Omar Khadr’s Case A Black Stamp On Canada’s Human Rights Record

Canada is in celebratory mood this year, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of the Confederation. The Canadian government has been funding cultural initiatives here and there to promote the diverse communities living together and to bring the multicultural aspect of Canada.

Internationally, Canada is portraying itself as an open country, accepting refugees from war ravaged countries like Syria. A sort of the antithesis of the American policies recently announced by U.S. President Trump to ban refugees. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau describes himself as a feminist, taking selfies with young Muslim girls in hijab. A sharp contrast with the previous prime minister, Stephen Harper, whodefunded the Ministry of Status of Women and dehumanized Muslim women by fomenting the niqab debate.

However, amidst this festive and open atmosphere, there is a dark cloud that keeps the rays of the sun from reaching everyone. The case of Omar Khadr is a black stamp on Canada’s human rights record.

Omar Khadr was a child when he was imprisoned by the Americans in the military base of Bagram and later airlifted to Guantanamo Camp, where he was forcibly kept for over a decade. He was subject to physical and psychological abuses. He was betrayed by successive Canadian governments: Liberal and Conservative alike wanted him to stay in jail, far away from the public eye and TV cameras. No other western country dealt with its citizens detained in Guantanamo like Canada shamefully did.

Along these years, some prominent Canadian voices rose up to denounce the treatment of Omar Khadr, but they were not enough to deter the Paul Martin government, and later the Harper government, in refusing to call for the repatriation of Omar Khadr. In fact, then-prime minister Harper and his cabinet ministers kept justifying Omar Khadr’s incarceration by the fact that he was convicted in the killing of a U.S. paramedic. Needless to say, this conviction came as the result of a plea bargain Omar Khadr had made with his American jailors to gain his transfer out of the Guantanamo prison.

Even when Omar Khadr was returned to Canada after the insistence of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he was immediately imprisoned and kept there for three more years.

These days, the case of Omar Khadr has slipped under the radar. Even some human rights activists think that the return of Omar Khadr back home would mark the end of his tragic story. But it wouldn’t. Omar Khadr never received any apology for the treatment he was subjected to in Guantanamo.

For instance, in 2008, Canadians officials flew to Guantanamo specifically to interrogate him and were never interested in his well-being. They offered to buy him a burger and some treats to get information out of him. When he understood that they were there for their own professional interests and not for helping him, Omar Khadr, became uncooperative with them. The Canadian officials pushed him to say what he clearly didn’t know. This behaviour is reprehensible and should be denounced. Unfortunately, Canada never distanced itself from the actions of its officials despite the reprimand of the Supreme Court ruling declaring that Omar Khadr’s rights were violated under the Charter of Rights.

Dennis Edney, the Canadian legal counsel for Omar Khadr, has been a hero in defending his client. Not only did he defend Omar Khadr under difficult circumstances, but he also accepted him in his home and protected him as one of his own children. Recognizing the work accomplished by Dennis Edney on behalf of Omar Khadr should be celebrated by all Canadians and not fought or hidden.

Recently, Omar Khadr had to undertake a 19-hour-long surgery on his shoulder as a result of bullet wounds he suffered when he was shot in the back by the U.S. military. This serious surgery will undeniably delay Omar Khadr’s efforts to progress in his studies and life.

Omar Khadr was stripped of his rights as a child, as a teenager and later as an adult. Today, he is trying hard to put his life back on track and get the education that was denied to him all these past years. As long as Omar Khadr file is still lingering, Canada won’t be able to hide its dark face and celebrate its record on the world scene. It is time for the Canadian government to act swiftly and let the sun shine on Omar Khadr’s life.

This article was published on the Huffingtonpost: 

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/monia-mazigh/omar-khadr-canada_b_15948786.html

Islamophobia: an entire system and not few isolated acts

It is sad that it took a tragic event to gather to denounce what has been normalized in the last long 15 years.

It took the killing of six good fathers, hard working men, to start talking about what has described the lives of Muslims communities across Canada.

Today, some people are saying that this happened in Quebec because it is a closed society or because they have trash radios that incite all day to hate and racism. These are simplistic explanations; they are just the tip of the iceberg.

Racism, xenophobia, discrimination has been rampant in the past years in Canada and specifically after 9/11. They have been normalized by some media and some politicians and legislation.

