The unplanned lessons of historical tragedies

“World War II started on a Sunday afternoon when I was on my way to the movies.” -Maya Angelou, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

Masks, social distancing and self-isolation have all become mundane, even exasperating words in our daily vocabularies. Nightly newscasts religiously report new positive cases and updated death tolls, the weather isn’t the main subject of small talk anymore, and even the smell of cheap alcohol from grocery store hand sanitizer is a bother we have become accustomed to.

Every day when I take the crowded metro home and come across a child no taller than my waist clad with an oversized face covering, I wonder what kind of world the coronavirus will create for them. The new generation is currently navigating through hyper-vigilant and germaphobic circumstances, and I doubt many will remember the days before daily STM cleanings — a frequency which most preferred to stay blind to.

The post-COVID world is going to be a lot more different than we anticipated, though. For one, the structure of the 9-5 job and mandatory class attendance has been shattered. We’ve suddenly been introduced to the unfamiliar idea that people can still be just as productive without the added stresses of day-to-day life, like long commutes and cramped cubicles. In another sense, this crisis has been a breakthrough in regards to our use of technology; new social rules have made many tools a necessity rather than a luxury. Contactless payment, online banking, smartphones, computers, working Wi-Fi connections, and, of course, Zoom, all became indispensable tools as we witnessed the exodus of in-person working, schooling, and shopping. The coronavirus has fast forwarded the world’s dependence on technology by years.

We use the hopeful phrase “once Corona is over” as if the pandemic hasn’t already changed our values, habits, and traditions. No one thought quarantine would last so long, that it would bring back the advent of hobby culture—most have reconnected with their affinity for hiking, knitting, reading, etc.—or that many would suddenly catch up on years of neglecting their New Year’s resolutions to be healthier. Having said that, the aggravation of substance addiction and the hike in cases of domestic abuse have also been distressing side-effects of self-isolation. But it seems that throughout generations, global tragedies have always changed the lives of ordinary people in unexpected ways.

Everyone from my generation either has (or knows someone who has) an extraordinary story about what they were doing on Sept. 11, 2001. My father was a firefighter. My fourth grade teacher turned on the TV to a live image of the Pentagon being hit. These stories transcend borders; the Earth kept turning, but the whole world stopped to remember what they were doing during the few seconds after the breaking news broadcasted.

Innumerable articles and research papers documenting the aftermath of 9/11 denote the sharp rise of Islamophobic ideas. With “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists” as the Western world’s new favorite dictum, division and otherization became common defense mechanisms.

The union of the media and the image through the recent accessibility of television quickly made the Vietnam war an international concern. From the sight of a Vietnamese girl crying as she ran from a napalm attack, and from nightly broadcasts showing the true face of American liberty, erupted a global anti-war movement. With protests in Tokyo, Amsterdam, and Auckland, the public was slowly recognizing how technology could become a tool for connecting with our world. During 9/11, this same idea went even further as millions turned to the Internet to communicate with their loved ones, to find out about the newest updates, to share their thoughts and prayers. In the era of COVID, society can’t do without digital.

Nuclear power built a reputation for itself in 1986, when a faulty reactor in Chernobyl exploded, directly killing an estimated 30 to 50 people. Radiation became an entertaining comic book character backstory, but in the years following the disaster, just as we had seen after US troops left Vietnam, it also became a lesson not to mess with chemicals. This isn’t the scientific development we would’ve wished to see.

It’s not very uplifting to look back on atrocities that happened barely a century ago and that have left wounds still open today. But in the present, I think it can be grounding to think of history as something that happens to individual people, one day at a time. Maybe that’s just me.

I’m too young to remember the voice on the radio announcing terror attacks south of our border, but I can describe exactly what I was doing and where I was on the day I first heard of the “Wuhan virus.” History is made up of the stories we remember, and I hope that my memory can conjure up something positive, for a change—once Corona is over.


Photo Collage by Christine Beaudoin


Let the girl run

I’ve always wondered why people make such a big deal about others wearing their religious clothing and/or accessories. It’s not like it’s hurting anyone, and we live in a country where our fundamental rights include the freedom of religion and freedom of expression.

