Wednesday, October 26, 2011

This page is now Occupied

by Lin Abdul Rahman
Photo by Deanna Budgell
The Sputnik, Fall 2011, Issue 6

On September 17, a group of protesters set up camp on Zuccotti Park in the Wall Street financial district to demand a reform to the US financial and economic system. Over the next few weeks, the number of campers swelled, media attention grew and the movement’s influence began to spread.

Although criticized as being leaderless, the movement’s goal of ending corporate greed and lobbyist control over government policies resonated across the globe.

On October 15th, 900 cities around the world staged their own “occupations”. In Malaysia, over 200 people “occupied” Dataran Merdeka. In Spain, over 46, 000 people “occupied” Madrid Square. In Toronto, over 1000 people gathered at the corner of King and Bay Street and marched to St. James Park. Later, “occupations” sprang up in Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary, London and Windsor.

Despite the movement’s growing popularity, authorities have shown little sympathy and no sign of acquiescing to occupiers’ demands. The occupiers, meanwhile, show no signs of leaving. Mainstream media attention has been largely pessimistic while critics question the movement’s ability to sustain itself. After all, these occupiers are just rabble-rousing anarchists and hippies without clear objectives, right?

This image seems to be at odds with the movement’s growing influence and my curiosity was naturally piqued. I decided to visit St. James Park myself.

It quickly became apparent to me that a lot of planning and organization had occurred even before the October 15 March took place. As soon as the contingent arrived at the park, various areas were cordoned off for specific purposes. The camping area came with family-friendly and female-only sections. The Sanitation Committee had prepared rows of port-a-potties and hand-washing stations. The Medic Committee put up signs saying “no photos” around the medic area, as would be the normal procedure in medical facilities. The Media Committee kept occupiers and everyone abreast on everything occupation-related. There was also a “free occupy library” with free reading materials and an occupation “must read” list.

There was no shortage of what society calls “hippies” but they were mostly involved with the basic mechanisms that kept movement running smoothly. There were trained marshal teams patrolling the park in the evening to keep it safe. The Sanitation Committee keeps the park clean. The Facilitation Committee keeps discussions going and ensured the movement remained as participatory as possible.

There was little semblance of anarchy at the park, except maybe for the multitude of signs hung on trees and tucked among bushes. – signs that cleverly and clearly articulated the need for change.

These signs highlighted problems regarding a myriad issues: inadequate health care; rising tuition fees and student debt; lack of citizen participation in government; infringement upon native, minority and immigrant rights; violation of workers’ rights; a failed capitalist economy; increased military spending; the list goes on.

To the movement’s critics, this underscores its lack of focus. To me, this illustrates one simple fact: there are so many things wrong with our system today that it’s hard to pinpoint one single problem that can be easily addressed. The global economic and political system has become so corrupt that it is harming rather than serving the interests of the people, also known the “99%”.

Evidently the Occupy movement’s slogan, “we are the 99%” is not an oversimplified concept designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator. A research team at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich developed a complex model which demonstrates how a few transnational corporations (TNCs) own disproportionately large chunks of the world’s economy. Simply put, there is a small network of 1318 corporations worldwide, each owning several other corporations and businesses, each of which have ownerships in several other businesses. This multiple ownership gives these corporations control over 60% of global manufacturing revenues.

This means that most of the world’s wealth is going to top tier of this network, which largely comprises of financial corporations like Barclays Bank and the Goldman Sachs Group.

Hence, it makes perfect sense for the movement to begin on Wall Street and spread to Ontario’s financial hub on Bay Street and elsewhere on the globe. Our political and economic systems are closely linked and the problems we face are multi-faceted. Instigating change, therefore, will require a global effort.

While the movement has mobilized people from diverse backgrounds, it appears to attract a lot youths in particular. This is not surprising as the younger generation’s future hinges precariously on the stability of today’s economy, whether they are entering post-secondary education or the job market. Nonetheless, it is contingent upon society as a whole to ensure that there is an economy for youths to graduate into.