It is a general problem. It is not only specific to Quebec City or the province of Quebec; it has been growing in many cities across Canada:

Remember the two Muslim girls who were threatened last fall in Edmonton by a man who was singing the national anthem and showing them a noose. Today this man has not been charged.

Remember the Muslim woman wearing a scarf who has been attacked in the supermarket in London Ontario by a screaming and violent woman. Last June 2016

Remember PEGIDA, this xenophobic anti-Muslim group that was able to hold a protest in Toronto last June 2016.

Remember the Mosque of Peterborough that has been burned last November 2015.

Remember the Muslim woman here in Ottawa who found an offensive and racist note telling her to go back home also in November 2015

But most of all remember what Canada has done since 2001:

The introduction of Bill C-36 the first antiterrorism legislation that took many of our rights away and most of all demonized Muslims as if they are a threat to the security of Canada.

Remember all the security certificates cases that targeted Arab Muslim men: Mahjoub, Jabalah, Almari, Charkaoui, Harkat. Whose wife, Sophie was speaking at teh begining of the rally and who is until today still threatened by imprisonment and torture if deported? If the treatment of these men is not the culmination of Islamophobia to its ugliest form, how else can we justify their imprisonment without due process, the spying on them, their harassment, the stigmatization of their children and their families forever?

We shouldn’t forget the Anti-Terrorism Act 2015.

It was introduced by Harper with the blessing of Trudeau and the liberals. What was described as a lone wolf attack was followed by the most invasive, the most discriminatory and most likely unconstitutional piece of legislation that targeted Muslims, First Nations, environmentalists groups and many other activists.

But that was not the only islamophobic shameful legacy left by Harper and his government:

Remember The Barbaric cultural practices act, The Niqab ban at the citizenship ceremony, the use of the word mosque as an example where terrorist plots are being plotted and what Harper called “Islamicism” as the biggest threat to Canada.

My friends, this is what we are fighting today. Not some isolated acts. Not few bad apples. But a system. A whole system that dehumanized entire communities, a system that created two classes of citizens and two sorts of laws. One for the criminals and one for terrorists aka Muslims. One for citizens and one for refugees. One for the strong and wealthy one for the poor and the vulnerable.

Our solidarity today is needed more than any time before. Working hand in hand with groups and communities will be our path to victory. Today more than any time before, we need to talk to each other, get to know each other and support each other.

And please remember that all is not dark and depressing. There are people around us who are not filled with hate. There are people around us who do not believe the fake news and won’t accept the dehumanization of the Others. The won’t accept there is us and them. There is only US together. Those people are here today and we will not give up until things will be better and until injustice stops.

This is my speech given at the rally held in Ottawa against the Islamophobia and for the refugees on February 4, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