So imagine how shocked I was when I read an article last week about a Muslim athlete being disqualified from a district level race in Ohio because of her hijab. Can you imagine?

Noor Abukaram, a 16-year-old Muslim athlete was disqualified from a race because she wore a hijab. And that’s not the worst part. According to an article on BBC, the officials who inspected her team never said anything about her hijab before the race. They waited until she was finished running to inform her that she was disqualified because her coach didn’t file for a religious waiver, and her hijab was considered unfit for the dress code.

Why is it that people are so focused on what someone wears, rather than focusing on that person’s personality and abilities? This girl worked hard to be a part of her team and to participate in that race, so why are people penalizing her for wearing a hijab instead of recognizing her athletic ability? It’s not as if her hijab is going to make her faster than everyone else or give her any advantage.

It’s unfortunate, but I feel that sometimes when you wear a religious symbol or religious clothing, some people don’t see you as the person you are, but they see you as your religion and sometimes, the stereotypes that go with that religion. I’m not saying everyone sees it that way, but I know that some do, and they’re missing out on getting to know someone that could be the nicest and kindest person they’ll ever meet.

It’s sad, really. Instead of encouraging and supporting our youth, people are getting in their way and hindering them. We should be pushing them to reach their full potential instead of fussing over their religious clothing.

I understand that there are rules and regulations, but there should be some degree of understanding seeing as how there is nothing in the rulebook that says anything specifically about hijabs. There is a rule saying that if you have any religious clothing you must wear, a waiver must be filed with the association. However, according to a spokesman for the Ohio Highschool Athletic Association (OHSAA), runners aren’t supposed to wear headwear, but they don’t always enforce it, allowing runners to wear hats when it’s cold out. So why can’t Abukaram wear her hijab?

I think Abukaram handled the situation like a champ. She showed that she understands the need for this to go public, because if it doesn’t, it’ll keep happening time and time again. She isn’t giving up.

This isn’t the first time that something like this has happened. Last year, a basketball player was asked to leave a game because she was wearing a hijab. In 2016, 16-year-old Amaiya Zafar was disqualified from the Sugar Bert Boxing National Championships because she wore a hijab and refused to take it off. These are only some among many other similar instances in the past couple of years.

“They don’t need to alter the course for me specifically. I’m running just like everyone else, I’m starting on the same start line and finishing on the same finish line,” Abukaram told the BBC.

I agree with her. She doesn’t need any special treatment or advantages. What she needs is to be treated the same as everyone else, to be allowed to participate regardless of her religion and the clothing that goes with it.

I think it’s time to re-examine the rulebooks and guidelines and make some changes. The current rules don’t take into consideration that women wearing hijabs would be involved in these sports. It’s time to make them more inclusive.

Graphic by Victoria Blair.


Innate Islamophobia is Everywhere

The portrayal of Islam in movies and on TV is, to say the least, tricky.

Spanish hit-series Élite was the first time I saw Muslims on western TV that weren’t al Qaeda or some terrorist trying to bomb a train. At first, it was a breath of fresh air to see the character of Nadia as just another student. Until she goes into the principal’s office and they tell her that in order for her to stay enrolled in the school, she had to remove her hijab. (Remind you of anything… kinda rhymes with Pill Quincy One?).

The new season also showed Nadia without her hijab, and with a new makeover meant to impress her crush. A lot of people were outraged by that, and rightfully so. One, it does imply that she’s not beautiful enough with her hijab to be impressive, and two, there is an underlying theme of oppression and suppression connected with the hijab. It’s as if the headscarf is a metaphor for the ‘tyranny’ that is Islam. As if to say, “take the scarf off, you’re removing the metaphorical veil of oppression and, voila! You’re free.”

Let me ask you something, do you remember Billie Eilish’s campaign with Calvin Klein, where she said the reason she wears baggy clothes is so no one can tell what’s under, and thus not objectify her? My god, people just wouldn’t stop praising her for this amazing and wonderful stance that inspired millions of women! It was seen as a fight against the patriarchy.

