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Posts Tagged ‘xenophobia’

Image by flickr user vipez, used under the Creative Commons License.

In her recent piece on the Tamil protests in Toronto, Globe and Mail journalist Christie Blatchford asks “Whose rights are really being trampled?” The answer, implied but never explicitly pronounced, is that in protesting the atrocities occurring in Sri Lanka the Tamils are running roughshod over the rights of Blatchford and the group of “many Torontonians” she claims to be speaking for. It quickly emerges that her grievance isn’t only the illegality of some of the tactics employed by the protestors, but rather the fact that Tamil-Canadians feel they have the right to protest on Canadian soil at all. Blatchford complains,

Many Torontonians have long been puzzled by how without any public discussion they remember, let alone any consensus, their city has become home to so many folks from around the world who periodically hold the rest of the place hostage while they make their voices heard about the very issues or crises that drove them here in the first place.

Poor, disenfranchised Christie, robbed of her prerogative to determine who is allowed to settle in Toronto and who is granted a political voice! (Unfortunately for her, that’s just not the way that liberal citizenship and liberal democracy work.) Blatchford portrays the provision of rights and freedoms to Canadians like Tamils as a breach or a threat to the rights and freedoms of Canadians like her: “Are the Tamils merely exercising their rights,” she asks, “or have they somehow breached the covenant, unwritten but understood, they have or ought to have made with their new country?” (Question for Blatchford: What exactly is this unwritten but understood covenant, and does it apply to all Canadians?)

This jeremiad will sound familiar to those acquainted with Blatchford’s work. Her piece on Tamil-Canadians articulates sentiments similar to those expressed in another Blatchford gem – “Ignoring the biggest elephant in the room” – written following the 2006 round-up of 17 Canadian Muslim terror suspects in Toronto (the “elephant” being the fact that all 17 suspects were Muslim). Why, it’s not those young men – with their three tonnes of ammonium nitrate and all the little doohickeys of the bomb-making trade – who posed the threat,” Blatchford sarcastically remarked. No sir: They, thank you so much, are innocent until proved otherwise . . . It’s those bastard vandals (probably crazed right-wing conservatives, or maybe the Jews) who yesterday morning broke windows at a west-end mosque who stand before us as the greatest danger to Canadian society.” The presumption of the terror suspects’ innocence (a fundamental legal right), and the protection of Muslim institutions from Islamophobic backlash, are depicted as compromising the safety and security of Canadians like Blatchford.

As political philosopher Hannah Arendt argued, expulsion from political community is a necessary prerequisite for stripping the rights from a group of individuals. And so Blatchford attempts to justify her stance on the Tamil protests by portraying the Tamils as un-“Canadian,” questioning the legality of their very presence in Canada:

When, earlier this month, organizers were asking 100,000 Tamils to gather on Toronto streets (this particular rally was later canceled) to protest, I remember a friend asking with mild bewilderment, ‘Since when did we have 100,000 Tamils?’ . . . We live in a country where we don’t even know how many of our fellows are Tamils from Sri Lanka, but are simultaneously asked to accept on faith that they are properly and legally here and to extend to them every privilege conferred by Canadian citizenship – and to suck it up without complaint.

Armed with no evidence* other than her “friend’s” astonishment, Blatchford insinuates that the citizenship status of the majority of Toronto’s Tamil population is suspect, and their entitlement to Canadian privileges dubious.

This tactic is not new to the pages of Canadian newspapers. Veteran journalist Robert Fisk noted that following the arrests of the Toronto 17, “the accused 17 – and, indeed their families and sometimes the country’s entire Muslim community – [were] referred to as ‘Canadian-born’ . . . And the implications are obvious; there are now two types of Canadian citizen: The Canadian-born variety (Muslims) and Canadians (the rest)”.

Rendering particular groups (in these cases Tamils and Muslims) as “less-Canadian-than-thou” – as fifth columns acting in the interests of a state or nation other than Canada – is dangerous on two fronts:

1) It absolves the government of its duty to heed certain of its constituents’ calls to behave responsibly and ethically in its foreign policy (towards Sri Lanka, for instance);

2) It annuls the government’s obligation to deal justly and equitably with all Canadians (and it is becoming ever more apparent that this Canadian government feels no obligation to fulfill its responsibilities to all its citizens – witness Abousfian Abdelrazik stranded in Khartoum and Omar Khadr incarcerated in Guantanamo).

And so to return to the question that started this piece: “Whose rights are really being trampled?” Whose rights really are in danger of being trampled by the stampede of racist sentiment unleashed in the Canadian media by journalists like Blatchford? Clearly it is not Christie Blatchford’s rights that are endangered, but rather those of the groups whose “Canadian-ness” she so baselessly asperses.

