En politique, il n’y a pas de “Best Friends Forever”

 

Malheureusement, il semble que pour plusieurs groupes musulmans du Québec, le travail de lobbying ou de représentation des droits des musulmans est souvent confondu avec la notion de tisser une amitié avec certains politiciens.

Heureusement que le premier Ministre Philipe Couillard, considéré par plusieurs de ces groupes comme un ami « raisonnable », est venu leur rappeler que dans la vie d’un politicien ce qui compte le plus ce sont les sondages et les caisses du parti et que les gentils mots échangés pendant certains festivals de « couscous » ou de « chameaux » ainsi que les quelques larmes sincères ou non, versées lors des funérailles des six musulmans assassinés à la mosquée de Québec, sont éphémères, rapidement séchées dès la publication du premier sondage qui dirait par exemple que la Coalition pour l’Avenir du Québec (CAQ), deviendrait un concurrent dangereux dans certaines circonscriptions électorales.

Ce n’est pas un secret que la CAQ, depuis des années, fait de la surenchère politique sur le dos des musulmans, des immigrants, en attisant la peur des citoyens et en leur faisait faussement croire que le terrorisme est un phénomène local et que les musulmans ont tous une part de responsabilité dans les actes violents commis par chacun qui s’appellerait « Mohamed », « Abdullah » ou porterait un prénom à connotation arabo-musulmane. Le premier ministre Couillard, dans sa crainte de voir le tapis lui être tiré sous les pieds par ses adversaires politiques, a haussé le ton et a soudainement laissé tomber ces « amis musulmans » qui tels que rapporté par certains médias sont sous encore le choc, comme si cela n’était pas prévisible à quelques mois des élections provinciales.

Mais, sarcasme mis de côté, les propos du premier ministre du Québec sont graves et erronés pour deux raisons principales.

Tout d’abord, le premier ministre s’est inspiré des propos du président français, Emmanuel Macron, alors que la situation en France est plus complexe et certainement distincte de celle du Québec. La France est en crise depuis des décennies avec ses concitoyens français de foi musulmane, dont les parents ou grands-parents sont d’origine maghrébine, issues des anciennes colonies comme le Maroc, l’Algérie ou la Tunisie.

Que vient faire le Québec là-dedans? Certes, il y a une grande communauté musulmane au Québec (environ 300,000 personnes) dont 63% sont originaires de l’Afrique du Nord, toutefois c’est une communauté issue d’une immigration relativement jeune (début des années 90), appartenant à un groupe socioéconomique, qui malgré les défis de chômage (taux aux alentours de 18%), n’est pas concentrée dans des HLM ou des ghettos ethniques comme c’est le cas de la France, et constitue l’une des communautés les plus éduqués au Canada (48% détiennent des diplômes universitaires).

Par ailleurs, la France, a vu les deux dernières années, une vague d’attentats se déferler sur son territoires. Ces actes ont été commis par des français musulmans. En deux ans, le nombre de victimes de ces actes s’est élevé à 239 victimes. De plus, il y a environ 900 français qui sont partis combattre en Syrie et en Iraq.

Au Québec, il n’y a pas eu de vague d’attentats terroristes. En 2014, il y a le militaire de Saint-Jean sur Richelieu qui a été tué par Martin Rouleau, un jeune qui s’est converti à l’islam et qui faut-il le rappeler souffre de plusieurs troubles mentaux. Et bien sûr, l’histoire des jeunes québécois qui ont quitté le Québec pour aller renflouer les rangs de certains groupes combattants en Syrie. D’après ce que rapportent certains médias, entre 2012 et 2015, il y aurait eu six jeunes qui sont partis et dix autres qui ont été arrêtés par les autorités policières pour avoir essayé de joindre les rangs de certaines organisations terroristes en Syrie. Et malgré ces chiffres statistiquement non significatif, un centre pour la prévention contre la radicalisation menant à la violence a été mis en place à Montréal en grande pompe avec l’aval du maire Denis Coderre et de toute la classe politique. Aujourd’hui, la question qui se pose: « pourquoi, il n’y a pas eu un centre pour la lutte contre l’islamophobie après que six pères de famille soient tués dans leur lieux de prière, le mois de janvier passé? »

Deuxièmement, le premier ministre Couillard, a utilisé dans ses propos une rhétorique dangereuse souvent utilisée par certaines personnes en position de pouvoir et de privilège pour critiquer les demandes de certaines victimes. Ce qu’il a dit serait semblable à critiquer une femme qui a subit une violence sexuelle en lui rétorquant que c’est la façon dont elle s’habille qui est la cause de son malheur.

