By: Tazeen Inam in Toronto, ON
Canadian literature continues to diversify as more stories look to include a wider range of content set locally and abroad. Language barriers, migration trauma, cultural discrepancies and family responsibilities; women authors of diaspora are defying the odds, breaking through different obstacles to have their voices heard.
Ayelet Tsabari and Fartumo Kusow are two examples of determined women whose journeys outline what so many must overcome to become Canadian authors.
Breaking through Language Barriers
Ayelet Tsabari, who is from Israel, worked as a Hebrew journalist until she came to Canada at the age of 25. Writing, she believes, completes her. But in what was once a strong suit, language now became a challenge, pushing Tsabari to stop writing altogether. She could speak and read English, however it took her about eight years to gain the confidence to start writing.
Tsabari’s development started with her enrollment in a writing program, which she coupled with Canadian content she would read. As time passed, English began to flow into her work more naturally.
Tapping into her long lost passion, she began to create original pieces in the hopes of being published. But, to no avail as her lack of success prompted one of her teachers to suggest she read books other than Canadian literature.
“I realized that it’s not just language but it’s your heritage and even your mother tongue are still in you when you are writing in a new language. So certain things didn’t work for the publishers,” Tsabari explains.
Tsabari broadened her scope and soon she was reading literature from an array of multicultural writers. This broke the prison that had withheld her imagination, allowing her to finally express her voice.
“I just thought that if I started writing with that in my mind, just be you and do what you are and that’s what ended up getting me published,” she says.
Her dream came to fruition when her first book, "The Best Place on Earth", was published in 2013. The collection of short stories challenges the connection of spiritual heritage with modern life. Met with good reviews, it went on to win several distinctions, including the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature and the New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice. Feeding off her first book’s momentum, she is now working on her second. In addition, she is also currently working with immigrant writers at the Toronto Public Library to improve their writing skills.
Fartumo Kusow was born to a farmer’s family in Somalia, as the seventh child. From a young age, she had difficulties establishing social connections with her peers and preferred to write instead.
“Instead of socializing with them I always had a notebook in my hand, that my father gave me and I would write in the notebook,” Kusow recalls.
As per Somali tradition, she married young, becoming a wife at the age of 16. Subsequently, this was also the same year her first fictional story was published in the national newspaper, where she worked.
Her husband had a job in the Middle East, which kept them financially stable. But when the civil war started in 1990, she was forced to leave. Already pregnant with her third child, she immigrated to Canada with her then-husband and two children.
Holding onto her dreams, Kusow knew that she wanted to become an author.
Unfortunately, Somali is her first language, Arabic her second. And due to war, she had little to no transcripts that could prove her credentials. However, she didn’t give up, completing her Bachelor’s in English before going on to a teaching program in Windsor. She has now been teaching since 2000.
Despite her successes, war trauma combined with move factors led to a failed marriage. She was left with no choice but to put her dream on hold as she filled the role of breadwinner for herself and her five children.
As she supported the household, her inner writer continued to itch at her until she resumed writing in 2011.
“When the kids are bit older and my career and my profession is [a] little more stable, I decided to spend an hour a day just to write something,” states Kusow.
Perseverance trumps Rejection
Nothing could stop her, not even the 104 rejections could dare be a hurdle to her dream. Though she finished her fictional piece in about three years, it did not garner much publisher interest. Sleepless nights turned into frustration as she pondered the reasoning behind her struggles. Until she came to the realization that the rejections were not personal but rather that publishing was simply a business.
With this in mind, she persevered, eventually getting published in 2017, when she produced "Tale of a Boon’s Wife".
Reviews speak to Kusow’s ability to clearly depict the issues stemming from the traditional Somali caste system, while simultaneously detailing the sufferings of the country’s civil war.
Kusow’s children are very proud of her and look up to her as a stronghold of leadership.
Though it has not been long since Canadian literature has started promoting more diverse content, its clear the industry is moving in the right direction. Several initiatives such as the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) constantly take steps to ensure progress continues.
While both Tsabari and Fartamo are giving back to the community in the form of teaching, it is important to provide aspiring writers with the opportunities to develop their skills. Through mentorships and training the next generation of writers will make an even bigger impact on Canada’s literary landscape.
