June 25, 2006

From whose bourn, no traveller returns

There was a limo service awaiting my arrival at O'Hare International Airport. The driver was a Muslim, and greeted me with salaam; a welcome introduction given my tainted images of the United States. As large a city as Chicago is, he knew some of the people I knew, and we had a friendly discussion the whole way. I was extremely tired, and somewhat frustrated by the delays caused by my cancelled flight, but I tried my best to be an active participant in the conversation. As we pulled up to the conference centre and I was stepping out of the vehicle, he requested a favour of me.

"You're travelling right now. Please pray for my child, he's quite sick."

I didn't pay enough attention to what he said, presumably because I was exhausted and also because I never quite expected to see him again. I paid him, and walked towards the conference centre.

I spent two weeks there, among an international contingent of colleagues. I was amazed at just how American the Americans were; they all seemed to live lives inspired by television shows, from the goofy but lovable class clown to the young and melodramatic "southern gal". I eventually got used to it, but it still bothered me how ignorant they were of the rest of the world. Even the Muslims among them were no different. One thought Ottawa was in Idaho; when I told him that there was a world outside the United States, he assumed I lived in Alaska. Another brother asked me this beautifully ignorant question:

"Why don't you just live in United States instead?"

I enjoyed answering this question, drawing on all the things that I love about Canada: the relaxed lifestyle, the polite people, the functional and tolerant multiculturalism, free healthcare, among other things. I also mentioned how I would feel guilty for paying taxes to such an incredibly inept, violent, and dangerous government. That was a moot point, he argued, as the majority of Americans don't support them. If the majority don't support them, I replied, then how can it be called democracy? He changed the subject.

On a quiet and rainy Sunday afternoon, I happened to take a stroll outside despite my lack of appropriate clothing to handle the rain. Waiting in front of the Welcome Center was the driver who brought me there a week earlier; he had come to drop off someone else. He greeted me with salaam, and asked how things were going. He reminded me about the ijtema that was taking place in Chicago that weekend; unfortunately, I had already missed most of it, as did he.

"I wasn't able to go myself," he said. "I've spent most of the weekend in the hospital. My child just passed away this morning."

I was stunned, having completely forgotten about his request a week earlier. Innalillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'oon, I muttered. From Allah we came, and to Him we will return. The child, an infant boy no more than three months old, was gone, and I had irresponsibly forgotten both him and his father in my prayers. I told the driver that I would pray for him, for his patience, and for Allah to compensate him greatly for his loss.

The news left a cloud over my travels for a while; the driver had become a friend, and I was saddened by his loss. He was a young man himself, only a year older than I, and had been married for just a little over a year. What struck me most about it was that in spite of his situation, he could not get any break from his job. Just a few hours after such a tragic loss, he was back in the car driving people from place to place. I'm certain that his passengers would often be rude and impatient, completely negligent of the fact that the driver was also a husband, a father, and a mourner.

Such is the nature of life, though. The demands don't stop for anything, and there is rarely a moment of respite for those who struggle to make ends meet. Such incidents remind me of how thankful I must be for all the blessings I have in life. I live a very easy life, and have seen little of adversity in my quarter century of experience.

"And then which of the favours of thy Lord will you deny?"

June 12, 2006

Off the mark

So here I am, writing in the middle of the night when I would much rather be sleeping. Unfortunately, a scheduled flight to Chicago yesterday was cancelled, and thus I am now awaiting an early-morning flight which will just kill my sleeping schedule, and reduce my chances of staying awake at a Monday 8:00am meeting to zilch. I need to be at the airport at 4am, to arrive in Chicago by 7:15am.

Prior to the official cancellation of the flight, I waited patiently in the airport after a fairly lengthy security process. It's frustrating that I'll probably need to do this all over again because of the cancellation.

This will be my first time flying into the United States since 1999; much has changed since then. American Security had a field day going through my passport. I was asked many questions about my time in Saudi Arabia (lots of Arabic Hajj-related stickers in my passport); and when I affirmed that I had been to Pakistan within the last five years, the furrowed brow of the security lady was a sight to behold. I turned over all the papers I had that confirmed my business in United States, and finally the lady was satisfied.

Last week, I was the emcee at the annual graduation dinner for all the Muslim students in colleges and universities in the Capital Region. The keynote speaker was Maher Arar, whose story continues to worry me. With no evidence or charge against him, the man lost more than a year of his life to excrutiating torture, and his future will always be tainted by the nightmarish memories. His mistake was only being in the wrong place at the wrong time; a victim of wayward fire. The shots fired in the name of security have often missed their mark, targetting people with nothing but irrelevance to share; I always fear that another may be caught in the crossfire.

June 09, 2006

Notable pieces about the recent arrest

There have been lots of notable bits and pieces about the recent Toronto arrests. As Muslim Link is currently defunct, unfortunately, I'll be writing and posting here more often than usual.

CBC News | Teacher witnessed transformation of some bomb-plot suspects
I found this news item interesting because of the following passage:
“Amiruddin said many mainstream Muslim organizations in Canada are really part of the problem, standing by as extremist propaganda spreads in the mosques. He cites the Al-Rahman centre in Mississauga, Ont., which he links to the Al-Maghrib Institute, which runs a popular educational website. It's nominally run out of Ottawa, but Amiruddin says it's really a Saudi operation.”

