Cultural sensitivities must never override gender equality: Khan

Another good piece by Sheema Khan:

While these attitudes have been ingrained for centuries elsewhere, one would think that migrating to a land where gender equality is emphasized would lead to a change of heart. Apparently, more needs to be done to uproot customs that have been transplanted here. Efforts must come from both within and without affected communities.

We need honest public conversations about these difficult topics. Multicultural sensitivities should never override gender equality, nor should they censor the expression of strong opinions. Let it be said: Both sets of cultural practices are, well, barbaric. They have no place here (or in fact, anywhere). Not only are they “un-Canadian,” they are inhuman.

Government policy is also a necessary tool to combat discriminatory practices.

While Canada has legislation against the practice of FGM, there are no laws that prosecute parents who send their daughters abroad to have the procedure done. In contrast, France and the United States have outlawed “FGM tourism.” It is time for Canada to follow their lead.

And while Ottawa has moved to address FGM, our governments have failed to address female feticide. They ignored the call by Dr. Rajendra Kale, in 2012, to ban disclosure of the sex of a fetus until 30 weeks (after which point an abortion is difficult). South Korea banned such disclosures in 1988, helping to reverse gender imbalance.

Finally, there can be no change unless there is opposition within communities. There will be pressure to circle the wagons in wake of negative media coverage. I still remember an Ottawa community leader telling a local congregation, following the “honour killing” of Aqsa Parvez, that the media were trying to make the Muslim community look “bad.” Outrage was not directed at family violence, but at the media for covering that violence.

Today, many courageous Bohra women who underwent khatna (i.e. FGM) in their childhood, are speaking out against the practice, directing their personal pain toward addressing social justice. They risk ostracization from their own families and excommunication from their faith community.

Who, on the other hand, will speak up for the 4,500 “missing” girls in the Indo-Canadian community, so that female feticide will cease? To the women who abort their daughters: you were not subject to sex-selective abortion – why, then, inflict it on Your daughter-to-be? There will need to be many painful conversations about the central moral issue: aborting a fetus simply because it is female.

Minority communities are in a difficult spot, especially with anti-immigrant sentiment on the rise. However, failing to address harmful cultural practices unequivocally, allows problems to fester and, ultimately, cause even more damage.

Source: Cultural sensitivities must never override gender equality – The Globe and Mail

To fight hate, we must become soldiers of inclusion: Khan

Another good piece by Sheema Khan:

As many have noted, the massacre took place in an atmosphere of increasing Islamophobia. While the individual who allegedly perpetrated these crimes is solely responsible for his actions, it is time to reflect on where we as a society stand in relation to public discourse about Muslims.

Currently, “Otherizing” Muslims has not only become the norm, but a political platform to win votes. We saw it in the previous federal election. The current Parti Québécois Leader, Jean-François Lisée, championed the toxic Quebec values charter and plays the Muslim identity card. In July, he criticized a colleague for wishing Quebec Muslims a happy Eid. What message does this send?

Enthusiastic supporters of Kelly Leitch embrace her defence of “Canadian values” – a phrase that resonates with their deep mistrust of Muslims in Canada. The actions of political leaders sets the tone. Xenophobic overtures, whether overt or covert, give licence to people to spew their prejudices in the open. Attitudes once considered shameful are normalized, to the detriment of social harmony.

We have a choice. Do we allow the “Otherizing” to continue unchallenged or stand up to bigotry? Do we allow politicians to play upon fears or do we hold them accountable?

This is a very difficult time for Muslims. The unthinkable has happened, resulting in intense feelings of vulnerability. A sanctuary of refuge has been violated. Their co-religionists have been murdered in cold blood for their simple profession of faith. Many have thought “that could have been me” and are wondering what to tell their children, and how to keep them safe.

Schools and community sports organizations can help to address anxiety with messages of inclusion. My daughter’s school tweeted the following reassuring words on Monday morning: “To Muslim members of our community, our deepest condolences. Please know our thoughts are with you and we love you. Staff are here for you.” This really helped to assuage many of our worries.