This piece is part of the "Ethnic Women as Active Participants in Ontario" series.
By: Ashoke Dasgupta in Winnipeg, MB
President Donald Trump announced on December 6 that the US would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel unilaterally, triggering global protests and rejection of the US as a peace broker.
About 60 Winnipeggers protested on December 10 on Portage Avenue, near the Polo Park Shopping Mall. That day happened to be International Human Rights Day as well.
Many vehicles honked enthusiastically while passing along Portage Avenue, one of Winnipeg’s main thoroughfares.
Rana Abdulla, a Palestinian-Canadian organizer, said, “The protest was diverse, and full of positive energy. It included many community and social justice organizations.”
The event was organized by:
· The Canadian-Arab Association of Manitoba
· The Canada-Palestine Association of Manitoba
· The Canada-Palestine Support Network (Winnipeg)
· Independent Jewish Voices (Winnipeg)
· Peace Alliance Winnipeg
· The Winnipeg Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid
“The first objective of our public leafleting and rally action was to condemn and rail against United States President Donald Trump’s decision to relocate the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — this, alongside, his fatuous declaration of Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel,” said Krishna Lalbiharie, Event co-organizer and member of the Canada-Palestine Support Network (Winnipeg): “The second objective of our action was to educate Winnipeg shoppers, media and the larger Manitoba citizenry as to the illegality of Trump’s decision, and the resistance to it — commensurate with International Human Rights Day.”
“I would say the objective was achieved. There was a good turnout, the action received some accurate media attention, and the public response was generally positive,” said Harold Shuster of Independent Jewish Voices.
“We received an overwhelmingly positive response from receptive, kind Polo Park patrons and drivers along Portage Avenue,” continues Lalbiharie: “There was widespread, favourable media coverage too.”
It’s important to recognize, according to Lalbiharie, that President Trump’s ill-conceived decision may be to distract from the hot issue of Russian collusion during his election, and his need to prove his gratitude to Zionist contributors and lobbyists in the US and Israel.
Ashoke Dasgupta is a member of the NCM Collective based out of Winnipeg. As a journalist, he has won three awards in Canada and Nepal.
Ciommmentary by Norma Baumel Joseph
“Immigrants get the job done!” These were the strong words of Lin Manuel-Miranda at the recent University of Pennsylvania commencement ceremony. (I was there to proudly watch my son receive his doctorate!)
What message was Lin sending to the thousands in the stadium? How was this idea being received by the many watching the live stream of the address? After all, this incredible man who just received an honorary doctorate, and whose Broadway play, Hamilton, was nominated for more Tony awards (16) than any other play in history, was telling the world something important, and his words carry weight. In fact, he told us that he chose Alexander Hamilton as his topic because this man was the only immigrant amongst the founding fathers. So in the context of an American election year that’s so full of anti-foreigner sentiments colliding with a global refugee crisis, how shall we approach this topic of immigration?
Canadian Jewish News
by Beatrice Paez in Toronto
Journalists can pay a high price with their reputations for reporting on the polarizing, decades-old Israel-Gaza conflict.
As the platforms for gathering news become more sophisticated in delivering customized information to readers, there’s a risk of readers insulating themselves from divergent views, said Olivia Ward, the Toronto Star’s foreign affairs reporter, who moderated the talk hosted by Poets, Essayists and Novelists (PEN) Canada.
Blumenthal’s critics have accused him of disseminating propaganda through his reporting on Gaza.
PEN stood its ground against calls to cancel the event, citing its efforts to defend free speech.
“There are hard questions that require a great deal of debate, and it isn’t always polite,” says Randy Boyagoda, president of PEN Canada. “We fight for the right to make it possible.”
Embattled Truths was a discussion of Blumenthal’s critique of mainstream media, the challenges of covering the Gaza Strip and his own privileges as an American Jew from an upper-middle class family with ties to the Clintons.
Anticipating heated confrontations between Blumenthal and his critics, a modest police presence was on standby to rein in on any disruptions from the crowd. Interruptions —from both the pro-Israel lobby, including members of the Jewish Defense League, and Blumenthal's own defenders — staggered his exchange with Ward and the question-and-answer session with the audience.
