Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Islamic f-word

By Lin Abdul Rahman
The Sputnik, Issue 8, Fall 2010

I was admiring my burqa-clad Barbie at the F-Word Symposium last week when a journalism student cornered me with his notepad.

“What is Islamic feminism?” he asked me at point blank. I rubbed my chin in an effort to appear pensive and to buy myself some time. After spouting some painfully vague answers, I finally admitted that I know very little about feminism. That’s the reason why I’m one of the many wide-eyed wanderers at this event.

As for Islamic feminism – well, I didn’t even know the ideology existed until he questioned me about it.

Admitting that was embarrassing, to say the least. But I console myself with the fact that this kind of situation is out of my control – they are one of the drawbacks to being one of the few visible Muslims on campus. The hijab covering my hair is the equivalent of a bulls-eye on my back. I’m a natural target for all Islam-related curiosities.

For that very reason, my ears perked up when one of the symposium’s panellists, Margaret Toye, spoke of her experience as ‘the token feminist’.

“How ‘out’ do I want to be about my politics?” Toye said in talking about the dilemmas she faced during her earlier days of dabbling in feminism.

Of course, she eventually came clean about her newly-adopted ideology. Toye said she was subsequently and inevitably given role of “the token feminist” – the person people turn to when they need a short cut to understanding what feminism is all about.

Likewise, I stepped into the role of “the token Muslim woman” when I agreed to be interviewed at the F-Word Symposium. I became the shortcut to ticking off the “Muslim perspective” checkbox on this particular student’s checklist of people to talk to.

Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a personal diatribe against interviews. I’m always happy to help a fellow student and I’m even happier to have my voice heard.

But in the same degree, I worry that people looking to me as an example of a Muslim may not realize that my voice is a minority within a minority. I am a far cry from being a credible representative of a group that is highly diverse politically, geographically, and even religiously.

That’s a huge responsibility, and one that I will probably never be able to handle. As it is, the public is already so grossly misled about the diversity that exists within the global Muslim population, thanks in large part to the mainstream media. When people think about Muslims, they think “Middle East”, and when they think of the hijab, they think of “oppression”.

This fallacious understanding of Muslims was almost perfectly played out, again, during the aforementioned interview that I felt more amused than upset. In the middle of answering yet another question, I realized why our conversation was such an uphill battle from the get go.

After several futile attempts, on my part, to explain the Arab culture’s treatment of women, I decided to come clean, even if it means I’ll have to turn my interviewer away empty-handed. I took a deep breath and confessed, “I’m not Arab, actually. I’m Asian,” I said.

His reaction to that confession told me that this is news and that the interview was about to come to an abrupt halt. I gave a mental sigh of relief, even though I had one regret; I wish I could explain to this student that race, religion and gender politics can intersect one another in ways that are very different from what he’s used to.

Alas, his eyes were already scanning the room for better prospects and I had promised someone else another interview.

As we took our leave, I formulated a disclaimer for the next person who might approach me for an interview: Ask me anything you want but be sure to check your presumptions at the door. Otherwise, this conversation ain’t getting nowhere.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What do Omar Khadr and Russell Williams have in common?

By Lin Abdul Rahman

The Sputnik, Issue 7, Fall 2010

As two prominent Canadians contemplate the realities of their newly received prison terms, my fear-induced headline-consuming paranoia jumps ahead to the day when these convicted murderers will rejoin society.

Russell Williams, the former senior Canadian military commander, plead guilty in October charges of murder, sexual assault and burglary.

He received two life sentences for the murders, two ten-year sentences for the sexual assaults, two ten-year sentences for forcible confinement and 82 one-year sentences for his ‘secret visits.’

The sentences make it sound as if Williams will draw his final breath behind bars but in reality, the prison terms are being served back to back; Williams will be eligible for parole in 25 years.

Then there’s Omar Khadr, the 15-year old Pakistani-Canadian who has spent a good portion of his young life at Guantanamo Bay. He was charged with, among others things, the murder of U.S. Sgt. Christopher Speer during a standoff in Afghanistan in 2002. Khadr has recently pleaded guilty to five counts of terrorism and war crimes as part of a strict plea bargain and is now awaiting his extradition to Canada. He will be eligible for early release in 2013.

MacLean’s magazine recently published two different articles that attempted to profile these vastly different criminals whose crimes hold no semblance to one another. But after reading the articles, which were published weeks apart, I realized that the journey Khadr and Williams took prior to committing their crimes somewhat mirror one other.

