Reverse the Cuts to Foreign Aid!

I was disheartened to learn that our foreign aid will be cut by 319 million (more than 8 percent) over four years. As a Canadian who is very proud of our nation’s generosity and positive presence in the world, it saddened me to learn that the cuts will lead to major setbacks in the fight against global poverty. I urge the Minister of Finance to reverse the cuts and ensure that development programs and relief efforts the cuts will effect continue providing a lifeline to our world’s most vulnerable.

The cuts to foreign aid translate to lives lost and it is the lives lost perspective that I hope will propel the Minister into action. Cuts to our foreign aid also force us to step back as a positive world leader on poverty and its affiliated problems and undermine our past development work such as our work in Ethiopia where we helped raise the vaccination rate for diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus to 86 percent or our work in Pakistan where we helped train more than 120,000 teachers and education professionals.

I hope the Minister keeps our country as a force for good in the world by reversing the cuts to our foreign aid.

Ignorance is the Enemy

Notable Western academics like Walt Montgomery and Karen Armstrong have attested to the grotesque amount of hostility, opposition and rejection Muhammad faced from fellow Meccans in his day. The attacks came in the form of verbal and physical aggression, ranging from “smear” campaigns of disparagement orchestrated by the powerful to citizens on the street pelting him with stones, filth and dirt.

How did Muhammad respond? He didn’t: his method was to turn away from his persecutors and focus instead on the Creator through vigorous prayers. Patience is a virtue propounded by the earliest teachings of Islam.

Muhammad lived in Arabiya during an era known as Jahiliyya – or ignorance. Only ignorance can engender such aggression and antagonism, fuelled by the mere reason of different convictions. Unfortunately, Canadian society is not immune to this kind of ignorance, for it is as old as recorded human history.

Earlier this month, the Masjid Al-Hadayah Islamic Centre in Port Coquitlam BC was attacked by yet another act of anti-Islamic malice, when several heaps of bacon were placed around the mosque’s entrance and along the side of the building (pork is “haram,” a forbidden food for Muslims).

This is not an isolated incident. Muslim communities across this country have been insulted, sometimes desecrated, by similar acts. In Charlottetown PEI, at about the same time as the BC incident, a spokesperson for the Muslim community there voiced concerns about a series of threats received by his community. Earlier this month, worshipers found a bottle of gasoline with a “Defeat Jihad” note inside it. In August, a vehicle belonging to a contractor working at the Charlottetown Islamic centre was set on fire. And in October 2011, a pig’s head was nailed to a post on the grounds of the city’s new mosque.

Muslim communities in Vancouver, Hamilton, Montreal, Waterloo and other Canadian cities have experienced similar crimes born of ignorance, mischief and hate. But responding in the same vein as the perpetrators is not the answer. Muslims’ response nationwide must be to embrace the earliest teachings of Islam – patience, compassion, and understanding. At the same time as we exercise those virtues to the best of our ability, we must also work to combat public ignorance about Islam as a faith. In today’s world of instant communication, where truth and lies travel with equal speed, it is now all too easy for people to generalize. It is much harder to distinguish, discern and make a prudent judgement based on informed opinion.

Muslim leaders need to work hand-in-hand with public officials to counter the ignorance that so often translates into nuisance-crimes, or more serious acts of aggression. Awareness programs and educational initiatives in schools, work places, and communities need to be developed. Politicians need to understand why such acts as I’ve described here cannot be passed off as mere pranks; in reality, they threaten Canadian society and its values as a whole.

Greg Moore, Mayor of Port Coquitlam, called the incident at Al-Hadayah centre “disturbing” and “unacceptable.” He continued; “We need to work with our mosque, or any other church in our community, to show we do have the freedom to practise our religion” in Canada.

Freedom to practice one’s faith openly, and without fear of reprisal, is a constitutional right that we all need to guard through awareness and diligence.

Ignorance is the enemy … nothing else. We can defeat Jahiliyya.

What Went Wrong? Intelligence Squared Debate: Islam is a Religion of Peace

After watching this debate and quite honestly during it, I felt uneasy.  Not for the obvious reason that my religion (the religion that is my worldview and that deeply penetrates my soul) was in question but rather because  of the failure of Muslims’ in general to be present with all of our diversity and intellectual heritage in discourse and debates on Islam. The reason I propose that many voted against the motion (whether they were undecided OR for the motion) is because they couldn’t reconcile the everyday Muslim they see on their TV or at the grocery store with the Muslims’ speaking for the motion. This inability of the audience to reconcile the two was the strength of the opponents of the motion. The opponents in my opinion capitalized on this and continuously whether directly or indirectly pushed the narrative that the ‘progressive liberal enlightened’ proponents of the motion were a minority among Muslims’ as a religious group. And to an extent I can see their point.