There were repeated calls to boot individuals from opposing sides as Blumenthal’s detractors challenged his view of Israel as an aggressor and his assertion that what was happening between Israel and Palestine was “a conquest, not a conflict.” His critics — who came with placards showing the photo of a jihadi with the words, “This is not a victim” — questioned why he was not reporting about terror attacks against Israelis as well.
For Blumenthal, there’s no avoiding bias — even as journalists — in the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“The way I see my journalism on this issue is, I’m involved in a campaign,” he said. “Information on this issue is very difficult to obtain. There isn’t much of a counter-narrative, and the Palestinian narrative, which I have found to be closer to reality, is frozen out.”
A self-described advocacy journalist, he defends his embattled credibility on the basis that his reporting is grounded in facts.
“I rise and fall on whether I’m presenting facts,” he said. “[People] spend so much time trying to characterize my views as slander or slurs, instead of actually addressing the facts of my book.”
Blumenthal’s recently released book, the 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza, is a first-hand examination of the military conflict in Gaza in 2014, or as the Israeli Defense Force calls it, “Operation Protective Edge.”
Efforts to undermine his work by framing him an anti-Semite, he said, cheapen its meaning, making it difficult to condemn real acts of anti-Semitism when it surfaces.
When asked about the challenges of reporting on Gaza, Blumenthal said it goes beyond the financial obstacles newsrooms face and personal risks journalists are willing to take.
Asked by Ward about whether the fact that journalists have had to chase “moving targets” as news breaks elsewhere and parachute into other conflict zones was a factor, Blumenthal said he’s not beholden to the 24-hour news cycle, which allows him to probe the issue further.
His focus on gaining unfettered access to Gaza and covering the conflict in 2014 from inside, he said, provides a counterweight to what he characterizes as a cultural problem that newsrooms face when reporters are more immersed in Israel and are prone to “absorb the anxieties of the people they’re around, which is often the Jewish-Anglo community.”
Ward noted that his stature plays a considerable role in amplifying his voice, whereas Palestinians may have more difficulty getting heard.
Blumenthal agreed that his background has made his writing difficult to ignore, with the pro-Israel lobby trying to make “an example of him” to young Jews who might decide to follow his lead.
While accounts of personal narratives from the Palestinian side are chronicled, what’s rare is an overarching analysis from them, said Blumenthal. “The narration usually falls more to people like me.
“Palestinians who seek to do what I’m doing can easily be painted as terrorists, Islamists or ignored because they’re [seen as] simply being loyal to their people,” he said.
Then there’s the struggle faced by young Palestinian writers who have never seen the world beyond Gaza.
“[They’re asking] how can we write for the people in the West to explain our experiences because we have never left Gaza?” said Blumenthal. “You’re wondering what the outside world is like.”
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by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City
In this week’s round-up of what’s been making headlines in Canada’s ethnic media: the Black community reflects on the shortcomings of Black History Month; groups react to the passing of a federal motion denouncing sanctions against Israel; and migrants ask for amnesty after years without status.
Black History Month needs an overhaul, community says
Members of Canada’s Black community say Black History Month fails to educate Canadians about slavery and mobilize them to be more active against discrimination.
At the 15th Black History Month concert in Brampton, Ontario on Feb. 20, Justice Donald McLeod highlighted problems that the Black community faces and needs to address with more vigilance.
As reported by Pride, McLeod noted that Blacks earn approximately 76 cents for every dollar earned by a white worker; that Blacks account for ten per cent of inmates in Canadian prisons but only three per cent of the population; and that Black boys drop out of high school at a rate of 40 per cent.
“We have to do our best to make sure that Black History Month is not just lived out in the 29 days, but it’s actually lived out in the whole year so that our kids will realize that what we expect is that they stand head and shoulders above everybody else,” he said.
On Feb. 18, the Government of Ontario passed legislation to formally recognize February as Black History Month.
“People in our communities have recommended that February be a celebration of ‘Black Liberation’ or ‘African Liberation,’ rather than ‘Black History,’” Toronto Star columnist Desmond Cole wrote on the same day.
Black History Month doesn’t acknowledge how Black people escaping slavery in the United States faced racism in Canada and how the community continues to experience discrimination, Cole noted.