According to Maclean’s Michael Friscolanti, Khadr was a child soldier who was inducted into terrorism at a very early age. He was “[brainwashed] by a fundamentalist father, raised in the shadow of Osama bin Laden, and sent into battle as a Kalashnikov-waving teenager, he is – in the famous words of one Foreign Affairs bureaucrat – ‘a thoroughly screwed up young man.’”

The phrase “screwed up” automatically conjured images of Col. Russell Williams in his stolen floral green bustier. Growing up, he was as close a definition to an average kid, if there ever was one (newspaper reports of Williams have revealed little to nothing out of the ordinary in his childhood besides the fact that his parents divorced when he was six years old) and he held a stellar record as a Canadian army officer; that is, until his vicious crimes were discovered.

If Omar Khadr the grenade-throwing, Kalashnikov-waving teenager is a product of his upbringing and insurgent combat training, it’s possible to conclude that Russell Williams the stealth rapist and murderer is a product of the average Canadian upbringing and, more frighteningly, his years of training by the Canadian Forces.

Now that’s a scary thought, indeed.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Steyn in Canada, but only at select venues

By Lin Abdul Rahman
The Sputnik, Issue 6, Fall 2010

Plans for Mark Steyn’s talk titled, “Head for the Hills: Why everything in your world is doomed,” has encountered a hiccup. But since the speaker is Steyn and the group under attack is Muslims, the matter that is a molehill is fast growing into a mountain.

The talk, organized by three right-wing bloggers from, was originally scheduled to be held at the University of Western Ontario. Due to swift ticket sales, the organizers booked the London Convention Centre in anticipation of a bigger crowd. Their reservation was later turned down when the LCC’s operators discovered who the speaker was.

According to the LCC’s general manager Lori Da Silva, Steyn poses a bigger security concern than what the center is able to handle.

Protesters were expected to be present at the talk and the LCC worried that the potentially rowdy crowd would make their other clients uncomfortable.

Da Silva insisted to the Toronto Sun that the decision to pull the venue was purely a business one; the LCC didn’t want to alienate its clients by hosting the talk.

That concern is justifiable, given Steyn’s controversial views on Islam and the fact that London has a sizable Muslim population.

However, the bloggers, along with conservative news sources such as the National Post and the London Free Press, claim that the LCC caved in to pressures from local Islamic groups; the only clients that the LCC is afraid of offending are Muslims.

One of the writers on, Andrew Lawton, pointed out that the LCC is owned by the City of London and, as such, should not be made to cater only to a specific part of the city’s demographic.

True, the LCC is a city-owned operation and its business decisions are catered towards the interests of its clients. However, for Lawton to say that the LCC’s refusal to host Steyn’s talk as serving the interests of only its Muslim clients is to say that LCC has no clients other than Muslims.

Since the LCC is a premier conference facility and caters to the needs of the entire London demographic, perhaps even those living outside of London.

Furthermore, by demanding that the LCC disregard the alleged pressure by Islamic groups, the organizers are assuming that the only people opposed to Steyn’s talk are Muslims, which does not make sense either.

It’s important to note at this point that the organizers did not submit a required ‘client profile’ to the LCC as part of the process of booking the venue. The LCC’s operators discovered the identity of the speaker through a newspaper article and subsequently called the talk’s organizers to confirm.

Is it possible that the bloggers knew that Steyn’s appearance at the LCC would be an issue and were trying to pull a fast one?

Anyone who has ever tried to organize an event can attest to the fact that logistical problems occur no matter how meticulous you are. Last minute changes have to be made; speakers get delayed or sometimes even cancel their appearance; and some venues have their own policies as to whom they choose to host.

Experienced organizers such as the trio at should be well aware that the potential for problems increases tenfold in the case of controversial speakers such as Steyn.

I mean, come on - even the peace-loving, guitar-waving Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens) has been banned from entering the US, and all he does is sing and play music.

Furthermore, the talk’s organizers have had experience dealing with such problems. Their recent attempt to bring Anne Coulter to UWO faced similarly controversial roadblocks. So why are they making such a big issue of this matter?

Judging from the responses of local Londoners on this issue, it seems that they’d be willing to camp out on a soccer field to hear Steyn talk.

I, for one, would love to hear what he has to say. Even though I disagree with Steyn’s views 99-percent of the time, I religiously follow his column in Maclean’s. To me, his criticism of Islam and Muslims, however inaccurate or misguided, are tethered to some sort of reality.

The least I can do is to stay informed. Plus, he’s a damn good writer.

Interestingly, since this issue hit the news, Lawton proudly reported that the event has been moved to a bigger, albeit more expensive venue and the number of attendants has risen to around 1000 people. I guess the saying is true then; no publicity is bad publicity.