Well, you’re all a bunch of hypocrites and are absolutely incapable of moving past built-in bias. No, seriously, people don’t have the ability to emotionally and mentally transcend Islamophobic bias set by years of unfair portrayal, and see it for what it actually is. The point of the Hijab is humility, and exactly what Eilish said. The problem didn’t start, nor will it end, with Nadia in Élite. The problem is you. It’s all of us, really.

Look inside you, people. Have you ever caught yourself looking pitifully at a woman in a niqab? That’s problematic. Looking at headscarves at the same level we do a woman or child with bruises over their bodies is fundamentally wrong, and although your intentions might be good, your lack of understanding that it is most likely a choice hurts more than helps.

Yes, in places like Saudi Arabia and Iran, women are forced to cover up. And yes, I’m against that, but that’s a cultural thing and not a religious one. The Quran gives general intrusctions, and the Hadith, the sayings and actions of the prophet Muhammad, gives details. It’s important to remember that what was written then doesn’t need to have the same interpretation today. Most muslim women choose to wear the hijab. Most muslim women want to cover up. I know at least three women who put the hijab on at a young age, and then decided to remove it. MY MOTHER REMOVED HER HIJAB AT ONE POINT. Granted, she put it on at 11-years-old and removed it about a month later, but the point remains that it is a choice; it’s a worldly representation of your Faith.

The word Islam literally means surrender, and letting go of worldly vanities is a step into surrender; like monks living in Kathmandu, or Sufis wandering and letting go of physical possessions. It’s meant to be a physical representation of what your priorities are: my appearance doesn’t matter as much as my intentions; ‘I will cover the outside so you can get to know me on the inside first.’

Some Middle Eastern cultures have let an innate patriarchy warrant a rather patriarchal interpretation of Islam. There’s an entire conversation that should happen about Islam being “anti-feminist,” because this is truthfully an atrocious lie.

There is a difference between religion and culture disguised under religious pretenses. The way Nadia was portrayed in Élite is just an example of how the media doesn’t distinguish between these two things. It’s time we learn to differentiate, and realize that what TV teaches you isn’t always what’s real – unrealistic beauty standards? Unrealistic portrayal of the hijab. It goes both ways.


Graphic by @sundaeghost


An environment of Islamophobia

Nationalism, bigotry and political apathy encourage hate rhetoric against Muslims

Following the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand on March 15, people continue to mourn the 50 victims that were slain. Among the victims was Hamza Mustafa, a 16-year-old aspiring veterinarian, Arif Mohamedali Vohra, a man who wanted to see his recently born grandchild, and Abdelfattah Qassem, a pillar of the community. That day, the victims just wanted to pray in peace.

Those affected by the shooting were just people who wanted to practice their faith during Friday prayer, be with their community, and return to their loved ones afterwards. But all of that was taken from them. At the forefront of the shooting is a rhetoric of hate and dehumanization of Muslims that is pervasive in politics and in the media. A framework has been perpetuated that situates Muslims as people who need to be regulated, managed and kept at a distance from Western countries.

Images of Muslims portrayed across media depict a monolithic group, uniquely oppressive culture, and lack any history besides a nebulous idea of a universal Islamic theology. In their theorization, political pundits paint an image that discounts the vastness of Islam, opting to create a fictitious idea of a uniform ideology that all Muslims share.

Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro—who allegedly inspired the shooter before the attack on the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City—argued in a PragerU video, makers of popular conservative “educational” videos, that there are more “radical Muslims” than people believe. Shapiro clearly argues that that there is a collective radical movement throughout the Muslim world, that hate America and the West.

Al Noor Mosque, the primary target of the shootings, refutes this idea; worshipers come from diverse backgrounds, like India, Pakistan, Palestine, UAE, and people born and raised in New Zealand. Each person embodies a rich history of Islam, that differs in practice, theology and lifestyle. Islam is only a part of their identity. As Muslims, we are as multifaceted as any other people; we have different interests, aspirations, dreams, and we don’t always agree with each other.

However, the media’s narrative eradicates the nuance and diversity in Muslim people’s lives.

