What Does it Mean to be a Muslim Woman in a Secular Democracy?

This is a dangerous and ambiguous question. Why?

 It implicitly assumes that there is one definition of “Muslim’, one understanding for “woman” and one sort of “secular democracy”

 In reality, all theses words are evolving today very fast. They can have not one particular meaning but several.

 I met many people who drank wine, don’t pray, don’t fast and still consider themselves Muslims.

 On the other hand, when you hear in the news that “Muslims” commit terrorist acts, very often, the perpetrators abused their wives, drank wine, were not particularly religious. But still, they are associated with Islam. Their violent actions come to represent Islam.

 So who is Muslim and who is not? Is it a question of rituals? Is it more about actions and attitudes? Is there a typical Muslim model that all Muslim should adopt and embrace? I don’t know.

 As far as I am concerned, I consider myself a woman. But today, there is an ongoing discussion about gender. What is to be a man and what is to be a woman? Does the sex only define femininity and masculinity? Some people consider themselves “gender neutral”.

 For years, women have been calling for equality and for more rights. We still live in a society where women are still behind compared to men in terms of pay equity, job promotion, political representation…

 So how can Muslim women fit in these discussions?

 Muslim women are only “visible” when it comes to the “scarf” issue or the “veil”. As if they live to represent “oppression” that the rest of the society fought to overcome. But they are rarely included in these discussions affecting women in general.

 Our vision about Muslim women in “secular democracy” is still fixated around the hijab as a symbol of oppression.

 Meanwhile, Muslim women, at least from what I know from them, in Canada and in North America, who decide to wear the hijab, went beyond “the symbol of oppression”. A hijab is a fashion statement, a political statement, an identity statement, a feminist statement, or all of that at the same time! So why can’t we go beyond the hijab when it comes to Muslim women?

 And now, what does we mean by “secular democracy”.  Do we really live in “secular” and in “democratic” societies? It is not a secret that the mainstream culture in Canada is influenced by Christianity and Christian symbolism and references. Statuary holidays are inspired by Christianity. So are we really secular? Why is secularism is used today as the saviour of Islam?

 Take the example of France, a country that considers itself the champion of secularism or rather “laicité”. France came to ban the scarf to preserve the “laicité” of the school institution. That means restricting individuals rights to save the right of the state.

Is this democratic?  A majority imposing laws on a minority, under the name of “laicité”? Is secularism, or laicité, becoming the new “religion” of modern times? I am still wondering.

More and more cracks are appearing today in the meaning of “secular democracy”.

Movements like “Idle No More”, “Occupy Wall Street” or “Black Lives Matter” are showing today how these cracks in the system are growing and becoming fault lines, evidence of “democracy” failure.

 Muslim have been accused and constantly put on the defensive by “Orientalists” commentators and pundits to apologize about the actions of terrorists groups.

This is never done to other faiths. Buddhists in Burma who kill Muslims. Israeli who kills Palestinian. Christians in Africa who kills Muslims. No religious communities are held accountable for the actions of what violent groups associated to their faith have committed. Except for Muslims.

We often hear that there must be something inherently violent in Muslim DNA or religion that make Muslims incompatible with democracy.

But, most often these voices tend to forget that all the recent attempts by some Muslim countries to use democracy instead of dictatorship have been defeated by “western” countries. Example: Algeria (1992), Palestine (2006), Egypt (2013) and even as of yesterday Turkey (2016).

 Leaving it for most of the Muslim countries to choose either between “ terrorism” or “dictatorship” both experience filled with violence and oppression.

 So to go back to the initial question: what does it mean to be a Muslim woman in a secular society?

 This means to be constantly looking for answer to all these words. To reflect on all these definitions and not simply accept on side or the other. “Good” versus “bad”, “black” versus “white”, “us” versus “them”. Truth is somewhere in between.

Finding an answer is an act of balance that keeps changing with time, with gender, with economic and social situation, with spirituality.

 I shouldn’t be the only person asked to reply to that question. Rather, we should ask ourselves the following question:

 “What does it mean to be a secular democracy today?”

Orlando Shooting: Using tragedies to push for Anti-Muslim agenda

In 2004, I run as a federal candidate for the New Democratic Party in the Ottawa South riding. I run in the midst of the same-sex marriage debate in Canada. My position was the following: as a religious person, I couldn’t vote for the same-sex legislation but as I human right advocate I couldn’t oppose rights to other groups who have been persecuted and oppressed. So I decided that in case I will be elected, I would abstain from voting.

