Written for New Canadian Media, July 24, 2014
|Photo credit: Shazron via Flickr CC|
Since the Israeli assault on Gaza began in early June, more than 600 people have been killed and thousands more have been wounded. Most of the victims were civilians, with children making up to about a third of the numbers.
Frustrated by the failure of their governments to condemn Israel’s continued aggression, thousands of protesters hit the streets in Toronto, Montreal, London, New York, Jordan, Jakarta, Glasgow, Paris and even in Tel Aviv. Over a thousand people turned out for the protest in Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of my home country Malaysia.
As someone with ties to multiple “homes” – Canada, Malaysia, the Muslim ummah (community) – moments like these bring about conflicting feelings and a divided sense of loyalty. Between asserting my personal values as a Muslim in Canada, claiming rightful membership as a Malaysian from afar, and carving out my own space within the Canadian cultural fabric, there is rarely a happy middle.
Sense of gratitude
As a newcomer to Canada, I am aware of the many benefits extended to immigrant families in an effort to help them settle down, get jobs and pursue their education. My family and I have been the beneficiary of all three, and we continue to be grateful for them.
Nevertheless, being a loyal citizen can be especially difficult given Canada’s direct or indirect complicity in conflicts where Muslims are directly affected, such as in Burma (Myanmar), China, Palestine, Iraq and Syria. Furthermore, on home turf, there is still much room for improvement in terms of the country’s relationship with minority, immigrant and Aboriginal communities.
How, then, can one be a grateful while acknowledging these faults?
Perhaps, these are some of the troubling questions faced by the young Canadian Muslims who were allegedly “radicalized” into joining the war Syria and Iraq.
Canada is reportedly seeing an increasing number of young Muslim Canadians joining militant groups abroad. Earlier this year, the CBC reported that Damian Clairmont, a young convert to Islam from Calgary, was killed by a faction of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) during rebel infighting in Aleppo. Another Calgarian, said to be from the same study group as Clairmont, Salman Ashrafi, joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a group which now calls itself the Islamic State. He killed himself in a double suicide bomb attack in Iraq in late 2013.
Ashrafi was subsequently glorified as a martyr and an example to other young Muslim Canadians by a fellow Canadian jihadist who goes by the alias Abu Dujana al-Muhajir. Al-Muhajir also calls on Canadians to warn their government against getting involved in “a war of attrition with the Muslims for decades to come.”
A similar wave of religious fervour is also sweeping across Britain. In a short documentary on VICE, a young Briton named Amer Deghayes was shown expounding on his role in the jihad in Syria; he had traveled there with two brothers to fight with the Free Syrian Army, FSA. One of his brothers had already been killed during a battle, but Degahyes was calm and clear-headed in explaining how it was his duty to fight with his Muslim brothers against those who oppressed them.
Warning from imams
The Canadian Council of Imams (CCI) [an imam is a Muslim religious leader] recently issued a stern warning against young Muslims travelling overseas to fight as Ashrafi and Clairmont had. The CCI stated unequivocally that, “No one should get involved in international wars on the belief and excuse that they are helping their Muslim brothers.” Muslims living in war zones and experiencing oppression, the Imams Council explains, have the right to bear arms in self defense; Muslims living in Canada do not have the same right.
What Canadian Muslims do have, however, is the right to use all the resources we have at our disposal.
Aid organizations like Islamic Relief have worldwide networks with experience in getting aid to the heart of conflict zones, such as in Gaza, Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. We can volunteer our time and energy in their relief efforts by packing and delivering aid, or supporting them with monthly donations.
We can also contact our respective MPs and call on them to pressure the Canadian government into taking action, either by withdrawing support from oppressive regimes, through diplomatic intervention or through humanitarian aid support. There are numerous peaceful protests and online petitions for us to sign and circulate to draw attention to the causes we care about.
Our uninterrupted access to the internet and social media are something we can take full advantage of. The hashtag campaign #letaymanreport is a good example of what the global online community can achieve. NBC correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin was a veteran in fair and balanced reporting on issues in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. When the network pulled him out of Gaza, the online community responded in sharp criticism of NBC and launched a petition and a twitter campaign demanding that he be sent back to report from Gaza. Several days later, NBC announced that it was sending Mohyeldin back into Gaza to continue his work.
This goes to show that, even from a distance, there are multiple avenues through which Canadian Muslims can aid those in need without resorting to arms.
Like any other country, Canada is far from perfect. But as a newcomer to Canada, I know I’ve benefited tremendously from Canada’s systems of governance, welfare, social security and education. Nevertheless, a show of gratitude for these benefits doesn’t mean silent and unquestioned acceptance of Canada’s policies, be they good or otherwise.
Rather, I believe it’s my personal responsibility, in return, to be part of the system of checks and balances that helps improve the country from within its borders. This entails speaking up when injustices occur, be it at home or abroad, and encouraging other Canadians to do the same.