Students in Chile took this to heart when they protested against increasing privatization of universities and rising tuition fees. Over 80% of Chile’s population responded in support of the students, forcing the government to replace its Minister of Education, negotiate terms with the student movement and reform Chile’s education system.

Perhaps it’s time for us to do more than just gripe about our own rising tuition fees and increasingly unsatisfactory educational experience. If there’s anything we can learn from Chile and the Occupy movement it is that we all have a voice and, when we speak in unity, that voice will be heard.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Hunting for sources

When you don’t have emails and fixed schedules to work with, the only way to get interviews is to physically find the interviewees.

That’s what my colleague Kwabena Ampratwum had to do to get two interviews for his radio documentary on the conflict between local farmers and Fulani herdsmen in the Agogo district.

At 10 a.m. we left for Agogo, a farming town located two hours east of Kumasi. Ampratwum had scheduled a meeting with the Agogo Chief’s secretary, Mr. Joseph Nti who would arrange our interview with the chief himself. But when we arrived at the chief’s palace, we were told that Mr. Nti had gone to Kumasi for a meeting. We were out of luck.

Ampratwum then called the Agogo Chief of Police, to confirm our meeting with him later that afternoon. He was reluctant to give an interview without first getting authorization from the Chief of Police in Kumasi, Mr. Muhammad Tenko. We were told to call again in 30 minutes.

After half-an-hour, Ampratwum called again, only to be told that Mr. Tenko had refused to give the authorization. The Agogo Chief of Police was not allowed to give an interview that day. Our trip to Agogo had been in vain. We boarded a tro-tro and headed back to Kumasi.

En route to Kumasi, Ampratwum called Mr. Nti once again and discovered that he was passing time at the Kumasi Zoo while waiting for his meeting. We hopped into a taxi as soon as we arrived in Kumasi and headed for the zoo.

After explaining the purpose of our meeting to Mr. Nti, he explained that he was also the Registrar of Traditional Lands for the Agogo district and was therefore in the capacity to comment on the issue. Plus, he had some time to kill before his next meeting. Bingo.

Mr. Nti’s assistant quickly found us a wooden bench and we located ourselves under a tree for some shade. Although the zoo was surrounded by 10-foot walls, there was still a lot of noise coming from the busy Kejetia market outside. Ampratwum had to put on his ear plugs to filter out the noise so he can hear Mr. Nti.

Luv FM Journalist Kwabena Ampratwum interviewing the Agogo Chief's Secretary, Joseph Nti at the Kumasi Zoo

When we were done interviewing Mr. Nti, Ampratwum takes another shot at getting authorization from Mr. Tenko. He lucks out; Mr. Tenko was willing to compromises – no interview with the Agogo Chief of Police, but Mr. Tenko himself was willing to talk.

We jumped back into a taxi and headed for the Kumasi Central Police Station for another impromptu interview.

It took us 15 minutes to get the information we needed and by the time we were done, it was past 4 o’clock. It was time to head back to the office and work on the story.

It took us an entire work day, a two-hour trip to Agogo and back to Kumasi, plus a visit to the Kumasi Zoo. In the end, we got the two interviews we were after, even though it wasn’t with the two people we originally intended.

The Daily Commute - Ghana style

Tro-tros are one of the most common forms of public transportation in Ghana. They are minivans that have been refitted with extra seats.

A regular tro-tro in Kumasi can carry up to 17 passengers, including the driver, the conductor – called mate - and two people squeezed into the front passenger seat.

View from the back of a full tro-tro

My tro-tro ride to work, which takes about 15 minutes in congestion-free traffic, costs 40peswas per trip. That’s equivalent to about 30cents. A taxi ride would cost about 3Ghc, equivalent to about C$2.25.

There are no route maps or fare schedules – at least, not in Kumasi. There are, however, landmarks where passengers can ask to be let off and by which the mate determines the fare. For example, if I were to board the tro-tro and say, “Aseda House,” – as my colleagues had instructed me to do – he would respond with, “40 peswas.”

