Monthly Archives: October 2015

Not In Our Name: UBC’s new Progressive Jewish Alliance

The Silencing of Jewish Progressive Voices

In recent years there has been an explosion of Jewish groups breaking away from the mainstream Jewish community’s discourse on Israel/Palestine, seeking to reclaim the history of radical Jewish politics.

As young Jews we have witnessed a silencing of perspectives that critique Israel and its actions. Slogans such as: “Wherever I stand – I stand with Israel” depict dominant attitudes within the mainstream Jewish community – that any critique of Israel is a betrayal of the Jewish people as a whole. Critiques of Israel are deemed anti-Semitic, and problematizing the existence of the Jewish state implies that one is a ‘self-hating’ Jew. Israeli hasbara (propaganda) is disseminated without critical thought. In effect  the Jewish diaspora is incorporated into Israel’s public relations apparatus, especially in support of military operations (Avi Benayahu, former Israeli Defense Force spokesperson, called it “participat[ing] in the war effort from home”). The climate of unquestioned support for Israel forcibly exiles those who dissent or diverge from this script. Additionally, young Jews are exposed solely to hegemonic right-wing understandings of Israel in Hebrew schools and other mainstream Jewish spaces; the Palestinian narrative simply isn’t taught. The intense focus on Israel attempts to reduce Jewish life to a narrow nationalist agenda.

It is due to this reality that as a group of young Jewish progressives at UBC, we have decided to form our own space where a wider range of discussions and perspectives are not only tolerated, but encouraged.

The Progressive Jewish Alliance

This year, Jewish progressives at UBC have created a group that would be both a safe space for left-wing Jews to engage in discussion as well as present an opinion that subverted the dominant Jewish campus voices in alignment with Palestinian solidarity groups. Along with these more political goals we wanted to celebrate Jewish culture and history through a social justice lens. We hope to accomplish this through a wide number of initiatives including speakers, film screenings, cultural events, and facilitated discussions.

We subscribe to a Judaism rooted in anti-racism and understand that anti-Semitism is not separate from other forms of oppression. We acknowledge that as Jews we are settlers here on unceded Musqueam, Squamish, Sto:lo and Tsleil-Waututh territory and are committed to standing in solidarity with Indigenous peoples working towards decolonization. We thus oppose Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. We recognize that criticism of Israel, anti-Zionism, and nonviolent resistance tactics such as boycotts, are not inherently anti-Semitic. We strive for a just and peaceful future for all those who live in the land of Israel-Palestine.

Yonatan Shapira

For the Progressive Jewish Alliance’s first educational event, conscientious objector Yonatan Shapira will speak about his transformation from an obedient officer in the Israeli air force to a solidarity activist. Shapira was one of 27 Israeli air force officers who denounced assassinations carried out in the densely-populated Gaza Strip. The 27 were dismissed from the air force, and Yonatan went on to co-found Combatants for Peace with other disillusioned Israeli and Palestinian ex-fighters. He has sailed with three of the boats carrying humanitarian aid and nonviolent activists to break the longstanding Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip, and taken part in numerous other nonviolent actions and campaigns in opposition to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

In times of heightened tensions between Palestinians and Israelis we believe speaking out about these issues is of utmost importance. As left-wing Jews who have nuanced views on the conflict, if we remain silent we allow the mainstream Jewish establishment to dominate discussion and misrepresent us. As Jews who are actively seeking peace and a fair resolution to this conflict we feel a responsibility to explore the systems of oppression that have perpetrated and laid the foundation for such violence to continue.  

How to get involved

Like our page on Facebook to find out about our up and coming events, or if you would like to be part of our organizational collective please email pjaubc@gmail.com.

TAs Do Real Work: A Response to Physics Professor Jenny Hoffman

This article originally appeared on the CUPE 2278 blog. Minor edits were made. 

Admittedly distracted by the second longest federal election cycle in Canadian history, I only today ran across a Ubyssey article, now three weeks old, containing a truly disappointing piece of bizarre commentary that decries the very existence of CUPE 2278, the UBC teaching assistant’s union.

Why would I care? Well, after seven years of graduate work, I finally received my PhD in Mathematics this past May from the University of British Columbia. As a graduate student, especially in the Department of Mathematics, teaching was an integral part of my work life. I worked as a teaching assistant for all seven years in the department, and for several years before that as I attended graduate school and completed my undergraduate degree at other universities. I have also served for three years in varying capacities on the executive of CUPE 2278. Today, I am a sessional lecturer in the Department of Statistics at UBC, and a member of the Faculty Association, who works closely on a regular basis with UBC teaching assistants.