“There’s a tendency to focus on the quiet resilience of Dr. Martin Luther King and others like him, but the struggles of Civil Rights activists were not quiet,” said George Randolph, founder of Randolph Academy of the Performing Arts.
“It was radical, revolutionary, loud — those are the voices I’d like to see us focus more on.”
Randolph is one of three Black artists who shared their impressions of Black History Month with the Caribbean Camera.
Liberals criticized for condemning Israel sanctions movement
Canada’s Liberal Party is garnering praise as well as criticism for supporting a Conservative motion to condemn the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
As the Canadian Jewish News reports, the motion passed on Feb. 22 by a 229–51 vote. The New Democratic Party voted against the motion, as did the Bloc Québécois and three Liberal Members of Parliament (MPs). Several Liberal MPs did not vote.
The BDS movement is a global campaign that seeks boycotts, divestment and sanctions against “Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights.”
According to the Conservative motion, BDS “promotes the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel.”
“BDS is a non-violent campaign that supports proven methods of conscientious objection to encourage Israel to respect international law,” wrote the National Council on Canada Arab Relations (NCCAR) in a press release following the vote. It notes that Canadians have supported past BDS movements, notably against South African apartheid.
“At its core, the vote on the anti-BDS motion would go against the spirit of Freedom of Speech, a right enshrined in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” stated the NCCAR.
Palestine News Network reported that, on the same day of the vote, members of the Student Society of McGill University, “which has one of the highest Jewish populations of any university in Canada,” passed a motion in support of BDS.
The motion asks McGill University to divest from “profiting from violations of Palestinian human rights.” According to the Montreal Gazette, McGill administration said that the motion does not oblige the university to change its policies.
Members of the McGill BDS Action Network told the Gazette that the vote demonstrates that the students do not agree with the government’s stance.
Migrants demand same amnesty given to Syrian refugees
As the Trudeau government reaches its goal of welcoming 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada this week, some are calling on the government to extend the same amnesty to migrants who have been without status in Canada for years.
In an open letter published in Canadian Immigrant, Odhiambo Agunga commended the government for its compassion towards Syrian refugees, but noted that other refugees like himself have been struggling to get by without status, their claims “either forgotten or ignored.”
The letter blames much of the backlog on the former Conservative government, who Agunga said reduced refugees to second-class humans.
In another op-ed published in the Toronto Star, two psychiatrists called on the government to stop detaining migrants without charges.
“At a time when Canadians have opened up their arms to support and protect Syrian families, we cannot ignore the practices that are taking place behind closed bars, out of sight of the generous welcomes and flashing cameras,” wrote Dr. Michaela Beder and Dr. Rachel Kronick.
They said that detention for administrative purposes can lead adults to develop psychiatric problems such depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“We have watched previously healthy children deteriorate: in one study, most children had trouble sleeping, some stopped speaking, many wouldn’t eat, others developed behavioural problems, separation anxiety and exhibited signs of trauma,” they wrote.
Agunga pointed out that getting medical treatment without status is expensive: “No hospital or any medical institution in Canada will admit us as patients without down payment even if we are sick and dying yet we all pay taxes which covers these health care services.”
The Liberal government announced on Feb. 18 that it would restore health-care coverage for all refugees and asylum claimants to pre-2012 levels in April, as reported by the Toronto Star.
Agunga wrote that migrants also need to be given amnesty to go to school, obtain driver’s licenses, get credit cards, vote “and more so to be able to reunite with our beloved families scattered all over the world.”
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by Amanda Connolly in Ottawa
Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion told the House of Commons Tuesday that Canada will follow calls from the United Nations to reverse its unilateral sanctions on Iran in the wake of the Iran nuclear deal.
“We will do it in a speedy fashion but we will do it effectively,” Dion told reporters in a scrum after referencing the move during question period. “I would say that the approach of the previous government was ideological and irrational.”
Conservatives still not on board
Over its nine years in power, the former Conservative government levelled sanctions on Iran, broke off diplomatic ties and listed the country as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Iran’s former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinehjad called for Israel to be wiped off the map during his tenure and the country has been accused of using its support for groups like Hamas and Hezbollah to wage a proxy conflict against Israeli interests and stability.
Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper branded himself as a staunch ally of Israel and his party’s now-opposition members continued that fight on Monday, criticizing the government for not condemning strongly enough tit-for-tat violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
Iran’s current president, Hassan Rouhani, has been billed as a relative moderate in terms of his approach to normalizing relations with the West.
Last year he and international partners led by U.S. negotiators reached agreement on a nuclear accord aimed at limiting Iran’s nuclear capabilities in exchange for the gradual lifting of economic sanctions.
Independent investigators announced last week that they had verified Iranian compliance with the initial stage of the accord and as a result, the United States and other countries announced they would begin lifting sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
Despite that, Conservative foreign affairs critic Tony Clement criticized the government for its decision to lift sanctions.
“Iran continues to be a state sponsor of terrorism, it continues to deny the very existence of Israel,” he said. “Canada should act in concert with allies to go slow on this approach and to those who say, ‘well, we might miss a business opportunity or two,’ I have every confidence in Canadian business that they can find other places in the world to do business.”
Engaging Iran makes economic sense
Iran’s population of 80 million, many of whom are educated and seeking opportunities in business and high-tech industries, has many billing it as a veritable gold mine for businesses able to get an early toe in the door as its economy opens.
Rouhani is currently in Europe, the first Iranian president to visit in more than 15 years, and the speculation is that he will sign or kickstart business deals while there.
“Since the Iranians appear to be complying with the terms of the nuclear agreement, we’d be crazy not to move with the international community to reengage with them economically,” said Dave Perry, senior analyst with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
The projected growth in Iran’s economy also has the potential to shift the dynamics in the Middle East as the Shiite country becomes more prominent and asserts itself as a counterweight to its rival, Sunni Saudi Arabia.
Iran’s elite Quds force is already operating in Iraq as part of the fight against ISIS militants and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said it’s crucial that Canada be able to engage with all parties as part of its fight to eliminate the group.
“We need to take a much broader view of the world,” Sajjan said. “We need all countries to take part in making sure that we start looking at conflict and trying to stabilize certain areas. If we do not have a voice with other nations, we're not going to be able to have those difficult discussions and resolutions in the places where we keep sending our men and women into harms way for.”
No clear timelines in place yet
Dion says the Conservative party’s suggestions that Canada maintain the former government’s policies on freezing out Iran even as allies drop sanctions and engage with the country would put Canada out of sync with the rest of the world, saying that Canada needs to be “back at the table where Iran is.”
It’s not clear when the sanctions will be lifted or specifically which ones could remain in place.
The nuclear accord outlines a gradual lifting of sanctions and each stage of progression will see more and more of the sanctions lifted — while non-compliance with the accord will see them slapped back in place.
The Liberal government has touted a renewed focus on diplomacy as a cornerstone of its foreign policy, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and ministers trying to shape the idea that “Canada is back.”
“We think that when you have a disagreement with the regime, you don’t pull out – you work harder to see that there will be improvement,” Dion said.
In that vein, Trudeau promised during the 2015 campaign to restore diplomatic relations with Iran and re-open Canada’s embassy in Tehran if elected.
Dion did not comment on when Canada will re-open its embassy.
Re-published in partnership with iPolitics.ca.
Commentary by Hadani Ditmars in Vancouver, British Columbia
Donald Trump is the bogeyman. I get it. He’s also the Grinch, Darth Vader and Hitler.
In fact, he was once on an episode of the Simpsons as an imagined future president in a dystopian America.
But in a world of bogeymen, he may just be the most televisual and carnivalesque, not to mention social media friendly. I wonder what Hitler would have done with all the social and other media currently at demagogues' disposal? Somehow, I think, he wouldn't have been as slick and televisual as Trump — likely more awkward and sweaty like U.S. President Richard Nixon was.
Trump is the id of the American people; the comments section come to life. He says things openly that other politicians think but dare not speak. He epitomizes the American tradition of waves of immigrants arriving only to demonize the next wave.
In the same way that ISIS (Islamic State) is a very modern horror (as opposed to a recreation of historical Islam), Trump is also the perfect conflation of American obsessions with wealth, race and "security"— and a simplistic worldview. His is a fascism writ large for the Internet age where opinions are formed by memes, sound bites and hysteria rather than historical precedent and analysis. And, he finds fertile ground in America’s growing underclass of the disaffected, uneducated and underemployed, for whom the American dream will never be a reality.
