I am sorry that the country I call home seems bent on taking a turn towards exclusion and bigotry.

Sheema KhanI am more sorry than I can say for the number of times I have been asked if the Syrian family we hope to help come to Canada are Christian, as if we should have less concern with their plight simply because their faith might differ from ours.

I am sorry that, although you are a professional writer for a major news outlet, you find yourself today in the country you have lived in for 50 years feeling “Too broken to write.”

The litany of concerns that cause your distress is disturbing, as the ruling party of our nation seems to feel it has found a winning election strategy:

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 Citizenship was revoked for convicted terrorists with dual citizenship.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.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/fifty-years-in-canada-and-now-i-feel-like-a-second-class-citizen/article26691065/?click=sf_globefb

It grieves me that your experience at this uneasy time is that,

Never in 50 years have I felt so vulnerable.

I am deeply saddened that these moves have given you a sense that you are not welcome here.

You are not frightening. Your children belong here every bit as much as my children. We are all Canadians. As long as we conduct ourselves within the parameters of the law of our land, we all deserve equal respect and freedom to conduct ourselves according to our customs, our religious beliefs and our moral values.

I understand that Islam represents a wide variety of practice and conviction. I would be horrified to have my faith characterized by its most extreme elements as I am sure you are justifiably offended to be identified with the more radical fringes of your faith. There are things that, as a stranger to Islam, I may find peculiar and practices that are difficult for me to understand. This is no reason for me, as part of the dominant culture, to impose my views on you and demand that you conform to my vision of appropriate behaviour as long as your choices intend no harm.

I see the danger of assuming that I understand your faith. I understand that I am not qualified to judge your community. I do not understand body piercing, tattoos, or eating poutine. But I defend anyone’s right to engage in these strange behaviours. I want to take seriously your caution not to

assume that a woman who wears the full veil sees herself as someone else’s property. Many of the niqabis I know are quite assertive and have strong personalities. They view themselves as servants of God – not their husbands. Finally, it is understandable for people who are unaccostomed to the full veil to view it as strange. That’s only human.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/sheema-khan-on-muslims-the-veil-and-fitting-into-western-societies/article1214839/?page=all

I share your vision of a country in which we

respectfully discuss our differences, while weaving a tapestry of shared experiences toward a more inclusive country.

You are not a “second-class” member of this society. We belong together in this land. We share far more than divides us.

You have said that

we are to treat people with kindness and respect, for we are all part of the human family.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/its-time-to-confront-the-cancer-of-extremism/article22458385/

I want the country you want in which we can

live together based on broad, inclusive principles. We may not necessarily agree with particular choices of religious apparel, but so long as they do not harm anyone, why ban them?

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/sheema-khan-on-muslims-the-veil-and-fitting-into-western-societies/article1214839/?page=all

So, I am confident that we share respect for the well-being of all citizens and a desire for the freedom of all people. Within the bounds of doing no intentional harm, I expect we would both do all in our power to protect the rights of all citizens to live according to their deepest beliefs.

You have warned us that

We need to take a deep look and acknowledge that the cancer of extremism is growing, and come up with strategies on how to deal with it.

Your timely  warning applies to intolerance in whatever colour it may appear or whatever language it speaks. I reject the extremism that demands everyone conform to a particular dress code or that outlaws any cultural practice that does no harm to another person.

Perhaps this election will be the time when our country renounces the “politics of fear” and aligns itself with  compassion, mutual respect, and that diversity that is a core value of the community we share.

We belong together in this country. I honour your faith and value the differences you embody and by which our community is profoundly enriched. May you find deep peace and grace in this land.

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as an aside…. I am also sad that the most articulate spokesman who has come forward in the public arena to defend your right to practice your faith as you see fit as long as that practice does no harm, has to be a member of your own faith:

http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2015/10/06/calgary-mayor-naheed-nenshi-takes-on-tory-agenda-of-fear-steward.html

 But I am glad he is speaking out and hope his voice encourages you to feel more secure in this country.

Please be encouraged to know that Naheed Nenshi is not the only voice “out there” supporting your freedom to practice your faith as you see fit:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/regina-anglican-priest-wears-hijab-for-a-day-1.3260241

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