Et pourtant le premier ministre n’est pas fait une sortie le jour où les chiffres de Statistiques Canada ont révélé que ce sont les musulmans qui sont ceux qui ont subi l’augmentation la plus considérable d’actes haineux.

Non seulement les musulmans ont vu le nombre de crimes haineux contre eux augmenter d’une manière fulgurante mais que cette violence est généralement l’œuvre d’hommes âgés entre 18 à 24 ans.

Pourquoi, alors le premier ministre Couillard ne s’est-il pas adressé à ce groupe démographique et lui faire la leçon de morale, comme il l’a fait avec les musulmans, et lui demander de se distancer de ces crimes haineux et de reformer leur idéologie violente?

Les représentants de la communauté musulmane ont cru qu’en étant gentils et dociles avec le gouvernement, les choses s’amélioreraient d’elle même.

Malheureusement, en politique et quand il s’agit de revendiquer ses droits, il faut crier haut et faire, il faut faire beaucoup de bruit, il ne faut pas mâcher ses mots, il faut des demandes claires et il faut du courage pour poursuivre la lutte.

Après la mort de six hommes tué par un terroriste québécois dont on ignore presque tout sur sa religion et ses croyances religieuses et ses opinions politiques, aucune action concrète n’a été mise en place par le gouvernement Couillard pour éduquer la population et prévenir les actes de haine et d’islamophobie.

Il est temps que les musulmans du Québec, et du Canada aussi, sachent qui ni les Couillard, ni les Lisée, ni les Legault, ni les Nadeau- Dubois, ni même les Trudeau, ne sont des amis pour la vie. Ce sont des hommes politiques qui cherchent à se faire élire et gagner des élections. Le droit à la dignité, le respect et la liberté ne seraient jamais obtenus par des poignées de main, des sourires laconiques ou des « égo portraits » pris avec des politiciens opportunistes, mais plutôt par des luttes sociales, de l’éducation et surtout du travail militant intelligent et courageux, sur le terrain et de longue haleine.

 

 

 

 

 

There’s No Justifying Canada’s Flawed Counter-Radicalization Plan

In his mandate letter to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau included the creation of an Office of the Community Outreach and Counter-Radicalization Coordinator.

In the 2016 federal budget, the Liberal government pledged to spend $35 million over five years to set up such an office. So far, the Liberal government hasn’t made any official announcement about the office, although Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale hinted to some news outlets that the so-called office would focus on “radicalization to violence of all kinds,” as opposed to the previous Conservative government’s strategy of exclusively targeting Muslim Canadians.

According to some media reports, it seems that the Canadian government’s counter-radicalization model gets its inspiration from what the British government has already implemented in recent years: the Prevent strategy, a program that proved to be a failure at many levels and by all standards.

Two NGOs, the U.S.-based Open Society Justice Initiative and Rights Watch U.K., studied Prevent and its sister program, named Channel, and found in 2016 major flaws with them both. One of the main criticisms is that these programs are based onprofiling and targeting Muslims, particularly in schools, in kindergartens and in health institutions. But most importantly, there is a lack of consensus among academic experts that these counter-radicalization programs are scientifically reliable.

The notion of certain “indicators” identified as risk factors that would draw individuals to terrorism has been discredited by many scholars: “Indeed, the claim that non-violent extremism — including ‘radical’ or religious ideology — is the precursor to terrorism has been widely discredited by the British government itself, as well as numerous reputable scholars.”

The creation of such a program relies on several false premises. It wrongly assumes that Muslim youth are prone to espouse violent ideologies or perpetrate violent crimes more than their peers. Recently, Statistics Canada released the disturbing figuresabout hate crimes in Canada that happened in 2015. In summary, the new figures convey to us two main points:

  • That Muslims communities are among the groups that saw the highest increase of hate crimes perpetrated against them.
  • That the perpetrators of these heinous acts are young men between the age of 18 and 24.

These figures are not surprising to say the least. Many grassroots groups have in the last couple of years shown and documented the rise of Islamophobic acts. Simultaneously, academics brought attention to the rise of violent right-wing extremist and racist groups in Canada.

