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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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Written by a guest contributor and originally posted at Getting a life.

Scrolling down Antonia Zerbisias’ blog today, my eyes lighted upon the title, “American Taliban.” Something about an American Muslim extremist, I surmised—but, I was wrong. She was in fact blogging about the murder of a well-known doctor in Wichita, Kansas.

Nowhere does Zerbisias indicate what connection this tragic event has to Muslims (extremist or otherwise), the Taliban, or even Afghans or Pakistanis. In fact, she gives plenty of evidence that Dr. George Tiller was killed by an extreme right-wing American Christian anti-abortionist. So why not a headline which reflects that? Why bring the Taliban into it, as though non-Muslim Americans have always been and remain incapable of committing acts of violence intended to keep women “in their place”?

It gets worse, with Jed Lewison at the Daily Kos going on about Bill O’Reilly’s long-running “jihad” against George Tiller on Fox News, as though there is no history among non-Muslim Americans of people using public platforms in order to whip up popular sentiment against those they disagree with, and then acting surprised when violence is done against the target of their rantings. Apparently, that sort of thing is just beyond the ability of nice white Christian (or post-Christian) Americans; it takes the Moozlems to do rotten stuff like that.

And the thing is, Zerbisias reads www.muslimahmediawatch.org. So, why doesn’t she get it?

I suppose from the perspective of Zerbisias and Lewison, my objections are just an exercise in splitting hairs at best. After all, isn’t the Taliban by far the most misogynist government in living memory? Haven’t they blown up girls’ schools, thrown acid at girls going to school, publicly whipped women for “crimes” such as leaving the house without a male escort… so why does it matter if they are also rhetorically associated with one crime evidently committed by a white Christian in Kansas? What difference does it make, adding one more misogynistic act of vigilantism to their already lengthy balance-sheet?

What difference does it make, indeed? Probably no difference to those who, every time they read a headline such as “Bomb threat closes school” or ”Woman stabbed to death by husband” don’t know what it’s like to reflexively wish, every single time, that it’s not a Muslim who did it. It makes no difference to those who have the privilege of being judged as individuals. If a white and/or Christian man (or woman) killed Dr. Tiller, no one will assume that this indicates that whites or Christians in general are innately predisposed to be violent. But when any Muslim individual, group or government commits a crime, this is somehow believed to reflect on Muslims in general. Every crime, every horror which makes the news reverberates through school yards and work-places everywhere.

The other day, my middle-school-aged daughter told me that a boy in her class had been calling her a terrorist. Why, I asked. She replied that it is because he knows that her father comes from X [a Middle Eastern country].

Aside from the blame question, there’s also the weight of grief that one carries from over a half a lifetime of hearing largely horrible news about one’s coreligionists. I don’t need one more thing added to it. Not one more thing. I’d say that we have enough to deal with already without also bearing the sins of Christian anti-abortion extremists, even rhetorically.

Not only that, but using Muslim-sounding terminology in order to discuss acts of violence and intimidation carried out by some American Christians on the basis of their own (right-wing Christian) ideology is an act of disavowal which has the risk of short-circuiting some long-overdue critical reflection. It allows right-wingers and others to pretend that Christian misogyny (unlike the Muslim kind) may be a bit over the top at times, but isn’t really dangerous to anyone. A harmful illusion if ever there was one.

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CTV News recently reported on a BC based study in which it was found that Canadians with English names have a better chance of getting a job than do people with non-English, specifically Chinese, Pakistani, or Indian, names. CTV News reports

In fact, after sending out thousands of resumés, the study found those with an English name like Jill Wilson and John Martin received 40 per cent more interview callbacks than the identical resumés with names like Sana Khan or Lei Li.

“If employers are engaging in name-based discrimination, they may be contravening the Human Rights Act,” said the study’s author, Philip Oreopoulos, economics professor at the University of B.C. “They may also be missing out on hiring the best person for the job.”

The study also found that the only way the applicants could improve their chances of a callback was to state they had Canadian or British experience.

And before one thinks this may have something to do with acculturation or language issues some new immigrants may have, the study’s author suspects that even second and third generation immigrants are at a “significant disadvantage” if they have a Chinese, Indian or Pakistani name (great – I guess my Pakistani name is going to be trouble for me after all). However, not as much as their parents or grandparents may be. I guess, it’s all in the name.

Image via CTV.

Image via CTV.

Of course, one can see how this would be problematic for those with non-English sounding names. Employers would be engaging in discrimination of applicants based on an aspect of a person’s identity that cannot indicate an individual’s competency for the job position. An aspect linked to ethnicity. In other words – racism. In the case of this study, racism toward specific groups of people, many of whom are Muslims. The findings of this study are disturbing indeed and they demonstrate the way in which “Canadian” is defined. Those with English names – yes names originating from England (which if my memory serves me correctly is now considered a foreign country in Canada) – are categorized as “real” Canadians while those with non-English sounding names are seen as non-Canadians, as others.