There’s a happy ending for everyone involved in this matter, after all.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Canada's Human Rights Tribunal come under fire

By Lin Abdul Rahman
The Sputnik, Issue 5, Fall 2010

Canada’s Human Rights Tribunal is under public scrutiny again when its Ontario Tribunal (HRTO) interceded on a human rights complaint. Professor Emily Carasco, one of the two candidates shortlisted for the post of Law Dean at the University of Windsor, claimed she was
rejected for the position due to racism and sexism among members of the university’s search committee. Professor Carasco now wants the HRTO to stop U of Windsor’s search for a new Dean of Law and immediately appoint her for the position.

Early last month, the tribunal came to a decision deemed by some as invasive. It ruled in the interim that, while the tribunal investigates the complaint further, the university could continue searching and hire a replacement for outgoing Law Dean Professor Bruce Elman. However,
if the tribunal ruled in favour of Professor Carasco at the end of their investigation, the HRTO reserves the right to replace the current dean of law with Professor Carasco.

Professor Carasco’s story hasn’t been given much attention by the mainstream media, which is perhaps appropriate, given the gravity of the issue. Only cursory coverage of the news can be found in the Windsor Star and the National Post. However, the way this matter has been described in the newspapers doesn’t feel quite right on several levels.

First of all, the issue is downplayed as a squabble amongst faculty. A particularly disparaging article from the National Post likened university faculties to a ‘snake pit’. Professor Carasco’s debacle with U of Windsor’s Law School was trivialized as a ‘faculty-lounge politics’ that had gotten out of control.

I hardly think that a person of Professor Carasco’s credibility would run crying to the HRTO over trivial matters. Her oficial complaint to the HRTO detailed many instances throughout her career at U of Windsor where the university and, in particular, the faculty fell short of
meeting with equitable employment standards.

The gravest of them was where professor Carasco, among others, was clearly proven to be underpaid by the faculty. The matter was settled internally through the university’s built-in remedial mechanisms and the issue’s resolution seems to have been accepted by the parties
involved. Case closed.

Judging from this incident, I ind it hard to believe that professor Carasco’s complaint to the HRTO was simply a case of sour grapes at having been rejected for a position she coveted.

Professor Carasco also claimed that a colleague, professor Richard Moon had sabotaged her reputation by bringing up past allegations of academic misconduct. However, the matter was quickly dismissed rather than being further investigated upon. Instead, according to Professor Carasco, the search committee jumped at the opportunity to question her integrity in an effort to mask their discrimination and ultimately reject her application.

She said she felt betrayed by her colleagues and those in power at the institution. The way her allegations of sabotage by professor Moon were dismissed left her “psychologically bruised with a sense of hopelessness.”

Another National Post article highlighted professor Carasco’s resume as the inspiration for her complaint. To her credit or discredit, depending on your position on the matter, professor Carasco’s career in law has been heavily invested in gender and race equity.

She served as a member on the Status of Women Committee of the University of Windsor Faculty Association (WUFA) from 1983-88, as an executive of WUFA from 1985-86 and as the Vice President of WUFA from 1987-88. She has since served in various capacities on numerous
committees overseeing human rights issues pertaining to women, visible minorities and immigrants. Clearly, the university’s many inequitable practices have been under her microscopic lenses for a while now.

Professor Carasco claims that, in her years at the faculty, there has been a tradition of white male dominance in the faculty’s upper echelon. She details in her complaint how the university’s law dean has always been a white male except for Dean Juanita Westmoreland-Troare. It’s
important to note that Dean Westmorelan-Troare was also the only dean in the faculty’s history to have been hired without a tenure. She left U of Windsor before her term ended.

I asked Dr. Rebecca Godderis, Assistant Professor at Laurier Brantford’s Health Studies, if activism-paranoia (for lack of a better term) is at fault here. Professor Godderis suggested a simple observation, “Just look at who your professors are. The majority are white, for sure...
and, although it’s starting to shift a bit, the majority are still men.”

I quickly did the math on the professors I have for this semester; two of them are white males, the other a white female. OK, maybe this semester is an anomaly. But then, in my three years at Laurier Brantford, I’ve had 19 male professors – 18 of them were white, one of them was an African – and nine female professors who were all white. Interesting. Does that mean that Laurier Brantford is unfair in its hiring process?