*Blatchford does cite a Toronto Star article which she believes bolsters her claim that “no one really knows how many Tamils are in Toronto, or Canada.” “There was an astonishing piece in the Toronto Star earlier this spring,” she states, “trying – in vain, it should be noted – to make sense of the most recent Statistics Canada numbers (29,435 Tamils in the Greater Toronto Area) and the estimates of other studies (which suggest the number may be in excess of 200,000).” Blatchford neglects to mention that the Star article did explain the discrepancy between census results and the estimated Tamil population – in part by noting that “academics have made a good case for why a community made up of war-scarred refugees with an intense loyalty to Canada might not identify themselves as just Tamils” – and nowhere suggested that illegal Tamil immigration was significant.

Image by Flickr user vipez, used under the Creative Commons License.

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Recently the Canadian government cut their funding to the Canadian Arab Federation. The reason? According to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney:

CAF president Khaled Mouammar believes Canada should regard Hamas and Hezbollah as “legitimate organizations,” Kenney said.

Both Hamas and Hezbollah are on the Canadian government’s list of groups “associated with terrorism,” according to the public safety department’s website.

“Here we have in Canada, someone who, until the end of this month at least, was receiving public subsidies from my department, who says … these organizations that are essentially anti-Semitic and seek the destruction of Israel … should be able to operate in Canada,” Kenney said.

People in Canada “need to exercise freedom of expression responsibly” and should be wary of the rise of a new form of anti-Semitism cloaked in debates about Israel’s actions in the Middle East, Kenney said in a speech to University of Toronto students.

In a recent rally against Israel’s war on Gaza, Mouammar referred to Kenney as a “professional whore” for supporting Israel’s war on Gaza. First things first. This recent feud began first when Kenney criticized the CAF for flying the Hamas flag at a pro-Gaza rally calling for the end of the war on Gaza. This was followed by Mouammar referring to Kenney as a “professional whore.” At this point I would be remiss to not analyze the inherent sexism in this comment. “Whore” is a highly gendered word. The word defines a woman through her sexuality solely. Words like ‘whore’ are used to depict women against whom they are used as immoral and deviant sexual beings. Similar behaviour, such as that attributed to the women against whom this word is used, would not be seen as deviant among men. (See here for an interesting discussion of the word.) Additionally, the word ‘whore’ uses the profession of prostitution, into which too many women are forced through social and/or economic conditions, to cause insult to whomever it is being used against. Using it as derogatory term ignores and trivializes the often oppressive and dangerous conditions of those women who work in the industry.We feel that Mouammar’s use of the term was sexist in nature and, as the CAF has since said, “unfortunate” though no apology has been issued to the public for using this term. It is equally as unfortunate that the inherent sexist nature of the word has not been addressed by anyone in the media or the CAF.

However, as unfortunate, and sexist, as it was, it does not warrant denying funding to the CAF. To deny Arab immigrants the many benefits they gain from this funding because of one man’s unfortunate comment seems illogical and petty on the part of the Canadian government.

But apparently this is not the reason for the cut of funds. Supposedly, the CAF propagates anti-Semitism. However, no media nor government sources have thus far provided any evidence of such propaganda. There are no anti-Semitic comments on their website, nor have any anti-Semitic comments surfaced in news reports. If anything, the organization Independent Jewish Voices have stated that they have never felt the CAF as an anti-Semitic organization and have criticized Jason Kenney and the Canadian government for their actions. I bring this up not to show any support of the CAF but to state that evidence that the CAF has made anti-Semitic comments has thus far been non-existent while evidence otherwise exists.

From the news sources, it seems, that the “real” reason behind the cuts come from an extremely troubling and problematic association being created between pro-Palestinian ideology and supporting terrorism. As seen in the quote above, Mouammar’s call for the Canadian government to treat Hamas and Hezbollah as legitimate governments, has been viewed as anti-Semitic. Considering Jimmy Carter has called for dialogue with Hamas, and, as Walkom points out, the British government is reopening talks with Hezbollah, this view is not uncommon nor unique to CAF. Nor to Muslims. However, many are painting support for the people of Palestine and criticizing Israel’s policies toward Palestinians as hate. And this is a scary and dangerous association. Coupled with the Canadian government’s recent banning of George Galloway, it comes across as a bullying tactic to quell any pro-Palestinian voice.

Such criticism is additionally problematic when one thinks back to not too long ago, when Mark Steyn, noted Islamophobe, published a clearly anti-Muslim piece in MacLean’s magazine. Many Muslims were angered and wanted an apology. At that time many cried foul saying that Steyn had the right to say what he did. Its a matter of freedom of speech after all. But now, many of the same people who were supporting MacLeans under the right to freedom of speech, are applauding the government for their actions toward the CAF. Can we say hypocrisy? And Islamophobia too?