The salvo in question comes from the mouth of someone who should most certainly know better: Jenny Hoffman, former Harvard faculty, a new UBC faculty member in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and an exceptional scientist. She is profiled in this Ubyssey article from October 6th, discussing her passions inside and outside of the workplace. But oddly, Dr. Hoffman also seizes the opportunity to attack the UBC teaching assistants’ union. Per the Ubyssey‘s article:

Hoffman emphasizes that she is grateful to be here. But the scientist chafes at UBC’s teaching assistants’ union, a point she raised early in the interview.

“TA-ing should be considered a course not a job. There should be no union to try and reduce their hours,” Hoffman said. She added that she saw the attitude of CUPE 2278, the TA’s union on campus, as a cultural difference. “I’m coming from a place where people love their jobs,” she said.

Ironically, I borrow from the great physicist Wolfgang Pauli when I categorize Dr. Hoffman’s statement as so off-base, it’s not even wrong. Is she seriously suggesting that TA work is not a job? Conducting lectures and tutorials; marking papers, exams, and lab reports; meeting with students; assigning grades; teaching. According to her glowing Ubyssey profile, she “sees her primary commitment as being toward students,” and I am confident in inferring that she considers that commitment part of her job. Or is it only a job once you have a PhD?

When declaring that no TA union should exist “to try and reduce their hours”, Dr. Hoffman seems completely oblivious to the fact that she is a member of the UBC Faculty Association, “a voluntarily recognized union” with a collective agreement that outlines all manner of relevant issues, including the dynamics between remuneration and hours worked. Is this union somehow different in its claim to legitimacy than the TA union in Dr. Hoffman’s eyes? To her, it seems, I was but a lowly TA last academic year, but now I have been granted legitimacy by the initials “Ph.D.” after my name, and lo, when I step into the classroom tomorrow I will be justified, a real teacher, not merely a scholar in training.

I can’t help but settle on the conclusion that Dr. Hoffman seems to be insinuating that work is only real work once you’ve been granted the proper credentials. And only real workers deserve a voice; any graduate and undergraduate TAs who think otherwise are just people who dislike their jobs apparently. This kind of crass elitism is why some people harbour the perception that academics are out-of-touch, and are so singularly minded that they can’t be bothered with reality outside the confines of their own laboratory. Claiming that the collegiate culture at UBC is so different from Harvard, “a place where people love their jobs,” just feeds this narrative of clueless elitism.

What Dr. Hoffman misses here is that teaching assistants do love their jobs, and that’s why they want to protect them. Groups of workers with like interests do not form a union because they dislike their jobs; they do so because they want to be able to support themselves in those jobs. They want to be remunerated appropriately, they want to be respected for their labour, they want to rest assured that their jobs will not vanish tomorrow on the whim of a superior. They want to support themselves doing work that they love. That’s why UBC’s excellent Faculty Association has secured things like minimum salaries, transparent promotion and tenure procedures, and pension benefits for its members. CUPE 2278 has every much a right to secure for its members minimum wages, terms of appointments and reappointments, and maximums on hours worked.

Or if Dr. Hoffman really thinks I’m wrong, maybe she is prepared to follow through with her volley and question the legitimacy of the Faculty Association to which we both belong? Surely though, if she takes a minute to think it over with PhD in hand, she will recognize that this proposition too must be classified as not even wrong.

Edward Kroc
Sessional Lecturer
Department of Statistics, UBC

Political Cartoon submission call-out

Political cartoon participant call-out!

The Talon will be publishing political cartoons! Instead of following the typical political cartoon formula, we would like to centre UBC students whose day-to-day experience is political, an act of resistance and/or brings light to important issues. By focusing on the personal as political, we hope this project will emphasize the political space we inhabit everyday as we move through Coast Salish territories, the institution, the colonial state, education, home, family, body and all the other spaces that constitute and shape our experiences.

        If you choose to share your experience and participate, you will meet with Bára Hladíková. Together you will co-write and design a political cartoon to be published for The Talon! To get an idea of the illustration style see @protoruze on instagram. To participate in the project, please email talonubc@gmail.com !

ARE YOU TALONTED? CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS

Are you a photographer, painter, creative writer, poet, videographer, or otherwise creative person? Are you wanting to be published? If your answers are yes and yes  – please consider submitting!

The Talon, UBC’s best and alternative press, is now expanding its horizons into the realm of multimedia. The Talon is cognisant that articles are not accessible to everyone, and that other mediums – visual, aural – allow greater audiences to be reached.

Like with any articles we publish, The Talon is looking for creative pieces that speak to anti-oppression, social change, and both local and global issues. The Talon is especially interested in receiving submissions from Indigenous people, queer and trans folk, people of colour, people from low-income backgrounds, neurodiverse folks, and/or folks with disabilities.

If you are interested in submitting, please first take a look at our mandate, and then our submissions page. In our submissions page, you will find more complete details on the process of multimedia publication, technical specifications, and a guide to the type of content we strive to publish. Please contact us at talonubc@gmail.com for any inquiries, proposals, or submissions.