Neither the provincial or federal governments took these indicators or studies seriously and never acted upon them to present new legislation to fight this phenomenon. The narrative that “Muslim youth are attracted to violence and Jihad” remains very widespread. Meanwhile, groups like Pegida, La Meute, Soldiers of Odin and the Jewish Defense League, to name only a few, are thriving and gaining in popularity and seeing their membership increase. Their protests are also becomingmore public and more provocative. Up until today, an investigative piece reported about a new violent anti-Muslim group — III%, or the “three per cent,” — which claims that they are heavily armed and ready to wage a war on Canadian soil.

After the attack on the Quebec City Mosque, last January 2017 and the assassination of six Muslim men, federal, provincial and local politicians denounced the attacks and said some comforting words to the Muslim communities across the country. Nevertheless, no concrete action was taken to tackle Islamophobia. No extra funding (of very little) was given to schools to fight Islamophobia through education programs. No new measures were adopted by local police to make arrests and ensure that prosecutions of hate crimes are successful.

The only concrete initiative that was undertaken was the introduction of motion,M-103 in the Parliament by Liberal Member of Parliament Iqra Khalid. One of thepurposes of the motion was to “study how the government could develop a government-wide approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination, including Islamophobia, and collect data to provide context for hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities.” The motion was never intended to be a piece of legislation, but simply a proposal to draw attention about an increasing phenomenon.

The media and political backlash that ensued after this initiative couldn’t be justified by the real impact this motion proposed to have. Indeed, it created a huge controversy among politicians; some of them hid behind the classic pretext that the use of the word “Islamophobia” would mean the end of freedom of expression and free speech, and the destruction of our democracy and liberal values.

In 2014, when two Muslim individuals attacked and killed two Canadians Forces members, one in Saint-Jean in Quebec and the other near the Parliament Hill in Ottawa, then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper introduced Bill C-51, which became the Anti Terrorism Act 2015 — one of the most intrusive pieces of legislation threatening the civil liberties of all Canadians. It was widely denounced by several law professors, former judges and human rights activists. Some of the politicians who last February vehemently opposed M-103 voted in 2015 for Bill C-51 and weren’t that concerned about the real impact the legislation had on the freedom of expression and civil liberties.

Moreover, there has never been a public debate about the root causes of terrorism in Canada. Citing Canada’s successive military missions in the Middle East — Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria — as one of the reasons that push some young Canadians to join violent groups is practically taboo. Linking these attacks to mental-health issues, drug addictions or social and economical marginalization are brushed off as legitimization of violence. Rather, the general public is made to believe that these violent acts are solely explained by the faith and religious beliefs of the perpetrators, which happened to be Islam.

This reductionist approach to define, tackle and explain terrorism continues to justify the creation of a $35-million public office. Rather, the money could have been spent on development of education programs in schools to fight hate, on special training for law enforcement forces to understand racial profiling and on NGOs that offer mental and economic support to marginalized youth.

This article was published on the Huffington Post 

Is there such a “thing” called a Muslim Writer?

This question kept swirling in my head after I attended the Festival of Literary Diversity, FOLD, organized in Brampton, Ontario, between May 4 and May 7.

First of all, the festival was super well organized. Jael Richardson, its director, and her team were welcoming, smiling, funny and making sure that the authors guests were taken care of, picked up from the airport, driven to their hotel and arriving on time to their panels. During the time I was there, I met and listened to many emerging writers, poets, spoken word artists who belonged diverse communities: Indigenous, Metis, Black, LGBTQ, South Asian and many others groups and subgroups. Within these communities, cross-sectional identities were also represented and celebrated. I participated in two panels. The first one was around the theme of immigrant women from racialized communities. I was one of the editors and contributors to an anthology named: “Resilience and Triumph: immigrants women tell their stories”. In my contribution, entitled: “Random Thoughts about Feminism”, I wrote about my upbringing in Tunisia and my distaste that I developed through he years to the “State Sponsored Feminism” that became another political propaganda used to “sell” the country abroad specially within institutions like International Monetary Fund or the World Bank. Gradually, I came to associate feminism with privilege, elitism and one-party politics. Later, this repulsion shaped my political and even religious opinions until I left my hometown for Canada.

 

The second panel was about writing fiction and we were four Canadian authors with different ethnic backgrounds. Many times, as a Muslim woman writing novels, I asked myself whether my Muslim identity can be dissociated from the topics I write about. The fact that I am a practising Muslim woman, does it confine me in one identity that I can’t exist outside it? Are there any specific “Islamic” topics I should be writing about? And if yes, how can I tackle them in an “Islamic way”?