In addition, law-enforcement agencies across the country are providing enhanced protection to Islamic centres and mosques. These institutions should also apply for the federal government’s Communities At Risk program, which is aimed at helping institutions vulnerable to hate-motivated attacks improve their security.

What about questions of identity, going forward? Perhaps Muslims can take a cue from Linda Sarsour, one of the organizers of the recent Women’s March, and declare themselves “unapologetically Muslim, unapologetically Canadian.” We should continue to worship in humility, relying on our faith for strength. Let’s continue to practise the universal virtues of community, generosity and charity. Now is not the time to disengage, nor turn inward with fear.

In fact, Canadians and Quebeckers have opened their hearts to Muslims across this country, letting them know that they are loved and supported. Our elected leaders have set the tone toward healing. These profound acts of kindness help repair the social fabric that extremists desperately seek to rupture. Their goal is to sow hatred, division and fear. We must not let them succeed. Instead, let us become soldiers of inclusion, armed with compassion, ready to confront xenophobia in all its forms. Apathy is not an option.

In his beautiful Quebec anthem Mon pays, Gilles Vigneault wrote “A tous les hommes de la terre, ma maison c’est votre maison.” This theme – that our vast country is home to those who arrive on its shores – is also found in aboriginal tradition. Our hearts, like the land, are wide enough to embrace all those who seek to call Canada “home.” How unapologetically Canadian.

Source: To fight hate, we must become soldiers of inclusion – The Globe and Mail

Address the radicalization of Muslim youth head-on: Sheema Khan

Sheema Khan highlights some recent counter radicalization initiatives aimed at youth, arguing for more initiatives to help parents detect and act upon early signs of radicalization. No doubt she will be consulted by the new Office of the Community Outreach and Counter-Radicalization Co-ordinator:

Another recent creative venture is a comic book, Radicalishow, developed by youth who have received counselling from the Centre for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence (CPRLV) in Montreal. Having taken ownership of their misguided choices, they have helped to produce a valuable teaching tool about the factors that lead some down an extreme path, the challenges and vulnerabilities associated with the search for identity, and the devastating impact that ensues. As in Tug of War, this platform should be disseminated widely, for it addresses complex issues by the youth in a thoughtful manner.

The CPRLV deserves much credit for its attempt to approach radicalization in a holistic, comprehensive manner, by engaging as many stakeholders as possible, such as youth, teachers, counsellors and Muslim community leaders. For example, the centre’s most recent report, Women and Violent Radicalization, provides a historical context of violent female radicalization across cultures and ideologies.

It also sheds light on the reasons why a number of Quebec women between the ages of 17 and 19 decided to leave for Syria. Many felt that it was difficult to live as a Muslim in a hostile environment that left them feeling stigmatized and/or marginalized. The Western feminist model of emancipation seemed to clash with their desire to stay home and raise a family. In contrast, calls to build and join a utopian state where one can live as a “true” Muslim without harassment, seemed like a panacea for some. The report concludes with the need for more research.

In spite of the laudable efforts by the CPRLV, one key group seems to have been ignored: parents.

Currently, there are scant resources for parents about radicalization. Just as there has been an explosion of parental resources on Internet safety for children, so too should there be development of parental workshops on prevention of radicalization, for parents are often the first to notice subtle changes in their children. What should parents be aware of? How do they speak to their children? What signs should they look for? And what resources are available in case one’s child seems to have fallen prey?

At the film screening in Ottawa, the majority of those in attendance were youth. They were eager to address radicalization head on – through dialogue, debate and activism. They have the energy, the passion and the will; what they lack, however, is a seat at the table with federal policy makers to help devise a comprehensive prevention strategy. This omission should be addressed by the new Office of the Community Outreach and Counter-Radicalization Co-ordinator.