On Slavery and Oppression

20170111_105406.jpg
Last week, I went to Dakar in Senegal as part of a delegation of Canadian authors to meet Senegalese authors, establish contact with them and share our mutual experiences. We also met readers and many high schools students during out visit.
From many places and people I saw, one visit marked me and left a painful taste in my soul.
We visited Gorée Island. It is about 4 km from Dakar shores. That morning, we went to the Dakar Harbour, paid our tickets and took a small boat to the island. Gorée Island, has a painful and violent past. It was initially taken over by the Portuguese around 1482 and became a “shipment” counter of slaves to the Americas. It is a tiny island but an island that changed the face of the world we live in forever. This island ended up being taken over by the French in 1800s until the Independence of Senegal in 1960.
The first thing you see in the island while still in the boat is a round shaped prison and then you see nice colourful buildings in the colonial style. There are coffee shops and restaurants and souvenir boutiques everywhere. Amid all this , arrives the worst thing: “la Maison des esclaves” or the “House of slaves”. We entered there with our guide and I was about to cry at every corner of this house.
There are rooms for “men”, rooms for “women” and rooms for “children”. When I say room it is a tiny room, about 2 by 2 meters,  with a small opening as a window. There is even a room for “weighing”. Men were weighed before being shipped to the Americas ( Caribbean Island, South America, US). Black people, kidnapped or taken away by force stayed there about three months and whoever gets sick is thrown away in the ocean as food for sharks. The slaves have shackles that weigh 10 kg, always attached to their ankles. So whoever is tempted by jumping into the sea,  would quickly die by drowning. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the cries, the screaming, the moaning of these men, women and children in this house and I simply couldn’t. I couldn’t and I will never be able to imagine a single ounce of their suffering. People were treated less than animals and that happened not once or twice but lasted for over 300 hundred years.
Women were selected according to their virginity. The shape and firmness of their breasts. Whereas men were selected according to their weighs: the strongest and the fittest. The one who were small, fragile or tiny were forced fed to gain weigh so they can be shipped as slave to the Americas. There is even a small and dark place under the stairs named: the room of the recalcitrants. A sort of “torture chamber” where the ones who are not obeying the orders are kept until…
The ones who were not selected were left to work as local slaves. The place that marked me the most in this house was ” La porte de non retour” ( The gate of non return) it is a door at the end of the house that opens on the ocean and where all you can see is the water touching the horizon, blending to form a thin far away line.  This is where usually a ship will stand and wait for the slaves to be piled in the low compartment to begin their journey unrooted from their parents, siblings, children, religion, language and land of ancestors.
The slaves had their original names removed and were given just a number, tattooed or burnt on their bodies. Later, once in Americas, they were forced to adopt the name of their owners. This is how multiple and successive generations of European merchants made their fortunes. This is by how sugar plantations were maintained in the America, flourished and brought wealth to their American owners.
This house has two storeys. The one I described above is where the “business” was taken place. On the second one, the merchants used to live, undisturbed by the hell happening under their feet.
One of the Canadian author with us in the delegation, told us that there is a street on Gorée Island named after his last name. So for curiosity, he was looking for this particular street. I asked him the day before, jokingly, in case his ancestor turned to be a colonial figure, would he apologize or do his mea culpa and in all seriousness he declared: “this is not my fault, I would never apologize for anything I am not responsible for it, I can only educate myself about it”. Of course, his reply was fine but I immediately compared this reaction to the one Muslims are always asked to adopt whenever there is a violent incident  committed by a Muslim.  The onus is always on us to distance ourselves from violent acts, regardless of our religiosity, culture, background, ideologies…
Yes slavery has officially stopped. Yes, there has been decolonization, independence and civil rights mouvement…But, the hardest thing to get rid of is this colonized mentality, this feeling of inferiority, this attitude of alienation that stuck forever and can hardly be erased.

In an age of celebrities, intellectual honesty is a scare commodity

Recently, I followed through social media two controversies about two individuals: one from Canada and the from the US.

The first is a famous novelist and short stories writer, Joseph Boyden, who describes his bloodline including Indigenous ancestry. For Joseph Boyden, this association with the Native people and First Native groups, wasn’t only a matter of cultural pride or reclaiming his roots, he, de facto, became one of the most popular representative of the Indigenous affairs, when it comes to media, culture and politics.

This connection, whether genuine or not, became a sort of a “branding” that the author used, rightly or wrongly, to build his media persona. And I think, here is where Native groups had all the right to dispute this “fake representativity” or to be frustrated with his celebrity becoming a silencing tool for them. I am not sure, if we can still use the expression of “native informant” here as Joseph Boyden is somehow sympathetic to the Indigenous issues, but he played the perfect role of the “successful native” who  silenced the rest of the Native voices, their diversity, their multiple issues and specially their visibility.

It is fascinating to see how, a respected investigative journalist Jorge Barrera, looked into the aboriginal ancestry claims of Joseph Boyden and found more questions than answers. What Jorge Barrera did is a perfect exercise that many journalists would do for celebrities and public figures to try to answer questions but mainly to dig further down into the motives of these celebrities.

Recently, a Canadian journalist, broke off the story that Mariam Moncef, a newly elected Liberal MP and Minister of Political Reform, wasn’t born in Afghanistan but rather in Iran. Even though, I personally found the story irrelevant and borderline “anti-refugee fishing expedition”, it got a lot of media attention and Minister Moncef was put under the spotlight to explain her other birth narrative. At the opposite, for Joseph Boyden, many journalists from the establishment are trying to save his credibility and insinuating that those questions about Boyden’s origins are futile and unnecessary. Moreover, Joseph Boyden, did not take the time to refute the allegations against him. His statement was very confusing to not say useless.

For me, this controversy is the sign that Indigenous people are rising up quickly to the challenges and that imposed voices or “appropriated voices” won’t be imposed on them anymore. This is a sign that a community is fighting for its rights to be heard and to decide who can be one theirs or not. Being an Indigenous isn’t a brand that one can sell and make profit out of it.