On my first few trips, hailing a tro-tro felt like hyper-speed-dating. In my case, I stand on the side of the street and try to make contact with the tro-tro’s mate, who would be shouting out the tro-tro’s destination. If it’s heading for Adum, where I’m staying, I wave it down. If I can’t make out what the mate is calling out, I’d try to mouth my destination as clearly as I can so that the mate or the driver can make out what I am saying and decide whether or not to pick me up.

This whole exchange happens within the few seconds when the tro-tro is heading towards my general direction.

Once on board, I simply wait until the mate is ready to collect my fare. During the entire journey, he would be busy opening and closing the van’s door, jumping in and out of the van and calling out for passengers. Handing him a bunch of coins when he’s not ready to take them is not smart, as I’ve discovered.

There are no designated tro-tro stops either. On my first day taking the tro-tro to work, I simply approached a large group of people waiting by a street corner. The lady I spoke to confirmed that the place we were standing was a regular tro-tro stop.

Even though the whole process seemed chaotic to me at first, I’ve discovered that there is a system at work here. Fares were collected, people were getting to work and children to school. When the tro-tro that my colleague and I were in broke down, everyone automatically and quietly disembarked. Someone grumbled but no one threw up a fuss or demanded a refund. Everyone simply dispersed to look for another tro-tro or a taxi.

Ghana’s tro-tros may not be as smooth-running and organized as what I’m used to back home, but it gets people to and from places all the same, and at a far cheaper price too.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Dancing to the beat of Kete drums

Kete is a dance and drum ensemble commonly found in the Akan regions of Ghana. I managed to catch a live performance of Kete during the Jubilee Oil Exhibition’s opening ceremony at Kumasi’s Centre for National Art on May 24, 2011. Besides professional dancers in lapa cloths, students attending the exhibition also got a chance to showcase their own traditional dancing skills.

Two of them – one from Prempeh High School and the other from Ahmadiya High School – were crowned as the best dancers and were invited to hit the stage for one last performance. As someone who is deeply rooted in my own Malay culture, it was great to watch a young group of people proudly displaying their cultural heritage.

Watch the videos for a snippet of the event.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

'Till the labour market do us part

by Lin Abdul Rahman
The Sputnik, Winter 2011, Issue 8 - The Green Issue

(Art by Bridget Parker)

Maclean’s magazine recently revealed that Canada’s immigration laws are not matrimony-friendly. The prevalence of Internet romance, a globalized labour market and the push for Canadian students to study abroad have encouraged people to “cross-pollinate like never before,”according to the article’s authors.

However, immigration laws turn a blind eye to matters of the heart and instead look at the demands of Canada’s labour market when deciding who gets to enter Canada and who doesn’t. If your future spouse can potentially join the work force in areas where the country needs him or her most, you can look forward to an easy process and a life of matrimonial bliss in Canada.

If not, you can expect a mountain of legal costs and administrative hassling to simply remain in Canada long enough to celebrate your next anniversary. So feel free to broaden your horizons, travel the world and meet new people. Just think long and hard before bringing that special someone home to meet your folks.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The forgotten struggle in Palestine

by Lin Abdul Rahman
The Sputnik, Winter 2011, Issue 7

On March 12, Israeli media reported that five Israeli settlers were murdered in the West Bank city of Nablus. Israeli authority immediately arrested 20 Palestinians and, as if in revenge, the Israeli cabinet approved the building of hundreds of new settler homes in the occupied West Bank the following day.

The expansion of Israeli settlements into occupied territories clearly defies International law and the Geneva Convention of 1949. However, this flagrant violation is lost in the hubris currently sweeping across the Middle East.

Jewish scholar and Palestinian solidarity activist Norman Finkelstein noted the lack of substantial reaction from Palestinians in light of the recent political upheaval in the Arab world.

Speaking in London, Ontario as part of his Northern Ontario lecture tour, Finkelstein admitted that there was little jubilation in Gaza when Egypt’s Mubarak regime was overthrown on February 11, 2011. This is despite the fact that the Mubarak regime has been complicit in facilitating Israel’s blockade on Gaza.

