Friday, June 11, 2021

Confronting Reality

The other day, I posted my thoughts on the inadequacy of the term Islamophobia, opining that it seems almost euphemistic; it fails to baldly unveil what it really means: prejudice, bias and hatred against Muslims.

Toronto Star reporter Noor Javed, writing from a deeply personal perspective, offers a much better descriptor: anti-Muslim hate, a reality she has experienced throughout her life and whose incidence

have weighed down on me over the years. They have affected the career choices I have made. They have impacted my mental health. They have deeply hurt me — and still do.

When I tried to list all the incidents of hate that I have experienced since I became a journalist — both in my job and on a day-to-day basis — I hit 30 before I stopped. I could have gone on.

When I got my first barrage of hate mail as an intern at the Star 15 years ago, and turned to a colleague for support, he looked at my hijab and said: if you want to survive, you will need to have Teflon-like skin. Let the hate bounce off you. Don’t let it stick.

But the truth is, even when you tell yourself it doesn’t impact you, it still does.

Every email in your inbox with someone telling you they hate you because of your hijab.

Every letter calling you a “dirty raghead.”

Every tweet telling you to go back to where you came from.

Every person who walks by and whispers “You’re disgusting.”

Every smear campaign calling you a terrorist.

Every time someone doubts your news judgment because you are a “lying Muslim.”

Every time someone asks if you were a token hire. 

While we may not be able to fully appreciate the toll such incidents take on people, it might be useful to remember times in our own lives when we have been treated with even a small amount of unkindness. At the time of the event, our heartrates might have become elevated, our cortisol levels increased, our feelings hurt. Perhaps it becomes an indelible memory. And as much as we might rationalize a cutting comment or exclusion as being a reflection on the perpetrator, not the victim, we hardly escape unscathed. 

It is much worse for Muslims (and I am sure other visible minorities):

You look for ways to cope. But the hate slowly chips away at you and at the idea that we have been so conditioned to believe: How can this be happening here in Canada, the most accepting country in the world?

Let me tell you: It’s been happening for years. The hate is not new. And neither is the violence.

But the haters have gotten more brazen. More hateful. More organized. More dangerous.

So when the Afzaal family was killed for just being Muslim this week, it broke me.

Years of online hate, of politicians benefiting from anti-Muslim policies, of pundits spewing anti-Muslim rhetoric, of trolls questioning if our pain was even real, has done exactly what it was meant to. It turned people against us. It has led them to hate us so much that they want us dead. 

One hopes that writing the article provided a measure of catharsis for Noor Javed. But catharsis is not remediation. That is a responsibility all of us must shoulder.


Wednesday, June 9, 2021

UPDATED: There Must Be A Better Word

The word phobia generally connotes an irrational fear of something. A definition of the term from a mental health perspective tells us it is

a type of anxiety disorder that is characterized by extreme and debilitating fear of an object, place, situation, or creature (usually insects) which is usually not dangerous. A person does not need to have direct contact with the thing they’re afraid of to experience symptoms. Even thinking about it can bring on anxiety or panic symptoms. 

Phobias run the gamut from agoraphobia (fear of open spaces or crowds) to xenophobia (fear of strangers or foreigners) to zoophobia (fear of animals). All of these definitions have one thing in common: fear or social anxiety, a form of mental illness.

And that is why the term islamophobia, even though it goes beyond fear of Muslims or Islam to include hatred of, and prejudice against, them, seems wholly inadequate, especially in light of the recent horrifying events that unfolded in London, Ontario. It is almost as if the word is a euphemism for something much darker.

It is time to confront the fact that Canadians are not exempt from the racism that has long afflicted the United States, racism reflected in the residential school system our country embraced for so long, racism that is sadly evident in the ongoing crimes against minorities, not the least of whom are Muslims.

In her searing column today, Susan Delacourt calls out federal leaders for refusing denounce the anti-Islamic nature of Quebec's Bill-21, which prohibits the wearing of religious garb for anyone who seeks to hold a public service job. This, while these same federal leaders offer expressions of sympathy and solidarity with the Muslim community. What credibility, for example, does Erin O'Toole have when his party during the 2015 election campaign promised the infamous snitch line for "barbaric cultural practices," a dog-whistle if there ever was one?

But the most damning indictment of Canadian racism comes in this story:

Jeff Bennett, who ran for the PCs in the 2014 election, recounted in a Facebook post how people in his riding were happy to see that he had replaced the former candidate, a man named Ali Chahbar. Loyal Conservatives in London told Bennett they were relieved that “his name was English and his skin was white.” Bennett remembered how Chahbar had been smeared on local talk radio with talk of sharia law and other nonsense.

Bennett wrote that he was tired of people saying London was better than what happened on Sunday. “Bullshit. I knocked on thousands of doors in the very neighbourhood this atrocity occurred. This terrorist may have been alone in that truck on that day, but he was not acting alone. He was raised in a racist city that pretends it isn’t.”

Bennett came in second in London West in 2014 and has likely abandoned any aspirations to be elected again, given his willingness to tell voters what they don’t want to hear about themselves.

Being willing and able to confront unpalatable truths about ourselves will not rid us of those truths, But, in the long road toward a better society, it has to be the first step.

UPDATE: The following, by David Doel of The Rational National, offers a wider landscape upon which to view Canada's racism:

Saturday, June 5, 2021

A Clear Threat To The World

I know that I probably allot an inordinate amount of space on this blog to the United States. I wish it were otherwise, but the fact that they are the most powerful nation on earth and that we live next store to this dysfunctional giant means what happens there potentially affects not only us but the entire world.