The Muslim community in Canada has been facing similar challenges in the last years. Where some self appointed “Muslims” would speak on behalf of the whole community and would be automatically considered as media darlings. As a community, we have a lot to learn from Indigenous struggles and their ways of refusing to be infantilized or silenced. When some people with Islamic sounding names or with some ancestry link to Islamic countries, are used by the media as the “enlightened” ones, we should be courageous to question these people and questions the media complicity in making them icons.

The other controversy that I followed is the one dealing with Hamza Yusuf. A prominent US Muslim scholar when asked at the “Revival Islamic Spirit” RIS 2016, a conference held every year in Canada, about the Black Lives Matters, answered the following:

“The United States is, in term of its laws, one of the least racist societies in the world. We have some of the best anti-discriminatory laws on the planet… We have between 15-18,000 homicides a year, 50 per cent are black on black crime… There are twice as many whites that have been shot by police but nobody ever shows those videos. It’s the assumption that the police are racist and it’s not always the case…

“I think it’s very dangerous to just broadstroke any police that shoots a black as immediately being considered a racist, sometimes these are African American police officers. The police aren’t all racist.”

I am glad that I stopped going to this event years ago. After few years attending, I noticed that this is becoming a sort of “religious entertainment” event where some scholars are there mainly for building their celebrity status rather then denouncing injustice, or intellectually challenging the youth and the audience. Political questions are most of the times non discussed or if it is discussed it is done in an apologetic way that would make the Muslim individuals feel and behave not as full citizens but rather as “grateful” immigrants or refugees who should behave themselves.

The last year I attended RIS, I heard Hamza Yusuf, denouncing the moral depravity of America and denouncing people watching “Minions” movie, as for him, the one-eyed devilish creatures are a sort of a worship of the “Anti-Christ”. I found these comments so shallow and so dangerous that immediately after, I took the decision not to attend the event anymore.

It is insulting to our intellectuals to hear how Hamza Yusuf would worry about the spiritual wellbeing of Muslim youth watching “Minions” and meanwhile having doubts and reservations about a social justice groups like Black Lives Matters. This attitude turns Islam into a religion of stupid details, whereas Islam is a religion of big ideas and standing with the right issues.

 

Banning the Burkini in Cannes: Continuing Oppressing Women Under the Name of Liberation

So recently, the mayor of Cannes in France issued a ban on burkinis. Burkinis is a made-up name for special full-body swimming garment: a hybrid between Burqa and Bikini. In reality, a burkini is a swimming suit composed of leggings and a sort of a short dress worn on top of it. Some burkinis have a hoodie attached and with some other you add a hijab that would cover the head.

I didn’t grow up knowing burkinis. I used to go to the beach and wear a bathing suit. Later, when I decided to wear hijab, I used to put a long dress and hijab. In water, this can be so uncomfortable and heavy and when you go to sit on the beach it collects tons of sand and you feel you instantly gained extra pounds of weight.

At some point I decided to stop swimming, as I felt so much annoyed by the sand and the curious looks. An experience that was supposed to be fun and joyful turned to become itchy and embarrassing. I had the impression everyone would like at me.

And then, I started hearing about some nice suits that modestly cover the body but are made of appropriate fabric that wouldn’t keep the water and would dry as soon as you are out of the water. At that time, no body called these suits burkinis. We didn’t have a specific name for them. We just called them bathing suit for hijabis.

I think they first appeared in Turkey and Malaysia ( I also read somewhere that it was originally designed by an Australian designer of Lebanese descent, Aheda Zanetti) and I remember one of my friends borrowed a suit from another friend who bought it from Turkey and took it to a seamstress and asked her to do something similar.

In Tunisia, Burkinis made their appearance in beaches in the early 2000s. Before then, many women swam either in bathing suits; some others in bikini but many women would wear long dresses or didn’t swim at all. The contact of the long dresses with water and by the effect of pressure and water, they inflate like balloons so women have to keep burst these bubbles of air each time they stand up in the water. Needless to say, that with a long dress, you can’t really swim and move fast. You just dip in the water and stay there. Moreover, once outside the water, the wet dress becomes so tight on the body revealing the shape of the woman and thus defeating the purpose of modesty that a full body suit is supposed to achieve.

Burkini came as the ideal creation. It gave women the opportunity to enjoy water, beach, swim with her friends, kids and family without necessarily looking like an alien.