My decision was harshly criticised from both sides. Within some party supporters, I wasn’t “progressive” and “liberated” enough. I was just a conservative Muslim wrapped in a scarf, some of them even said Burqa, trying insidiously to impose my backward Muslim views to the party and to Canadians. On the other side of the spectrum, for many Muslims (who anyway voted for the Liberal party and forgot that same-sex marriage legislation was introduced by then Prime Minister Paul Martin) I was a traitor to my religion and beliefs, an opportunistic who simply wanted to get elected.

And I wasn’t elected and both sides were relieved, I imagine.

Today, after the gay nightclub shooting in Orlando, once again Muslim religious beliefs are on trial by some media and by some politically motivated groups pushing for their Islamophobic agenda. It seems that each time, there is a violent attack organized by individuals, who happens to be Muslim or have a Muslim name, the whole Muslim religion is on the bench of the accused. After 9/11, the trial was “Islam is inherently violent. It is against freedom and liberty”. After, the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in 2015, the trial grew even bigger to include this time “Islam is an angry religion against freedom of expression” and recently after the killing of 49 people in the gay nightclub in Orlando, the newly brought accusation is “Islam is a religion that incites for hate towards homosexuals”. These narratives built on centuries of ignorance about Islam and on deeply entrenched orientalist attitude, quickly become absolute truth and unchallenged especially in some media. As a result, one Muslim representative after another is invited on TV or radio to defend Islam from these stereotypes but the more these defensive reactions are made the more people started to believe the opposite and thus perpetuating the stereotypes.

After 9/11 attacks, the invasion of Afghanistan was made legitimate on the back of Muslim women wearing Burqa. Georges Bush, his wife and Cheryl Blair, wife of Tony Blair, the UK Prime Minister, all of them used “feminist arguments” to justify the war in Afghanistan. Everyone became feminist over night when it came to liberate Afghan women from Burqa. Even the most misogynistic groups and individual in the US came to agree with the liberation of women. Not totally, as long as it isn’t affecting some American internal policies like abortion for example. And the US troops were sent to Afghanistan. They killed, women, children and men. They arrested, imprisoned people and tortured them. But definitely, they didn’t liberate women.

After Charlie Hebdo attacks, the hypocrisy of the world reached some unprecedented peaks. In a show of solidarity to the French government and to the sacred French values of liberty and freedom of expression, many dictators attended a solidarity rally to show that they support freedom of expression. It didn’t matter if back home these leaders crushed their own people and whether they restrained their freedom of expression of their own. Once again, higher values like freedom of expression is used to divide the world between the “civilized” and the “barbaric” with Islam on the side of the barbaric. Thus, brushing aside centuries of colonialism and post colonialism. Also, feigning to forget that Muslim communities in France have never been accepted in the mainstream media or political circles and that the ongoing marginalization of the Muslim youth, especially boys and young men, is in big part a reason for them to reject French values and join violent ideologies.

With the Orlando attacks, the acceptance of homosexual rights, which is a legitimate mouvement, became the litmus test for Muslims to pass from the “bad Muslims” camp to the camp of the “good Muslims”. Even if those tests are conducted by groups who have been long time fighting LGBT rights with money and policies and guns. As for women’s rights, many discovered themselves overnight pro-LGBT rights as long as the issue, make Muslims and Islam look homophobic and violent.

Islam is not the only religion that doesn’t accept homosexuality. So why are the calls today are directed exclusively to Islam to re-examine its attitudes? Why aren’t we talking more about the extremists white supremacist Christian groups celebrating the killings of homosexuals or the heavy presence (in numbers and in funding) of US evangelical Christians in Uganda for instance, and their role in passing the “Kill the gay Bill” in 2014?

Using women rights, freedom of expression, LGBT rights, as wedge issues to demonize Islam and Muslim should be questioned as this will serve to only to make some bigots more confortable in their bubbles and speeches and won’t help us to see and get to know all the ongoing discussions and diversity of opinions of Muslims on these issues.










Being an Activist and a Leader

Being an activist and a leader

I grew up in an environment where neither activism or leadership skills are encouraged by the society, or families or schools. Especially when you are a woman and especially if you have different opinions than the ruling party.

I discovered activism and leadership in books. Reading stories of women from different backgrounds taught me a lot. Reading also taught me to be confident and to learn how to argue and how to defend my opinions.

Being an activist in Canada can be seen differently. Depending on what you are advocating for. There are not issues better than others but there are issues that can be easily sold to the public than others.

