Thursday, 24 September 2015 14:02

#Refugeecrisis Galvanizes Arab Community

by Imad Al-Sukkari in Ottawa

This year’s election campaign has been one of the longest in our country’s political history, characterized by the usual kinds of political messaging, policy debates and ethical questions on governance.

The campaign seemed a typical one until four weeks ago, when the devastating, powerful image of a dead three-year-old Syrian refugee lying on a beach in Turkey made international headlines and arguably pushed the Syrian refugee crisis to the forefront of the federal election.

The crisis has also propelled Canadian Arabs, a generally silent and politically inactive minority, to become more engaged and visible in the Canadian political scene.

Indeed, members of the community have taken action to make their voices heard, such as publishing opinion articles critiquing the government's inaction on the crisis (see the Arab Pulse article published by New Canadian Media reporter Jacky Habib), appearing on news shows such as CBC's "Power and Politics", and sponsoring local election panels to ask candidates why their party is best suited to serve the interests of the Arab community.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“There is a disproportionate emphasis on the security risks, and not enough on humanitarian aid.”[/quote]

Thirty days remain for Canadian voters to decide which party they would like to see lead the country into the future.

Refugee crisis sparks reactions

Dr. Bessma Momani, senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance and Innovation (CIGI) and associate professor at the University of Waterloo, comments on how the crisis has affected the relationship between Arab Canadians and the Harper government.

“The Harper government has demonstrated a lack of urgency in dealing with this issue,” she says, arguing that this has made the Conservative government appear unsympathetic in the eyes of many Canadians and, more specifically, members of the Arab community.

Omar Alghabra, a former MP and a Liberal candidate of Syrian descent running in the Mississauga Centre riding, states his dissatisfaction with the way the current government has handled the refugee crisis.

He points to its delinquency in carrying out the proposed plan to resettle 10,000 refugees over three years, inefficiencies at the bureaucratic levels, and the shifting paradigm of what is supposed to be a humanitarian issue.

“There is a disproportionate emphasis on the security risks, and not enough on humanitarian aid,” Alghabra says.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We usually end our discussions by trying to encourage people to convert frustration into action by voting in the upcoming federal elections.”[/quote]

Alghabra also adds, “During the campaign I have engaged with many people [in the riding] on this issue, and I would say the majority of them are embarrassed by this government’s response and feel we could have been more generous in allowing Syrian refugees in.”

Encouraging voter participation

The Canadian Arab Institute (CAI), an organization whose vision is to empower and engage the Arab community in Canada, started a campaign called Sowtek, or “Your Voice,” to encourage Arab Canadians to vote in the upcoming election.

Your Voice has utilized many mediums to provide educational resources to its members, such as webinars, the Canadian national anthem in Arabic (“Ya Canada”), a short animated video explaining the importance of voting and panel discussions across major Canadian cities with a sizeable Arab population such as Ottawa, Toronto, London, Windsor and Montreal.

[youtube height="315" width="560”]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QB4WXxEIB7Y[/youtube]

Raja Khouri, president of CAI, states that the refugee crisis has led members of the Arab community to share their frustrations about the Canadian government, but it is by far not the only issue the community is concerned about.

“Members of the community have expressed frustrations with a number of government policies, from economic policy to Bill C-24 (a new law giving government more power to revoke Canadian citizenship from a dual citizen) and the Mideast policy,” Khouri says.

“We usually end our discussions by trying to encourage people to convert frustration into action by voting in the upcoming federal elections,” he adds.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"I think Arab Canadians will be making a greater effort to make their voice heard in this election."[/quote]

An increase in community engagement

It has not been all frustration and no action for the Arab community, as 23 candidates of Arab descent are currently seeking election or re-election in various ridings across Quebec, Alberta and Ontario, with nine running for the Liberal party, seven for the Conservatives, five for the NDP and one for the Bloc Québécois.

“It is fantastic and refreshing to see an increased level of engagement from members of the community; it demonstrates that Canadian Arabs have come a long way in the last decade,” Alghabra says.

As to how Canadian Arabs will vote in this election, Sherif Rizk – an Ottawa lawyer and host of the Rizk Assessment, a political show broadcast on the Christian Youth Channel (CYC), also known as the Coptic Youth Channel – offers his analysis as to which federal party Arab Canadians may be leaning towards.

“Domestically speaking, Arab Canadians will mostly focus on the changes that the Conservative government have made to Canadian citizenship (creating the right to revoke citizenship for dual-nationality Canadians), Bill C-51 and the government's ban on niqabs in citizenship ceremonies,” Rizk says.