I remember the first time I went to buy a burkini in Tunisia, it was like trying to buy alcohol in Canada when you are underage. It was in 2008, the dictatorship of Ben Ali was still in place and all sign of religious symbols were suspicious to say the least. Burkini, like hijab, was of course considered in Tunisia as a sign of affiliation with Islamic groups and thus selling them would mean for the regime encouraging women to join these mouvements. So I went to the souk and I asked some store about them. The seller would look at me and assess my real intentions and then once I passed the “test”, he would bring from, literally under the table, one or two packages with a burkini inside them so I can see the models.

But after, the Arab Spring, burkinis were freely sold even in large supermarkets and women who whished to buy one, could freely do so.

It is interesting to note that Tunisian beaches today are full of women wearing burkinis. Even some women, who are not wearing hijab, would go for a burkini.

(It must be mentioned here that women in bathing suits are not harassed but it is very common in these societies that men would stare at women so burkinis is a way to keep some of these unwanted stare away or limited. By no means, burkini would become a way to control to opposite sex attitudes, as this is a matter of education that has never been tackled)

Of course, for people who still consider women covering their bodies as a sign of oppression, burkinis joined the list of words and clothing that linked Muslim women to the world of darkness. For many Muslim women who didn’t want other people commenting on their bodies or showing off their skin for public consumption, burkini achieved the total opposite. It combined liberation with modesty: the best of two worlds!

The recent decision of France to ban burkini from the beaches in Nice is another example of anti-Muslim attitudes wrapped under the disguise of women liberation and combatting religious extremism. All what it will do is: to alienate French Muslim women furthermore and of course prevent them from a nice refreshing swim in the Mediterranean Sea.

What bothers me even more is the total silence of Western feminists. Their silence is disappointing for this is a perfect example of male interference with female choices.

When women are banned from driving in Saudi Arabia, all western feminists would mobilize and stand up (rightly so) to denounce the arbitrariness, abusive and patriarchal nature of such decision. When women in Iran are punished for showing more hair in public or going out with make up, the outrageous reaction of Western feminist is so intense ( and yes we should be outraged) but when Muslim women are banned from going to the beach wearing a burkini, all you hear is silence or whispers. The burkini ban perfectly fits the old equation, so why bother?

Islam= Women oppression

How can a country, considered as a beacon of rights and freedom go so low and do this to its won citizens?

In France, it isn’t a secret that women are allowed to go topless on beaches. There are even some beaches especially designated for nudists. But to prevent women to swim because of the length of their swimming suit is a silly and a simply revengeful reaction. Once again, one of the most vulnerable groups of a society have to pay for the incompetence and failures of the politicians.

At least, and for a small temporary confort, we have some powerful words from Arundhati Roy who commented about the banning of burqa in France in 2010:

“When, as happened recently in France, an attempt is made to coerce women out of the burqa rather than creating a situation in which a woman can choose what she wishes to do, it’s not about liberating her, but about unclothing her. It becomes an act of humiliation and cultural imperialism. It’s not about the burqa. It’s about the coercion. Coercing a woman out of a burqa is as bad as coercing her into one. Viewing gender in this way, shorn of social, political and economic context, makes it an issue of identity, a battle of props and costumes. It is what allowed the US government to use western feminist groups as moral cover when it invaded Afghanistan in 2001. Afghan women were (and are) in terrible trouble under the Taliban. But dropping daisy-cutters on them was not going to solve their problems.”

 

The evolving meanings of “hijab”

About 25 years ago, I decided to put on “hijab”. It was one of the most difficult decisions in my life. From the camp of the “modern”, I switched to the camp of the “backward”.  From  the group of “normal”, I jumped to the “abnormal” one, I became a social embarrassment, an extremist, a “khowanjia”( a member of the Muslim Brotherhood), or a “khomeynist”  ( a supporter of Imam Khomeini and by extension of the Islamic Iranian Revolution). Wearing a “hijab” became my new identity, whether I liked it or not.

I was always a spiritual person, growing up going to the mosque with my father, reading Quran, reading history books about Islam, prophets, religions. My surrounding was not particularly religious. Rather, I would say my friends were culturally Muslims, not very much observant. At school, the worst subject was “Civil and Islamic education”. The professor usually affected to teach these subjects lacked the passion, the knowledge and the pedagogical tools to do it. Everybody waited for the teacher to finish his or her rant and most of the students cheated on exams by writing little notes to memorize the verses or hadith. This is all to say that my “islamic identity” wasn’t forged in school. My family wasn’t also particularly religious. We were practicing but nothing deeply conservative. My father never asked me to cover my hair. He wasn’t very happy when I told him that I am going to start wearing hijab but he told me that it was my decision and that it is up to me.