 

I remember some years ago while discussing book titles in a book club (where the members were Muslim), I suggested to read “The Yacoubian Building”. I defended the book for its literary merits but also for bringing very “controversial” topics to be discussed in predominantly Muslim society. One member of the book club demolished all my arguments and told me that these sorts of books encourage depravity and bad morals. I was shocked by her strong reaction as I considered myself as a “good Muslim” with some sense of morality. However, this incident made me realize that I crossed a red line, at least for some.

 

When I wrote my first novel, I really wanted to create stories about Muslim women, but not in any way similar to the ones of “Pulp Fiction” as described by Lila Abu Lughod in her book “Do Muslim Women Need Saving” where Muslim women are usually portrayed as victims of their religion, husbands or fathers and end up finally being rescued by the “West”. I wanted stories that describe the lives of women I see around me. Muslim women who struggle within their faith, within their workplace, within their families but also women who love their faith, cultures and studies. Muslim women who look for love and find it or perhaps do not. While doing so, did I have to explain the rituals of Islam? Did I have to be decent? Not always unless needed by the story or its context. Did I have to convey in my writing any sense of morality specific to Muslim or Islam? Not as far as I am aware of. Do I have to avoid describing “depravity” or bringing it forward? Not necessarily. As a writer, my ultimate objective was to be able to bring stories as I imagine them as close to reality as possible.

 

My second novel was about revolutions, women, and political awakening. The protagonists are Muslim women and their relationship to their faith isn’t taking any prominent place in their lives. This choice isn’t deliberate, it is rather natural. This is what I feel around me and this is how I was able to capture in the stories.

I consider writers as the photographers of the communities they belong to. They take multiple shots of the lives of people they meet, talk to, befriend, hate or simply interact with. These shots are not done with a particular intention of voyeurism and judgement but with the objective of artistic sharing. Sensitivity, subtlety, emotions are my guide. I try to follow this approach in my writing without preaching, without proselytizing without any “Muslim agenda” with one objective in mind: humanizing Muslim women as much as possible.

But the stories I bring to the readers are not the ones that makes the best selling titles, are not the ones that would be picked by Heather Reisman of Chapters. They are not the ones that would be chosen by the mainstream media, as they are nuanced, and most importantly defiant of the cliché about Muslim women.

Today in a world where even “hijabi” Muslim women are objectified, sexualized and made into another class of consumers, the writing of a “Muslim women” has become another category to create additional barriers to limit its widespread accessibility and restrict it to another confined space.

 

 

 

Quand les mots tuent

Hier le Centre Islamique de Québec a été le théâtre d’un acte terroriste. Peu importe les motifs et l’origine des terroristes, ils sont entrés dans un lieu de culte et ont tué des gens qui priaient. Les lieux de culte partout dans le monde sont considérés comme des sanctuaires. Un endroit pour méditer, réfléchir, se protéger des maux extérieurs de la société, oublier, s’oublier. Apparemment, ce n’est plus le cas au Canada, du moins depuis hier. Une mosquée est devenue une cible sanglante. Une cible pour des attaques haineuses qui ont été nourries depuis des années par les radios poubelles du Québec qui vomissent leur venin enrobé de liberté d’expression dans les oreilles des populations. Nourries aussi par la cupidité sans borne de certains politiciens qui veulent se faire une carrière politique sur le dos des plus vulnérables. Voici, où nous en sommes arrivés. Au bord du gouffre, sinon, en plein dedans.

Jusqu’à aujourd’hui, le mot islamophobie n’est que rarement utilisé par les médias du Québec soit-disant de peur de jouer la carte des islamistes et d’exagérer un phénomène qui n’existe même pas. Alors que des islamophobes comme Djemila Benhabib, Mathieu Bock-Côté, pour ne citer que ceux-la, se cachent derrière des airs sophistiqués de laïcité à géométrie variable pour ne pas dire carrément asymétrique sont toujours les bienvenus sur les scènes publiques. Plus que ça, ce sont les chouchous de certains médias, les fous du roi. Comme quoi, le soucis d’objectivité est tellement important à préserver. Une objectivité pour certains sujets, uniquement.

