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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being an Activist and a Leader

Being an activist and a leader

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two simple solutions:

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Marois to Harper, niqab debate plays with xenophobic fire

The election is coming to an end. All the way, I resisted the urge to write about the niqab. Why? I didn’t want to create more controversy and stir the already ugly pot simmering in many people’s minds. But then, it became stronger than me. My brain isn’t as disciplined as my fingers so I found myself typing out thoughts about the niqab.
Who would have thought that “niqab” — a word not well known or used in the Muslim world — would find its way into political debates among party leaders and hundreds of articles in the North American context?! Even the U.S. and U.K. newspapers that covered the Canadian election did so from the perspective of the niqab.
For those who followed the Quebec election in 2013, Pauline Marois and her genius “strategists” (à la Lynton Crosby) introduced the Charter of Values disguised in noble arguments of secularism and gender equality, intended to ban wearing the hijab and the niqab in the public service. Now following the news during this federal election, I had the impression I was watching the same horror movie, this time in English.
The doors of bigotry and xenophobia seem to have been opened and very rare were those who stood up bravely and firmly trying to close them. It’s ironic that during Marois’ failed attempt at banning the niqab, English Canada looked at Quebec with superiority, insinuating that Quebecers were more uncomfortable with diversity and especially with the Muslim religion than the rest of Canadians.
Three years later, the rest of Canada found itself immersed in the same polarized debate à la George Bush: you’re either on the side of the niqabis (and thus you are oppressed, barbaric, misogynistic, archaic, anti-women, for Saudi-Arabia, for the Taliban, for the terrorists) or you side with us (and you are for security, for freedom, for women’s rights, for freedom, for gender equality, for universal human rights).
So Stephen Harper, following in the footsteps of Marois, started talking the niqab language. And all of a sudden, we discovered a “feminist” Stephen Harper who cared about women’s equality and who even set up a hotline for people to report barbaric practices, a.k.a., practices related to Islam.
When we were children, we were told that if we played with matches, we risked being burned. Has Stephen Harper heard this warning? Or maybe he is betting on being a superhero, a sort of inflammable one. He is playing with the fire of Islamophobia and simultaneously refuses to be blamed for it. Actually, he doesn’t even refuse: he ignores the consequences.
In this landscape filled with dangerous games, there is hope. Hope coming from women. These women don’t need men to talk on their behalf; for sure not the likes of Stephen Harper. A group of 538 women from various fields — political, academic, legal, religious, business — issued the statement “Respect Women” to denounce how the niqab issue was used in the election campaign. They stated:
“It troubles us that the current focus on the few instances of women wanting to wear a niqab during their citizenship ceremony has divided Canadians and stigmatized Muslim women. We are alarmed that this appears to have incited discrimination, and even violence, which undermines equality and respect for human rights and ignores the greater issues facing women in Canada.”
The group included prominent names like: the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, Alexa McDonough, Sheila Copps, Maureen McTeer, the Right Reverend Jordan Cantwell, Marlys Edwardh, Dawn Memee Harvard, and hundreds of other women who joined their voices together. Their purpose wasn’t to defend the niqab. Their message was to refocus the debate:
“We are worried about the economic insecurity facing many women as we age in Canada. We are disturbed that women, on average, are not earning at the same level as their male colleagues. And we are troubled at the lack of investment in women’s empowerment and leadership across this great country. It is time to set aside the issue of the niqab and move to the issues that impact the daily lives of most women and girls in Canada.”
The journalists who were so eager to report on the niqab in the last few weeks were not as eager to report on the powerful voices of 538 women. Maybe this is not “hot” enough!

This column was previously published at rabble.ca

Reclaiming Our Narrative

Edward Said famously argued “the West uses the East as an inverted mirror, imagining them to be everything the West is not”

This year, the theme of International Women’s Day is “Make it Happen!”

So how as Muslim women can we make things happen?

Three important steps:

  • Look at our strengths
  • Build networks with other women
  • Reclaim our narrative

As women, we are built to be strong. Physically, emotionally and mentally. However, our environment constantly remind is to sit down and be weak.

When my husband was arrested by the US and sent to Syria to be tortured and imprisoned. People looked at me and whispered “How is she going to do it?” “Fighting a lost cause…” But I did it. How? By looking inside me for strength, by building a network of allies and by reclaiming my own narrative.

When I ran federally in 2004 for the New Democratic Party. Some analysts and journalists said “she is a sacrificial lamb” But I gathered more than 8000 vote in a riding that voted always Liberal and sometimes Conservatives.

For many centuries, Muslim women have been portrayed in books as passive, oppressed, victims of their religion, victims of their traditions or victims of their own men. Today, the stigma is still there. We are still suffering from the same stereotypes. In the media, we are either totally absent or if present we are victims.

Muslim women fate was an alibi before for colonialism and even today it is still used as a justification to go for war.

So how can we “Make it happen?”

By reclaiming our voices. Reclaiming our own narrative. Black women did it before us. Aboriginal women in this country are working hard to do it. So why can’t we do it?

It is about time to be pro-active in shaping all the different Muslim pictures of Muslim women.

Not only the oppressed, the victims, or the absent. But also, the smart, the hard working, the struggling, the activist, the artist, the sensible, the ones who does NOT necessarily need to be saved from some one else.

I am not saying we have to tell the story of THE MUSLIM WOMAN, as it doesn’t exist only ONE story or only ONE woman.

We are different and complementary in our views in our visions in our practice of Islam.

But the challenge is to give our own version of the stories. The challenge is to talk to the other about who we are really are. The challenge is to define ourselves before other do it for us.

This was my speech at the Federation of Muslim Women for International Women’s Day