Islamist ends. Of the thousands of complaints lodged with the human rights commissions annually (the Ontario Human Rights Commission alone received over 3,000 new complaints in the 2007-2008 fiscal year6), Levant identifies a grand total of three separate cases which were initiated by so-called “foreign-born jihadis” (note the implication that being “foreign-born” should mark one for suspicion): the complaints against Maclean’s magazine (submitted to the Ontario, British Columbia, and Canadian Human Rights Commissions), the Halifax Chronicle-Herald (to the Nova Scotia commission), and the Western Standard.4 A mere three cases has Ezra Levant shaking in his boots? A handful of human rights complaints is hardly an augury of incipient large-scale jihad.

Ezra Levant’s opinion on the human rights commissions is not only factually baseless, but also theoretically untenable. Levant purports to be a defender of liberal democracy, but his position is highly problematic even within the framework of liberal democratic thought. His argument is predicated on the assumption that freedom of speech is the cardinal liberal value, permitted to trample unbridled over all competing considerations. As Barbara Kay wrote somewhat melodramatically in her aforementioned “excellent Op-Ed”, “It is no exaggeration to say that Levant and Steyn [who wrote the offending article in the Maclean’s case] are fighting for the defining ideal of Western civilization which, once lost, would spell the beginning of the end of all our other freedoms” (emphasis added).

However, freedom of speech is hardly the sole “defining ideal of Western civilization.” Rather, as democracy theorists Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan point out, protection of minority rights against the “tyranny of the majority” is also a fundamental feature of any liberal democracy. Indeed, freedom of speech and freedom from discrimination are both enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that curbing hate speech, far from representing “the beginning of the end,” is a reasonable and justifiable limit on free speech7.

Ezra Levant’s own commitment to freedom of speech is not unconditional, given that he supported the government’s decision to bar George Galloway from speaking in Canada8. It seems that Mr. Levant is perfectly able to tolerate circumscriptions on the exercise of free speech, provided those restrictions are in line with his personal politics. In other words, his stance on free speech and the human rights commissions appears to be less a principled stand than self-serving hypocrisy.

  1. Cassandra was a prophetess in Greek mythology whose accurate warnings weren’t heeded.
  2. “Freedom of speech being trampled: Levant.” Nanaimo Daily News. May 23, 2009.
  3. None of these victims of extraordinary rendition was ever charged, much less convicted, of any crime.
  4. “Lawfare – a tactic of the ‘soft jihad’.” July 23, 2008. From Ezra Levant’s blog.
  5. “Paving the way for ‘soft jihad’.” The National Post. July 23, 2008.
  6. See the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s annual reports.
  7. “The weighty matter of hate.” The Toronto Star. March 23, 2008.
  8. “George Galloway.” March 20, 2009. From Ezra Levant’s blog. Levant stated on his blog, “I don’t see this as a free speech issue; I see it as a sovereignty issue – keeping out an undesirable foreigner who has no right to be here, and who boasts about violating our criminal code [referring to Galloway’s ‘track record of providing financial assistance to terrorist groups like Hamas’].” Galloway did lead an aid convoy into Gaza earlier this year, but given that the convoy entered Palestine with the permission of the Israeli government (and that other delegations of Canadians and Americans took aid into Hamas-controlled territories following the assault on Gaza), this cannot seriously be considered a violation of Canada’s criminal code. One can only conclude that he was barred from Canada not for his actions, but for his political opinions, making the Galloway case very much an issue of free speech.

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Lookout Links: May 25

A youth convicted of being part of a terrorism plot has been sentenced, and then released:

The first person convicted under Canada’s terrorism laws was sentenced Friday to 2½ years in prison for his involvement in the group dubbed the Toronto 18, which authorities accuse of plotting to blow up targets in the city’s downtown.

The judge in Brampton, Ont., who sentenced the 21-year-old declared that, with credit for his time already spent in custody, the man had served his time. He walked free hours later and was back home Friday. (Read more)

The mosque in Dorval, Quebec, has been vandalised – for the third time in less than a year:

The Dorval Mosque is now tarnished with graffiti that reads: “Koran 8, 12”.

