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 Arab MediaWatchArab MediaWatch

  Challenging Racism and Violence in the Media Through Education  

 
 

A year later, let us learn and make things better

(Canadian Arab Federation (CAF) - 11 September 2002)

Today, as we commemorate the tragic and fateful events of September 11th and remember their victims, it behooves us as a society to reflect on how we have handled ourselves over the past year in the face of fear, hate and violence.

Arabs and Muslims, traumatized like other Canadians by the events of September 11th, have been devastated by a revelation of equal enormity to the terror of that day: that they are guilty by association, suspect nature of their ethnicity and religion – a subject of hate.

Hate was symbolized in the rock that broke through our office windows a few weeks ago, and the caller the week before who informed us that the only good Arab is a dead Arab. It was expressed in the schoolteacher who called her student a little terrorist last September.  Hate is the reason young Usama came home one day from school wanting to change his name to John. 

Hate came from Globe and Mail columnists who told us, over and over, that Muslims are a monolith of violence, inferior beings unworthy of civilized treatment.  From the National Post editorial that told us that the tears we shed on September 11 were those of crocodiles.  From the Toronto Star's occasional diatribes against anything Arab. 

Hate came yesterday in an e-mail from Thomas, who describes himself as a white north American male from a small Nova Scotia town.  Thomas told us that he is not able to comprehend the extreme that “your people” went to,  “your people”, he said, “have terrorized me to my very core” and added that “your people’s true colour shines bright now, blood red as far as I am concerned. I’ve never hated before, its a horrible feeling.  And I don’t thank you for making me feel this way.” 

It seems in Thomas’s eyes “my people”, which I presume to be all Arabs and Muslims everywhere, are not only responsible for the crimes of Bin Laden and his gang but also for making Thomas experience hate.  I don’t know how Thomas got to think this way, but I know that as a society we have failed to educate the Tomases amongst us and address the sickness of hate and misdirected blame following September 11.

The War on Terrorism meant to Arabs and Muslims mass incarcerations executed in a cloak of secrecy: secret detentions, secret hearings, secret evidence, secret names, secret numbers.  To this day, Canadians are not able to tell who or how many are being detained, without charges, and in some cases in solitary confinement for months on end.

The War on Terrorism also meant federal government legislation in the form of the Anti-Terrorism Act that heralded the dawn of police state tactics.  Draconian measures like preventative arrests, forced testimony, detention without charges, have become part of the democratic landscape of this land.

Then came the actions of CSIS, our esteemed spy agency, that sees fit to harass people into cooperating with it.  CSIS has intimidated Arab and Muslim Canadians into spying on their fellow Canadians, and has handed over a Canadian citizen, Mohamed Jabarah, to American authorities without due process.  This is a clear violation of its mandate of protecting Canadians from foreign governments.

As of today, Arab male visitors to the U.S. will be fingerprinted, photographed and registered in what was called an “anti-terrorism” effort.  What next, one has to ask, a number stamped on our foreheads, a crescent sawn to our shirts?  Hasn’t the world learned a thing from past internment, ghettoization and marginalization of groups?”  That institutionalized discrimination leads to hate?  Isn’t it clear that targeting every Arab or Muslim as a suspect is not only degrading and unjust but dangerous too? 

All this has created unprecedented fear and alienation amongst our communities, who have suddenly become “the other”: presumed guilty, having to explain themselves and prove their loyalty; defend their religion and demonstrate its goodness; and at times hide their ethnicity and deny their heritage in a bid to escape scrutiny.  The effect on our communities is that, like our Japanese Canadian counterparts during World War II, we too have become victims of psychological internment.

And to what avail?  Where was the threat to Canada to which our society had to react in such extreme manner?  How many Arab Canadians have we actually laid charges on, let alone found guilty?  The answer is none – all of this has come to naught.  And at what cost?  The erosion of civil rights and watering down of our democracy; the loss of our claim to multiculturalism fame, and the marginalization of one of our fastest growing ethnic communities.

A comprehensive study of the needs and aspirations of Arab Canadians held between November 2001 and February 2002 indeed demonstrated the marginalization of Arabs in Canada.  The study found that while the Arab community has embraced the “Canadian multiculturalism dream” and proven eager to belong and succeed in this country, it faces a dark reality of racism and discrimination.  This community feels deeply misunderstood, mistreated and victimized because of its ethnicity.  Its marginalization is further evident in the disinterest of governments (at all levels) with its issues and concerns.

Being seen as the “other” does not invite a community to open itself up to other cultures and society at large.  Rather, it induces a community to turn inward and become suspicious of its surroundings.  This is the opposite of what an immigrant-absorbing country, with an official policy on multiculturalism, would want for one of its fastest growing ethnic communities.

Considering the events of September 11 and the ongoing “War on Terrorism”, the Arab-Israeli conflict, a potential war on Iraq, and the increased politicization of Islam worldwide, the already precarious condition of Arabs in Canada is certain to become worse. 

Concerted and serious efforts by the Canadian Arab Federation, Canadian governments at all levels, and race relations and civil and human rights organizations are needed to contain and reverse the ongoing marginalization of the Arab community.  Arab Canadians have done nothing to deserve this.  It has to stop. 

We as a society have discriminated before – against people of the Jewish faith, African Canadians, Native Canadians, among others.  Today anti-Semitism is utterly unacceptable; and it shouldn’t be too hard for us to make the leap to abolish anti-Arabism, Islamophobia and other forms of prejudice.

Today we thank fellow Canadians who showed compassion, kindness and a true Canadian sense of integrity and justice by voicing their solidarity with us.  Those who refused to be intimidated by fear, and rejected prevailing bigotry and the victimization by association of our communities. 

I would like to mention Bob, from Edmonton, who describes himself as a WASP raised in a conservative family in southern Ontario.  Bob sent us an e-mail this morning telling us that he regards the intolerance directed against Arabs and Muslims as an attack upon himself.  “I take it personally.  I mean that,” he says.  Bob concluded by assuring us that we do not stand alone.  Thank you Bob from Edmonton, we need this message more than you can imagine.

Today we call on our governments and political and civic leaders, to work with us to reverse the marginalization of our community and save our society from this downward spiral.  Help us make this a turning point in our history so that one day we will look back and be proud of our courage and fortitude rather than ashamed of our fear and complicity.

To our elected officials we say, don’t turn your backs on us, open your doors and minds to us, have a dialogue with us so we can find a way out of this unpleasant, unsettling and un-Canadian situation.  Consult with us in making decisions that will affect us and our families.  Listen to our pleas when we ask you to review what CSIS and law enforcement agencies are doing, and examine the impact their actions are having on our communities.  Help us mount an education campaign so to steer Canadians away from what Richard Gwyn has called a new kind of anti-Semitism – one directed at Arabs.

The gains made by Canada’s official policy of multiculturalism and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are being reversed for Canada’s Arab and Muslim communities.  We should not let that happen on our watch.  Time is running out.


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