To begin with, the CTV article itself creates an othering of those with non-English names. By using the terms “foreign names” or “foreign-sounding names” to refer to non-English names CTV makes the assumption that only English names are truly Canadian. Those names that are not English sounding are not Canadian – including Pakistani names. Pakistanis, along with Indians and Chinese, are therefore otherized and assumed to be foreign. Even those born and raised in Canada.

And of course, the results of the study imply a similar othering. Those with non-English names, it seems, do not appear to be Canadians and as such need not be interviewed or considered. They are considered to be “foreign” and as such are seen to be less competent than “real” Canadians (or Britons it seems). Additionally, the study also found that “Chinese resumes that had English first names increased the chances of getting a callback.” All this hints that those with non-Canadian names are not seen as acculturated or Canadian enough. Take on an English name (ie name from England) and all of a sudden you’re more Canadian?

The irony of course should not be lost on readers. English names are just that – English. They are not Canadian. They originated in England. Yet names from England, and therefore people whose roots are in England (a foreign country by the way), are viewed as Canadian. And those whose roots originate in India, Pakistan, or China are not? Additionally, can we really forget that these English names have belonged to the colonizers – those who massacred Canada’s indigenous populations and stole their land? These English names arrived in Canada via extremely violent and vicious means.

How will this discovery bode for Muslim applicants? The implications for Muslims are clear. Most Muslims in Canada have non-English names. According to what this study implies, we are seen as lesser Canadians, if Canadians at all. Our names, regardless of our citizenship and nationality, are “foreign names,” as CTV would put it. We are thus seen as not “real” Canadians. The racism inherent in such discriminatory practices, whether intentional or not, has tried to define for us our place in Canada – as foreigners.

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Written by Guest Contributor Magda.

Mohamad Rachid, Imam at Richmond Jamia Mosque. Image by Mark Patrick via Richmond Review

Mohamad Rachid, Imam at Richmond Jamia Mosque. Image by Mark Patrick via Richmond Review

A modest article published in the Richmond Review called “Doors open around city” by Matthew Hoekstra, describes the effort of the city of Richmond, British Columbia to unite its fellow citizens by hosting its second annual “Doors Open” event.  The purpose of the event is to allow venues all across the city to open their doors to visitors, free of charge, in hopes that people will be able to walk away with a greater understanding of what the place has to offer. One such venue is the Jamia Mosque of Richmond, B.C.  The Jamia Mosque or “Masjid” is not new to the city of Richmond. In fact, it has been a part of the city for 25 years and yet it would seem that few people understand the purpose of the Masjid or who its inhabitants are. In this article, Hoeskstra essentially summaries a conversation with the Imam of the Masjid, Mohamad Rachid, who explains to the author what he hopes people will be able to take away from visiting the Masjid (in his words):

“Muslims are normal human beings. They go about their lives, they work, they have families, they’re just like everybody else with their daily issues,[…] We look at religion as a way of life, which means we’re always thinking of God, so we try to live our life in a very, very good manner.”

The article continues with a discussion of the structure and physical set-up of the Masjid as well as describing some of the fundamental beliefs that all Muslims share such as the belief that the Qur’an was revealed unto Allah’s (God’s) final messenger, Muhammad (p.b.u.h).

However, the article begins to shift its focus when the author decides to start addressing the run of the mill misconceptions about Islam and of course 911. To be clear, I strongly advocate the correcting of misinformation about Islam but what I can’t seem to understand is why basically every article about Islam or Muslims has to be turned into a piece in which Muslims are forced to defend their religion. It seems that Muslims are always being thrown the same arguments: terrorism, oppression of women, jihad, etc.  For example, on the topic of the oppression of women in Islam, Imam Rachid states:

“In Islam we say men and women…they’re like clothing for one another, they complete one another—not compete and fight,” he said. “It’s like somebody has taken something to extreme, living in an ivory tower and saying this is what you do. It is degrading.”

So while I feel it is important to clarify such issues, I find it rather frustrating that Muslims are never really viewed as normal human beings. Instead of accepting Muslims as fellow community members, with similar goals as the rest, Muslims are usually looked at as outsiders, strangers, and dare I say it “freaks”. Nonetheless, by participating in events such as “Doors Open” Muslims can not only clarify the stereotypes against them but also begin to move away from these misconceptions and teach others who the Muslims are and what Islam is really all about.

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It seems Ezra Levant, right-wing blogger, journalist, lawyer and author, is on a mission to rid Canada of human rights commissions. Many of you may remember Levant from the Danish cartoon controversy a few years ago (see here for an interesting analysis and discussion) when his now defunct magazine ran the cartoons and was subsequently charged with hate speech by the Alberta government via the Alberta human rights commission.

In his latest book, which I have not read, he argues that human rights commissions are unnecessary in Canada. In a recent CBC radio interview he explains that he thinks human rights commissions have lost their relevance because apparently everyone gets along. Yes, that’s right. We all get along. Apparently, according to this argument racism, sexism, homophobia, misogyny, classism, Islamophobia, etc. don’t exist anymore.