Source: Address the radicalization of Muslim youth head-on – The Globe and Mail

Our bond was one of faith and friendship – and then tragedy struck: Sheema Khan

Nice message from Sheema Khan, on the death of her friend, appropriate to the season and the times:

As I reflect upon Nasiba, who contributed generously to the Canadian landscape, so many wonderful teachers from our rich, diverse Canadian mosaic come to mind. I was inspired to study physics by my high school teacher, Mr. Szatmari; and quantum mechanics at Marianopolis CEGEP by Dr. Aniko Lysy. Both were Hungarian, passionate about science, and most importantly, believed in me, when I lacked confidence in my own abilities. At McGill, Prof. B.C. Eu, originally from South Korea, was instrumental in paving a path toward my study of chemical physics, and entry into Harvard. There were many more along the way. Influential coaches, teachers, counsellors and friends – from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives who helped me to thrive.

Suffice it to say that as calls for nativism increase, let us reflect upon the rich contributions made by immigrants and their descendants to our mosaic. The struggle to adapt to a new land, a new culture is circuitous at best.

Yet millions do it, day in, day out, without recognition – only wanting to belong, to contribute, to succeed, and to forge new paths, new identities. It is both daunting, yet exhilarating. It cannot be accomplished in isolation, but rather, by reaching across cultural lines, and seeing the commonality and beauty of the human spirit – for example, by inspiring a student to learn and giving her the confidence to pursue her dreams. In the process, we strengthen the fabric of our compassionate meritocracy.

This morning, at dawn prayer, I broke down and wept, realizing that I would no longer have those beautiful tutorials with Nasiba again. Never hear her gentle, encouraging voice.

The finality of death is indeed harsh. All the more reason to make the most of our time here, to cultivate the best within each of us, and to share the fruits of our labour.

Source: Our bond was one of faith and friendship – and then tragedy struck – The Globe and Mail

For Muslim women in Canada, a sense of vulnerability: Sheema Khan

Sheema Khan focuses on gender differences in analysis of the recent Environics Institute survey:

The recent Environics Institute survey of Muslims in Canada reveals a community that belies facile stereotypes – no more so than when you analyze the results along gender lines.

For example, the survey (for which I served as an unpaid consultant) found that fewer Muslim women share the optimism about Canada felt by their male counterparts. And while both groups believe that their Muslim and Canadian identities are very important, when asked to choose between the two, women choose their Muslim identity at a far higher rate. As a corollary, fewer women than men believe that immigrants should set aside their cultural backgrounds and try to blend into Canadian culture. Furthermore, more female immigrants have indicated that their attachment to Islam has increased since moving to Canada.

The survey, based on telephone interviews with 600 Muslims across the country, also provides an interesting snapshot of gender-based attitudes toward community institutions. For example, only 33 per cent of Muslim women attend a mosque at least once a week for prayer, compared with 62 per cent of men. The lack of female attendance is not surprising, given that many mosques do little to encourage female participation. Interestingly, a core of about 20 per cent of women (and men) is unhappy with opportunities for women to play leadership roles in Muslim organizations. This could provide the basis for an unmosqued movement, or the creation of women’s mosques.

 When it comes to family life, a whopping 90 per cent of Muslim men and women believe the responsibility for caring for the home and children should be shared equally. However, more men believe that the father must be the master in the home, placing the Muslim level of support for family patriarchy roughly equal to that of Canadians in the 1980s. However, today’s younger Muslim generation rejects patriarchy at roughly the same level as that of other Canadians.

Muslim women are less optimistic about relations with non-Muslims than men are, the survey found. A greater number worry about the reaction of Canadians toward Muslims, believing that the next generation of Muslims will face more discrimination. They are also more concerned about media portrayal of Muslims, and stereotyping by colleagues and neighbours.

It seems the crux of the matter lies in discrimination, as 42 per cent of Muslim women (compared with 27 per cent of men) say they have experienced some form of discrimination or ill-treatment during the past five years. Such incidents occurred mainly in public places – stores, restaurants, banks, public transit. Of women who experienced xenophobia, 60 per cent said they are identifiably Muslim. This ratio is reversed among the 25 per cent of Muslim women who experience difficulties at border crossings. As a result, women worry far more about discrimination, unemployment and Islamophobia than men.

The discrimination concerns are real, as illustrated by employment statistics from the 2011 National Household Survey, in which the unemployment rate of Muslims was 14 per cent, compared with the national average of 7.8 per cent, despite Muslims having high levels of education. The unemployment rate was highest in Quebec (17 per cent), which was double the provincial average. In comparison, the national unemployment rate of visible minorities hovered around 10 per cent.