Rhetoric, foreign policy and media coverage create a narrative that dehumanizes Muslims, enforcing an image unrepresentative of people’s lived experiences. The New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, infamous for his notion of “the disease of the Arab mind,” illustrates the unnuanced, ahistorical analysis of Muslim majority countries that is prevalent in popular discourse, a type of analysis that hinges on geopolitical strategy.

In an article published in September entitled “To Thwart Iran, Save Idlib,” Stephens sets the stakes for the battle of Idlib, a besieged city in Syria, listing ways countries will suffer from the battle of Idlib: “Europe, which could face yet another refugee crisis even as the effects of the last are felt in the resurgence of the far right.” In this strategic framework, Muslims are blamed for the rise of far right bigotry that in turn discriminates against Muslim people. With no dramatic flair, Stephens calls for the bombing of the Syrian Air Force, discounting the fact that civilians will be killed in the process. Muslim people seemingly have no agency in this worldview—we are merely a small part of a grand strategy that Western nations develop under the advisement of “experts” who have tangential knowledge of the diversity of the Muslim world.

The strategic rhetoric and analysis conducted on Muslim countries blames the rise of the far right in Europe on refugees, a supposed problem that intersects economics, culture and demographics, rather than analyzing the roots of the far right. Politicians and pundits stoke Islamophobia—as well as other forms of white supremacy—as a means to gain power. Moreover, policies are implemented as a method to gain economic and political power over Muslim countries.

The rise of hateful rhetoric revealed deep-seated forms of white supremacy. Nigel Farage, one of the champions of Brexit, and many others in the leave campaign, trafficked in anti-Muslim bigotry, using “swarm” imagery to frame refugees and migrants travelling from Muslim majority countries to the UK. Brexit emboldened bigots and brought anti-immigrant rhetoric to the forefront. The normalization of white supremacy rhetoric has tangible negative effects on Muslims living in Western countries.

In the EU-MIDIS II, a report by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights about Muslim discrimination, 27 per cent of respondents have experienced some form of harassment for being Muslim, while 39 per cent of the respondents felt some form of discrimination five years before the study. In another European report by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, it is stated that hate crimes committed against Muslims typically increase after a terrorist attack and target Friday prayers. Both reports also mention how hate crimes are underreported due to the lack of trust in the effectiveness of the policing system and lingering feelings of shame. The hate Muslims are facing is well known to government agencies, however, people are seemingly supporting or apathetic to the injustice.

We are faced with increasing hate against Muslims and it is important to remain vigilant against forms of white supremacy. This process does not stop at voting; we also need to hold politicians and public figures accountable for their words, actions and policies they implement. It is not enough for politicians to talk about immorality of discrimination—their stance should be reflected in the policies they implement.

Beyond the realm of electoral politics, there needs to be a radical shift in the way Muslims are depicted. Muslims are diverse. We span many countries, and have different ideologies. It is not on Muslims to share their stories to help white audiences understand that we are people. The power rests with people who have influence on media, academics and foreign policy.

Rest in peace to all the victims affected and condolences to their families.

Graphic by @sundaemorningcoffee


Ignoring Islamophobia doesn’t make it go away

When an ostrich realizes they’re in danger and they can’t run away, they fall to the ground and remain still while laying their head and neck flat on the ground. That way, they can blend in with the colour of the soil and avoid their threat. This is often referred to as the “ostrich approach,” which Collins Dictionary defines as “a person who refuses to face reality or recognize the truth.”

Recently, we saw the Quebec premier, François Legault, doing exactly that. Near the end of January, he ruled out the idea of dedicating a day to anti-Islamophobia, saying, “I don’t think there is Islamophobia in Quebec, so I don’t see why there would be a day devoted to Islamophobia,” according to the Montreal Gazette. The National Council of Canadian Muslims’s (NCCM) Executive Director, Ihsaan Gardee, told Global News, “[…] taking the ostrich approach and putting your head in the sand is not going to solve a problem or make it go away.”

We at The Concordian wholeheartedly agree with the NCCM’s executive director’s statement. Islamophobia is a real and ongoing problem in Quebec. Denying its existence and prevalence is not only wrong, it’s promoting a lie. The Premier later “clarified” his statement by saying that “Islamophobia exists in Quebec […] but not a current of Islamophobia. Quebec is not Islamophobic or racist,” according to the Montreal Gazette.