“I think these issues have largely pushed a lot of younger Arab Canadians away from the Conservative Party, but not necessarily to the arms of the Liberal Party. I think Arab Canadians will be making a greater effort to make their voice heard in this election." 

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Published in Politics
Thursday, 02 July 2015 14:37

Ramadan in Canada – A Photo Essay

{gallery}Ramadan 2015{/gallery}


by Abbas Somji (@AbbasSomji) in Toronto, Ontario

It’s been over a week now since Muslims across Canada began observing Ramadan, the holy month in the Islamic calendar, which encourages fasting, charity donation and an increase in religious devotion. From Vancouver to Halifax, many of Canada’s one million Muslims (three per cent of the national population) are refraining from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk. Photojournalist Abbas Somji captures some vivid moments.

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Published in Top Stories

by Ranjit Bhaskar (@ranjit17) in Mississauga, Ontario

If a beer company can harness the power of Canada’s diverse languages to open a fridge full of its wares as a marketing stunt, why not use that same force for civic engagement? 

In time for this year’s Canada Day and the upcoming federal elections, the Canadian Arab Institute (CAI) has released an Arabic version of “O Canada” to open the hearts and minds of its cultural community. 

[youtube height="315" width="560"]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33oWbDJAamw[/youtube] 

Part of the CAI’s Your Voice campaign, “Ya Canada” is performed by soprano Miriam Khalil, and hits all the right notes, including the replacement of the contentious, “in all thy sons command” phrase with the gender-inclusive “in all of us command.” 

This unofficial translation of the national anthem is “one of the tricks up our sleeve” to roll out the non-partisan voter engagement campaign, said Raja Khouri, president of the CAI during a recent panel discussion titled “From Marginalization to Integration” it hosted in Mississauga, Ontario. 

The panelists included Ratna Omidvar, Executive Director of the Global Diversity Exchange at Ryerson University; Cathy Winter, Manager of DiverseCity onBoard; Crystal Greer, Director of Legislative Services & City Clerk with the City of Mississauga and Mohamad Fakih, the CEO of Paramount Fine Foods. 

Bemoaning that voting was becoming more transactional in nature and not part of nation building, Omidvar emphasized the need to shift away from this trend. “Democracy belongs to all of us only when we actually start participating.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][Mohamad]Fakih shared his experiences in civic engagement at the local level. Fakih stressed that, “Change is a belief that you can make a difference even if it takes time and hard work,” and it starts with voting to ensure the right to have a say isn’t lost.[/quote]

Omidvar said there are all kinds of opportunities, including small daily acts as well as sitting on the boards of various public and non-profit institutions that lead to participation. “It is all about taking ownership and paying it forward.” 

She said it is not an anomaly for people to have split national loyalties in an increasingly globalized world where multiple identities are a fact of life. “As long as we wear our various hats properly, it is the values we uphold that matter.” 

‘Don’t have to Keep Heads Low’

Picking up on the importance of being involved in the community, Winter highlighted the work of DiverseCity onBoard. The program enables visible minorities to find a place on non-profit and charitable boards. Winter said it is imperative that the face of leadership reflects the new Canada and all communities need to stretch their social capital.

Greer showcased the City of Mississauga’s efforts in engaging citizens and making sure city council utilizes its skills and knowledge while developing policy. Greer said this is mostly done by including citizen advisers on the different committees of the municipal council and making sure their input and feedback is heard.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“[W]e must all become members of one political party or the other. We must infiltrate the system by not just sitting aside – when we move, we make change.” - Ratna Omidvar[/quote]

With the self-deprecating claim that, “I am a shawarma man, not a politician,” Fakih shared his experiences in civic engagement at the local level. Fakih stressed that, “Change is a belief that you can make a difference even if it takes time and hard work,” and it starts with voting to ensure the right to have a say isn’t lost.

Apart from merely voting, Omidvar wanted the level of involvement in the political process to be a notch higher. She suggested that, “We must all become members of one political party or the other. We must infiltrate the system by not just sitting aside – when we move, we make change.”

All the panellists were of the opinion that new citizens coming from repressive societies must be made aware that it is possible to make change happen here in Canada and they have nothing to fear. “You need to unlearn repressions and know that you don’t have to keep heads low to stay out of trouble,” was the collective message from panellists to new Canadians to elevate their involvement in nation building.

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Published in Arab World
Thursday, 09 October 2014 14:12

Confronting ISIS: The NDP has Lost its Way

by Fred Maroun in Ottawa

It is very clear by now to anyone paying attention that the group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is an extremely violent organization promoting a fanatical ideology and quickly expanding across the Middle East with the intention of reaching into Europe and beyond (it has already made explicit threats against Canada). ISIS is also allied with like-minded organizations from around the world, including Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Taliban in Pakistan.