We look forward to the beautiful, radical, important work you Talonted individuals have to offer!

Gupta and the state of transparency and democracy at UBC

If you’re anything like me, you spent August closely watching the unfolding drama at the highest echelons of UBC’s administration: a President who left unexpectedly and without explanation, the Board of Governors Chair cracking down on a professor, the AMS’s response, and now a call for transparency in the new Presidential Search process. As the former AMS VP Academic and University Affairs who had an insider’s view into the first 10 months of former President Arvind Gupta’s tenure, I feel like it’s finally time to throw my thoughts into the mix of commentary and speculation.

No one who knows what happened behind the Board of Governors closed doors has actually spoken publicly. But it is clear that there was a conflict between Gupta and the Board, as well as Gupta and his Vice-Presidents, on a vision for the university. You don’t fire the President of the University over something small: Oh sorry, he ‘voluntarily resigned.’ His lack of administrative experience left him unable (or unwilling?) to spend the time to get them on board with that vision (a note on that below). The Globe and Mail did a fantastic job teasing this issue apart – the grumblings from faculty and administrators that the Globe heard are very similar to the grumblings I heard as VP Academic and University Affairs – that the President was off creating a new vision without input or consultation from the top administration and Board,  that he was separating himself from them.

(An aside: much has been said lauding Gupta’s vision for the university, especially by the Faculty Association, but I am skeptical about whether this vision truly pushes us away from the increasing corporatization of the university, or whether it in fact is an increased corporatization under the guise of more faculty support and research funding. This lecture that Gupta gave last year would suggest the latter.  However, since nothing was ever formally published on what he hoped to do, it is unclear what he actually intended to do. At this point, what the actual vision was is less important than how people are shaping it to fit their own views).

For me, what is most troubling about this affair is not Gupta’s firing. If you have a bad President, if the relationship with the Board is not working, better to end it than to have another four bad years. We will not know whether it was a justified firing until the truth comes out. The undemocratic tendency of  a lack of transparency, especially in a colonial institution, is what is most concerning to me, but apparently not to the AMS.

I do agree with the first two points of the AMS’s statement: calling for an investigation into Board Chair John Montalbano’s conduct, and not calling for his resignation until the results of that are clear. To their third point asking people to “avoid speaking on behalf of the student community,” I find it, as others have, a bit of a strange comment, but understand their desire for people to not make grandiose claims about students’ opinions on the matter, partly because – as I know full well as someone who used to have to attempt to represent students’ opinions – there is no issue on this campus that all 60,000 of us would agree on, except for the fact that Pie[R]^2 is a much better name than BOOM! Pizza. For the record, my views are my own.

I find it disturbing, however, that the AMS failed to call on the Board of Governors to speak to the reasoning behind Gupta’s ‘resignation’, rather, they said only that the AMS “will continue to work towards improved transparency and representation of the student voice,” you know, in the future, but not now, not for something that seriously needs explanation.

And I’m not the only one who thinks we need more explanation for his departure. A Facebook page entitled “Transparency for UBC” appeared early September, and has over 1000 likes.

The AMS is now, however, calling for a more transparent and open Presidential Search process. As it stands right now, the composition of the Presidential Search Committee will be “largely an amalgam of the previous two presidential search committees” (September Senate Materials p. 144). Basically, this won’t be a public search meaning there is little obvious change from business as usual.

While of course I share their aim of increased transparency and more democratic structures, I believe this call for a more transparent and democratic search process is misplaced when the reasons for Gupta’s departure, the undemocratic structure of the university, and a larger political context of neoliberalism and colonialism are taken into account. Let me explain why I think this.

Firstly, those who understand the system are more likely to have an understanding of what the presidential role actually is. As a former student leader who saw a great deal more of the administrative underside of this university than most, I can say that electing students, alumni members, staff or even faculty members who are not familiar with the university’s administrative and governance structures to sit on this sort of committee may result in a more democratic process.  However, it is unlikely to result in a new president who understands what the Board of Governors or administration expects of them, and is therefore actually more likely to result in a similar situation again, since Gupta not understanding how to work with the administration and Board of Governors seems to have resulted in his firing.

We may be unhappy about the fact that the presidential role, as well as the roles of Vice-Presidents and Deans, are becoming increasingly administrative, and therefore less connected to the heart of the university – the faculty members and students. They are also  generally more and more corporatized as the university is increasingly reliant on donations (recent local examples are Goldcorp’s donations to the University and the mining institute; for more on the corporatization of the university, see this and this.) However, these issues stem, amongst other factors, from the undemocratic nature of the Board of Governors, not only from the Presidential search process.