Je suis venue au Canada au début des années 90 pour fuire l’intolérance et l’asphyxie que la politique française a léguée en Tunisie: la pseudo-laïcité. Une laïcité qui sous prétexte d’empêcher la religion de s’emparer du pouvoir, est devenue le test ultime de la citoyenneté. Tu fais partie de la Cité si tu rejettes la religion ( surtout une en particulier). Ainsi, si tu pries, tu es un islamiste. Si tu portes le voile, tu es une opprimée ou un dangeureuse soldate qui veut influencer toutes les femmes du monde à le porter, si tu as des opinions politiques qui s’opposent au régime autocratique, alors tu es un islamiste et dois aller en prison. La liberté ne se mesure plus par l’illumination de l’esprit mais par les centimètres de peaux dévoilées ou par la couleur des cheveux et leur beauté. Voilà ce que j’ai fui.

Je me suis établie au Québec pour deux simples raisons: la langue et la quête de liberté.
Malheureusement, au fil des années, j’ai compris que les choses n’étaient pas aussi simple que je les entrevoyais. Ma langue française ne semble plus suffire alors que tout le débat identitaire depuis la révolution tranquille au Québec a principalement porté sur l’importance de la langue française. Ma langue était prise pour acquise, il fallait montrer une autre patte blanche: mon amour de la laïcité. Une certaine laïcité. Evidemment, le fait que j’ai décidé de porter un foulard à l’âge de vingt ans pour des motifs spirituels et religieux, ont fait de moi la candidate de l’oppression par excellence. Le Québec n’était pas aussi libre que je le pensais, le Québec voulait retrouver sa liberté et les personnes qui montraient un signe religieux contribuaient à son oppression: du moins c’est ce qui était dit et répété sur toutes les tribunes depuis les vingt dernières années. Le vote ethnique dérange. Le voile islamique dérange. Les centres islamiques dérangent. Le stationnement des musulmans dans les quartiers devant leur lieux des prière dérangent. Les musulmans qui mangent halal dérangent. Les musulmans qui ne mangent pas les fèves au lard dans les cabanes à sucre dérangent. Le niqab dérange. Les femmes d’origine maghrébines qui sont bardées de diplômes et qui travaillent dans des garderies parce qu’elles n’ont pas trouvé d’autres emplois plus qualifiés sont folles: elles dérangent.

Je me suis toujours retrouvée en train de me défendre: défendre mon choix vestimentaire, défendre ma religion, défendre mes idées, défendre mon intelligence. Et cela n’est pas venu dans un vase clos. Il y eu les attaques terroristes du 11 septembre 2001 aux Etats-Unis. L’invasion de l’Irak, puis l’Afghanistan, le printemps arabe, l’émergence de l’état islamique et la liste est longue. A chaque fois, il faut faire la démonstration que je suis loyale et à chaque fois ma loyauté est mise en doute. Car même si je dis la vérité, ce n’est pas la vérité qu’on veut entendre. Et après tout, un musulman ne dit pas la vérité: ça fait partie de sa foi.

A chaque fois qu’il y a un incident violent qui surgit dans le monde ou une attaque terroriste dans lesquels des musulmans sont impliqués: le débat devient: la violence de l’Islam ou de l’idéologie islamiste. Les pseudo- experts sont invités dans les médias non pas pour expliquer la complexité des politiques au Moyen-Orient mais plutôt pour créer plus de confusion et surtout pour brouiller les cartes. Les débats sur les accommodements raisonnables est devenue une plateforme légitime pour que les gens affichent leur ignorance mélangée à la peur exagérée des étrangers. Rares sont les politiciens et les journalistes qui ont résisté à la tentation d’y gagner des cotes d’écoute ou des votes. C’était la curée: chacun voulait sa part.

Malheureusement: on y a tout laissé une part de notre humanité.
La grande farce qu’on a appelé la charte des valeurs québécoises a rajouté à cet état des lieux: une xénophobie assumée, une peur de l’islam, une ignorance qui réconforte, un opportunisme et un calcul politique plus que machiavélique.

Jusqu’à dernièrement, cet été, le débat importé fraîchement de Fance sur le burkini a encore une fois attise les peurs des gens et personne ne s’est demandé combien de femmes vont porter des habits pareils dans les piscines québécoises. Peu importe les faits. On n’est plus dans le rationnel, on est dans le feu de l’action.

