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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you on the terrorism blacklist? Maybe, but you can’t do anything about it.

Last week, a Vice News investigation revealed that a terrorism blacklist database, known as World-Check and founded in 1999, contains 2.7 million entries, many of them Muslim individuals and organizations.
This list is not a scientific compilation of data; rather, it’s a controversial list that many victims suspect of ruining their lives. Indeed, some non-profit organizations based in the U.K. believe that this list is the sole reason behind the sudden decision of banks to freeze their accounts with no explanation.

World-Check claims that it uses reliable and reputable information about individuals and organizations but they were unable to explain the listing of Mohamed Iqbal Asaria, a British national who was a former World Bank and Bank of England adviser and who was given a Commander of the Order of the British Empire award in the 2005 Queen’s Honours List for services to international development.
Websites run by anti-Muslim proponents like Daniel Pipes and Steven Emerson are some of the sources used by Word-Check to support their allegations and include names on their list.
According to Vice News, the World-Check list is consulted by 300 government and intelligence agencies, 49 of the 50 biggest banks, pre-employment vetting agencies and nine of the top 10 global law firms.

The question is: how many Canadian individuals and organizations are on the list and is this list being used by our government or other Canadians agencies? If it turns out to be the case, how many individuals have been unduly affected by it?
In Canada, the Financial Transaction and Reports Analysis Centre (FINTRAC) came out of an act addressing money laundering. After 9/11, the legislation was amended to include terrorist financing activities. Thus, FINTRAC was born.

Its mandate is to “facilitate the detection, prevention and deterrence of money laundering and the financing of terrorist activities, while ensuring the protection of personal information under its control.” Even if it is explicitly stated that the personal information under the control of FINTRAC is protected, it remains unknown to the public whether FINTRAC has used the services of World-Check and whether it relied on this information in their internal investigations.
Two senior World-Check employees speaking under the condition of anonymity admitted that over an eight-year span, they had never seen a single case of “delisting.” So basically, once you are on the list, you will stay there forever.

What is worrisome is that World-Check isn’t even a government organization regulated by measures and overseen by an independent body; it is a private company that sells data to governments, banks and employment agencies and makes its profits from what is written on the Internet about people.
In a world more and more obsessed with security and where security has become a commodity valued, traded and sought after, companies are building, with zero accountability, a billion-dollar profit industry. Meanwhile, the livelihood and the reputation of innocent individuals and organizations don’t seem worth much, if anything at all.

This article has been previously published on rabble.ca

Will the Canadian government shed light on the no-fly list?

It is a shame that a number of Canadian toddlers and young children are being humiliated at the airport in the name of extra security checks and delayed in boarding their plane with their parents. How as a society have we reached this level of complacency, accepting that such actions are “normal” under the pretext of living in security?
The recent promise by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to open an investigation into the case of six-year-old Syed Adam Ahmed, whose name appears on Canada’s no-fly list, isn’t enough and here’s why.
In 2007, when the Passenger Protection Program (PPP) — copied on the U.S. model — was established in Canada, the Canadian government at the time failed to produce any concrete evidence of the efficiency of such a program. Canada was under a lot of pressure from the U.S. government to have this program and prevent “unwanted” travellers from boarding planes. The problem with this list is that it is shrouded in secrecy. The number of persons listed is not public. It is estimated to be between 500-2,000 persons. The government refused to release the exact number, claiming that this might help the terrorists in their plans to attack or harm us.
Here we have to distinguish between two categories of passengers: those who are denied boarding and those who are delayed boarding a plane.
In the case of the children presented in recent media reports, we are dealing with the second category. It is known as a “false positive.” In other words, these are people who do not represent any threat to security but are going to wrongfully end up on the no-fly list.

Since 2010, the government has been aware of this problem and hasn’t taken any concrete measures to correct the situation. Rather, I suspect the situation has worsened since we now have cases of children brought to us as “false positives.”
This is what Director General of Aviation Security at Transport Canada, Laureen Kinney, declared more than five years ago to the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations about this topic:
“The other point that I might raise is that there have been approximately 850 potential false positive matches that our people have handled in the three years of the program…”
So at that time, this was already a huge number; I wonder how many cases we have today? Why can’t Mr. Goodale give us this number?
Another disturbing question worth mentioning is why this six-year-old boy kept being delayed through the years even though Transport Canada claims that the list is refreshed every 30 days. Indeed, this is what Ms. Kinney said at the same committee in 2010:
“As I mentioned, the list is reviewed every 30 days. It is a built-in process. There is a meeting of the committee that looks at the Specified Persons List. We look at the list every 30 days in that process. The meeting is held without fail. The names that come forward for consideration deal with people who have demonstrated, in some fashion, the capability and intent to pose a threat to aviation security. Absolutely, it is not based in any way on ethnic, cultural, religious or other such factors. It is purely about what has happened, what has been done and what the specific facts of the individual are. Evident from the statistics of the program, the small number of people who have been matched indicate that is the case and it is applied that way in practice.”
So assuming Syed Adam Ahmed’s name was mistakenly added the first time and then brought to the attention of Transport Canada officials, we would expect that they would have refreshed the list after 30 days so his name should have been erased by the second or third attempt at boarding a plane, but Syed Adam Ahmed’s parents said that this ordeal was repeated each time they tried to board a plane with their son, until recently.
And finally, there is the whole question of redress. In a democracy, there must be a judicial review process to accompany any government program to avoid arbitrary decisions and human mistakes that may occur. With these “false positive” cases, there is no such process. People affected are left with no recourse except the media.
Now that more and more parents are coming forward with similar stories about their kids being stopped and delayed in boarding their plane, it is time for the government to act swiftly. An investigation isn’t enough. A total revamp of the no-fly list is needed as well as the implementation of a transparent judicial review that would allow everyone who has been prevented from travelling or delayed in flying to get the explanations they deserve.
Yesterday evening, Minister Goodale issued a statement promising that the government will hold public consultations on the PPP to make sure that Canadians will remain safe while upholding our democratic values. This is a very promising step. It is overdue.