A spokesperson for Legault later clarified, “there is no trend or culture of Islamophobia in Quebec. Quebecers are open and tolerant and they shall continue to exhibit these qualities.” How does it, in any way, make sense to say that Islamophobia does exist in Quebec, while simultaneously saying there is no “current” or “trend?” Does the government not analyze statistics or facts and figures? Do they not speak to the Muslim community in Quebec, who experience such acts firsthand? Do they not remember the root cause of the Jan. 29 2017 mosque shooting?

In 2018, a year after the Jan. 29 attack, the NCCM had created a proposal to devote the day to anti-Islamophobia. The CAQ spokesperson at the time said the anniversary should instead be dedicated to commemorating the victims’ memories, according to CBC. The Parti Québécois also rejected the proposal by saying the term Islamophobia is “too controversial” and there is already an international day that promotes eliminating racial discrimination, according to the same source.

We at The Concordian find it exhaustingly sad that the NCCM has been rejected twice in trying to promote anti-Islamophobia in Quebec. If the government was truly supportive of its Muslim community, it would have no trouble dedicating one day of the entire year to lend its voice to uplift Muslims and their struggles. The truth is, Quebec has always had a problem with Islam, from the 2013 Quebec Charter of Values that aimed to ban religious symbols and attire in the public sector (like the hijab), to white nationalist groups against Islam like PEGIDA that flourish in the province. And, just recently, Quebec’s Minister for the Status of Women, Isabelle Charest, said the hijab is oppressive. She said, “When a religion dictates clothing […] this is not freedom of choice […] it’s a sign of oppression,” according to the Montreal Gazette. Isn’t the government dictating what a woman can and cannot wear just as oppressive, if not more?

Anti-Muslim sentiments are higher in Quebec than in the rest of Canada, according to a 2018 study published in the Canadian Review of Sociology. CBC reported that the study found that Muslims are the least liked social group amongst Canadians. The study asked Canadians to assign certain groups a score from zero to 100 that demonstrated how much they approved of them and Muslims in Quebec received the lowest score of 56. The study also found that 70 per cent of respondents in Quebec expressed “significant” anti-Muslim sentiment and 57 per cent of Quebec respondents had more negative attitudes towards Muslims than other racial minorities.

The truth is, we can fill up an entire page in this week’s issue of The Concordian with facts and figures demonstrating just how prevalent Islamophobia is in Quebec. Perhaps government officials are putting too much emphasis on the “phobia” part of Islamophobia, when it encompasses more than just a fear of Muslims and Islam. Perhaps they believe Islamophobia only manifests itself in violent attacks, like the Jan. 29 shooting. But we at The Concordian believe Quebec officials, and citizens, need to understand that Islamophobia exists in more ways than just attacks and fear. It is disliking an entire group for what they believe in. It is scoffing at their struggles rather than acknowledging them. It is questioning whether or not they deserve basic human rights. Islamophobia is real and, using the Premier’s words, is a “trend” in our province. Let’s fight against it—but first, let’s acknowledge it instead of taking the ostrich approach.

Graphic by @spooky_soda


Another manifestation of Islamophobia in Quebec

How the construction and timing of Bill 62 is just another election campaign tactic

It’s disheartening that the same society that supports a woman’s choice to wear a short, black dress criminalizes a woman’s right to wear a long, black burka.

Since the National Assembly passed Bill 62 on Oct. 18, people have voiced mixed opinions about the “religious neutrality” law. The bill states that in order to give or receive public services—like public transit, healthcare and educational services—a person must have an uncovered face, according to the Montreal Gazette. While Bill 62 doesn’t explicitly target Muslim women who wear a face veil (the burka or niqab), it seems obvious the bill is geared towards that minority.

The fact that this religious neutrality bill was voted into law beneath a crucifix hanging in the National Assembly is as hypocritical as it gets. If Quebec really wanted religious neutrality, they would get rid of any symbol that directly refers to a religion—not just Islamic symbols like face coverings. Quebec doesn’t seem to know where it stands on religious neutrality, which just stirs up more confusion and controversy.