“This thing should not happen in a country called Canada,” said Karim Chadal, a member of the Muslim community with strong ties to the mosque. […]

The graffiti sprayed on the wall of the mosque refers to verses in the Koran that include the following excerpt:

“I will instill terror into the hearts of Unbelievers: Smite ye above their necks. And smite all their finger-tips off them.” […]

The president of the mosque, Mehmet Deger, said the vandals are simply attempting to spread stereotypes about Islam.

“They are trying to give a violent message of Islam to the public,” said Deger.

He added that the words were written nearly 1,500 years ago, and can be easily taken out of their historical context. (Read more)

Muneeb Nasir writes for The American Muslim about the “imam problem” in Canadian mosques:

The Canadian Muslim community continues to agonize over their religious leaders.

In a recent study done by Karim H. Karim for the Institute for Research on Public Policy, he found that Muslims in Canada and other Western countries “seek religious leadership that can guide them as they navigate spiritual and worldly matters in a knowledgeable and insightful manner. They expect their imam to have not only an intellectually sophisticated understanding of Islamic sources but also a keen appreciation of the Western contexts in which they are living.”

Very recently, the congregation of the main mosque in Ottawa, the Ottawa Muslim Association, has been caught up in a debate around such issues as a result of the choice of a new Imam.

The Imam, who was brought in from Al Azhar University in Egypt, is being criticized by segments of the community for his communication skills, his lack of experience and familiarity with Canadian social conditions.

The debate has become very public with the articles being written in the local press and even eliciting an editorial in the Ottawa Citizen. (Read more)

Zaynab Khadr’s marriage to the son of an Ottawa judge draws public attention:

They are among the most unusual of couples. Joshua Boyle, 25, is the son of a tax judge whose empty home was shot up. Zaynab Khadr, 29, is the sister of Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr — and Osama bin Laden attended her wedding in Afghanistan a decade ago.

The divorced, single mom and the research fanatic met over the Internet – their mutual interests in Wikipedia and the War on Terror helping them stake out common ground. They married – quietly – but their romance was soon propelled into the public’s eye, after thieves fired several .22-calibre bullets into the groom’s family home.

Today, for the first time, they talk about their marriage, the break-in, and overcoming prejudice – including a suspicion that Mr. Boyle was a spy. A rally outside an abortion clinic, they said, also helped bring them together. (Read more)

The Toronto Star profiles a young comedy duo of Pakistani and Christian Lebanese background, and the work they do in mocking stereotypes of Muslims and of people from the Middle East and South Asia:

They may aspire to be comic terrors. But terrorists, no, definitely not.

In fact, Dave Merheje and Ali Rizvi are born-and-raised Canadian lads with a similar issue: they don’t look like your archetypical Canadians so their family backgrounds – one from the Middle East, the other from South Asia – mean people often don’t know what to expect when they take the stage.

But that rush to judgment brings with it a whole range of comic possibilities and that’s part of the fun behind We Ain’t Terrorists, playing tomorrow night at Second City.

Merheje came up with the show’s title three years ago to be deliberately provocative and to point out the obvious: that appearances can be deceiving. (Read more)

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Originally published at Muslimah Media Watch

The Fédération des femmes du Québec (Federation of Quebec Women; abbreviated as FFQ) recently had a special assembly in order to clarify its position on whether headscarves should be permitted for people working in the public service.  (The question of “reasonable accommodation” for minority groups has been the subject of intense debate in Quebec for the past few years; see here for one overview of a major report that was produced on the subject.)

This assembly was held after the organization expressed last fall that the debate about headscarves was a challenging one for the FFQ, with its commitments to both integration and secularism.  That statement can be found in the appendix of this document (in PDF, and in French), which articulates the reflections and proposals of the FFQ’s board of directors regarding the issue.

In brief, the FFQ’s board considered the issue from three angles: secularism, discrimination against immigrant women, and a feminist analysis.  From the secularism point of view, they argued that a ban on wearing visible religious symbols is not a neutral ban, since not all religions involve symbols that religious practitioners view as obligatory, while many Muslim women wear it for precisely that reason.  While they firmly support the idea of the state itself being religiously neutral (although a place where all are free to practice their own religions), they also argued that the neutrality of the State is not guaranteed simply because religious symbols may be absent.