Perhaps, but professor Godderis pointed out that it’s important to look beyond instances of inequity. Very often, many factors would have been at work to put an individual at a position of disadvantage when it comes to employment, thus excluding them from making it onto the

“If all [the] best candidates are white men and the other candidates are women of visible minorities [and] their resumes aren’t as good, there could be something happening there in terms of the opportunities that those individuals have to develop their resumes before they get
to that moment.”

So it’s possible that there is systemic discrimination going on and, in professor Carasco’s case, it’s being dragged out into the open. But it’s not that easy to scream bloody discrimination
in an age when there are explicit preventative measures.

As feminism started gaining tract in the 1950s and 1960s, sexism, for example, became subtler and harder to see. Feminists have consequently coined the term the ‘chilly climate’ to describe the way environments have been made overtly hostile towards women without being covertly

“I don’t know that I will ever be the same – not so much because I did not get the job – but because of how it happened and how many people permitted it to happen,” professor Carasco wrote in her complaint.

It is obvious that discrimination has become more subtle and complex as we grow into a more and more diverse society. Even though there are laws against it, it doesn’t mean that we live in a society that is completely fair and just. The onus is on us as a society to properly examine the
case before dismissing it simply as an inane squabble.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The vote is in - the election matters!

by Lin Abdul Rahman
The Sputnik, Fall 20101, Issue 4

I was busy in my kitchen when a campaign worker knocked on my door last week. She was canvassing my neighbourhood for returning candidate Councillor Marguerite Ceschi-Smith. She talked a little bit about Ceschi-Smith’s campaign, her platforms and why I should vote for her. A few minutes later Ceschi-Smith herself walked up the street waving at me, obviously pleased with a conversation she just had with my neighbour.

She greeted me with her standard-issue greet-thy-constituent smile and launched into a first-person account of what her campaigner had just explained to me, capping off her spiel with a handshake while I promised to vote for her.

The truth, of course, is that I won’t because I’m not a voter. The very thought of politics leaves me nauseated. As a writer put it, politics is like raw sewage treatment – it’s important but you don’t want to have anything to do with it.

However, a small voice in my head asked, “Well, if it’s important, shouldn’t you care?”

“Yes,” I answered to no one in particular, “I guess I should.” So I Googled Ceschi-Smith and her contenders for Ward 5. Of the other eight candidates competing for the position, I found information on only one of them – a Twitter page belonging to candidate Frank More. Marguerite Ceschi-Smith, on the other hand, had an official web page on the city’s website detailing an impressive curriculum vitae.

It occurred to me that anyone doing the same search would make the same discovery as I did. As the existing councillor, Cechi-Smith clearly has a running start. Information about the other eight candidates was hard to come by, even for a keen researcher like myself. That didn’t seem right to me. I started to wish I had paid more attention to the election campaigns so I could find out the potential the other candidates had.

To educate myself on this matter, I decided to write an article. I conducted a brief street survey, in which I discovered that my initial attitude mirrors that of a majority of students at Laurier Brantford. We are naturally indifferent to the outcome of Brantford’s municipal election because we truly believe we are immune to its outcome.

Many students are on campus four or five days a week, for less than eight months a year. This may have put students under the assumption that whomever becomes the next mayor will not affect them. Unfortunately, this assumption is an illusion.

The reality is that our campus is very much intertwined with the city of Brantford – much more than any of us would like to think. The decisions made by city councillors can heavily impact the short stints that students spend in Brantford.

For example, several of the students I interviewed wanted more student housing close to campus. Another mentioned the scarcity of student jobs. More places to eat and shop were also pretty high on the list. What’s the solution to these grievances?

Well, there’s Richard E. Casey, for one. As one of the mayoral candidates, he claims to have his ears on the ground on what we students want and need. According to Casey, he plans to create more permanent jobs for residents so that students can fill in the gap for part-time and temporary jobs. There’s also Chris Friel, the candidate who thinks that creating more jobs for students will help them get along with locals more cohesively.

For those who think that the campus needs more residences, take a look at what each candidate has proposed for the newly demolished South Colborne Street. Plans for its development are yet to be set in stone but there have been talks of including some student residences and a gymnasium. For those who want a better experience living in the downtown, however brief that may be, here’s an easy chance for you to make a change. All you have to do is vote.

The voting process itself is de facto simple and relatively easy. Laurier Brantford students who are citizens of Canada and live in Brantford for the school year are eligible to vote. All they have to do is make sure their names are on the voters’ list (which is another easy process).

Rest assured that I am in no way campaigning for one candidate or another. As it turns out, I’m not even qualified to vote. However, I am campaigning for students to get involved with the city at the most fundamental level – through the simple yet powerful act of voting.