Defending the rights of individuals accused of being terrorists in an 9/11 aftermath environment is a difficult sell, if not an impossible one.

Defending the right of women wearing their headscarf isn’t an easy sell, even among the liberal feminist circles.

Being an activist and a leader require that you have a platform or to build a platform. Being an activist and leader require also that you have support from groups and other activist. We can’t become an activist if we are isolated and we can’t become a leader if you don’t have moral and financial support from others.

In today’s understanding the word “activist” has sometime a derogatory meaning. Activists are hippie, sometimes accepted but not taken seriously. In mainstream media women activists are depicted like angry woman as if it is not OK or normal to be angry when faced with injustice.

Many women activists are usually depicted as angry, hysterical, utopic and rarely as serious, hard worker, smart and passionate.

Whereas, the word “leader” when it is not used for men, it is used to describe women who are exceptional, like Hilary Clinton or Cheryl Sandberg, the author of “Lean In”.

It is rare when women working hard in their communities or juggling between work and family or Walmart worker, or stay at home mothers are called leaders.

So how can we be at the same time activist and leader and woman? How can we be angry, hysterical, strong, smart, hippie, classy, and continue to be strong and committed to the issues we care about?

Two simple solutions:

  • Solidarity among women: this is an old principle but up to today we lack behind in finding the capacity to work together. We all know The old rule of: “Divide and conquer”, right?


Well, it still applies to us today. The rule is applied on several socioeconomic groups, but I can see a lot directed towards women. Many of us keep working in silos. Each one pushing for her own agenda but unfortunately each one ignoring the other. The result is unfortunately that we are all ignored at different levels.

Solidarity doesn’t mean that we have to love each other or not criticize each other. But solidarity means creating bridges when it is very unlikely to have one. Solidarity means partnership and networking with each other. Women know how to build partnership better than men. Even in Afghanistan, the Americans after they justified the war on the back of women pretending to liberate them, they came to admit that the presence of women in the peace negotiation tables bring a different dynamic other and more productive than having only men. Women are not looking to satisfy their egos. Women look for pragmatic solutions so the kids are fed and the country is safe.


  • Passion: as women, we are usually accused of being emotional and less rational. We defend ourselves of not being emotional. We define ourselves as the opposite of what our attackers accuse us of. But instead, we should be proud of who we are. If we emotional, why not, let’s be emotional. That means we care, that means we are strong that means we won’t give up. Let’s us define ourselves and not let the other define us. Passion is the best thing that can happen to an activist and a leader.

The path of activism and leadership are so full hurdles and obstacles that only passion can help. But don’t get me wrong here. Passion is not simply caring about an issue. Passion is reading, fighting, advocating, educating others about a particular issues. Passion is not just a job. Passion is long-time involvement and commitment.












Salon du livre de Genève

Je viens de passer des journées magnifiques à Genève. J’ai visité pour la première fois le Salon du livre de Genève dans sa 30è édition, en tant qu’auteure canadienne. Des auteurs québécois comme Marie Laberge ou Patrick Sénécal y sont des habitués. Ils avaient leur fans qui les lisaient et qui en demandaient plus. C’était des stars du Québec.

Evidemment, personne ne me connait là-bas ni comme auteure ni comme militante engagée pour les droits de la personne. Toutefois, en tenant des séances de dédicace, j’ai fait la connaissance de certains lecteurs suisses qui m’ont paru trop ouverts et très intéressés par ce que j’avais à leur dire sur mon experience personnelle mais aussi en tant qu’écrivaine immigrante et qui parmi ses multiples identités se présente comme musulmane.

J’ai aussi l’occasion d’avoir eu une discussion avec un auteur français sur “la philosophie de la migration”. En fait, c’était plutôt un monologue. Mr. Hédi Kaddour qui est apparemment un écrivain connu en France, n’avait pas l’air du tout intéressé à parler de migration mais certainement passionné et animé pour parler de son livre “Les prépondérants”. Je n’ai pu établir aucun dialogue avec lui, c’est comme si je n’existais pas ou presque.