On the topic of discrimination against immigrant women, they talk about the high level of unemployment among immigrant women (especially, for example, among women of North Africa), about the importance of the State as a major employer, and about fears of a headscarf ban causing further alienation and unemployment for immigrant women.  (I do wish they had talked about Muslim women who aren’t immigrants…)

Last, they acknowledge feminist principles as ones that*

are based, among other things, on the necessity of respecting the rhythm, the choices, the values and the needs of the women involved while avoiding applying principles rigidly, through our own frame of reference and our own desire for autonomy and change.

The list of reflections ends with an affirmation that the organization is categorically opposed to any imposition of religious practice, including the imposition of the headscarf.

The special assembly on the issue, held May 9, supported the recommended position, and issued a press release affirming that the headscarf should neither be imposed by the religious community, nor denied by the state.  For those who speak French, FFQ’s Michèle Asselin sums up the decision nicely in this video:

So, to recap, the organization’s board of directors publishes recommendations based on series of reflections that they have had, taking into consideration issues of secularism, discrimination against immigrant women, and feminist frameworks.  At a general assembly, members of the FFQ vote to endorse the perspective taken by the board of directors, again based on those three bases of analysis.  Seems pretty straightforward, right?

Ha.  Not a chance.  Molehill, meet Kilimanjaro.

The mountain, in this case, is based in the claims being made throughout the media that the FFQ has been infiltrated by Islamists (yes, that is the actual kind of language being used.)  These claims come out of a message that Samira Laouni (a community activist and former NDP candidate whom I’ve discussed before) posted on a Muslim discussion board, related to the upcoming FFQ meeting (quoted from this article):

Hello to everyone,

I send you this information that, in my opinion, is of crucial importance.

It appears that the Federation of Quebec Women will hold, on May 9, an extraordinary assembly on the wearing of the veil in the public service.  If we are not well enough represented, it is possible that the opinion of the FFQ will join that of the Council of the Status of Women (which has said it is AGAINST the wearing of the veil in the public service), and we will see ourselves obliged to take off our scarves before entering the doors of public buildings.

What we should do?  Simply, first, become member of the FFQ (cost: five dollars, you can do it at the organisation’s headquarters.)  Second, attend this assembly to make our votes count.

Dear friends, our mobilization for this cause is very urgent and important.  If you have other questions, do not hesitate to contact me.

The ethics of joining an organization in order to influence its decisions are a different discussion, although this is not exactly the first time that such a move has been proposed–the idea of joining an organization that is about to make a decision that could potentially affect your access to jobs and services might be just a bit more understandable. Moreover, if the FFQ’s policies did allow someone to join and then be able to vote right away, the move is entirely legal.  According to this article, however, the FFQ requires someone to be a member for at least 45 days before they are able to vote, and they have only received seven new memberships in the past six weeks: hardly enough for an infiltration.  Laouni’s message was apparently posted March 18, 51 days before the meeting, so anyone who didn’t move on it within the first six days would have been ineligible to vote anyway.

Furthermore, the ultimate decision to oppose the prohibition of headscarves had already been recommended by the FFQ’s board of directors.  Even if the “Islamists” had attempted some kind of takeover, the opposition to a headscarf ban was already planned, and the ultimate decision appears to have little to do with any “Islamist” influence.  In fact, had the “Islamists” actually infiltrated the FFQ, it is unlikely that the final statement would have included such an emphatic commitment to the organization’s strong stance in favor of secularism and against religious fundamentalism.  In other words, I just really cannot understand how or why this ever became an issue.

But there are some good mountain-builders out there.  Djemila Benhabib, who seems like a Québécoise version of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, describes the FFQ decision as a result of being “strongly supported by representatives of the Canadian Islamic Congress and Muslim Presence.”  She further condemns the FFQ for “sacrificing millions of women who are fighting for their lives” for the sake of “a handful of Islamist militants.”  Her (melodramatic) statements have been quoted in many of the other articles about this issue, prompting the the FFQ to issue a response, in which they clarify that they have no connections with either of the organizations that she mentioned, and continue to stand firmly against fundamentalism and extremism.  (Just for the record, Quebec doesn’t even HAVE millions of Muslim women, let alone millions who are supposedly “fighting for their lives” against the imposition of the headscarf. *rolling eyes*)

Another article portrays one Muslim woman’s hesitation to join the FFQ (based on her unwillingness to be endorsing some of the other FFQ’s positions, as well as a feeling that a group of new Muslim members might stick out) as an example of her wanting to be more discreet in her takeover attempts, rather than a legitimate counterargument to the strategy suggested by Laouni.  The author also takes some of the most inflammatory comments posted by other Muslims on the same site as a way of indicating how scary and intolerant Muslims can be (although I would argue that any site with discussion groups on any topic runs a high risk of being taken over by people with the most offensive and extreme viewpoints, and non-Muslims sure have their share of these too.  See the comment section of any newspaper site for examples.)