And yet, mainstream Republicans are quick to distance themselves from him. A Rasmussen Reports survey says that 66 per cent of Republicans favour Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from America. And his ideas about walling off Mexico and racially profiling Muslims, are mere knock offs of American ally Israel’s own policies. Hearing the likes of Dick Cheney and Benjamin Netanyahu call Trump a racist were rather unconvincing exercises in the kettle calling the pot black. Perhaps they are afraid Trump — or one of his outrageous outbursts — will give away the game.
While Trump may be somewhat confused about the actual way the internet functions, his Republican colleagues seem to have a limited grasp of the concept of international law and what constitutes a war crime. Besides, Trump’s recent suggestion about shutting down ISIS by blocking its internet access would be right at home in many Middle Eastern police states (and U.S. allies) who have tried — with limited success — to stop various groups from disseminating information via social media.
And Trump is certainly not the first politician to favour showmanship over substance (he is, after all, channeling the ghost of Ronald Regan with his populist, Hollywood ways).
Our Canadian blindspot
And even though we Canadians love to point a collective finger at our neighbours to the South as being the exclusive purveyors of racism, the fact that we have a “mosaic” while they have a “melting pot” is no excuse for a huge cultural blindspot. We just express it “differently’, like say, via forced sterilization of native women in Saskatchewan, or ongoing incarceration of refugee claimants.
There are many different ways of “banning” people from entering a country. Canada has a proud history of doing just that — from anti-Asian exclusion laws, to turning away boatloads of Sikh migrants, Jewish refugees in WW2 or more recently criminalization of Tamil “terrorists.”
Were past Conservative Minister’s like Jason Kenney and John Baird really that different than Trump?
While their rhetoric may have differed, their intention was the same. They manifested their Islamophobic policies that mirrored the most right-wing of Israeli policies in a variety of ways.
The previous government’s unprecedented support for Israel began as soon as Prime Minister Stephen Harper was elected but swelled when the government cut funding to KAIROS — a well regarded NGO deemed too “pro-Palestinian” —in 2009, and reached a peak in 2012 when, alone among G8 leaders, Harper refused to embrace Obama’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan based on pre-1967 borders.
Canada’s vote against a Palestinian bid for statehood later that year (contrary to the wishes of a majority of Canadians, according to polls) further damaged its status at the UN and its international reputation.
Indeed many Canadians are still shocked and embarrassed by Canada’s loss of the UN Security council seat in 2010, which was widely attributed to its pro-Israel Middle East policy — and was often held up by the Harper government as a badge of honour.
Harper’s policies on refugees were criticized by everyone from Amnesty International, Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, and No One is Illegal. Just because we have a new photogenic Prime Minister who is bringing in 25,000 Syrian refugees does not mean that endemic issues with Canada’s refugee and immigration system will magically disappear, along with all the racist trolls who grace the comments sections of our national dailies.
This Christmas, let’s look beyond the pantomime villains we love to boo and hiss at and unmask the ones hiding behind masks of “respectability.” And let us remember that every pantomime fool reveals uncomfortable truths, even if they arrive via outright lies and outrageous statements.
In a way Trump’s opera buffo shines light onto some rather darker stories we’d rather not dwell on — ones we ignore at our peril. In our zeal to demonize him, let’s not forget that what he reveals — the de facto complicity of more “mainstream” politicos and the deep racism inherent in North American history — may be more important than what he says.
Hadani Ditmars is the author of Dancing in the No-Fly Zone: a Woman's Journey Through Iraq, was a past editor at New Internationalist, and has been reporting from Africa and the Middle East for two decades.Hadani is also a musician who believes that world music can be a powerful vehicle for peace.
by Susan Korah in Ottawa
Swiss-born Muslim academic and author Tariq Ramadan told an Ottawa audience that governments and the public should recognize the equal dignity of all human beings, regardless of whether they are citizens of Paris, Beirut, or any other place.