Bref, tout ça pour dire que mon expérience avec “M. et Madame tout le monde” était plus chaleureuse et plus humaine qu’avec un auteur, intellectuel qui a en fait tout pour partager avec les autres mais chez qui je n’ai pas détecté beaucoup de curiosité, du moins à mon égard…

Je comprend de plus en plus que porter un foulard peut créer des obstacles, pas chez moi en tout cas, mais chez les autres. Moi, qui ai décidé, de porter un foulard pour qu’on me prenne au sérieux au lieu de s’attarder sur mon maquillage ou sur ma coupe de cheveux ou sur la mode de vêtement que je porte, me retrouve aujourd’hui toujours ramenée à la case de départ: mon choix vestimentaire et tout ce que cela représente: l’oppression, l’intégrisme, l’obscurantisme…

Je reste cependant déterminée à écrire, à réfléchir et à partager mes écrits avec ceux qui sont curieux et ceux qui veulent apprendre, connaitre et découvrir, et non pas ceux qui sont imbus d’eux mêmes et qui pensent avoir tout compris sur le monde ou posséder la vérité ou la lumière unique qui les guidera dans cette vie.

Certes, les gens en Occident ont peur de l’islam et des musulmans. Mais, les gens ont aussi besoin d’un discours intelligent, nouveau et innovateur. Les gens ne croient plus toujours à ce que leur disent les médias ou certains pseudo-intelectuels ou experts en l’islam. Ils veulent autre chose. Ils veulent des explications honnêtes et personnelles. Ils veulent des histoires et c’est là où réside le travail. C’est là où nous avons besoin de nouvelles voix pour parler, discuter, échanger des idées.



Xénophobie, racisme, islamophobie:que fait le Canada?

En 2007, le débat qui a eu lieu sur les accommodements raisonnables a polarisé la société quebqoise. Des demandes de certains groupes religieux ont été amplifiées par les médias et instrumentalisées par des partis politiques pour rentrer dans une spirale dangereuse où la présence de la religion, autre que la religion catholique, soit devenue une source de malaise.

Les choses se sont calmées relativement pour quelques années pour reprendre de plus belles en 2013 lorsque le parti québécois a bâti toute sa campagne politique sur l’interdiction des certains symboles religieux en publique. Mais personne n’était dupe, la « charte des valeurs » qui était supposée de faire prévaloir la laïcité au Québec était devenue le prétexte idéal pour interdire aux femmes musulmanes de porter leur foulard, ou parfois niqab dans les milieux de travail.

Si le reste du Canada ne sentait pas nécessairement concerné par ce qui se passait au Québec, en se montrant parfois au dessus de ces mêlées ou en évoquant les deux solitudes, tel ne fut pas le cas l’été dernier lors de la campagne électorale fédérale. L’ancien premier ministre Stephen Harper a voulu jouer au jeu dangereux de la xénophobie. Il a introduit une loi sur la tolérance zéro face aux pratiques culturelles barbares (projet de loi), il a voulu changer les procédures en place en interdisant aux femmes musulmanes qui portent le niqab de ne pas pouvoir assister à la cérémonie d’assermentation tout en portant le niqab. Il a continué à faire appel aux jugements successifs rendus par les différentes juridictions en faveur de Omar Khadr. Il a annoncé la création d’une ligne téléphonique pour reporter des pratiques culturelles. Il n’a voulu prendre que 1300 refugies syriens dans une période de 2 ans. Bref, on pourrait dire qu’il s’est comporté comme un mini Donald Trump.

En fin de route, il n’a pas réussi dans toutes ses tentatives mais malheureusement, le Canada se réveille aujourd’hui d’un long cauchemar qui est devenu une réalité. Pendant, des années le Canada a surfé sur les vagues de son ancienne réputation du temps de Lester B. Pearson comme quoi nous sommes un pays qui participe dans des missions de rétablissement de la paix. Stephen Harper a tout fait dès sa venue au pouvoir pour prouver au monde que le Canada est une puissance belligérante. Nous sommes allés en guerre en Afghanistan, puis en Iraq et Syrie dans des missions de combat. Nous nous sommes positionnés farouchement contre la Russie dans le conflit ukrainien.

Pendant des années nous avons surfé sur notre réputation que nous accueillons les refugiés à bras ouvert et pourtant aujourd’hui à cause du contexte international mais aussi à cause de toutes ces années de manque de courage des certains politiciens et de mauvaise fois d’autres, nous avons un grand travail de reconstruction à faire. Certes nous ne sommes pas l’Europe avec son lourd passé coloniale et ses rapports tendus avec ses communautés en l’occurrence Magrébines et musulmanes. Toutefois, c’est tellement facile de le devenir si nous ne faisons rien. Si nous nous n’investissons pas dans l’éducation, dans le transport en public et dans les opportunités d’emploi pour tous.

