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.”

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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