Entre-temps, des groupes racistes d’extrême droite, comme la Meute trouve le terrain propice pour augmenter et racoller des adhérents. Des blogues, qui étaient considérés comme marginaux, en l’occurence Point de bascule, continuent en toute impunité à déverser leurs mensonges dans la population et même chez certains politiciens. De l’obscurité vers la lumière. De la marginalisation vers la normalisation. Voilà ce qui a été fait pendant les dernières années. La déshumanisation des musulmans: ce ne sont pas des personnes qui méritent des droits. Leur Dieu est Allah, ce n’est même pas notre Dieu. Leur femmes sont opprimées alors pourquoi on leur donnerait plus de droit chez nous. Vous n’avez pas de droit chez vous, alors pourquoi vous voulez qu’on vous en donne ici. Ces répliques sont aujourd’hui normales, elles peuplent les médias sociaux.

La tragédie d’hier soir doit être un moment de ressaisissement. Un moment de la dernière chance pour ne pas sombrer dans la violence et dans la haine. Les six personnes qui ont été tuées hier soir et celles qui ont été blessées ont perdu leur vie ou luttent pour leur vie parce que d’autres personnes quelques part derriere un écran d’ordinateur, ou dans un centre de tir, ou dans un jeu vidéo ont jugé qu’elles n’avaient pas le droit de vivre parce qu’elles étaient musulmanes. Les politiciens Canadiens et Québécois n’ont rien fait de concret pour dire haut et fort que nous sommes tous des Canadiens et des Québécois. Que les noms Mohamed, Oussama et Ahmed sont des noms Canadiens et Québécois, que les filles qui portent un foulard sont aussi des filles Québécoises. Cela ne suffit pas d’être tolérés. Il faut aussi savoir accepter. Dans la différence mais accepter.

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.

 

Reflections from Hajj

kaaba_2016Hajj or the pilgrimage to Mecca is the fifth pillar of Islam. It seems to be the least known pillar of Islam or the least talked about among Muslims. This year was my first experience to be blessed by the call of Allah to visit this sacred place and perform the rituals of Hajj. I just came to realize that Hajj is undoubtedly one of the hardest and physically enduring pillar but also I came to understood how equally important as praying, fasting or giving charity Hajj should be for the life a believer.

During Hajj, the physical hardship and the spiritual fulfilment are intimately interwoven. Both meet in a place of harmony and serenity. They go hand in hand. You go back and forth between physical demands and spiritual enjoyments. You easily skip between the present and the past. Between Prophet Ibrahim, Peace Be Upon Him, the one who named us Muslims, and Prophet Mohammed Peace Be Upon Him, the one who showed us how to live like Muslims. In Hajj, both the brain and the body are at work. Feelings and body muscles come so close to each other in a subliminal marriage.

Meditation follows actions and actions follow meditation. Hajj is an amazing pillar. I felt in love with it. By accomplishing Hajj, a Muslim feels that she is part of the whole humanity, not a progeny of your mother and father, not only related to your family, not only part of your little microcosm of friends and community, not just a citizen of a country, but rather connected to the whole humanity. A particle in the Cosmos but still a particle that exists. You literally feel that you are a small particle in the whole universe, turning around the One and the Unique, circumambulating around his House. Praying to him, the only One, adorning Him, connecting with Him. Your voice, your heart, your soul, your sight, your voice, everything in you turns around and praise the only One. Your turn and call on Him. You are with the One. You aim to blend with the One. The atoms turns around the Nucleus. The atoms get closer and closer to the One. Round after round, you don’t wish to stop. You finish one round and start another. The communion is forever. The Black Stone, that stone that symbolically marks the corner from which one starts her turns is a “magical” entity. I don’t mean it gives any magical powers but its presence is so intriguing. The Black Stone is at the same time an entry point and an exit point. The start line and the finish line. Life and death meet there. The beginning and the end. A huge symbolic point to our lives.

Looking at the Kaaba, the austere cubic structure, the Old House built Prophet Ibrahim and his son Ismael, Peace be Upon Them, is another “magical” sight. My eyes can’t get off it. They keep looking, and following the movement. Feeling as if your heart is flying in the air meeting the One, connecting with the One.

I love circumambulating around the Kaaba. It is a beautiful prayer, not any prayer. Not standing up and prostrating and standing up again like in any other prayer but something even deeper and stronger. A physical movement full of love that brings you closer to the One. You don’t want to stop the movement you don’t want to stop the prayer, you don’t want the encounter with the One to disappear. Once again the start and the finish meet together in an incredible journey.

Circumambulating around the Kabaa or turning around the Kaaba reminded me of the salmon run. A story of migration. Not any migration. The trip of life, love and death. We leave home to find home. We leave our family to find other friends and families. We leave comfortable lives to face death, but discover another sort of life, a spiritual life, the beginning of an eternal life, a true life.

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.”