At a public lecture on November 22, Ramadan said the principle behind “Je suis Paris” should be applied with equal consistency to all victims of terror attacks. The recent attacks in Beirut, Mali and other places outside the Western world got nowhere near the same level of attention and expressions of sympathy that the November 13 shootings and bombings in Paris generated, he added.
Ramadan was the featured speaker at an event organized by the Montreal-based Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), a non-governmental organization that advocates for justice and human rights in the storm centre of many of the world’s conflicts.
Not religion, but perception
Invited to speak about refugees, wars and the fears and fanaticism of our age, Ramadan spent much of his hour-long address deconstructing the roots of the problem, which he firmly denied was a “clash of civilizations” or religions.
“It is a matter of the geo-strategic and economic interests of the governments and transnational corporations involved in this,” he said, adding that it was a “clash of perceptions” rather than of religions.
He commented that religion is used by Middle Eastern leaders as an instrument to manipulate Muslims, while their Western counterparts use “values” such as “democracy,” “human rights” and the “liberation of women” for the same purpose to secure the support of a secular public.
Ramadan said this has resulted in the current destabilization of the Middle East, with lethal consequences for the entire world – such as terror attacks, the curtailment of civil liberties in the name of security and the deaths of thousands of refugees as they try to flee across borders.
Ramadan emphasized that the blame for the “mess,” as he described it, must be shared equally by Western governments for their aggressive, militaristic foreign policies, and by their allies, the corrupt regimes of many Middle Eastern countries whose economic interests are aligned with those of the West.
“Where there is no justice, there is no peace,” he said, pointing out that the American government’s unconditional support of Israel has ignored the rights of Palestinians, and this has incensed Muslims everywhere, causing some of them to become radicalized.
Violating the dignity of Palestinans is not often covered in the media, he said, adding that the protection of Israel has resulted in so much conflict that it has had consequences for ordinary American and French citizens.
For example, the Patriot Act in the U.S. has diminished the civil liberties of Americans, and the French government is doing the same thing in the name of security.
“Thanks, Canada, for not choosing the worst of these measures,” he said, and complimented Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for accepting 25,000 Syrian refugees. “About 2,800 migrants died in the Mediterranean within three years, but we didn’t react until we saw a photo of Aylan Kurdi,” he said, referring to the image of the three-year-old Kurdish refugee boy, who drowned last September.
Cautioning people against “indulging in emotional politics,” he advised Muslims living in the Western world to speak up against violations of human dignity everywhere. “Don’t indulge in victimhood,” he warned.
“We (Muslims) too have a responsibility in this clash of perceptions and need to be self-critical,” he stated, adding there is no unity within the Muslim diaspora, and no space for intellectual discussion.
He noted that Muslims from various countries tend to isolate themselves from one another, even if they live in the Western world.
“We need unity, not uniformity, so don’t import your divisions from your home countries,” he said.
Canadians’ fears and concerns
Asked for her reaction to Ramadan’s speech and if she had any of her own fears and concerns about the fallout from the Middle Eastern conflict, Patricia Jean, office manager of CJPME and a relatively recent convert to Islam, said: “As a veiled Canadian, I am concerned about the reactions of other Canadians to Muslims. Because of recent events in Paris, I feel that people are not so welcoming of refugees as in the past.”
Kamiliya Akkouche, a student of International Development and Globalization at the University of Ottawa, said: “I agree that people should not react in an emotional way, and should address their fears by holding to account all the governments in the West and in the Middle East that are responsible.”
Kenya-born Sarah Onyango, a resident of Gatineau and host of the radio program Afrika Revisited, commented: “Kenya has received the world’s refugees, and my concern is not that refugees are coming to Canada but that we don’t have the resources to support their integration, and their communities will become breeding grounds of frustration and alienation. This will result in some of them becoming radicalized.”
Vicky Smallman, a community activist, stated that she would not want to see political parties and campaigns exploit the racism that lies under the surface. “I don’t want to see any group targeted,” she said.
Jerusalem (IANS): Denouncing any form of violence, President Pranab Mukherjee on Wednesday voiced concerns over the growing escalation in conflict in Israel and Palestine and said disputes must be resolved peacefully. Raising the issue on more than one occasion during his three-nation, six-day visit, the president said India was distressed at the recent violence. “India […]
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