In his short piece in the metronews.ca Levant complains about how he was a victim of the Alberta HRC.

My case, and a similar case involving Mark Steyn and Maclean’s magazine, brought the hidden worlds of HRCs into the light.

Ezra Levant. Image via CBC

Ezra Levant. Image via CBC

Regardless of what one may think of the case against Levant, for him to use his case to demonize and insult all HRC’s demonstrates how little understanding he has of the reality of Canada’s minorities. Just because he feels slighted by the HRC he advocates that the rest of us not have access to legal recourse if our human rights have been violated. And considering Canada IS still racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, classist, etc., the likelihood of minorities needing the services of an HRC are very high.

He forgets though that Maclean’s magazine was not sued because they printed Mark Steyn’s Islamophobic, fear-mongering article, an argument which Johann Hari soundly refutes, but rather because Maclean’s refused to allow a Muslim organization to print a rebuttal argument to Mark Steyn. Macleans it seemed was complicit in spreading an Islamophobic argument and not interested in dialogue or presenting a balanced view. And in today’s current state of heightened fear of Muslims, articles such as Steyn can indeed incite hatred and violence. Just look at what happened to this mosque in the US after the distribution of the Islamophobic DVD “Obsession.”

Levant’s argument sounds a lot like that of the bitter straight, middle class, White man who is complaining about how he is the truly marginalized person in Canada now. We’ve all heard the poor, rich, straight White man argument before. Levant appears completely clueless about his own privilege. He still occupies the most powerful position in Canada – rich, straight, White and male – and as such does not face the daily oppression many minorities in Canada do. How can Levant know that we get along when he is neither a racial, gender, class, nor sexual orientation minority? How does he know what being a victim of racism, sexism, homophobia, or Islamophobia feels like and how important and necessary getting justice for that oppression can be? Simply put, he cannot.  Yet, he seems to assume, without actually having the lived the life of an oppressed person, that oppression doesn’t exist. Of course it doesn’t exist for him – he occupies the position of the oppressor. From his position of power it is simple for him to claim that the human rights commissions are irrelevant. They don’t help him. They don’t provide a legal recourse for possible oppression he would face. They defend the rights of the marginalized against those who violate them – the powerful.

In this book review, which reads more like an Islamophobic rant than a book review, Jesse Ferreras explains that Levant  “puts aside all his tribal affiliations and expresses genuine concern for Canadians’ right to free speech – and for all Canadians, from Spartacists to Western Separatists. This review goes further in depiciting Levant as the poor victim. That poor, poor rich White man. He continues:

A victim of such tribunals himself, he outlines in deeply-researched detail how human rights commissions in various provinces are threatening actual rights such as public health, free speech and operating a business without pot smoke flying into your face.

Levant may have researched his book, regardless of how problematic that research may be, but Ferreras fails at this essential task.

His complainant? Syed Soharwardy, a radical Muslim cleric who wants to bring Shariah law to Canada. A man who blasted Christians who were helping out with tsunami relief efforts, charging that such groups were kidnapping Indonesian children.

How does he know Soharwardy is radical? How does he know Soharwardy wants to bring Shariah to Canada? To all of Canada or just as a means of arbitrating on family issues, just like Christian and Jewish groups were doing for years in Ontario? And what were the charges of kidnapping children based on? Considering many stories of child exploitation were coming out of the region such accusations don’t seem so outrageous and some context, or research, to these accusations would have been helpful.

I can actually appreciate Levant’s argument that certain cases that human rights commissions have taken on may seem unnecessary.

He tells of how a woman with a skin disease didn’t want to wash her hands while working at McDonald’s because it hurt. McDonald’s, as a corporation, needs to adhere to the strictest health standards – so after putting her on medical leave, giving her money for treatment and finally concluding that things wouldn’t work out, they let her go. She filed a complaint against the restaurant and a commission gave her $50,000 – solidifying the human right not to wash your hands while in the employ of the service industry.

He tells of Gator Ted’s, a restaurant in Hamilton frequented by an obnoxious man who bragged about having medical marijuana. He’d smoke it in the restaurant’s door and flaunt it as though he was an enemy of the state. The restaurant owner told him to stop smoking it near the door – and he got slapped with a complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC). The owner has since tried to settle the complaint, which would ultimately mean allowing the obnoxious pothead to smoke there – a violation of Ontario liquor laws, which could shut down his restaurant.

However, without full information on the cases which has not been filtered through someone who seems to think that everyone gets along and that human rights commissions are useless, I do not feel comfortable making judgments on those cases. Nonetheless, regardless of the necessity or lack thereof of these particular cases, to abolish human rights commissions based on these few cases would be a grave injustice to ethnic and religious minorities, including the Muslims of Canada. Considering incidents of racism and Islamophobia are just as common today as they ever have been, the human rights commissions serve their purpose and are a necessary recourse for the oppressed – the real victims of hate and oppression.

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