Tunisia was in the midst of “cracking down” on the Islamists. Immediately, after deciding on wearing a hijab, I became considered by the authorities as one of them. Even though, I never belonged to any political party in Tunisia. The hijab became to be the “banner for political Islam” as they claimed. I became that banner.

Wearing a hijab was for me a deeply religious act. Before wearing a hijab, I had a double life. I explain myself: from what I was wearing and how I looked nobody have thought that I was religious or that I would go home and pray for example. Being one person at home and leaving all this behind me to become another person outside and show that I fitted in the “modern society”, that I was a liberated girl who can do whatever she wanted, didn’t make me at peace with myself. I call it Schizophrenic Identity Syndrome. Outside, I was tempted by fashion, make-up, boys… Then in my moment of privacy I would think about all of it and found myself not really interested and not really ready to embrace those things. They didn’t fit my personality and they didn’t fit my spiritual component. Nevertheless, society won’t leave you alone. Social pressure, peer pressure, culture, traditions, everything question your choices and want you to behave like the norm. Being normal. But I wasn’t normal. I questioned cultural expectations about the role of women, I questioned the cultural expectations about how we are supposed to dress and please boys and men. Why do I have to do my eyebrow, why do I have to straighten my hair, why do I have to be thin, why do I have to show my “boobs” in a nice tight dress or shirt? Islam, as I understood it, allowed me to be myself and to be accountable to God only and not to society or the surrounding culture. For some, Islam was oppression, for me it was liberation. And indeed, I felt a sense of relief after starting wearing hijab. A relief from those boxes waiting for me to be fitted in them. Boxes that are usually bigger or smaller but never fitted my questions or my opinions.

With the sense of relief, came also the sense of “defending my choice”. I was always asked, question after question about the reasons that pushed me for wearing hijab. No matter how well I answered and how sophisticated or how simple were my answers, they were rarely met with conviction or satisfaction. There must be a brother hidden behind my back forcing me to cover, or a despotic father brainwashing me, or a poor mother, trying to make me look like her or a cheikh whispering in my ears. My choice was never accepted as it was: an adult decision with strong desire to follow islamic faith and teachings.

Today, many things changed. I am older, I live in Canada and hijab went through many trials and several political battles. With time also, the meaning of hijab evolved. Yes, it is still about modesty but it is an identity symbol and a sign of resistance to all other temptations. Not necessarily sexual temptations, but consumerism temptations, hyper sexualization temptation…In other words, the new boxes prepared for me when I was 20 by an Arab, secular with Islamic inspiration society, were replaced 25 year later by other prettier boxes but still as hollow and superficial: middle aged women should die their hair, should be fit, should wear tight cloth to make sure that they are still in fashion and attractive, should be financially independent, should shop and have fun and show her friends on social media that she is happy and fulfilled…Obviously, I didn’t want these boxes and my hijab came to symbolize this resistance.

Ironically, I look around me and many of the young and older women wearing hijab are not bothered by these new boxes. Even if hijab was for years wrongly described as a sign of women oppression and is still so, some smart “businesses” are embracing hijab, not ideologically but for business reasons. “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade” that seems to be their motto. Hijab became a lucrative opportunity for many businesses. Muslim youtubers are becoming so famous teaching young hijab fashionista how to do wrap their scarves, how to make their head look bigger, how to do make up, how to be a modern hijabi. Hijab became a brand, and hijabi, another potential customers, a market to be conquered.

Gone are my naive ideals of resistance, social justice, equality, that came along a deeply religious feeling about hijab. Gone are those ideals, taken away by a globalized world, where even modesty became a traded good that can be bought and sold.

I am not trying to say that there exists only one meaning to hijab and that I hold it and have the monopoly over it. Not at all. I am just trying to convey this feeling of evolution on how we are and how some symbols can seem radical at one time became later one accepted or  emptied from their first meaning at another time. I am not also saying that hijab is today better accepted than before. It is still perceived as a sign of oppression and rejected by the main stream culture, however, there is some change in attitudes among Muslims and Non-Muslims alike and that should be taken as an opportunity for a better understanding of hijab.

 

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.