Even Canadian-born Muslims, who graduated from a Canadian institution, fared worse than the national average, with an unemployment rate of 9.5 per cent. One can only imagine the difficulties in finding employment for the 60,000 Muslim women who head a single-parent household.

Clearly, Muslim women feel more vulnerable about the future, given that they bear a greater brunt of discrimination than their male counterparts.

Source: For Muslim women in Canada, a sense of vulnerability – The Globe and Mail

Muslim men must learn to treat women as equals: Sheema Khan

One of the more interesting sessions we held on multiculturalism and faith was a small multi-faith roundtable, with the most interesting exchange being between Sheema Khan and Alia Hogben (Canadian Council of Muslim Women) who challenged some of the more conservative or traditional male Imams present on gender issues.

Both have continued to be outspoken as seen in this latest piece by Sheema:

From 2000 to 2005, I served as the chair of CAIR-CAN, a grassroots advocacy organization that fought discrimination against Muslims. Whether it was a Muslim woman denied employment because of her hijab, or the rendition of Maher Arar, we fought for basic human rights based on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This journey opened my eyes to my own double standards: I fought for Muslims to be treated with basic human dignity by the wider society, yet looked the other way when such treatment was denied to women within my own community.

Toward the end of my CAIR-CAN tenure, I could no longer stand the hypocrisy, and decided to tackle a fundamental problem that our community has been content to ignore: the treatment of women as second-class human beings. As chair, I came across incidents against Muslim women that would never have been tolerated had these been perpetrated by a non-Muslim. But if a Muslim did it, well, we would let it go, hoping that attitudes would one day change.

It was, and continues to be, the denial of the fact that many Muslim cultures have a bias against women. Consider the past few years of the Gender Gap Index, published by the World Economic Forum. It continually lists predominantly Muslim countries in the bottom rung of societies that equitably distribute resources between men and women. From the super rich (such as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States) to the impoverished, a large chunk of Muslims live in societies where women are shortchanged in terms of development, opportunity and participation.

The bulk of Muslims in Canada are immigrants who naturally bring to this country the attitudes and norms shaped by their culture of birth. These will be transformed by Canadian norms; the transformation varies from person to person. Suffice it to say that many traditional Muslim institutions continue to operate on a patriarchal model, in which women are either unwelcomed or merely tolerated, but are always expected to keep the status quo. Those who demand basic rights are labelled with the “f” word – feminist.

….Some will be critical of the airing of “dirty laundry” during difficult times for Muslims. Yet meaningful discussions about the treatment of women have been avoided for far too long. To what end? What we don’t need is another lecture about the dress and behaviour of the “ideal” Muslim woman. Instead, we need to hear more about men taking responsibility for their actions, and treating women as equal human beings.

Source: Muslim men must learn to treat women as equals – The Globe and Mail

In the fight against terrorism, Muslims must own their message: Sheema Khan

Sheema Khan, further developing her arguments for the role that Muslims can and should play in the West:

Here in the West, Muslims have the unique luxury – if not the duty – to examine such critical questions, and take ownership of their own narrative. If they don’t, others will do it for them. Do Muslims in the West want to define Islam as a faith rooted in compassion, generosity and pluralism? Or will it be defined as a religion of fear, terror and subjugation, as advocated by extremists? While the choice may be obvious, it requires forceful authentication through repeated words and actions.

Own the message, and declare it with conviction: Islam forbids terrorism, murder and mayhem. Extremists who murder innocent civilians, as retribution for Muslims killed by the West, do not speak for me. I will fight injustice with people of justice, using non-violent means. I will fight to protect my fellow human beings from harm, because my faith demands it. I will look after my neighbour and help to make this country a better place. I will follow on the footsteps of Prophet Mohammed, who was sent as a mercy to mankind.

Such a principled path includes fighting for the rights of innocents abroad through legitimate means. It includes standing up to Islamophobia and engaging in the wider struggle against xenophobia.