Speaking at Laurier Brantford’s Israeli Apartheid Week event, Alan Sears, Ryerson University’s Professor of Sociology and founder of Faculty for Palestine, said that the political upheaval of the Arab world makes Palestine’s struggle for freedom a timely topic for discussion.

This is because Middle Eastern governments such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, have largely ignored and thus facilitated Israel’s arbitrary clamp down on Palestine. Palestinians suffering under oppression are in turn left to choose between living as second-class citizens in neighbouring countries or living as non-entities in their homeland.

As pro-democracy protesters advance in Libya, Yemen and Morocco, Israel’s list of allies in the region grows short. Israel might soon have to reconsider the dynamics of its relationship to Palestine and its neighbouring countries.

Al Jazeera English’s Ali Abunimah writes, “... if Arab countries which host large Palestinian refugee populations undergo democratic transformations, new possibilities for Palestinian politics will open up.”

Potentially fuelling the combustible situation is Wikileaks’ release of the Palestine Papers – a record of negotiations between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israeli. The leaked documents revealed the PA to be a mere puppet – a front to give the impression that Israel is seriously engaging in peace talks and working towards a two-state settlement.

Borne of the agreement between the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel under the Oslo Accords in 1994, the PA was a temporary legislative body with limited authority over urban populated areas in the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestine Papers, however, proved that the PA has been acquiescing to Israeli demands, relinquishing substantial Palestinian territories to Israel. The PA’s former leader, Saeb Erekat was recorded to go so far as to offer Israel “the biggest Yerushalaim (Jerusalem) in Jewish history.”

According to Abunimah, the PA should dissolve itself and return its powers to Israel, who will then be compelled by the Geneva Convention of 1949 to treat Palestinians with justice.

At the moment, the PA is merely acting as a buffer between Palestine and its oppressors. Now that the PA has been revealed to be Israel’s lackey, the logical next step would be for Palestinians to demand for the dissolution of the PA.

“It would be a recognition of reality and an act of resistance on the part of Palestinians who would collectively refuse to continue to assist the occupier in occupying them,” Abunimah wrote.

Israel has been fidgeting nervously behind the curtains as Egypt’s pro-democracy demonstrators began gaining momentum. When it was evident that Hosni Mubarak was on an irreversible downward trajectory, Israel’s media began inflaming the Jewish citizenry’s existing fear of getting an Islamic state for a neighbour.

What Israel really fears is the possibility of a new Egyptian government that isn’t willing to ignore the oppression going on next door to them.

In fact, within days of Mubarak’s resignation on February 11, the Rafah boarder was opened, allowing Palestinians to return home after living in exile just a stone’s throw away from their homeland. According to Ken O’Keefe, a Gulf War veteran and activist who calls himself a “world citizen,” Israel’s blockade on Gaza is showing positive signs of collapse with the election of Egypt’s new Foreign Minister, Nabil Elaraby.

As the former judge of the International Court of Justice that ruled against Israel’s separation wall in 2005, Elaraby has recently reaffirmed his stand that Israel’s blockade on Gaza is a clear violation of international law.

Early this month, O’Keefe carried the first sack of cement into Gaza. He is now finalizing plans to send another 30 tons of it to help Gazans rebuild their homes, schools, hospitals and factories. Could this be a signal that the tide is turning in the Israel-Palestine conflict? For the sake of the four million Palestinians living under Israel’s military control, let us hope so.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The iron fist of the Big Telecom giants

The Sputnik, Winter 2011, Issue 5

The following is an article written by one member of the editorial board. The opinions expressed in this article represent a consensus formed by The Sputnik’s editorial board. They do not, in any way, reflect the position of WLUSP on any particular issue.

On January 25, the CRTC decided to allow Bell Canada to impose a usage-based billing regime
on its customers. This move by the CRTC is, to say the least, disappointing (there are other, more accurate adjectives but let’s keep things civil for the time being).