For those unfamiliar with the BC University Act, here’s what matters to our discussion:

  • UBC has a bicameral governance structure, meaning the Senates have jurisdiction over academics, and the Board of Governors over finances, land, construction, etc. In practice, the Board has power over the Senate because they control the money.  
  • Half of the Board’s membership is appointed by the Provincial Government, and, under the current Provincial Government, tend to be business people. The other half are elected from students, staff and faculty.
  • All of the Board members have a fiduciary duty to the University, which means having a duty to the university as a whole (which has often been interpreted as a primarily financial duty) rather than the constituency from which the Board member is elected. As Neal Yonson at UBC Insiders reminds us, this means they don’t represent you.

The Board is also notoriously secretive in its dealings (the GSS’s statement, to its credit, at least addresses this issue), with past student Board members saying in private they have been forced to sign nondisclosure agreements and threatened with non-academic misconduct if they speak about what happens in the Board, or even hint at criticism of the Board. A structure where half the Board is unelected, appointed by a neoliberal government determined to under-fund the university, and the other half gagged and told they don’t represent the people who elected them, is clearly an undemocratic one. In such a culture, it is perhaps unsurprising that, as much as they promise to, I’ve never seen a student Board member vote against tuition increases – they all drink the Kool-Aid.

As well, democratically elected representatives making our choices for us is still not nearly as democratic as direct democracy. While I’m sure the Provincial Liberal Government would scoff at this idea as ridiculous, many universities in Quebec still choose their Presidents through an electoral college or assembly system.

Finally, we must always place these discussions within the frame of UBC as being located on stolen Musqueam and Okanagan land. What does it mean to speak about democracy, decision making, transparency and accountability when the Canadian government and white settlers took this land from First Nations without regard for their sovereignty and right to the land? A decolonized university structure would require, at minimum, the free, prior and informed consent of the Musqueam and Okanagan for everything we do on their land. It’s ironic that Board Chair John Montalbano often finds land acknowledgements hollow-sounding while being willfully ignorant of  his role in upholding colonial systems of university and provincial governance.

Calling for a more transparent and democratic Presidential Search process means very little when the Board of Governors to whom the President reports is so undemocratic and non-transparent itself. Rather than latching on to this one incident, we need to be be looking at how neoliberal, austerity-driven, undemocratic and colonial systems in our governments create a situation where the lack of transparency we’ve seen this summer is truly business as usual.

 

“Critical Muslim Voices and The Elections”: A Conversation with Hasan Alam

Hasan Alam is a lawyer, activist and a founding member of Critical Muslim Voices. A few weeks ago I got the chance to sit down with him and talk about Critical Muslim Voices, what the upcoming federal election means for Muslims, the Islamophobic rhetoric surrounding the elections, and the presence of CSIS (the Canadian Security Intelligence Service) on university campuses.

Zehra: Can you tell me about Critical Muslim Voices and why it was founded?

Hasan: Critical Muslim Voices came out of a group called Critical Muslims. Critical Muslims was a book club that myself and a few other people started about three years ago now. A bunch of us living here in the Lower Mainland felt like we wanted a space where people could come together–anyone who self-identifies as Muslim–and talk about issues that were important to us and provide a space for people to feel like they have community, regardless of what their perspective is, their political viewpoints are, what their background is, ethnicity, sect, sexual orientation–whatever. For a lot of us, we felt like we couldn’t find that in mainstream spaces–mosques per se. We started off out of someone’s living room as about seven or eight people.

Our primary focus was not just to discuss issues related to being Muslim, but to also create a sense of community amongst ourselves. Sometimes we would just meet, hangout and share food. Members came and went and our size fluctuated. After about two or three years of talking about a lot of hard and pressing issues, ranging from gender inequality to racial inequality, indigeneity, sexuality–challenging issues to talk about within the context of religion–we decided the we wanted to start hosting events because it was frustrating that we would come together biweekly and every time we would meet there would be something messed up happening in the news in relation to Muslims. Our voice would only be heard within the confines of the living rooms we met within, and it wouldn’t be heard outside. We felt like, “Wow, we’re saying a lot of important things in this living room, but it’s not being heard except inside this living room.” That’s really tragic because there’s such a large void in the mainstream of critical Muslim voices. The only voices that are really heard are those of “native informants” or Muslims that [are] Islamophobic themselves.

I stress the word “critical” because there are quite a number of Muslim organizations now out there, mainstream Muslim organizations, that claim to speak for Muslims, but it’s usually this one very specific voice speaking. Usually an orthodox Sunni voice with one perspective. A lot of the time it takes on this tone–I’m not saying all the time–I think there are some Muslim organizations out there that do a lot of work, and no one’s perfect–but, a lot of times the tone of voice these Muslim organizations take on is an apologetic one. It’s always like, “Oh we’re not terrorists. We’re good Canadians. We’re sorry for what this person did, but we’re not like the rest of them.”  These voices also don’t address the underlying systemic racism or issues, such as why is the Muslim community targeted all the time? What is the Islamophobia that is taking place here? What is the inequality that’s here? What is the relationship between Islamophobia and other communities in Canada that have and continue to face systemic racism, such as the indigenous stewards of these lands ? What about imperialism and Canada’s growing role in global occupations? These larger systemic issues and the intersectionality between them are never addressed by these voices.