Unfortunately, significant numbers of Muslims’ in the world are fighting for basic survival – they live in crisis zones, in poverty and lack basic education. As a result, Islamic education (even very basic) takes a backseat in the face of poverty, war etc. It is in these conditions that groupthink and exploitation or even unintentional damage resulting from the guidance of ill equipped scholars occurs. Having said this, there are still many more Muslims living in the West and also in the East who have empowered themselves and gone passed the basic biased narrative on Islam and reclaimed the true spirit and teachings of Islam. These Muslims’ are educated active citizens in their societies and in the world. They are diverse not just in the usual superficial sense but in their interpretation of Islam. A lot wear the hijab, niqab, have a beard, pray five times a day, fast, observe charity etc. and look like the Muslims’ plastered on TV.  Yet, they are very different in every sense. They do not subscribe to the politically influenced and inaccurate radical teaching of a minority (less than 1%) and are empowered by their religion to fight for peace, justice, decency of life etc.

It was the absence of such Muslims (the Hijabi or beard wearing Muslim) from this debate that resulted in the refutation of the notion that Islam is a religion of peace. Absurd since such peaceful, ordinary religious Muslims’ comprise the majority and not the radical minority. Let me be clear that I respect and am grateful to the proponents of the motion for their honorable stand against radical speakers such as Ayan Hirsi Ali but to their disadvantage their very presence and the absence of mainstream Muslims’ was what led to the success of the notion that Islam is not a religion of peace. It is imperative that all Muslims’ in all of our living diversity in faith be present in discussions on Islam because it is only then that the plurality within our religion and its simple but powerful message will be understood and appreciated in the world.

Link to the video of the debate: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rh34Xsq7D_A&feature=player_detailpage

Unraveling the Anti-Film Protests

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The international groundswell of emotion over a recent demeaning anti-Muslim film has not escaped anyone with media access.

Scenes of fuming Muslim mobs sweeping the streets in cities around the globe seem omnipresent continuations of a too-similar and too-frequent event – the 2005 Danish cartoons, the 2011 Florida pastor’s Qur’an burning, this year’s Qur’an desecration by soldiers in Afghanistan, and now September’s “Innocence of Muslims” film.

Violence spawned by protests over this latest insult to Islam has led to the tragic and unnecessary death of more than 50 people, let alone property and relationship wreckage.

 How could an amateur privately made film trigger a response, causing such loss of life, chaos, destruction and irrationality? The lion’s share of blame must be placed squarely within a pervasive “conspiracy theory culture” fuelled by decades of distrust and resentment.

Distrust and Grievances:

 Non-Western Muslims carry a significant amount of distrust toward all international and national phenomena attributable to the West and often resort to conspiracy theories to deal with them.

In the Middle East, it is common to trace every problem or catastrophe to Zionist plotting and to question the genuineness of all international and regional actors. Statistics from Egypt suggest that 75% percent of people there believe that Arabs were not behind the 9/11 attacks.

This unfortunate reality is a product of a grim history in which Muslims have felt deceived, misled and incapacitated by governments everywhere.

Western colonization of large parts of the Muslim world and the abolishment of the Caliphate in 1924 created deep-seated cynicism towards the West, Europe in particular. Western endorsement of Israel’s creation in 1948 and its uncritical support of U.S. policies at the expense of Palestinians is the source of much antagonism and hostility to the present day. Add to this the Western-led wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, which have killed scores of thousands, and perpetual support given to the Muslim world’s worst dictators.

Muslims worldwide have more reason than ever to be cynical of their own governments which have sunk to unparalleled depths of authoritarianism, deception, embezzlement, torture and corruption. I recall a Lebanese man once telling me; “At the least the colonizers gave back. They built railroads, but our leaders did nothing.”

The gravest assault has been against the Muslim intellect. Local governments have eroded school systems, particularly religious institutions that were historic centres of education, thought, and dialogue. Instead, they advanced pseudo-pedagogical systems structured to suppress creative and critical thought. Through much of the 20th century, Muslims came to regard government institutions in general as alien mendacious entities. The result was a culture of victimization; people bereft of economic, political and intellectual capacity, overwhelmed by emotions of powerlessness and despair.

Understanding the reaction:

Now we must attempt to understand global reactions to the recent film in light of the historic Muslim context. Most protestors who filled streets in Cairo, Tunis, Sana, Khartoum, Baghdad and other cities have never seen the movie and likely never will. Many believe that it was created and distributed by the American government itself, specifically to insult Muslims and Islam. In their uninformed context, it’s all part of a broader conspiracy to undermine the Islamic world. When Western organizations respond by advancing their own agendas – as did the French magazine that callously ran new vulgar images of the Prophet Muhammad, or the mass re-publications of the Danish cartoons in 2005 – Muslims can only see such actions as confirmation of a deeply-rooted Western conspiracy.

What to do:

Jami Barlette, head of the Violence and Extremism Program at Demos said: “Conspiracy theories are highly corrosive, because they represent the most radical form of distrust.”

Addressing grievances and building trust are among the most difficult undertakings. There is much work needed in order to repair relationships between Muslim citizens and their own governments, and the Muslim public toward Western governments.