To the uninitiated, here’s the low-down on the debate: usage-based billing (UBB) allows Internet service providers, or ISPs, to charge Internet users based on their amount of download. Bell purportedly went to CRTC and played the “woe is me” card, citing that 80% of its bandwidth is being used by only 17% of its subscribers, also known as “Internet hogs.” According to Bell, these “hogs” need to be put on the proverbial leash. The CRTC acquiesced, allowing Bell to place a download limit of 25GB a month on its customers. Users will then be charged for every gigabyte of downloading over that limit.

Allegedly, Bell’s move is meant to hold these Internet hogs accountable for their above-average usage. The implicit outcome of that decision, however, is that the bulk of Bell’s customers – the 80% whose usage is well below average – will also bear the brunt.

Understanding the CRTC’s decisions of late requires impressive mental acrobatics. First, the CRTC puts in a proposal that would allow the broadcasting of false news, essentially paving the way for Fox News’ northern cousin, Sun TV Media (colloquially known as “Fox News North”).
Now it’s caving to capitalist interests by giving in to pressures from telecom giant Bell Canada.

Naturally, the decision caused a public outcry., a non-proit organization, launched a campaign that called on the public to write letters and petition the CRTTC to reverse that decision. A dozen protesters showed up at Dundas Square in Toronto on Friday February 4 to stage a public protest. They were later joined by NDP’s Jack Layton and his posse, who attracted most of the media’s spotlight.

Consequently, CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein announced last week that the decision’s implementation, scheduled for March 1, will be put on hold for 60 days. He cited “public outcry” as part of the regulator’s reason for reviewing the decision.

Like the majority of the public who took to the streets and Facebook in protest, this editorial board is of the consensus that UBB “will kill innovation in Canada,” as one editor put it. As it is, Canada is one of the few countries in the world to charge users per gigabyte downloaded. We also rank somewhere at the top for highest cell phone costs. This recent decision by the CRTC is only propelling us further in the direction of undemocratic communications policies.

“The Internet is supposed to be a level playing ield,” said another editor. Allowing profit-driven telecom giants to arbitrarily shackle users with stricter pricing will turn the Internet into an exclusive playground of the rich.

National Post’s Tony Corcorran painted the UBB debate as another political tug-owar; specifically, it’s Liberal MP’s Dan Mac-Teague’s “talking point” in cabinet. It’s true that of the 2,300 or so people who replied as “attending” the protest against UBB on Facebook, only 12 of them actually showed up. It’s also true that NDP’s Jack Layton and his crew later boosted the protest’s dismal head count to a respectable one.

However, one editor noted that the absence of supporters during the protest does not prove that the UBB debate is purely political. Newspapers had already reported the day before that PM Stephen Harper and Minister of Industry, Tony Clement would address the CRTC regarding this issue. That, and most likely the weather, may have dissuaded people from showing up for the protest.

Some may argue that our discontent with UBB is indicative of our skewed priorities – we should instead try to cultivate relationships with people outside of the virtual world rather than just on Facebook. There are more important things in life than catching up on the latest episode of Jersey Shore.

But is that all we use the Internet for?

One editor points out that not all movies viewed online involves illegal downloading. University student are often required to watch documentary films as part of their classes and assignments. Since university students often live in shared housing, a 25 GB download cap can easily be used up by one student household in far less than a month. The UBB pricing regime, in this sense, would severely impede our learning process as university students.

So what’s the possible solution? One imaginative editor suggested that imposing UBB will only give rise to a “Napster of the Internet” – the one rogue free Internet service provider that will liberate Canadians from the shackles of telecom giants’ dictatorial terms of agreement. Provided, of course, that it doesn’t get sued into nonexistence and goes underground.

Imaginations aside, there are organized individuals out there who see the problem going beyond immediate issues like the UBB debate., for example, believes that information access and, by extension, Internet access is an inalienable human right. Every individual on the planet, from the political blogger in Quebec to the cocoa farmer in Cote d’Ivoire, should be able to access the Internet from their respective locations.