Even the articles that seem more sympathetic to the FFQ’s decision are often problematic.  One journalist writes that “I would say that the Federation of Quebec Women is right, even though I don’t ignore that it was infiltrated by several Islamist apostles.”  She goes on to say that

I don’t like the veil either.  I also understand the emotions of the Muslim women who have fought against radical Islam in their own countries and who feel betrayed by the principle of tolerance.

This focus on the veil as oppressive and necessarily a sign of “radical Islam” – as something that women should be fighting against – is a common theme in many of the articles.  Whether or not they agree with the FFQ decision, most of the journalists seem to at least agree on hating headscarves.  In fact, even the FFQ decision said little about the potential that the headscarf could be a positive thing, and their repeated emphasis on rejecting the imposition of religious clothing suggested that, although they weren’t going to come out and say it directly, they remained uneasy with the idea that someone could choose to wear hijab for her own reasons.

While it seems to give a nod to other reasons for wearing hijab, and while it supports the FFQ decision, this article (in English) finishes by emphasizing the stereotype of the oppressed women who are forced to wear the scarf:

Some Muslim women say they choose to wear the hijab. During its hearings, the Bouchard-Taylor commission heard from at least one who did, and who described herself as a feminist.

Prohibiting religious symbols in the workplace would force such women to choose between giving up their religious freedom and giving up their jobs.

And what of those who, as Benhabib says, are forced to wear the hijab by their fathers or somebody else? A ban on religious symbols in the workplace might force them to give up jobs in which they come into regular contact with other Quebec women with different, “liberated” values.

How would isolating these oppressed women help them?

There’s a whole lot more out there on this issue, but you get the picture.  Women in hijab are oppressed, and any attempts to argue otherwise are a result of infiltration by Islamist forces.

Obviously.

*All documents and news articles quoted in this article were originally written in French.  All quotes are my own translations.

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The Globe and Mail published an interesting piece recently about Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Canadian in Sudan who is being blocked by the Canadian government from returning to Canada.  The bulk of the article, which goes through some of the events of Abdelrazik’s case (being put on a no-fly list while in Sudan, later having the RCMP and CSIS declare that he was not a threat and the Canadian government give him permission to return, and then having the same government deny his request for a passport), is interesting, and worth a read.  I want to focus, however, on the introduction to the article:

His name is Abousfian Abdelrazik, but it could as easily be Joseph Smith, a Canadian Everyman. He is a citizen denied the right to return to his country by the Canadian government without explanation; for the past year he has languished in Canada’s embassy in Khartoum. If Canada can dismiss his citizenship so arbitrarily, the currency of Canadian citizenship is devalued, and the rule of law degraded.

Mr. Abdelrazik, an Everyman? Some Canadians may object. It is not every Canadian who has been publicly labelled an al-Qaeda recruiter by the United States government, as he was in 2006. It is not every Canadian who would be jailed – twice – in Sudan, and at Canada’s request.

But any Canadian who leaves this country to work, travel or study may face an accusation of serious criminality abroad. Will Canada insist on due process for them if they are denied it? Will Canada be the one, as in this case, to deny due process and basic fairness?

The alleged terrorist Abousfian Abdelrazik, with his long white beard and the traditional white robe and kufi cap of a practising Muslim, watching television to pass the time behind the embassy’s concrete walls, is the test of Canada’s commitment to the rule of law and the value of citizenship.

Beginning with its headline, “Cause for Canadians to worry,” the article places its emphasis on the implications of this case as a test of Canada’s commitment to protect its citizens.  The framing of Abdelrazik as a Canadian who happens to find himself in an extremely vulnerable position, but a position in which any Canadian traveling abroad could potentially find themselves, highlights Abdelrazik’s Canadian identity over all of the other labels that could potentially apply to him, and calls on Canadians to recognise him as one of our own.  The article argues that Canada’s treatment of Abdelrazik calls into question its very “commitment to the rule of law and the value of citizenship,” suggesting that Canadians need to think carefully about how we define citizenship, and whether it is indeed something that we can always count on.  This point is reiterated at the end of the article:

Governments need to act according to clearly understood rules. That is fundamental to democracy. An accusation, without a lawful process, cannot be allowed to negate citizenship. It is beyond the pale, even in an age of terror, to turn a Canadian into a non-person. Mr. Abdelrazik is you.

