False Hijab-cutting incident a lesson for all

Author: Alia Hogben

Source: Whig Column

As Canadians, we are much influenced by whatever happens in the United States, from their culture to their politics. The recent election of Donald Trump has left most of us stunned, bewildered and perhaps even fearful.

Should we in Canada worry about the spread of the recent political ideas from the States? One example is the intense interest in “populism,” a concept I knew little about till now.

Supposedly one of the factors in the U.S. presidential race was populism, which allowed Trump to win.  A populist believes that society is split between the “corrupt” elite and the “pure, downtrodden” people. It also divides those who are white, right wing, fearful of losing their dominance in society, from other citizens who are ethnically or religiously different. This did not lead to a revolution for the masses but it did lead to racism and discrimination against each other.

However, it is truly puzzling that rich, elitist Trump, with his colleagues who are also wealthy, are looked up to by the ordinary citizens as their advocates and saviours. They do not see the dichotomy between the wealth of their newly elected government and their own needs. The public only see Trump as their maligned leader, a financial success.

In Canada, are we also going to be taken over by these waves of populism, this division between one ethnic group and another? Will we be pitted against each other by the emphasis of our skin colour – the white majority against immigrants and minorities? Will some of us be viewed as “natives of the land”- not indigenous – while others remain foreigners?

For example, according to the 2017 poll conducted by EKOS and the Canadian Press about 46% of Canadians are open-minded towards the world and each other, but 30% are feeling economically and culturally insecure, and are more worried about their future. About 37% think that too many visible minorities are being admitted and 29% stated that they have faced racism in the last month [2017.]  We can hope that the recent Stats Can data for 2017 which shows the unemployment rate is the lowest in 40 years, and that 2018 looks promising, will assuage some of the fears amongst us.

Fortunately, although there is racism and prejudice, most Canadians believe that the inclusion of our diversity enhances our Canadian identity.

Where does all this lead us, not just in politics but in our daily lives?

Our organization of Canadian Muslim women tries to be responsive to anyone who contacts us by phone or email. Often these calls are from women and their families who are experiencing family or legal issues. Other times we are contacted by the media and also by our fellow Canadians.

The recent example is the incident of an 11 year old Muslim girl of Toronto, who reported to her school that a man tried to cut her head covering [Hijab] while she walked to school. We were contacted by several media outlets looking for our reaction to the incident. Along with others, we accepted the story as real and reacted accordingly.

Our position was that this must have been a frightening experience and hopefully the girl would be helped to cope with the stress of it.

We were as surprised as everyone else when the police announced that the incident did not happen.  The police gave no further explanation which left everyone puzzled. We still felt that this was a child who must be believed at the start until the investigation found otherwise. The same understanding is needed when women are coming forward to speak out about their abuse.

We hope the lesson learnt is that the school staff should have waited until the police had completed their investigation and called in the media then.

What this incident did was allow for a frenzy of hate and racism to emerge. It always saddens us when any incident occurs it leads immediately to a spate of abuse.  It gives permission to racists to spout their anti – Muslim hate against the child, the family and the rest of us Muslims. What people are ignoring is that many Muslim women are  subject to racist taunts, comments, and physical assault, so that understandably this incident was seen as one of many.

This is not just a child who lied, it is a Muslim child who is viewed as a “problem” and therefore dealt with differently. People objected to what the mother was wearing – the niqab – and this also again created prejudice against all Muslims…go back, or if in Rome, do as the Romans do.

The result for us was that CCMW received several nasty emails blaming ALL Muslims for this child’s lie. There was no sympathy or call for understanding as to why an 11 year old would lie. The family made a public apology and we sincerely hope the school, the family and the police have dealt with her gently so that everyone learnt a lesson.

As this is my first column for 2018, I take this opportunity to wish all of you good health, good friends and enough wealth for an enjoyable year. I also wish for kindness and compassion to triumph over differences and fears amongst us.