That was really frustrating for us. So we felt like we need to get this alternative voice out there. We decided to form a sub group called Critical Muslim Voices that would have the aim of fostering community, but also being more vocal in our perspectives and getting out there and talking about issues like Bill C-51, and build relations with other racialized and marginalized communities such as the indigenous community.

What’s really important to us is providing a space for people to come together where they can have their voice heard and talk about issues that are critical to the Muslim community. I don’t think at this point in time you can really go into a lot of our mosques and talk about these issues. And I think that’s understandable to a certain degree. I get the hesitancy of why mosques don’t want those really politicized conversations happening in their spaces because these spaces have been targeted by the Canadian state ever since 9/11. There’s this real paranoia and fear of being surveillanced, of having members of our community interviewed by CSIS, of CSIS knocking on our door and dragging away young members of our community. Our community has gone through the experience of security certificates and having our citizenship stripped away — so of course we’re paranoid about having critical discussions that sometimes question the state – but that wasn’t a good enough reason for us to stay quiet.

The goal of Critical Muslim Voices is to provide a space for our community to have these really important conversations but also provide an alternative voice in the mainstream discourse with the very large disclaimer that we don’t speak for everyone in the Muslim community. We aren’t the voice of the quote unquote Muslim community. We are just one voice in the milieu of this very diverse and heterogeneous community.

Critical Muslim Voices hosted their first event back in April, and it garnered quite a bit of attention. What was that event about?

Event photo from "CRITICAL MUSLIM VOICES ON BILL C-51: BEYOND THE FIRST WAVE OF PROTESTS"

Event photo from “CRITICAL MUSLIM VOICES ON BILL C-51: BEYOND THE FIRST WAVE OF PROTESTS”

That event was about Bill C-51, Canada’s new “anti-terror” legislation, more popularly known as the Secret Police Bill. At that point, the bill was going through parliament and pretty much set to be passed,  and we felt it was really important to hear some Muslim voices on the bill because Bill C-51, since its introduction, has been shrouded in a rhetoric of Islamophobia. It has been justified on the basis of a fear of Muslims or the Muslim other.  The surveillancing measures in the the bill have been justified on the premise of the risk “homegrown terrorists” and how mosques in Canada are breeding ground for these terrorists — to roughly quote Stephen Harper himself. We thought it was important, given the lack of Muslim voices that were speaking to Bill C-51, to provide a perspective on what the impact of this Bill was going to be on the Muslim community in Canada.

We had a three speaker panel that spoke about Bill C-51; how Bill C-51 fits into the larger War on Terror, which Canada has been engaged in both domestically and internationally. We also had one speaker touch on the role and impact surveillancing has within the Muslim community itself. We had a great turnout. We also had a great community dialogue that happened after the event because it was mostly Muslim voices that were speaking about how this bill is going to be impacting us, but also the larger context within which this bill is happening, the paranoia within Canada, the Islamophobia that has existed in Canada both prior to Harper regime but which has dramatically escalated under the Harper regime as well.

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Left to right: Zool Suleman, Hasan Alam, Rahat Kurd and Tahia Ahmed

We’ve repeatedly heard Islamophobic rhetoric surrounding Harper’s campaign, his public comment linking radicalization with mosques, his obsession with ISIS. Why is Harper so obsessed with Muslims, and so Islamophobic?

[laughs]. That’s  a good question. I think there are multiple reasons. On the one hand it’s political. It’s strategic. They’re speaking to their base of Conservative voters and supporters,  and to this base fear mongering and general xenophobia has always been a mobilizing force, especially when it comes to the vote. and aside from the Muslim community, when we look at Canada’s longer history, fear mongering has always been able to mobilize the vote. Just instilling a fear of an Other has helped mobilize populations to garner support for political parties.

It’s important to point out that this isn’t just Harper, and this fear mongering predates the Harper regime. When 9/11 first happened, it was the Liberals that were in power and it was the Liberals who introduced some of the first and most intrusive anti-terror legislation at the time, which Bill C-51 is rooted in. Maher Arar happened under the Liberals. A lot of the security certificates that were legislated and passed and enacted were done underneath the Liberals. Some of the heaviest surveilancing of Muslims in Canada has happened under the Liberals.