And that giant is in real danger of becoming another failed democracy, with consequences we shudder to contemplate.

Edward Keenan writes:

The New America organization this week published a “statement of concern” signed by more than 100 democratic scholars from universities across the country. They wrote: “Our entire democracy is now at risk.”

After “unproven and intentionally destructive” allegations about the 2020 election being stolen, they wrote, the Republican party governing many states is undertaking changes to core election procedures, a transformation that will mean they “no longer meet the minimum conditions for free and fair elections.”

The threats come from former Trump flunkies like Michael Flynn, who

had to walk back comments he made this week at a Trump-supporting conspiracy conference in Dallas, Texas, in which he appeared to agree with a suggestion that a Mynamar-style coup in the U.S. should return Trump to office. 
Meanwhile, at an “America First” rally in Dalton, Georgia last week Rep. Matt Gaetz said the second amendment protects the right to bear arms specifically to allow citizens “the ability to maintain an armed rebellion against the government if that becomes necessary.”

At the state level, the inmates appear to be running the asylum. While not openly calling for insurrection, they are doing their utmost to ensure that democratic choice becomes just a sad joke, as they

have still embraced the lie of widespread fraud and are pushing legislation to ensure fewer Democratic supporters can vote next time around — and that Republican state legislatures can overturn the results if they do.

The most recent battle on this front is in Texas, where a bill from the Republican governor would limit forms of voting popular with Black and young voters. That measure was blocked when the Democratic minority refused to provide quorum at the end of a legislative session last week, but will return, the governor promises, in a special session later this year. Fourteen other Republican-controlled states have already passed laws this year to limit voting access, and more are proposed. Many such measures also make it easier for legislatures to overrule voters in assigning electoral college votes, as Trump urged them to do in 2020.

In short, Trump and his supporters are still fighting to overturn the last election, and Republican legislators appear to be fixing things to ensure he (or his successor) cannot lose the next one. 

Democracy has always been a fragile construct. In their lust for power, Republicans now appear ready, willing and able to obliterate it.





Friday, June 4, 2021

Toxic Nation

Recent events here have served to amply remind all of us that, as Canadians, we do not walk on the side of the angels. However, events south of the border serve as yet another reminder that the United States is a toxic nation that all of us would do well to avoid.

Some will find the language in the following offensive, but I think you will agree that the courier doing the videoing had ample provocation.

Here is the context for what ensues:


John’ asks me to show I.D. while I’m delivering Narcan in Pacific Heights

For those who don’t know it’s reputation, pac heights is one of the most affluent, snobby, and white neighborhoods in San Francisco. It’s a neighborhood of old money, unlike the heavily gentrified neighborhoods where new tech money has displaced historically black and brown communities. Everyone who grew up here knows that There is an invisible line drawn on the corner of Fillmore and Sutter that separates pac heights from uptown Fillmore, a line which I rarely care to cross(because this type of thing is a common occurrence in my everyday life). On this particular day I found myself on the wrong side of the line. I was doing a Narcan delivery (for the @the.d.o.p.e.project ) to the 2200 block of Clay street when a man called out to me from a 3rd story window. He asked me what I was doing, and I replied my job. He asked me who I worked for and I told him to mind his business. He then followed me to the halfway house I was delivering to and stood in my way as I tried to leave. I’ve never seen this guy before in my life. I posed no threat to his safety or his property. He threatened to call the cops on me, and after I talked some shit to him he admitted that it was an empty threat. He explained that things have come up missing in the neighborhood, so it must have been me who stole his shit. I’m guessing that in his mind I had no right to be walking down his street, and I must be looking for something to steal. I have a strong feeling that he wouldn’t have harassed me of I was of a lighter complexion, but this is an everyday thing when you’re a man of color living in America. #alwayscarrynarcan #narcansaveslives #harmreductionsaveslives #narcan @harmreductioncoalition

Thursday, June 3, 2021

A Very Brave Young Lady

The following explains why:

Lake Highlands High School valedictorian Paxton Smith is going viral for a commencement speech she gave to her graduating class. She ditched her initial, pre-approved speech for one that discusses her feelings about abortion rights in Texas.


Friday, May 28, 2021

The Massacre History Tried to Erase

Although we are fast-approaching the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, I am almost ashamed to admit that I knew absolutely nothing about it until I watched HBO's Watchmen series last year. That it took a fictional show to apprise me of it is perhaps not totally surprising, given that it was a tragedy many assiduously tried to scrub clean from history. As Charles Blow writes,

in 1921, white citizens of that city — aided by the National Guard, it should be noted — destroyed the Greenwood section of that city, a prosperous, self-sufficient community known as Black Wall Street, killing as many at 300 people and leaving 8,000 others homeless.

One of the most remarkable things about that massacre was the concerted effort by the city to erase it from history, and just how effective that campaign was.

They were fully aware of what they were doing:  

“After the massacre, officials set about erasing it from the city’s historical record. Victims were buried in unmarked graves. Police records vanished. The inflammatory Tulsa Tribune articles were cut out before the newspapers were transferred to microfilm.”

The Times continued, “City officials cleansed the history books so thoroughly that when Nancy Feldman, a lawyer from Illinois, started teaching her students at the University of Tulsa about the massacre in the late 1940s, they didn’t believe her.”

If you  are a NYT subscriber, the paper did a masterful job, including the use of 3D modelling, to show the full breadth of the tragedy. Failing that, the following report offers some insight into this atrocious event:

Man's inhumanity to man has become something of a cliché. Unfortunately, it is still very much a reality as well.