What plans to do is simple: “[build] a free communication network that is available anywhere.” According to the organization, Earth is covered several times over in a day by satellites, and very few of them are operating at full eficiency. plans to procure used satellite dishes and get satellite owners to donate their unused bandwidth to build a global, unfettered communications network. Access to the network will then be given free of charge to anyone, anywhere.

Sounds like a pie in the sky? You bet. But at least it’s one that could potentially feed us more gigabytes a month then Bell and the CRTC can.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The English Defence League's Canadian Debut

by Lin Abdul Rahman
The Sputnik, Winter 2011, Issue 2

The English Defence League (EDL), a controversial far-right group, has joined forces with the Jewish Defence League of Canada (JDL) in its war against “political Islam.”

At the time of this writing, The EDL’s maiden rally is planned for Tuesday January 18th. It will be organized by the JDL at its headquarters, the Toronto Zionist Building on Marlee Avenue, near Lawrence Avenue and the Allen Road. Last Tuesday, JDL held a “support rally” there during which EDL’s leader, Stephen Lennon a.k.a. Tommy Robinson spoke to supporters via online hook-up.

Protesters congregated in front of the building, chanting “EDL, go to hell!” Despite the presence of eight Mounties, protesters and JDL supporters clashed, resulting in two arrests and a vandalized police car.

Bernie Farber, CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, wrote in the Toronto Sun last week that he foresees a far worse outcome from Tuesday’s impending rally and is “[concerned] about the inevitable mess that will be left behind.”

Prior to the “support rally,” Farber also told the National Post that the CJC is disappointed that the Jewish Defence League would associate itself with a group “whose record in the U.K. is one of violence and extremism.”

The EDL’s controversial stand against Islam and what it calls “Islamic fascism” in the UK has alienated the group from mainstream British Jewish associations as well as leftist groups. The EDL is said to have strayed from its professed opposition against Islamic extremism and now opposes Muslims as a whole.

Britain’s respected Community Security Trust said, “They are no friends of the Jewish community, or of Israel.” Even the Board of Deputies of British Jews has rejected EDL’s attempts at supporting Zionism, calling it “empty and duplicitous.”

This unfavourable British climate may explain why EDL has now set its sights on Canada.

EDL’s grope in the dark managed to land on the Jewish Defence League of Canada, as many noted in dismay. However, this “troubling marriage,” as Farber calls it, should come as no surprise.

To some extent, JDL can be considered EDL’s kissing cousin in Canada. Although small, JDL has long held similarly controversial stands against Islam. Perhaps even more telling is JDL’s website, which lists Jewish assimilation into society, inter-marriage and “Jewish love for the non-Jew” as the biggest threats facing Jews in Canada today.

It’s important to note that JDL and its position regarding Islam is not representative of that of the larger Jewish community in Canada. EDL itself has been described by mainstream media as mainly consisting of “football hooligans” and are not expected to gain much traction with Canada’s middle-class majority.

Nevertheless, the scuffle from Tuesday’s ‘support rally’ shows clearly the ripple effect that can result from throwing a proverbial pebble that is the EDL/JDL union into a pond that is Canadian society.

Although the EDL/JDL propaganda is not expected to have much resonance, we should never the less be vocal about rejecting such propaganda here. Quietly rejecting an unjust act does not relief us of the responsibility for its outcomes.

Case in point: Terry Loughner. Sarah Palin, Fox New et al and the media in general have been largely vilified as the invisible propagator of the Arizona shooting. What’s missing in the equation is society’s role – we are as equally guilty for accepting such hateful vitriol as passively as we do any other piece of news churned out by the networks. Often times we have even unknowingly amplified their message by spreading and “retweeting” those hateful quotes. Very seldom do we realize the ripple effect that those tweets cause and what they say about our social mores.

As I am writing this, the EDL rally is still set to go on. There will most surely be a protest in response and possibly some degree of violence from both sides of the fence. Inevitable, intense media attention will ensue with one party being given more than its fair share of the spotlight. However, the way we respond to that will say a lot about our values as a society.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Before you ban my wardrobe, get your facts straight

By Lin Abdul Rahman
The Sputnik, Issue 1, Winter 2011

As France and Belgium rally to legislate a full ban on the hijab, the religious headdress worn by Muslim women, Quebec prepares to follow in the footsteps of its European counterparts. Jean Charest has introduced Bill 94, which bans full-face coverings “pretty much everywhere but the street itself,” according to Sarah Wildman of Politics Daily.