Even before the Liberals–Canada has a history of doing this. If not just against Muslims, then against the first Chinese migrants that came here. If not the Chinese migrants, then the Indigenous people. The fear of the Other has always been utilized by the Canadian state to garner political support and to shift the views and attention of the population away from what really matters at the time.

I think a lot of this Islamophobia also helps to take away the attention of the public from what Bill C-51 might be targeted towards, which is targeting the Indigenous sovereignty movement, the environmental justice movement, and dissent to Canada’s growing role in international interventions and wars. Bill C-51 will allow the Canadian government to surveillance and detain indigenous and environmental justice activists and subdue dissent to the pipelines. It’ll give the state the power to subdue dissent to Canada striking deals with war criminals such as Modi in India, which has already happened. Bill C-51 is so much larger than the Muslim community, but the Islamophobia helps to mask these larger repercussions.

You spoke earlier about one of the aims of Critical Muslim Voices being to connect and build relations with the Indigenous communities as well. Why do you think it’s important for Muslims who are settlers on this land to do so?

I think you said it yourself when you said the world “settler.” Regardless of your religious or ethnic identity, if you are a settler in Canada then you have an obligation to learn more about the history of the colonization that took place on this land, to learn about the history of the Indigenous people here and their role as the stewards and protectors of this land, to acknowledge the occupation of this land, and to be an ally in the best possible way that you can be. This is an obligations that applies to everyone that is a settler, including people that identify as Muslim.

There’s an interesting relationship there between the Muslim community and Indigenous people, which also exists between other racialized communities. One of our speakers at our Bill C-51 events, Khelsilem, who comes from an Indigenous background, spoke to the fact that, “look, Indigenous people have a history of being targeted, a history of having phobias created around them, a history of being put into residential schools, of being surveillanced”. Muslims here in Canada who, having experienced that now, especially post-9/11, have that shared experience.

Of course, you can’t compare the experience of Muslims in any way or form to that of what the experience of Indigenous people has been, but there are common points of oppression and lived experiences that we can build solidarity on. I think it’s really important for us as a community to do that because we do speak a lot about our own oppression. We speak about war and occupation, but as a community we need to start being more vocal about the occupation that’s happening right here in Canada.

Audrey Seigl from Musqueam doing a welcoming for the last Critical Muslim Voices event

Audrey Seigl from Musqueam doing a welcoming for the last Critical Muslim Voices event

According to a recent article I read by the The Star, statistically speaking Muslim communities have not had a very high voter turnout during elections. This time around we seem to be hearing a lot more Muslim communities trying to get politically engaged, to vote, courting the Muslim vote–organizations such as Critical Muslim Voices and I also recently heard about Canadian Muslim Vote. Do you think there’s something different about this election?

Yeah, but I think before I speak to that, it’s important to speak to why historically a lot of racialized communities including the Muslim community haven’t had the highest voter turnout. There isn’t just one reason for that, but one important reason is because the Canadian system itself has been so alienating to them. They haven’t had the best interaction with the system itself so they don’t feel motivated to vote. By and large the system has discriminated against them. Just look at the current elections discourse around the niqab and citizenship oath taking ceremony — the underlying message that is being sent out here is that Muslims are second class citizens here in Canada that don’t belong, unless we conform and give up our identities. With political messaging like this, it’s no wonder that we’ve seen low voting turnout from the Muslim community — the state is almost shouting at them that “you don’t deserve to vote”. And I think the Conservatives are very purposefully and strategically doing this to keep Muslims away from voting booths because they know that Muslims in Canada haven’t traditionally voted for them.

Now, under the Harper regime the targeting of Muslim communities has been taken up a notch. The urgency is now being felt a lot more by Muslims in Canada. Given measures like Bill C-51, given the Harper government’s targeting of Muslim women and trying to dictate what they should or shouldn’t wear, trying to ban the niqab, trying to ban the headscarf, cutting refugee health care–which by and large impacts the Muslim community because we are such a large population of the refugees that come to Canada. The changing of the immigration laws and the limitations that have been placed there–a lot of that has been shrouded with a lot of Islamophobic rhetoric. I think the community is hearing that and they want change. I don’t think changing the Harper regime itself will be the only thing that needs to be done, but it’s an important step.

I should also clarify that for Critical Muslim Voices we’re not so much an organization that is trying to get out the vote. We ourselves as an organization acknowledge that there are a lot of Indigenous communities out there that are even questioning the legitimacy of the election process, given that it is a colonial system. What we want to do is to create a space where Muslims can come and talk about the issues and rhetoric surrounding the elections, talk about them as a whole or talk distinctly about the thing called the “the Muslim Vote”.

You’ve mentioned before that for a lot of these marginalized communities the kind of things Bill C-51 seem to be entrenching is not new–the surveillance, detention without cause, etc. At the same time we hear a lot of about voting strategically, bringing an end to Harper regime by voting. Do you think replacing the Conservatives with another one of the mainstream parties within the political system will do much to secure and protect marginalized communities from violations of their human rights?