It also encompasses the duty to work with law enforcement to ensure the safety of all Canadians. This is evident in the number of plots thwarted by Muslim tips and informants. In a 2007 Environics poll, the overwhelming majority of Canadian Muslims believed it was their responsibility to “report on potentially violent extremists they might encounter in their mosques and communities.”

After the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, Muslims organized grassroots demonstrations in Ottawa, Toronto, Kingston and London, Ont., reiterating the commitment to our shared humanity, while welcoming all Canadians to join in the call. Such efforts are shaping a Canadian narrative of Islam and should be repeated. Grassroots efforts that have spawned interfaith, cultural, charitable and civic initiatives are also moulding an indigenous form of Islam, rooted in a Canadian ethos.

Finally, owning the narrative means purposeful use of language. Those who know the true nature of the Islamic State refer to it by its Arabic acronym, Daesh, which has a derogatory meaning. They certainly don’t label Daesh members as jihadi. Islamic law defines the terror perpetrated by extremists as hiraba, which is diametrically opposed to jihad. They seek legitimization under the moniker of jihad. Let’s not give into that. Call them for what they are: hirabi. In the propaganda war, language means everything.

Source: In the fight against terrorism, Muslims must own their message – The Globe and Mail

Fifty years in Canada, and now I feel like a second-class citizen: Sheema Khan

Speaks for itself:

“Too broken to write,” I told my editor, after the onslaught of Conservative announcements. The niqab was condemned. Citizenship was revoked for convicted terrorists with dual citizenship. Canadians were reminded of “barbaric cultural practices,” and the federal government’s preference for mainly non-Muslim Syrian refugees was reiterated. Make no mistake: This divisive strategy is meant to prey upon fear and prejudice.

Last May, I wrote that Canadian Muslims “are the low-hanging fruit in the politics of fear. Omar Khadr is exhibit A; Zunera Ishaq is exhibit B. With an October election, it won’t be surprising to see political machinations at our expense.” Yet the sheer brazenness of the Conservatives leaves one speechless; a 2.0 version of Quebec’s “charter of values” is being used to win votes on the backs of a vulnerable minority. The government’s open hostility has given licence to bigots to vent xenophobia. A pregnant Muslim woman is assaulted in Montreal. A niqab-wearing woman is attacked while shopping with her daughters in Toronto. Mosques are taking precautions. Identifiable Muslim women feel a little less safe, and Muslim youth face difficult questions about identity and acceptance.

Don’t expect Conservative Leader Stephen Harper to call for calm; this cynical strategy seems to be working. What does this say about us, and our commitment to a just society?

December will mark 50 years since I arrived from India as a toddler. In Montreal, I experienced the fear of terrorism during the 1970 FLQ crisis and horror after the massacre of 14 women one dark December evening in 1989. My first voting experience was momentous, for I helped to keep the country together in the 1980 Quebec referendum. I did the same during the nail-biter of 1995. Along the way, I never felt any discrimination, any sense of being second-class.

Quebec and Canada allowed me to thrive. I remember the pride I felt when my Harvard University professors told me that Canadian graduate students were the best-prepared – a testament to our excellent undergraduate institutions. And the love I felt for my compatriots during the massive 1995 pro-Canada rally in Montreal. It reminded me of the hajj – a sea of individuals from near and far, united in their love for a noble ideal. Differences melted into a shared vision of the future.

However, the mood changed in Quebec after then-premier Jacques Parizeau’s “money and the ethnic vote” comment the night of the 1995 referendum. For the first time, I was told to “go back home,” while walking my eight-month-old daughter in a stroller. When I moved to Ottawa, a man, proudly brandishing his Canadian Legion jacket, told me the same. Then came the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Although there were a few more incidents, I never feared for myself or my children. On the contrary – friends, neighbours and complete strangers renewed my faith in the basic decency of Canadians.

Now, things feel different. I never imagined that the federal government would use its hefty weight to vilify Muslims. Never in 50 years have I felt so vulnerable. For the first time, I wonder if my children will have the opportunity to thrive as I did. One is a budding environmental scientist; one has entrepreneurial goals; the youngest dreams of playing soccer alongside Kadeisha Buchanan. But the Conservative message is: You are Muslim, you are the “other,” you can’t be trusted and you will never belong.