While it is true that alMaghrib tends to follow Saudi teachings on certain issues of jurisprudence which I disagree with, it's disturbing that some would consider them to be a vehicle of hate. The founder of the alMaghrib Institute is a very classy and sincere person who truly loves this country; he can not be blamed for promoting violence or extremism. Some of the students tend to get a bit over-enthusiastic about their classes (omg are you ready for TPA???!!!!), but their hearts and minds are definitely in the right place.

SafSpace | T.O.'s Homegrown Terrorists
The brilliant sister Safiyyah has come out of her extended break to analyze the issue in depth, in her candid, objective style that is so refreshing in these emotional times. This is probably the best place to start for anyone wishing to understand the background, allegations, and possible motivations of the suspects, as well as the current and desired response of the Muslim community.

The Globe and Mail | We must root out the fringe elements in the Muslim community
This was sent out to a mailing list I am a part of. I disagreed with a lot of this article, and wrote a lengthy response which I may post later. Still, it is an interesting read, and presents what is probably the more mainstream view of the situation among Muslims.

The Toronto Star | So Many Possibilities ... for courts
Another calm and reserved voice, this time in the mainstream media. The writer urges the public to avoid jumping to conclusions, and to let the issue work it's way through the courts. This is also a good read for anyone wishing to get past the sensational headlines that have been dominating the papers in the last few days.

The Ottawa Citizen | The greater threat is ignorance
Deepak Chopra offers some practical responses to ignorance.

June 07, 2006

The bogeymen are coming!

As I walked through downtown Ottawa, I passed by a row of newspaper boxes, featuring the Ottawa Citizen, the Ottawa Sun, and Metro News. Each front page yelled the same message, accentuated by one word: BEHEAD. "There's an allegation my client indicated he wanted to behead the Prime Minister of Canada." "Plans to behead PM." "Plot to storm Parliament Hill and ... BEHEAD THE PM."

This is just getting juvenile; the fear tactics are reprehensible. All the papers say the same thing: that one of the suspects is "alleged" to have wanted to behead the prime minister. Where these allegations come from, nobody will say. It's not very different than if I were to say that you, the reader, are being accused of plotting to destroy the Alexandra Bridge. You would say, "what kind of allegation is that? No one would accuse me of that!" And I would say, yes, someone would accuse you of that: I just did.

But above all, the objective is to reduce the suspects to caricatures - evil, insane, Saturday morning supervillains, with sociopathic tendencies and no regard for human life or dignity. Once you've got the word "beheading" in the vocabulary, the lunatic must be guilty! He's a crazy nutcase! How could someone even think of something so awful? And whether the allegations are proven or not is irrelevant; the image of the suspect has been tainted, and that alone is sufficient to destroy his future.

It's very easy to paint a dirty picture of someone. Below are two descriptions that one might expect to hear in the media:

Case One

He was always a good and dependable student, and was highly regarded at the office where he worked. He was known for his charity and social work, and often spoke on behalf of the voiceless minority in the face of discrimination. He had a dry but unique sense of humour, probably inspired by his love of the daily comics. Most of his colleagues considered him a pleasure to work with, and respected his work ethic and dependability.

Case Two

He always appeared distant and reserved, even at a young age. Sources say he once accidentally stabbed a friend with a compass as a child, and that he frequently played violent video games such as Doom or Wolfenstein, where he would kill Nazis. He has spent a significant amount of time overseas, in places such as Saudi Arabia, and was in Pakistan shortly before the attacks on September 11th. On the morning of the attacks, he may have been flying towards North America from a formerly Communist state. He has publicly supported a charitable organization that briefly had it's assets frozen due to suspicions of funding terrorism."

At first glance, the first case appears to represent a model citizen; the poor soul who often ends up being the victim of tragedy. The second case appears to describe a much more disturbed individual, capable of some pretty nasty stuff.

Unfortunately, the two cases describe the same person. The statements may all have been true, but media spin is a dangerous beast. Get spun the wrong way, and you are now a heartless and insane bomber.

And for the record, Human Concern International has gotten past the completely baseless allegations that came against it several years ago, and continues to work tirelessly to alleviate human suffering around the world. Their overhead costs are remarkably less than most other charitable organizations, and their hard work deserves our support.

Again, my hope is for a transparent process, where the suspects will rise or fall based only on the proof brought against them. Let justice prevail, and let the bogeymen disappear along with the lies that created them.

The cartoon villain given above, "Evil Midnight Bomber what Bombs at Midnight!", belongs to Ben Edlund and the good folks who produced the Tick cartoons.

June 05, 2006

Toronto Muslims held in alleged terrorism plot

17 people detained.

I don't know what to say about this, really. All I can hope for is a transparent process, though I expect that this is unlikely. We still know very little about the circumstances around the last arrest, even though it hit closer to home. And their "leads", if you can call them that, are so far out of the picture that it shows ineptitude on the part of the security officials.

If they can prove the guilt of the accused, then I commend their efforts. Canada is my home, and any threat to the country is a threat to me personally. I can see the Peace Tower out my apartment window; I look upon it with respect every day.

On the other hand, if nothing conclusive can be brought forward, then I can only pray that sanity prevails.