I think voting out Harper is important at this point in time. I think it’s really important to get rid of Harper just because of the degree to which he is pushing the Canadian state and its policies along this neoliberal and increasingly authoritarian path. Specifically for Muslims because so much of his political rhetoric and policies are aimed at targeting our communities.

At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge that this history of targeting Muslims and this history of targeting marginalized communities precedes Harper, precedes the Liberals, precedes the NDP–it goes back to the creation of the Canadian state. It is a part of this state’s history to target marginalized communities.

So, is getting rid of Harper important? Yes. Does the struggle stop there? No. We need to take to task whoever comes in. The systemic marginalization, whether racial or economic, will continue regardless of who’s in office. I’ve stated that under the Liberals we saw the security certificates. We saw Maher Arar,  We saw a lot of problematic things post-9/11 under the Liberals. Even with the the ranks of the NDP and Mulcair right now there is a witch hunt taking place and anyone in the NDP that has anything pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist to say is being purged.

It would be incredibly naive to say that getting rid of one political party is going to fix everything. The struggle needs to be strategic. It needs to be on the electoral level, where we vote strategically and get rid of the Harper government. But also, the grassroots mobilization  and resistance needs to continue, which  is aimed at changing the system as a whole and ultimately decolonization.

How do you think Bill C-51 could impact Muslim student life or Muslim activists on campus?

That hits home for me a bit. I remember being a Muslim student on campus post-9/11, being very involved the Muslim Student Association on campus. I was on the executive and at one point president. It was sort of the beginning of my own political activism, which has roots in the post-9/11 era, resisting the environment of Islamophobia which was incredibly ramped up at the time. I was interviewed by CSIS strictly based on my involvement in the Muslim Student Association and because I was a young Muslim male that was remotely politically active. I wasn’t someone that was talking about jihad or overthrowing the Canadian state, or anything even remotely politically radical at the time – I  was a member of a student organization and that’s as far as my politics went.  But, I was targeted. In my mind now, with Bill C-51, with Canada having so much more power around surveillancing in comparison to when I was involved with activism on campus, I think there’s definitely a much larger threat to Muslim students, Muslim organizations, Muslim activists, and racialized activists in general (regardless if you’re Muslim) on campus to be surveillanced, possibly detained, and even deported if you don’t have status. Under Bill C-24, you could even be stripped of your citizenship.

I’m also interested in knowing what you think about the presence of CSIS on university campuses, how administration may have to comply, and what that means for campus activism.

I’m not familiar with just how present CSIS is on university campuses. I do know that they certainly go out there and recruit on campuses. They had their table set up on career days trying to recruit people. I remember being on campus and [CSIS] trying to specifically recruit me because I was Muslim. Because I came from the ethnic/religious background of people they regularly try to surveillance. I should have just told them at that point: I’m sorry but you already interviewed me — but it was a different type of interview.

In all seriousness though, it’s disturbing how CSIS and the RCMP have tried to increase their presence within mosques and Muslim community spaces. It happens in this really problematic way where they will approach Muslim Student Associations on campus for example and say: “We want to host an event with you where we want to hear your voice and your concerns.” But what will happen is they will come on campus and they’ll host these events where they’ll talk about the “signs of radicalization” and what you as a Muslim student on campus should look out for if your fellow Muslim students is being “radicalized”. It’s fostering this culture of “ratting out” on each other or surveillancing each other.  That’s the kind of culture CSIS is trying to foster within the Muslim community. And never really acknowledging what it is that is creating these so called radicalized youth: the Canadian state’s surveillancing and monitoring of Muslims, the detainment of Muslims, the active role which the RCMP and CSIS plays in entrapping Muslims, the Canadian state’s lack of funding for mental health and social services which is in fact what plays a major role in radicalizing these youth.   

I’ve heard people say why should I care about CSIS or Bill C-51 if I’m a law-abiding citizen and haven’t done anything wrong. How would you respond to that?

It is a commonly said thing: “If I don’t have anything to be scared about, why should I do anything?” Well, number one: a lot of people–especially if you’re Muslim–who have been targeted under security certificates and Canada’s other anti-terror legislations have been innocent law abiding people. Maher Arar was a law-abiding person. Adil Cherkaoui was a law-abiding person. The men held under security certificates were by and large law-abiding people. The countless other people whose names we don’t know of but who have been detained, have had interactions with the Canadian state, were law-abiding people. What they weren’t were white Anglo people. Unfortunately, in their case that worked against them–the fact that they had Muslim names and were racialized people. Having that identity alone makes you a target in this day and age under this legislation.