Aujourd’hui, le Canada a accepté 25,000 nouvelles personnes venant de Syrie. Ceci doit être vu comme un atout, une richesse et non pas un fardeau. Cependant, cela pourrait devenir un fardeau si ces gens là et leurs enfants sont laissés pour eux mêmes, si les écoles ne sont pas dotées de ressources éducatives appropriées si les programmes de formation professionnelles ne sont adéquats pour préparer une nouvelle main d’œuvre, si la planification urbaine de nos villes ne soit pas créative en permettant aux anciens habitants et aux nouveaux habitants de se voir et se de rencontrer si on n’investit dans la petite et moyenne entreprise pour encourager l’esprit d’innovation et de d’entreprenariat. Tous ces programmes doivent être étudiés sérieusement et pris en considération ni on veut éviter que la xénophobie s’étende et devienne la règle au lieu de l’exception.

Aujourd’hui la xénophobie n’est pas seulement quelques incidents malheureux isolés, ce n’est pas seulement une mosquée brulée à Peterborough ou une femme voilée à qui on lui enlève le foulard de force dans une rue de Montréal. C’est plus que cela. La xénophobie est une idéologie, une industrie qui fait des profits, des partis politiques qui gagnent des votes et des consommateurs qui la consomment et en redemandent. On ne peut pas combattre la xénophobie par des simples pamphlets ou par quelques mots de bienvenue. Il faut la combattre avec des programmes éducatifs et sociaux adaptés avec une infrastructure urbaine bien réfléchie et surtout avec une vision ouverte, intelligente, concertée et qui vise loin.

Mes notes lors d’un panel au Sommet de l’institut Broadbent, le 1er avril 2016




Xenophobia, Racism, Islamophobia: How is Canada doing?

In 2007 the debate held in Quebec about reasonable accommodation has polarized the opinions in the society. Requests of certain religious groups were amplified by the media and exploited by political parties. All swirled rapidly down to a dangerous spiral where the presence of religion in the public arena, other than the Catholic religion, has become a source of discomfort for many.

After the Taylor-Bouchard commission, things relatively quieted down for few years and then took another steep turn in 2013 when the “parti québecois” has built his entire political platform practically on banning certain religious symbols in public. But no one was fooled (except for few of course), the “charter of values” that was supposed to uphold “la laïcté” in Quebec became the perfect pretext to ban Muslim women wearing their headscarves or niqab in the workplace.

The rest of Canada didn’t not necessarily feel concerned by what was happening in Quebec, sometimes portraying themselves as above this “racist discourse” or evoking the two solitudes, but not for long. Indeed last summer, during the federal election campaign, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper wanted to play dangerous xenophobia play. He introduced a law on zero tolerance to barbaric cultural practices. He wanted to change the procedures in place and thus prohibiting Muslim women who wear the niqab to attend the citizenship ceremony while wearing the niqab. He continued to appeal to successive judgments by various courts that ruled in favour of Omar Khadr. He announced the creation of a 1-800 line to report “barbaric cultural” practices. His government only accepted to take 1300 Syrian refugees over a period of 2 years. In short, one could say that he acted as a “mini” Donald Trump.

At the end, Stephen Harper has failed in his attempts to divide and conquer. But unfortunately Canada woke up slowly today from a long nightmare that has become a reality. For years Canada has surfed on the waves of its former reputation gained from the Lester B. Pearson legacy as a country that participates in missions to restore peace. To the opposite, Stephen Harper has done everything since coming to power until he left to show the world that Canada is a belligerent power. We went to war in Afghanistan and then in Iraq and Syria in combat missions to kill. We have even positioned ourselves strongly against Russia in the Ukrainian conflict to the contrary of the Americans.

For years we surfed on our reputation that we are a welcoming nation that embrace refugees with open arms and yet today we have a discourse that would discourage politicians to accept more refugees for fear of terrorism. Certainly we are not Europe with its heavy colonial past and its strained relations with its Muslim and North African communities for instance. However, it’s so easy to become like them if we do nothing. If we do not invest in education, in public transit and in job opportunities for all.

Recently, Canada accepted 25,000 new people coming from Syria. This should be seen as an asset, a wealth to the nation and not a burden. However, this could quickly become a burden if these people and their children are left to themselves, if schools are not provided with appropriate educational resources, if professional training programs are not adequate to prepare them for work and if urban planning of our cities is not creative by allowing previous residents and new residents to see each other and meet and if we don’t invest in small and medium enterprises to encourage the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship. All these programs need to be studied and seriously considered if we really want to prevent xenophobia, islamophobia and racism to become the rule rather than the exception.