Thankfully, other political leaders have stepped up; Justin Trudeau, Tom Mulcair, Elizabeth May, the Quebec legislature, among others, have denounced the politics of fear, and reiterated the Canadian value of inclusion. We need more people to stand together against all forms of bigotry, whether it’s against Muslims today, or aboriginals every day.

By all means, let’s respectfully discuss our differences, while weaving a tapestry of shared experiences toward a more inclusive country. Our hearts, like the land, are wide enough to mend broken spirits. As the late NDP leader Jack Layton reminded us so eloquently: “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

Source: Fifty years in Canada, and now I feel like a second-class citizen – The Globe and Mail

Getting past victimhood starts with an honest look in the mirror: Sheema Khan

Another good piece by Sheema Khan:

While Canadian Muslim leadership is evolving, there are still too many who ascribe to victimhood and conspiracy theories. Such self-defeating attitudes do not serve the community well; blaming others prevents much-needed self-introspection, thereby allowing flaws to fester.

Islamophobia is real and must be addressed. This week alone, a London mosque was vandalized and a video surfaced of an anti-Muslim verbal attack on a Calgary cab driver. But Islamophobia should not be used as a cover to mask wrong behaviour.

A parallel theme weaves through Saul Bellow’s novel The Victim, in which a Jewish protagonist blames his misfortunes on anti-Semitism without much introspection. Gradually, he takes stock of his own shortcomings, and with a renewed moral compass takes on life’s challenges (including anti-Semitism) with a confident, balanced attitude.

This type of fresh outlook is evident in the next generation of Muslim leaders, such as physician Alaa Murabit, who was raised in Saskatoon and moved to Libya at the age of 15. Shocked by widespread gender discrimination in her new environment, she eventually founded the Voice of Libyan Women (VLW) to challenge the prevailing norms.

In her recent TED talk, “What my religion really says about women,” Ms. Murabit is unapologetic about her love for Islam, her source of strength. She readily acknowledges the discrimination faced by women in Muslim cultures (rather than blaming news media for reporting on real-life horrors). She seeks to address the “crooked foundation” by advocating that women reclaim their religion by looking to examples of Muslim women in early Islamic history, to the authentic example of the Prophet Mohammed and to the Koran itself.

The Noor Campaign, a VLW program, has used this approach to combat violence against women in Libya and abroad. It is gruelling work. Criticized by the right, the left, the fundamentalists and the secularists, Ms. Murabit marches on with honesty, humility and compassion – because she believes in forging positive societal change.

Canadian Muslims do not need to wait for leadership from traditional institutions to evolve to this level of dynamism. They can independently forge initiatives that address areas of neglect, such as family dysfunction, substance abuse and mental health. Or they can participate in wider campaigns on issues such as poverty and the environment. They should also demand a seat at the table at Islamic centres, since women and youth are stakeholders.

Getting past victimhood starts with an honest look in the mirror – The Globe and Mail.

We need skilled footwork around religious freedom, gender equity: Sheema Khan

Further to my earlier post (Girl players leave high school soccer game after complaints from Muslim boys’ team), Sheema Khan on religious reasonable accommodation. A somewhat meandering piece, and her conclusion, in calling for “wisdom and aplomb” is harder in practice than in theory. But nevertheless to be aimed for:

In 2007, a Montreal synagogue paid for a neighbouring YMCA to replace its windows with frosted glass, so that the synagogue’s male students would not be distracted by spandex-clad women exercising next door. Once YMCA members found out, a protest ensued, adding fuel to a fiery Quebec debate about religious accommodation that continues unabated to this day.

In the soccer case, teams should abide by ROPSSAA regulations, or forfeit a match from the outset when gender equity is an issue. Teams must accept the forfeit, rather than maximize goal output at the expense of female teammates.

There will probably be further collisions between religious freedom and gender equity. Each should be handled on a case-by-case basis, guided by Charter principles, with wisdom and aplomb, without recourse to incendiary language or political demagoguery.

We need skilled footwork around religious freedom, gender equity – The Globe and Mail.