A state visit to Sweden

Author: Alia Hogben

Source: Kingston Whig-Standard

1297938669395_ORIGINALKINGSTON – When I say that I often feel blessed and fortunate, people are bemused because many negative events have happened in our personal lives and in the lives of many Muslims. I don’t ignore these but I believe that to move forward we must focus on the many positives, rather than becoming mired in so much pervasive anti- this and anti- that.

Though difficult to do, we cannot always feel like victims; we can also rise up as survivors. I know Canadian Muslims are committed to collaborating with our fellow citizens for the common good.

For many individual Muslims, who are facing discrimination at school and at work, it is difficult to turn their attention away from this and move forward. I am sure for the families affected by the terrible killings at the Quebec mosque there is too much pain to see any positives. But there are those of us,in the Muslim communities who must consider the future and build on the active support being provided to us by our fellow citizens. This includes our own reactions to polls that show the discomfort and prejudice against us.

The ongoing controversy regarding Motion 103, on Islamophobia, presented by a Muslim MP, is pathetic, demonstrating exactly the anti-Muslim discrimination she wants to eliminate. I don’t need to add to this discussion as enough has been said.

As Muslims we are very aware that we must actively reach out to our neighbours and friends to demonstrate our goodwill. An example of outreach is when Muslims helped their Jewish neighbours at the wanton destruction of Jewish cemeteries. This is an excellent example of people going beyond their specific communities and feeling the pain and the resolve of the other.

Like other Canadian Muslims, I am so discouraged by the constant harping on whether Islam is compatible with democratic principles and human rights. Basically, this is just a method to continue disparaging Islam and Muslims. However, it does raise challenging questions.

Who do non-Muslims listen to? Who is seen as the authoritative voice to speak on behalf of all Muslims? Is it the Muslim-majority countries, is it the extreme traditionalists within Muslims or is it political groups such as Daesh?

Where are the voices of Islamic scholars who clearly articulate the tenets of Islam? Or what about the ordinary believer of the faith? Or those who demonstrate the diversity within Islam and amongst Muslims?

It seems that politics and financial resources of Muslim-majority countries along with those who hate Islam are shouting loudest and defining Islam and its adherents.

Such groups continue to inflame these discourses and those of us who are trying hard to demonstrate the humanity of Islam are silenced by all sides.

Our organization believes that all newcomers should be taught about the values of our Charter and the Declaration of Human Rights. It is only fair that we, including school children, be taught our essential and fundamental rights and responsibilities.

As a recent personal example of inclusion, I was honoured to be part of the delegation that accompanied the Governor General on a state visit to Sweden in February.

The intent of the state visit was to strengthen Canada’s ties with Sweden, with a focus on innovation, trade and inclusive society. The participation of some of us, such as the young Innu leader Maatalii Okalik, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and me was to portray the diversity of Canada. Others were representatives from academia, trade and civil society and included MPs, government representatives.

It was a remarkable trip as we travelled to Stockholm, Malmo, Lund and Gothenburg and visited several sites. We attended meetings in beautiful palaces, including the exquisite gold-leafed decorated hall in the Stockholm City Hall, where the Nobel Prize winners are celebrated. A note of interest to Kingstonians: Queen’s University professor emeritus Arthur McDonald, who was the 2015 Physics Nobel Prize winner, was part of the delegation.

Inuit Youth Council president Okalik, Nenshi and I were on a panel in Malmo on the topics related to inclusivity, refugees, discrimination and settlement services. These were all particularly urgent subjects in Sweden, a country of 10 million people that was flooded by 150,000 refugees in one year, 2015.

Unfortunately, the session was cut short due to bad weather and so we did not have a fuller discussion with the Swedes about their experiences. I did have conversations at the various gatherings, but I would have liked more discussion regarding the specifics of the lives of Swedish Muslims and about the settlement of their refugees.

There was no doubt of the goodwill between Sweden and Canada. It was encouraging to be part of the reality of Canada’s values of diversity and tolerance without feeling any mere tokenism!