Again, Abdelrazik is portrayed not as a Sudanese-Canadian, or as a Muslim Canadian, but as a Canadian, full stop.  The Canadian government’s dodging of its responsibilities towards him is seen as a betrayal of one of its own citizens, which is, rightfully, pointed out as a serious cause for concern.

While this emphasis on Abdelrazik as a Canadian (no qualifiers needed) is certainly an important point to make, something about the first section still made me uncomfortable.  The suggestion that this could happen to anyone, that “Mr. Abdelrazik is you,” no matter who this “you” might be, is useful as a rallying cry for those wanting to hold Canada accountable, but it also glosses over the systems of racism and Islamophobia that put Abdelrazik in this position.  After all, his name isn’t Joseph Smith, and that’s probably not a coincidence.  It’s not a coincidence that Canadians like Maher Arar and Omar Khadr also don’t have names like Joseph Smith.  By implying that all Canadians are equally vulnerable to this treatment, the article ignores the particularly precarious situation faced by many Canadians who may be seen as Muslim, Middle Eastern, or otherwise somehow lesser citizens.  So while it is absolutely right to point out that these people are just as Canadian as the hypothetical Joseph Smith, it does not do enough to challenge the perception that people like Abdelrazik are somehow less Canadian because of their ethnicity or religion, and that such people face much greater risks, and much less uproar from their fellow Canadians, when their citizenship is denied or ignored.

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Lookout Links: May 11

The Toronto Star reports on a book about the spread of American popular culture in Muslim countries:

In 2004, the Save the Children organization conducted a survey of Afghan children. They were asked to name their greatest fears. Considering the wars that had decimated the country for decades, and the fact that much of the country is a landlocked moonscape embedded with countless explosive devices, the researchers were understandably surprised to see how many kids put sharks at the top of their list.

Sharks?

“It’s safe to say,” writes Toronto-based journalist Richard Poplak in his fine book The Sheikh’s Batmobile: In Pursuit of American Pop Culture in the Muslim World, “that among the various and awful ways in which so many Afghans have died over the course of their brutal history, not one has met with the business end of a shark.” But they had confronted the mass-market end of the Great White, in the form of much-bootlegged DVD copies of the 30th-anniversary edition of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. (Read more)

Two “leading Iranian dissidents” were denied entry into Canada for a conference at York University.  The quote about a “true Muslim reformer” is intriguing.  The implied dichotomy between secularism and fundamentalism (as if you have to be one or the other), not so much.

Saeed Rahnema, the York professor of political science who was one of the organizers, said today that the 35 experts at the conference last weekend have written a letter of protest to Ottawa and the Canadian Embassy in Tehran, as has the university.

“This is ironic at a time when Canada is involved in Afghanistan fighting fundamentalism that the government denies people visas to discuss secularism versus fundamentalism in Islam,” said Rahnema.

The two are Reza Alijani, a journalist who has been jailed several times by the Iranian government for his work and in 2000 was named the Reporters Without Borders distinguished journalist of the year.

Rahnema described him as a “truly Muslim reformer.”

The other is Shadi Sadr, a women’s activist in Iran who is leading the campaign against stoning of women. Rahnema said she speaks around the world on behalf of the rights of Iranian women. She is also director of Raahi, a legal centre for women. (Read more)

A Canadian children’s author spends time with the military in Afghanistan as research for an upcoming book…  we’ll have to wait and see how that one turns out.

McKay is planning a novel that concerns Afghan girls who are forced to leave their country. She says she wants to consult with Muslim groups, to get the cultural side of the tale right. But the reason McKay applied to the program is because she foresees her characters crossing paths with the Canadian military.

“I have four girls [in the story] — each one in their lives will come to a dead end, where they have to make a choice,” she says. One of the girls will be offered military assistance to Britain, where she was born, but she’ll turn it down. “She will stay with her friends and the three of them will try to make it over the mountains to Pakistan on their own,” McKay says. (Read more)

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