Although the CAF is an organization for Arabs, of all religious backgrounds, there is no doubt that they have been associated with Muslims and Islam in the media. As can be seen in this piece from the National Post where Tarek Fatah assumes that those who don’t support the CAF’s position are labeled traitors to the “Muslim cause.” He then pits the CAF against his “secular Muslim Canadian Congress” stating that a member of the CAF called the MCC “house Negroes,” a term popularized by Malcolm X * consequently creating a picture of the CAF as a group against secular people. Margeret Wente supports Fatah in her article when she says

Although the CAF purports to speak for the community, it doesn’t care for Muslims who don’t share its views.

She is assuming that the community the CAF represents is Muslims when in fact they advocate and support Arabs in Canada. Not Muslims. They can overlap but are not one and the same thing.

Arabs and Muslims are being painted as foreigners in this debate and xenophobia regarding Muslims is ringing through loud and clear in the media reports. In her article Wente’s contempt toward and dismissal of immigrant and minority advocacy and support groups cannot be hidden.

Like other groups that purport to speak for immigrants and minorities, the CAF is highly skilled at grantsmanship. The grant proposals from these groups are full of jargon such as “racialized,” “ethnocultural youth” and “marginalized neighbourhoods.” Most would not exist at all without the government. The people who run them go to one another’s conferences, serve on one another’s boards, and approve one another’s grants. It isn’t clear how well they reflect the views of the groups they purport to represent, or how effective they are at helping immigrants. But they are quite effective at using the problems of immigrants to create jobs for themselves.

So why do such folks deserve our money? They don’t. But this is Canada. Only in Canada can people enjoy the largesse of the state by attacking it.

She then gives an example of a young Muslim girl who questions the assertion that Canada is a racist society, as an example of how many ungrateful and manipulative immigrant and minority groups really can be.  After all, this one Muslim girl didn’t experience racism. And she suggests that those who do criticize the racism they encounter in Canada and from the government should be punished by that government by being ignored. They should not be taken seriously. The consequence to this is of course that instead of engaging with those with concerns and complaints, the concerns of immigrants and minorities will not be addressed and the cycle of racism will be perpetuated.

She then ends her article with

The young Muslim woman has a different take. “Why not focus on your new home?”

New home? The assumption here is that those who criticize the government’s racism are new to the country and this is a completely inaccurate assumption. Ethnic and religious minorities, including Muslims and Arabs, have been in Canada for generations. Many Muslims know no other home but Canada. However, even if many Muslims are new to the country that does not deny them the right to criticize the actions of the government.

Fatah joins in on the xenophobic bandwagon when he says

Any future funding of the CAF should be made conditional to a guarantee that the organization will not behave as a mouthpiece of Hamas and Hezbollah in Canada, and will embrace Canadian, not Iranian, values.

The end result is that such voices like Fatah’s and Wente’s legitimize ignoring dissent and criticism coming from minority groups. They paint Muslims as “new foreigners” who don’t understand Canada’s “enlightened” values. Therefore their complaints of the Canadian government, whether they be criticizing the governments unconditional support of Israel or the inherent racism in Canadian society, should not be acknowledged, because newcomers should don’t really know Canada. (Didn’t Stephen Harper say that once?) The public is then told to ignore any further complaints by Muslims (other than the progressives who adopt “Canadian values”), regardless of how legitimate or serious. Muslims, and Arabs, are painted as ungrateful and whiny moochers using tax payers’ dollars to satisfy their devious, and as Fatah says “foreign affairs,” agendas.

And, where in the world did Fatah bring Iran in from?

Regardless of what one may feel toward the CAF, there is no proof that they have incited hatred toward any group. The use of the word ‘whore’ by their president was appalling. However, accusing a group of inciting hatred based on their pro-Palestinian ideology sets up a very dangerous precedent for all Canadians, not just Arabs or Muslims. It becomes a way of silencing a very legitimate concern – oppression. However, as Muslims are already a racialized group, such actions from the government make freedom of speech for Muslims very fragile when we say anything that does not coincide with and please the Canadian government.

* The use of the term “house Negroes” of course is also problematic and needs to be addressed. I will very briefly address it here as it did not fit into the flow of the article nor has it been the focus of the media coverage. Malcolm X used the term in a speech given in 1963 to describe an African American who is willing to please the the White man, at his own expense as well as at the expense of others of his race. Since then the term has often been used by many to refer to people they see as, what many nowadays refer to as, the native informant. The term should not be used without an accurate understanding of its history and its flawed reasoning as Dr. Melissa Harris-Lacewell explains. Dr. Yolanda Pierce addresses the issue here and Racialicious has addressed it here. This member of the CAF should have used the term “native informant” instead.

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