In Quebec, the exact number of Muslim women who wear a face veil is unknown, but according to the social research forum Environics Institute, three per cent of women in Canada wear the niqab. That number is even less in Quebec—which raises an important question. Why spend so much time and effort creating a law that marginalizes such a small group of women? The answer, I’ve realized, is a sickening election campaign trend in this province.

With less than a year until the provincial elections, this law has taken media outlets by storm and has created a tense, divisive political climate in Quebec. People are once again divided over a debate about Muslim women’s choice to wear what they want. It brings us back to 2013, when Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois attempted to remove all religious symbols under the guise of the Charter of Values.

“This ban shows that the government is trying to steer away attention from real issues,” said Razia Hamidi, the Montreal representative of the National Council of Canadian Muslims. “It’s not a priority for Quebecers. We’ve seen polls from the Angus Reid Institute that show that this issue is rated as very low priority. So why does the government continuously bring it up and give it so much attention?” In Hamidi’s opinion, the fact that this debate is happening with an election around the corner isn’t a coincidence and isn’t acceptable. “They can’t go around pushing such legislation whenever they need to get their voting rates up.”

A new Angus Reid Institute poll suggests 70 per cent of Quebec respondents favour the ban, while 23 per cent discourage it and only eight per cent say the niqab should be welcomed, according to the Montreal Gazette. Another poll from the same institute found that one in five Quebecers said Bill 62 would be an important factor when deciding which party to support, according to CBC News.

It seems to me the Liberals are playing a game of identity politics by attempting to appease future voters who dislike the niqab. And in a province where 42 per cent of the population dislike Islam, according to a 2016 Forum Research poll, it is an unfortunately effective tactic.

A conversation with Hafsa Hussain, a Muslim woman from Montreal, furthered my understanding of how strong anti-Muslim sentiments already are in Quebec. “I wear the hijab and abaya (a long loose dress). As it stands, I have received many verbal assaults out in public,” she said.

Hussain said she feels Bill 62 wasn’t intended for security reasons, but was a product of Islamophobia. “There hasn’t been a single case where a person wearing the niqab has posed any kind of threat,” she said. “I don’t see how this is a security issue. Whenever identification is required, women wearing the niqab don’t have any problems with complying and showing their faces. We have so many problems in Quebec to tackle, I find it ridiculous that they spent their time discussing dress codes instead of housing, health and education problems, to name just a few.”

At a press conference on Oct. 24, Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée attempted to reassure citizens that they would only be required to uncover their faces for identification purposes and when speaking directly with a public service employee. This would nonetheless prevent veiled women from checking out library books, speaking with hospital staff, picking up their children from daycare or attending classes, according to CBC News.

Educational institutions like Dawson College and Université de Montréal were quick to insist that women who wear face coverings should still be allowed to attend class, according to the Montreal Gazette. Similarly, a McGill spokesperson said the university must accommodate religious differences and “will continue to do so.” Here at Concordia, the history department condemned the bill and the CSU announced its intent to take action against the the legislation. Concordia president Alan Shepard himself said the status quo will remain unchanged on campus.

While it’s refreshing to see people protesting against the bill and speaking up, it’s also important to analyze the construction of Bill 62 and understand where it comes from. The harsh truth is that it is just another manifestation of Islamophobia in Quebec. It targets a small group of women and criminalizes their choice to wear a religious garment.

This bill also emboldens those with Islamophobic biases. Among other remarks, I’ve often heard the question: “If they want to cover their face so badly, why don’t they go back to their country?” The thing is, those countries don’t preach diversity and acceptance—Canada does. Our federal government seems to pride itself on accepting and promoting immigration and multiculturalism. So why shouldn’t women be allowed to freely express their religious beliefs? Legislation like Bill 62 contradicts Canada’s identity as a nation, and therefore should hold no validity.

Truthfully, a lot of people misunderstand Islam and spend more time disliking the faith than learning about it. With a little bit of effort, people could come to understand why Muslim women choose to wear the face veil. Asking their opinions instead of assuming negative stereotypes about them could solve this entire ignorant debate.