Education, openness, and dialogue must be the watchwords for the future of both relationships. Western governments themselves need to address the crux of the Islamic world’s grievances. In the light of our pervasive double standards and history of interference in the Islamic world, the best way to address such grievances is to avoid repeating them.

Compromising Canadian Traditions – The Iranian Scenario

The present Conservative government has been steering Canada away from its traditional values, a movement manifested in Ottawa’s recent measures affecting Iranians, Iranian-Canadians, and the nation of Iran itself.

Early this summer, Canadian Iranians were outraged when the Harper government allowed a mass closure of their TD bank accounts, ostensibly to ensure Canada’s compliance with the American-led isolationist policy. Like many of you, I had seen no headlines about Canadian Iranians contravening that policy. Discussion quickly turned on whether this action violated Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which clearly forbids discrimination based on origin and ethnicity.

Now, with the last exhalation of summer 2012, we are affronted with another unpredictable move toward Iran; Canada recently announced the severing of all diplomatic relations. The news shocked the Canadian and international communities, as the significance of the decision cannot be understated. Minister John Baird publicly listed the federal government’s reasons, but none are new issues that could logically explain the timing or severity of the decision.

If the dramatic embassy-closing was aimed at undermining Iran’s nuclear ambitions, then Canada’s unilateral action is futile; the two countries don’t have much going on in the first place. And if the parallel intention was to “protect Canadian citizens” in Iran, what happens to the two Canadians currently under death sentences there?

Many experts and diplomats have criticized Canada for its imprudence. Ken Taylor, former Canadian ambassador to Iran during the prolonged hostage crisis of 1979, stated his disagreement with the suspension of diplomatic ties. John Mundy, Canada’s most recent ambassador, said: “When the going gets rough you really need your diplomats. Canada’s tradition is to be one of the last countries to leave in a crisis, not the first.” Indeed, diplomacy, dialogue, mediation and peace-keeping have long been Canada’s foreign traditions and a source of international esteem.

Now we come to the crux of the issue: our traditions are being compromised, eroded, even subversively abolished. Whether it is about respecting citizens’ constitutional rights, or maintaining Canada’s reputation as a leading force for good, something has gone badly wrong. The current Iranian scenario is merely the latest event to illuminate a disturbing reality.

The Charter of Ignorance

(August 29th – 2012) 

Identity is a weapon that political parties often recharge once elections loom. This phenomenon is particularly visible in Quebec, where battles over reasonable accommodation, secularism, and who “belongs” are fomented routinely.

Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois recently pledged to institute a “Charter of Secularism” if the PQ wins the election. It would forbid visible manifestations of belief by disallowing public employees from wearing religious garb or symbols, but comes with a notable exception: That policy would not apply to those wearing the Christian crucifix.

“Wanting to take a step toward ensuring the neutrality of the state doesn’t mean we deny who we are,” Marois explained. She says this also would end the inadequate “reasonable accommodation” debate.

But the PQ’s charter is seriously flawed and lacks what Lord Acton called the “equity of just consideration.” It is devoid of justice, and institutes favouritism instead of neutrality, oppression in place of freedom, discrimination in lieu of equity, and isolation over integration.

The PQ’s proposal undermines the Canadian liberal tradition, contravenes our Charter rights to freedom of religion and also threatens social solidarity and harmony by repelling and isolating minority groups.

The message that Marois is trying to disseminate – that religious symbols such as the turban, the kippah or hijab, infringe on secular Québécois’ rights – is false and unsupported by any evidence.

It is appalling that Marois and the PQ are so comfortable upholding their values while denying the same opportunity to me, a young Canadian Muslim woman who chooses to wear the hijab as a matter of faith and conviction.

Canada and the Eradication of Polio

Polio, once thought to be a disease of the past, is now making a comeback. Efforts to eradicate polio have been remarkable and have led to a world with only 650 cases of polio in 2011, down from 350,000 in 1988.  Yet, just as the world was about to bid farewell to polio, the World Health Assembly reports a possible resurgence and declares polio a public health emergency. Now is the time to act and finish the job of ending polio. Unfortunately, the Global Partnership to Eradicate Polio (GPEI), the leading group vaccinating children against polio, has announced a 1 billion dollar funding gap for 2012-2013. This can translate into 200,000 cases of polio in a decade. Canada is among the donors scaling back funding for the eradication of polio, from an impressive 35 million a year to just 5 million in 2014.

PM Harper is aware of the resurgence of polio, thanks to polio activist Ramesh Ferris of the End of Polio campaign. He has also been invited by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Bill Gates to co-convene a meeting on polio and confirm Canada’s support for the eradication of polio at the 67th United Nations General Assembly in New York. I hope PM Harper will accept the invitation and use the meeting to recommit 35 million to ending polio and in doing so provide all children the same protection from polio that Canadian children are fortunate to have.

Come online and learn via webinar technology more about the eradication of polio THIS Sunday with activists all across Canada. RSVP at resultscanadaegroup@gmail.com

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