The threat posed by ISIS to the world and particularly the Middle East is urgent and undeniable. ISIS is known to engage in gruesome mass killings in an effort to ethnically cleanse groups that they consider undesirables, including Christians and including Muslims who do not abide by their brand of Islam. ISIS has two important elements that make it into a world threat that must not be ignored: its drive to massacre groups that it considers undesirable, and its drive to expand its empire to the whole world.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]I am surprised and disappointed that the party of David Lewis and Tommy Douglas refuses to stand up for the minorities who are under assault by ISIS and refuses to engage in a war that may determine the future of much of the world.[/quote]

Nazi Germany

To find an equivalent organization in scope and extremism, we need to go back to Nazi Germany at the start of World War II. The main difference between them is that Germany’s first target was Europe whereas ISIS’s first target is the Middle East, but to anyone who considers that the lives of all individuals (Arabs or Europeans, Muslims or Christians) have the same value, this difference is hardly relevant.

No reasonable person would suggest today that Canada should not have been engaged militarily in the coalition against Nazi Germany, yet both opposition parties, while acknowledging that ISIS is a dangerous and criminal organization, stood in Parliament and voted against military involvement by Canada. They voted to let other members of the coalition do the work of combatting this threat, and they voted to not have Canada offer even the small symbolic military contribution that the Conservative government of Canada has offered as part of the coalition.

Stand down

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau left the door open to supporting Canada’s military involvement at a later date, presumably when it appears safe to do so without losing popular support. New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Thomas Mulcair went even further and left no door open. Mulcair made it clear that he has no interest in pursuing any military involvement against ISIS, now or in the future.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Today the NDP is no longer anybody’s conscience; and it also does not have the electoral appeal of the Liberal party either.[/quote]

The opportunistic Liberal position does not surprise me because it is fairly consistent with traditional Liberal politics, although Bob Rae, a former New Democrat, was a temporary and far-too-short breath of fresh air. I am, however, surprised and disappointed that the party of David Lewis and Tommy Douglas refuses to stand up for the minorities who are under assault by ISIS and refuses to engage in a war that may determine the future of much of the world.

NDP of the past

When faced with the threat of Nazi Germany, the NDP of the past (Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, CCF at the time), firmly supported Canada’s war effort. Tommy Douglas, later to be the leader of the NDP, even enlisted in the army to fight the Nazis. Douglas stated the following in Canada’s House of Commons in 1939: “If you accept the completely absolutist position of the pacifist, then you are saying that you are prepared to allow someone else who has no such scruples to destroy all the values you've built up. […] if you came to a choice between losing freedom of speech, religion, association, thought, and all the things that make life worth living, and resorting to force, you'd used force.” (Stewart, Walter (2003), Tommy: the life and politics of Tommy Douglas).

Canada’s official opposition is essentially saying today that peoples of the Middle East should fend for themselves while Canada sends only humanitarian aid and sits tight while hoping for the best. The NDP did not take that stand when the peoples in a similar danger were Europeans, but today that peoples of the Middle East are losing “freedom of speech, religion, association, thought, and all the things that make life worth living” and often their lives as well, the NDP is content to do nothing.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Canada’s official opposition is essentially saying today that peoples of the Middle East should fend for themselves while Canada sends only humanitarian aid and sits tight while hoping for the best.[/quote]

One could argue that this is an indication of NDP discrimination against Arabs, but I think that it simply a sign that the NDP of today is not the same principled and forthright party as the party of Tommy Douglas, David Lewis, and M.J. Coldwell. The NDP is today, as it has been for the last two or three decades, a party dominated by radical leftist ideologues with little connection to average working people. Upon the election of Mulcair as leader of the NDP, there was much hope that he would move the party back to its principled roots.

Sadly, it appears that Mulcair has no will or no ability to stand up to the party’s radicals, and he has adopted without question the “absolutist position of the pacifist” which Douglas had denounced.The NDP was once the conscience of Canada while the Liberal party was widely known as an opportunistic party that would steal NDP ideas once they became popular. Today, the NDP is no longer anybody’s conscience; and it does not have the electoral appeal of the Liberal party either.

It is a party without a purpose and without a future, a party that is captive to ivory tower activists who think that supporting Arabs and Muslims is somehow the same as promoting hatred of Israel. Whether the war with ISIS brings an end to ISIS or not is still an open question, but it seems that it has already claimed its first victim in Canada: the relevance of the New Democratic Party.

Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of the civil war. Fred blogs at http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/author/fred-maroun/ and http://fredmaroun.blogspot.com/.

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Published in Commentary

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