Freedom of choice dictates that one should have the right to express their individuality whether it be in the form of a little, black dress or a long, black burka. The government should have no place in telling women what to wear. After all, we live in a free society for all. Don’t we?

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin


Don’t just accommodate cultures–celebrate them

Islamophobic outburst at Peel District School Board meeting signifies a deeper problem

I grew up in a part of Toronto where being white meant you were part of an ethnic minority. From the first day of kindergarten until I moved away in grade 11, my peer group was wonderfully diverse. Attending schools where religious and cultural differences were celebrated—not just accommodated—was a positive and eye-opening experience. Every group was recognized and respected for their beliefs, which created a comfortable and constructive environment.

So, when I heard people were literally ripping up religious texts at a school board meeting in Ontario in protest of religious tolerance, I was scratching my head in confusion. The Peel District School Board (PDSB) meeting on March 22 was attended by 80 individuals who were afraid of the board’s decision to allow Muslim students to write their own sermons for their Friday prayers.

To put this outburst into context, the PDSB has allowed Muslim students to pray every Friday in school spaces for 20 years, according to CBC News. The prayers are monitored by a Muslim teacher and, until the recent change allowing students to prepare their own materials, students used six pre-written sermons.

The intensity of the resistance to students preparing their own sermons is shocking. A petition calling for the end of religious accommodation in schools in the Peel region has received approximately 6,135 signatures so far, according to the petition’s website. Started by a group called Religion out of Public Schools, the petition states religious accommodation will lead to “unintentional intolerance” and “unsolicited exposure to religion.” It is an odd choice to be intentionally intolerant in an attempt to avoid the risk of “unintentional intolerance.” What’s even stranger is to argue that being exposed to another religion can have negative effects.

Respecting diversity and allowing different cultural practices to take place around you should never be seen as negative. Inclusion creates a holistic environment—ignorance creates hostility towards misunderstood groups. The hate broiling in the Peel region is a result of not blissful ignorance, but of fearful ignorance.

According to Global News, a 2016 poll found 54 per cent of Canadians viewed Islam “unfavourably.” Watching this hate gain support makes it impossible to overlook the ignorance present in the public’s view of the Islamic faith. Some of the Islamophobic comments made during the school board meeting were about Shariah law and the “Islamic indoctrination of children,” according to CBC News. None of these arguments are rational, and are only defendable when there is a significant lack of awareness about another group.

The group Religion out of Public Schools argues religious accommodation is too expensive for schools to incorporate. What isn’t clear to me is whether they consider derailing board meetings and necessitating police intervention not to be costly to the school board. Also, the group seems to forget that religious accommodation has been taking place in Peel district schools for over 15 years.

The best way to move forward from these sentiments is to address the underlying issue. It’s a big challenge to get someone to change their opinion, but it is easy to create an environment in which people can no longer hold irrational views.


Conflicting politics at City Hall

Four protest groups clashed outside Montreal City Hall over a free speech demonstration

Four political groups clashed outside Montreal City Hall on Saturday over a free speech demonstration.

Dozens of members of the Canadian Coalition of Concerned Citizens (CCCC) mobilized to support free speech and condemn federal anti-Islamophobia Motion 103 at 11:30 a.m. on March 4. They were greeted soon after by the left-wing activist group Action Antifasciste Montréal (AAM), who chanted, threw smoke bombs and tore up the CCCC’s protest signs.

Several small scuffles broke out between the two opposing groups. As police intervened and separated them, the CCCC was joined by members of la Meute (the Wolf Pack), a Québécois anti-Islamist group. Members bore black flags emblazoned with wolf paws and howled in unison at the opposing demonstrators.

AAM, who opposes “austerity, inequality, racism, fascism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, capitalism and the State,” according to their Facebook page, were joined by a dozen other protesters organized by Solidarity Concordia, who marched from Concordia University to City Hall offer support.

Solidarity Concordia was formed in response to the Quebec government’s proposed austerity measures in 2015.

SPVM create barrier of officers between both parties. Photo by Nelly Serandour-Amar.