This article was previously published on rabble.ca

History of migration has lessons for present-day refugee crisis

Of course, my plan this week was to write a column about the meanings of the announcement made by the RCMP to lay criminal charges against George Salloum, one of the torturers of my husband, Maher Arar.
Beyond the symbolism of this unprecedented action taken by the RCMP — to charge someone overseas who tortured and participated in the harming of a Canadian citizen — there is always something deeply personal about this.
Since 2002, after the arrest of my husband by U.S. authorities and his subsequent deportation to Syria, our lives as a family were so deeply affected by these tragic events; to know more than a decade later that the beginning of some accountability is happening is really encouraging. This is not about legal vengeance. This is about justice. Period.
And then in the middle of this personal turmoil came the moving story of little Aylan Kurdi and all the outrage it has caused around the world, and the ripple effects that reached our faraway shores.
It would have been selfish on my part to keep talking about myself while the whole world is watching one of the worst humanitarian crises unfolding in front of us. So I decided to speak about the refugee crisis. But I wanted to do it from a different.

I wanted to understand why these people are leaving their homes, their place of birth and walking thousands of kilometres on foot. Why are they risking their lives on small boats in a wild sea? Why are they giving away their meagre savings to greedy smugglers to go to Greece or to Hungary in order to finally arrive in Germany, their preferred destination? Don’t they know about austerity policies in Europe? Didn’t they watch, on their satellite TV, the ugly incidents of racism, discrimination and Islamophobia taking place in these locations, including those in Germany? What about Pegida? Aren’t they afraid of the neo-Nazi groups that attack Muslims residing in Germany? Why don’t they go to Saudi Arabia, the self-proclaimed “protector” of Islam and Muslims? Don’t they share language, religion and culture with the rich Arab monarchy?
Stephen Harper would probably answer my question by saying these people are running for their lives because of ISIS. Let’s bomb ISIS and things will be better, seems to be his motto. But this answer is no good for me. It is demagogic, over simplistic, and totally misleading.
And then I remembered the Crusades.
The first Crusades started to happen over a thousand years ago. A massive migration of people called the Franks, from German and British towns, took place. They travelled to Jerusalem, considered to be the heart of Christendom. The reasons for this migration were multiple and complex. The best known one was: religious. These armies of men, women and children walked, rode horses, sailed the Mediterranean sea from “European villages.” They were supposed to deliver Jerusalem from the “infidels” (it is somehow worth mentioning this same word used at that time to designate Muslims, is today being used by a group of Muslims to designate Christians or Jews).
The Pope and the kings of that time knew very well how to use religious rhetoric to convince the crowds and push them to take action. But beyond the religious discourse of delivering Jerusalem from the “infidels,” horrible economic and political contexts pushed these families to travel to the Middle East. What is called Europe now was struggling at that time from disease, famine, oppressive monarchs and indefinite wars that ravaged every village and town. Yes, Jerusalem meant a lot to the hordes of believers but economics meant much more. Jerusalem, Antioch, Tripoli, Damascus… represented the land of opportunities. It represented the opulence of the Levant, the palaces, the harems and the exuberant food.
In other words, these people went to the Middle East for better opportunities.
This massive migration that happened one thousand years ago ended in horrible wars, in holy places being destroyed and lives lost and atrocities committed. But after the end of the Crusades, two fundamental things happened: many “Europeans” came to stay in the Middle East with many new communities emerging from their intermarriage and mixing with the indigenous people of those new lands.
The second is that the Europeans who decided or were forced to go back to Europe, brought, according to many historians, the seeds of the Renaissance to Europe. It is that same Renaissance that took Europe on the path to centuries of enlightenment, spreading the principles of justice, equality and freedom. These are solid pillars of today’s Europe.
So to all the voices who are opposing the coming of the refugees: labelling them terrorist threats, considering them job-stealers or welfare addicts — think twice about what you are saying. Remember what happened in the history of humanity. The refugees’ despair and their suffering will bring undoubtedly new challenges to the lands that welcome them but it will also likely bring enrichment and wealth. And who knows, maybe one day bring a reversal of the pendulum, and real justice in the Middle East.

This column has been published at rabble.ca

perspective.