Oh Canada…

Published: April 1, 2017

Kevin J Johnston of Freedom Report. PHOTO: YOUTUBE SCREENSHOT

Fear is an unusual entity. More often than not, it is unwarranted and unreal. But it becomes the biggest reality some of us will ever experience. And if we aren’t careful, it becomes us. It becomes the people around us. 

A lot has already been said about Islamophobia. A lot has been spewed in the broad spectrum of bigotry, hate, prejudice, terrorism and intolerance. In Canada, in the wake of the recent racist attack on a Quebec mosque early this year, the Canadian government decided to pass an anti-Islamophobia motion known as M103. As per the bill, the government felt compelled to “recognise the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear” and “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination”.

As expected, the reaction received wasn’t peachy. According to the surprised, Liberal Member of Parliament Omar Alghabra,

“It’s troubling. [The motion was] a very non-partisan, symbolic, good, positive motion. And I thought it would be like [an] ‘apple pie and motherhood’ type of statement.”

Contrary to Albhabra’s expectations, it wasn’t. Amid people of other faiths and even amongst Muslims in Canada, a startling difference of opinion arose. Some people mistook this as the government’s undue inclination towards Muslims, while some initiated arguments on restricting freedom of speech. Upon asking friends, family and acquaintances about their take on the motion, a majority of them scoffed at the decision for a variety of reasons – some didn’t want undue attention when the world was already watching their every move, while some called it a shallow political tactic with no real meat to it; some called it unnecessary as it was vague, biased and ineffective, while some remarked that if it were better articulated, it would have made more sense. However, in a moment of appreciation, some people said that it’s heart was in the right place and that the government meant well.

I have written about my experience living in Canada plenty of times. For me, Canada has been welcoming beyond words. Even my family and friends who have lived here for decades feel the same way. But then I watch the news and read disturbing accounts of racist attacks in Canada. I hear about incidents that open the floodgates of questions, fears and a whole lot of hullabaloo – a seemingly endless cycle that dies down when the media discovers new breaking news to pursue. And I think to myself, maybe this decision isn’t such a bad idea. But then the crucial question starts to linger – are these measures enough to control the ever-growing issue of racism in Canada? My question was soon answered by two very recent and nauseating incidents.

A hateful man posted a YouTube video saying he would reward $1000 to any child who spied on Muslim children who prayed and exhibited malicious content during school. It is interesting to note that prayers have been taking place in many Canadian public schools for more than two decades, peacefully without any problem. A local Muslim mother relayed her personal experience where her Jewish principal had offered a secluded prayer area for her in high school. It goes without saying, school authorities, parents, local government officials retaliated with utmost disgust and anger. Parents were sent emails and personalised phone calls were made condemning this abhorrent action and advising the community to be more vigilant.

Another was at a Toronto public school council meeting. A bunch of people resorted to lewd actions and speech against Islam, Muslims, etc. But an amazing thing happened. A courageous young lady, who was not  Muslim by faith, stood up to what those men truly were – plain and simple bullies. It seemed to be the same playground, the egotistical kind that has always existed. And will unfortunately, always exist. She stood for all that is brave and hopeful left in us humans. She was the fearless warrior each and every one of us needs to be in these horrid times.

Did any of the people involved in these incidents need a political affirmation for doing what was right? This made me realise the power of Hazrat Muhammad’s (pbuh) hadith quoted by Muslim where he said that whosoever sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then let him change it with his tongue; and even then if he is not able to do so, then with his heart.

That’s all there is to it really. We don’t need a defensive write up to defend Islam and Muslims in Canada. We don’t need to fear hate-mongering people, like the one from the video, whose hearts and minds are already doomed and diseased. They are powerless as long as we don’t let the fear paralyse us. All we need is to hold on tight to the humanity God has instilled in us, whether we are black, white or brown in skin colour. Whatever faith we uphold, our duty is to stand up against everything that is unjust and wrong. We can’t pick and choose what is worthy of condemnation and what isn’t. Whether an Indian man is shot for looking like an Arab, or a Synagogue is vandalised, or a black man is stabbed because of racism, or a woman is refused entry into a country because of the way she is dressed. These are incidents that should make us forget our differences and unify against all mutated forms of hate.

So yes, I do commend the Canadian government’s attempt to show solidarity with Islam and Muslims. But a large part of the solutions lies within us. Again, I am no expert in the fanciful arts of politics. But I don’t have to be one in this matter. I just have to be human to do what is right. Fear should not drive us. Humanity should.


Nida Shahzeb

A Canada-based writer who strives to give meaning to life and its quirks. Also suffering from delusions involving a mutant alphabet bite. She blogs at: www.inkriched.com.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.