Today xenophobia, racism and islamophobia are not just some isolated unfortunate incidents. It is not only a burned mosque in Peterborough or a veiled woman to whom we take away by force her headscarf in a street in Montreal or Vancouver. It’s more than that. Xenophobia and islamophobia and racism are ideologies. An industry that makes profits, political parties that win votes and consumers who consume it and ask for more. We cannot combat them by some simple pamphlets or some few nice words of welcome. We must fight them with educational and social programs well thought and designed, with new urban planning and above all with an open, intelligent and concerted vision aimed for the long term.

These are my notes for a panel at the Summit of the Broadbent Institute on April 1, 2016.

After Brussels: How should Muslims respond to terrorist attacks?

After the horrible news of the attacks in Brussels and the terrible loss of life, comes the interminable list of Muslim groups denouncing terrorism, followed by the interminable list of groups and pseudo-experts putting Muslims on the defensive, blaming them for the evil of all evils.
This cycle of violence and bigotry has been going on since the attacks of September 2001. The difference today is that it is getting uglier and more acute, attack after attack. The discussion fuelled by politicians and groups with political agendas revisits Edward Said’s theory of Orientalism, which describes the centuries-long portrayal of Islam and its adherents as inherently violent and apart from civilization — unless they either renounce their faith and their culture, or become civilized through colonialism and invasion. In a post-colonialist era, policies of exclusion and anti-immigration are also a continuation of this dangerous rhetoric.
Today, any discussion that tackles the issue of terrorism in a vacuum would be useless. Any discussion of the 9/11 attacks, London attacks, Paris attack and now the Brussels attacks, to name only these, would be incomplete without examining questions of colonialism, military intervention in the Middle East, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and Western countries’ support of dictatorships in the Muslim world.
The intent here is not to justify terrorism. It is to try to understand a complex situation without the bias of the “civilized” versus the “barbaric” — without the easy but so efficient cliché of “the terrorists are attacking our values of freedom and democracy.” At the same time, the challenge in this exercise is not to provide the attackers or any of their followers with additional reasons to continue down their violent path.
For a Muslim living in the West, the position is almost impossible: should I keep denouncing actions of individuals and groups over which I have no power, or should I criticize the actions of Western countries which drop bombs and kill innocent civilians with drones in Muslim countries? Every time you want to identify as a Muslim Canadian, someone reminds you to choose between the two.
Rather than coming from ISIS, the attacks on European soil can be better described as actions by a marginalized Arab population which never felt a sense of belonging or acceptance from the mainstream society into which they were born. Speaking the language or behaving like the other kids didn’t seem to make you European or French or Belgian enough. If ISIS didn’t exist, another violent ideology would have appealed to this young disenfranchised generation that refused to shut up and bow like their parents did. They found in ISIS and its affiliates actions that would make them visible, spoken about and infamously recognized.
It is ironic that after the Brussels attacks, a picture of the iconic Belgian cartoon character Tintin and his dog depicted as sad and crying was circulating in the media. I don’t know who was behind this idea, but probably someone unaware of all the accusations of racism against Tintin made when he visited Africa and other places around the world. Would everyone identify with Tintin’s sorrow? I am not sure of the answer.
Belgium has the highest per capita number of fighters joining ISIS. Much of its Muslim and immigrant population lives in ghettos. The unemployment rate in Brussels is the highest among European capitals: in 2014, the registered unemployment rate was 20.1 per cent, whereas it was 11.4 per cent for Belgium as a whole.
Of course, we don’t want to fall into idealistic thoughts about immigration and the challenges of integration, and we don’t want to imply that all immigrants are nice people; however, the facts speak for themselves and the exclusion of immigrants is a reality in many European countries and not just paranoia coming from immigrant communities.
Belgium and France both have heavy colonial pasts. These pasts didn’t go away when large Muslim populations immigrated and settled in those countries. In recent years, both governments banned Muslim scarves in schools and brought the notion of secularism into the public sphere. Patronizing and discriminating attitudes towards Muslims aren’t just ideas discussed in obscure Internet forums: they are laws affecting Muslim lives. ISIS has used the military participation of these countries in Syria as another recruiting tool of young Europeans who feel that their own government isn’t listening to them.
After the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, many French citizens went out and denounced the attacks. I remember one French intellectual commenting: something that struck him in those waves of solidarity was that not many youth were there and not a lot of diversity was present.
An honest dialogue should happen in response to these attacks. More clichés and more propaganda will harden the feeling of both sides and will never erase centuries of violence and misunderstanding.

This blog has been already published at rabble.ca