The axial debate centers on whether the ban would liberate Muslim women from religious subjugation or be an impediment to the religious freedom that Canadians are supposedly afforded by the Charter.

As with any contentious issue, the debate generates an intricate mesh of opinions. Counter-intuitively, the Muslim Canadian Congress supports the ban while secularists worry that it may be inherently “unsecular.”

According to Dr. Tariq Ramadan, one of Europe’s foremost scholars in Islam and philosophy, secularism is about limitations: limitations on the state’s ability to enforce its authority on the church vis a vis religious institutions, and vice versa. So when the state spreads its tentacles into churches, mosques, synagogues and temples as France has so boldly done, it is going against the very principles that it claims to uphold.

According to the Montreal Gazette, 80 percent of Canadians in general and 95 percent of Quebecois support the ban on full-face coverings. I wonder how many people out of that 80 percent of Canadians understand the origins of the burqa and its contextual implementation in today’s society.

Nota bene: I oppose the wearing of the burqa, if and when it is enforced upon Muslim women against their will.

If women were to wear the hijab, niqab or burqa out of their own volition, the ban is then an outright infringement on their religious freedom – one of the basic tenets of fundamental human rights, as afforded by the Charter. In that case, a ban on religious headdresses simply reeks of religious intolerance.

As President Obama said in his speech in Cairo last June, “We cannot disguise hostility toward any religion behind the pretense of liberalism. Indeed, faith should bring us together."

Another fallacious presumption about religious headdresses is that women who wear them are oppressed, whether they know it or not. As someone who consciously chose to wear the hijab, I feel insulted that I am subjugated into the underclass of the ‘oppressed.’ The fact is that not all women who wear the hijab are forced to do so. In fact, not all Muslim women wear the hijab. To claim that Muslim women in western societies who wear the hijab are oppressed is to openly admit that you know nothing about the very people whose rights you claim to fight for.

Yet, conservative rightists, pandering to emotional politics, do not hesitate to call for a sweeping ban that would violate our individual rights as citizens. The Toronto Star’s freelancer Maggie Gilmore writes, “It's a repugnant value system and I reject it. So should all Canadians who embrace secular feminism. So let's ban the burqa, the niqab, and while we're at it, the hijab.”

Notice that no substantial argument is given as to why the hijab should be banned.

This is the very statement that would compel 80 percent of Canadians to check “Yes” when answering opinion polls about the hijab ban.

The Toronto Star’s Haroon Siddiqui was right in saying that it’s ‘scary’ when the majority feels threatened by a minority. It’s even scarier when they start harnessing the power of the law simply to quell that unfounded fear. In human rights courses, we call that ‘tyranny of the majority.’ It’s the same unfounded fear that sent the Jews to the ghettos and later extermination. It’s the same fear that sent Canadian and American Japanese to internment camps during WW2. It’s the same fear that poured billions of dollars of American tax payers’ money into a so-called war against terrorism.

My advice is, before you form an opinion on the hijab/niqab/burqa ban, find a woman who wears one and ask her why. That way, you can claim to be part of an informed public that supports democracy rather than an 80 percent majority that has possibly been misinformed. It is precisely this misinformed majority that is still amateurishly hung up on issues of assimilation versus isolation when discussing Muslims in the west. The possibility of convergence between immigrants’ culture of origin and their newly adopted one is rarely discussed.

Meanwhile, millions of Muslims in western societies already live as functioning and contributing citizens in Europe, America and Canada. They call themselves French, British, American and Canadian just as comfortably as Scientologist Tom Cruise calls himself an American or as Jewish Sacha Baren Cohen calls himself a Brit.

To borrow an oft-used expression: “Muslim women are here; they wear the hijab; deal with it.” There are far more important things we can spend our time and energy on.