CCCC founder Georges Hallak said he planned a peaceful demonstration. “This is about peace, this is about communication, this is about free speech,” he said in a phone interview with The Concordian. He said the group, which he founded five weeks ago, was there only to say, “no to [Motion 103], no to Trudeau, and [yes to] free speech.”

“This Motion 103 is the beginning of Shariah Law in Canada,” he said. Hallak believes that, unless proper action is taken, all of Canada will be under Shariah law in 25 to 50 years. If passed by the House of Commons, M103 will compel the Canadian government to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination,” among other things.

Many Conservative MPs have criticized the motion. In a Facebook post, Conservative MP Maxime Bernier criticized it for not properly defining Islamophobia, and giving Islam special treatment over other religions.

Demonstrator Marlo Turner Ritchie does not see M103 as a threat. “The real threat here, the real menace à la societé, is racism, intolerance and fear-mongering,” she said.

“I think people want to send the strong message today that racist threats have no place in our homes, in our universities, in our daycare, in our government, in our place of business, in our streets,” Turner Ritchie added.

CCCC protest signs and garbage bin were inflamed before SPVM and firefighters set it out. Photo by Ian Down.

After la Meute dispersed, the remaining protesters marched north on Saint-Denis Street towards Place Émilie-Gamelin, where CCCC protest signs and a garbage bin were set on fire. The crowd slowly scattered as police and firefighters put out the fire.


“No hate, no fear, everyone is welcome here”

Vigil for Quebec City shooting victims unites more than 1,000 people

Abdelkrim Hassane, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Aboubaker Thabti, Ibrahima Barry and Azzeddine Soufiane—those are the names of whom a crowd of more than 1,000 people gathered for outside of Parc metro station. It was an act of solidarity against terrorism, racism and discrimination.

Abdelkrim Hassane, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Aboubaker Thabti, Ibrahima Barry and Azzeddine Soufiane—those are the names of whom a crowd of more than 1,000 people gathered for outside of Parc metro station. It was an act of solidarity against terrorism, racism and discrimination.

These six men fell victim to an act of terrorism committed at a mosque in Quebec City where many community members had gathered for an evening prayer on Sunday, Jan. 29, according to the National Post.

The demonstration, organized by the Association des Musulmans et des Arabes pour la Laïcité au Québec, began at 6 p.m. on Jan. 30.

“Tout le monde déteste les racistes, tout le monde déteste les racistes,” the crowd chanted, over and over.

Claire Caillat, a participant at the vigil, said the large crowd validated the fact that many Canadians and those living in Canada are strong and determined to fight against racism. “This is proof that racism cannot divide us,” she said.

Mohammed Ahmed, another participant, said diversity is an important component of what makes Canada the nation it is today. “Without it, Canada would be tasteless,” he said.

Photo by Savanna Craig.

“People from all over the world come here to contribute to society,” said Ahmed. If we separate Canada in terms of race and culture, Canada will no longer be Canada, he said.

“I’m not surprised that people support the Muslim community because a vast majority of Quebecers do not hold intolerant views towards these minority groups,” said Alex Tyrrell, leader of the Green Party of Quebec and Concordia student who attended the vigil. “It’s really a fringe element of society that holds these discriminatory views.”

Tyrrell criticized the media for providing a presence for and profiting off of intolerant, extremist, right-wing views. “They’re often writing columns against trans people, against women, against minority groups,” said Tyrrell, using the example of journalists Mathieu Bock-Côté and Richard Martineau. “They’re constantly fanning the flames of these issues.”

I think that that’s something that needs to change as quick as possible because we see what kind of impact these have,” said Tyrrell. “There has been many other hate crimes that have been committed in Quebec over the past few months and years.”

Photo by Savanna Craig.

As some participants began to disperse around 7:30 p.m., many others gathered around a large red tapestry that read “Make Racists Afraid Again.”

“No hate, no fear, everyone is welcome here,” chanted thousands of participants in unison during the vigil.

Photo by Savanna Craig.

Sentiments of peace and acceptance filled the air throughout the evening, voiced by a crowd made up of all different races, backgrounds and religions.

The crowd later dispersed from outside Parc metro and moved East along Jean Talon.

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