Apart from Muslims, people as a whole, if you’re a racialized individual–or maybe even if you’re not a racialized individual–I think you should always be scared and cautious if you are giving the state more power to spy on you, to look into your personal life. That should always be scary. That information that they collect can be used for a variety of reasons. If not to incriminate you, but to wrongfully incriminate somebody else. Your online footprint is not just about you; it’s about everyone else around you. That information can be used in a variety of different ways. That’s the issue.

I think you have to have a lot of privilege, or pretty much come from a white or caucasian background to confidently be able to say “well, I have nothing to hide”. I think we’re also talking about allyship here or what it means to be an ally. This is where allyship comes in. If you’re a white Canadian and you’re saying, “Oh, why should I care–they’re only targeting Muslims”, if you care about social justice you should say, “No. Even though I might not be targeted, this is where my role as an ally comes because I know that this legislation can be used target people of racialized backgrounds.”

There is a Critical Muslim Voices event coming up in October. What will this one be about?

Our event is on October 14th. It will be at 6:00 PM and it will be held at Surrey City Hall. The event is about the elections. The title of the event will be “CRITICAL MUSLIM VOICES: UNPACKING ELECTORAL POLITICS: A Dialogue for Muslim Communities.” I want to stress that it will not be a “get your vote out” event. It will not be asking different candidates from political parties to come out and give their pitch. The goal of the event is to acknowledge the fact that a lot of the talk that is happening within the elections is about Muslims, it’s about Islamophobia, or legislations and policies that largely target Muslims. Yet, what’s missing from the elections, from the campaigns, from the debates, is the voice of Muslims. So we want to provide a community forum where people who self-identify as Muslim can come out and talk about what their concerns are with regards to the elections, what the issues are that they think matter, what their point of view on the elections is. Do they vote? Why don’t they vote? Again, it’s about creating a safe and inclusive space where people who identify as Muslim can openly and freely voice their concerns and beliefs about the elections and the rhetoric surrounding it.

We’ll have a number of speakers who will speak broadly about the issue of the Muslim vote, what the main issues are in these elections. The majority of the event will be dedicated to opening up the space to community dialogue. We’re holding it in Surrey specifically because we want a lot of the people from the community to come out. We don’t want it to be Vancouver-centric, as a lot of “politically progressive” events are. We want to actually have people from the community there.

I look forward to being there. Thank you for taking the time to speak to me about these really important issues.

 

white feminist 404

can trauma be owned
can it be speculated on / paid for in plastic rainbows & rubber kisses?
you, white feminist, are a bracelet locking me within these washed, haunted halls (so clean):

the clock, this wristband, these lunch trays – they tell me to give one story

here the exact four lines you’ve been repeating for decades
I’ll say them as routine:

  1. patriarchy is “you’re a virgin, mother, whore”
  2. resisting patriarchy involves sisterhood with all women
  3. I gladly join you in solidarity
  4. I gladly join you in doing solidarity work

…for free.

I’ll volunteer all the hours for free
to clean up the halls
to organize support groups
I can run this all by myself
with you, without you
(no difference)
lead workshops / scream through the bottom of my lungs
for freedom

from patriarchy.
last sunday, you are haunting me with your bodiless ghost stories
and I fell in love with you. how couldn’t I have loved spectral flickers against the ironing board
leaning against the closet
where my history books pile up a tall bed
(only place left in this house to sleep I guess)
“I’ve read all of these,” you whisper into my ears after kissing me goodnight, closing the door behind you

I didn’t need to read all of these
but I love your
pristine porcelain lavender femmepower
septum ring razor-sharp haircut / symbolic radical queer feminist tattoo
you make it hard to love men of colour
(killallmen)
how can I, with the wound here? this wound blossoming a swollen dandelion empire

white feminist, you cannot help me heal from that wound

you tell me what my shame is, make up a ghost story to amuse yourself
(this nameless shame you’ve given me)
oh white feminist, I want to love you as an equal, not as an enemy
but you’ve sold me love in a paper bag, a glitter and perfume I’m allergic to

don’t say lateral violence: say “ladders are violence.”
ask, “who did we employ to build the ladder?”
(who’s we?)
if I could buy your silence in the metal coins you mined from the place I left behind
I’d tell you to delete these blood-written harddrives
don’t read me
not in languages of my ancestors I have lost because of you
not between pages of ebooks built by brown boy engineers you lump in with the rest of ‘em until you don’t
not in the hate that can only travel elsewhere / lodged in another’s throat
a bilge-secret, sinking

white feminist, dare I kick down these white walls, and bruise my heal?
“who will do night shifts, then?”
when I need you to kick down those walls, who will you kick in the process?
white feminist, I am not an error, a terror, a silicon valley start-up fantasy
the blood on the toilet is art
(you owe me 10 dollars)
but I’ll use mineral water to clean it, just for you.