By: Davide Mastracci
On March 21 in Thorncliffe Park, a group gathered to discuss the “twin terrors” facing Muslims in Canada: Islamophobia and imperialism.
The event’s first speaker, Syeda Sadaf, described how Canada has changed for the worse since she arrived from Pakistan nearly a decade ago. Sadaf pointed to Bill C-51, increasing Islamophobia, and a law prohibiting niqabs from being worn at citizenship ceremonies as examples of Canada’s downward spiral.
Sadaf also argued that Muslims must fight back against these intrusions on civil liberties, as opposed to being silent or apologetic. According to Sadaf, “Nothing will be changed by closing your eyes; it will only increase the darkness.”
Sadaf’s statement sums up the consciousness raising mission of the event, held by Thorncliffe Reach-out Teach-in (TRT), a group dedicated to bringing community members “together to discuss and address issues of concern.” Approximately 40 people, mostly Thorncliffe community members, did exactly that in the Jenner Jean-Marie Community Centre.
The range of speakers at the event reflected how intertwined TRT is with the local community.
The event began with a mock citizenship ceremony, put together by a group of teens from the community, that skewered the real process for its nationalist rhetoric, imposition of religious norms as witnessed in the niqab ban, and erasure of Canada’s violent settler history.
The audience who cheered throughout the performance, however, was not just made up of teens. Instead, a large group of parents and elders had also come to find out more about Bill C-51, while their children and others could be heard playing just behind the room’s divider.
Sadia Khan, one of the event organizers, and Riaz Sayani-Mulji, a University of Toronto law student, both gave talks to help inform the community of the new anti-terror legislation.
Khan offered a summary of Canada’s imperialist involvement, from the foundation of the nation on stolen indigenous land, to its current role in military operations in Iraq. Khan noted these missions are often funded by tax dollars, claiming, “Our hard-earned money is going to kill our own people.”
The presentation also looked at the role corporations, as well as Canada’s relations with the United States and Israel, have played in driving Canada into these violent excursions.
Yet Khan noted that Canada has also autonomously embarked on a range of harmful excursions, and therefore deserves to be critiqued to the fullest extent. “Canada is not just a dog, it’s not just a puppet,” Khan said.
Sayani-Mulji’s presentation focused on Bill C-51, with Khan translating his speech into Urdu to ensure the mothers in the audience could fully grasp his message.
Sayani-Mulji asked the crowd how many had experienced first-hand discrimination as Muslims. Most had, citing examples such as getting heckled by passing cars or receiving strange looks on public transport. Sayani-Mulji then noted that, “Islamophobia isn’t just these individual acts, it’s a system.”
Some audience members were completely unaware of Bill C-51, so Sayani-Mulji focused on summarizing the Islamophobic system in Canada, and how the bill will make matters worse. The audience also asked Sayani-Mulji a range of questions, in Urdu and English, and became visibly upset by the range of answers he offered.
The organizers noted the event seemed to achieve its purpose by raising consciousness in a range of Thorncliffe community members, not just the usual crowd of students and activists. As such, it appears Sadaf’s call to action was met, as most who attended the event left with their eyes more open to the ongoing events surrounding them.
Davide Mastracci is a Toronto-based activist and student of journalism. He writes for many news publications. You can follow him on Twitter (@DavideMastracci) or reach him by e-mail at Davide.Mastracci@ryerson.ca