Khan: How a Quebec current affairs show offered a model for how to talk about Islamophobia

Good example:

It has been a bruising two weeks, to say the least, in Quebec. Here, there has been strong reaction to the Justin Trudeau government’s appointment of Amira Elghawaby as Canada’s Special Representative on Combatting Islamophobia, with a mandate of providing outside advice and guidance to the federal government.

But Ms. Elghawaby’s previous writings pertaining to Quebec set off a firestorm in the province. In a 2019 opinion piece, she and co-author Bernie Farber cited a poll in saying that “the majority of Quebeckers appear to be swayed not by the rule of law, but by anti-Muslim sentiment” in their support for Bill 21, which restricts certain public-sector employees from wearing religious symbols while on the job.

Now, this has unleashed calls for her resignation from four provincial and two federal political parties, in spite of her sincere apology for the hurt caused by her words; some have even called for the abolition of the position itself. In response to these accusations of Quebec-bashing and contempt for the people of Quebec, there have been counter-accusations of Islamophobia for the treatment of Ms. Elghawaby, as well as for Bill 21. It’s as if the two solitudes have been shouting at each other, which has only tragically entrenched them in their positions.

So it was bold for Radio-Canada to enter the fray with a televised debate around these very issues, on the popular current affairs show Tout le monde en parle, hosted by the brilliant Guy A. Lepage. The guests were Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin, the former mayor of Gatineau, Que., and Boufeldja Benabdallah, a co-founder and spokesman of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec, where six Muslim worshippers were murdered in 2017.

But while the two men differed on a number of issues, they did so respectfully, with nuance, humour and a heartfelt appeal for mutual understanding.

Mr. Pedneaud-Jobin, who is now a columnist for La Presse, had penned a piece on the suffering of the Quebec people under the yoke of the Catholic Church. His great-grandmother died at the age of 34, following her 13th pregnancy, of which eight had come to term; his grandmother gave birth to 11 children, after which her priest had blessed her for “doing her part.” These were the days when the Church controlled much of the state and the lives of Quebeckers, and according to Mr. Pedneaud-Jobin, the harms it perpetrated far outweighed the good. A friend of mine likens that era to present-day Iran. This is why a generation of Quebeckers is averse to religion – especially any foray into government.

For Mr. Pednault-Jobin, Bill 21 is a compromise, in that it is not an outright ban on all government employees. He also explained that in Quebec, collective rights are more prominent than in the rest of North America, where individual rights hold sway. One may not agree, but this was useful – and necessary – in understanding why people support the law.

For his part, Mr. Benabdallah eloquently shared his appreciation for the Quebec people, the vast majority of whom have extended kindness to the Muslim community since the 2017 murders. He said he was “devastated” by Ms. Elghawaby’s comments – they didn’t reflect his own experience – but as a man of peace, he believes she should be given the opportunity to prove herself, since she has apologized. As for the laïcité, Mr. Benabdallah agreed that religion should have no influence on government affairs, but he took issue with Bill 21. If it was as benign as its supporters claim, he said, there would have been no need for the province to use the notwithstanding clause to shield it from both the Canadian and Quebec Charters.

On the question of the representative job itself, Mr. Pednault-Jobin drew from his mayoral experience, arguing that money spent on local, on-the-ground programs would be far more effective than funding a federal post. He also preferred a position that would combat all forms of discrimination. As a counterpoint, Mr. Benabdallah pointed out that 11 Muslim Canadians have been murdered in three separate attacks over a four-year period, and that anti-Muslim sentiment has not stopped, making the specificity necessary. But he did also agree with the need for an office to combat antisemitism.

And so it went: a palette of ideas, offered up for reflection with much wisdom and from cooler heads. This juxtaposition of opposing views, served in a humane manner to enhance understanding and respect, should be a model for discussion of other contentious issues. In this way, there is an opportunity for a gradual rapprochement amidst colliding histories within our human family. We don’t need to shout past each other; we need to listen.

Sheema Khan is the author of Of Hockey and Hijab: Reflections of a Canadian Muslim Woman.

Source: How a Quebec current affairs show offered a model for how to talk about Islamophobia

ICYMI – Khan: Banning education for Afghan women runs counter to Islamic teachings

Of note:

Soon after the Taliban took back power in Afghanistan last year, they issued a “temporary” policy requiring all Afghan women to stay at home until their fighters could be trained to respect women. During the 20 years it had taken to reforge an army, the Taliban had failed to instill this basic notion among its troops. And they had no shame in admitting it.

That policy has since become permanent and, clearly, there was never any real intention to develop respect for women within the Taliban’s ranks. The group has gradually reverted to the oppressive policies of its previous rule during the late 1990s, including reneging on its promise to provide education to girls and women, among other rights.

In the fall of 2021, the Taliban allowed women to attend university courses in gender-segregated classrooms, with instructors who were either female or old men. A dress code requiring loose-fitting clothing and a hijab was imposed. Then last spring, it rescinded a promise to allow girls to attend high school. Soon after, all Afghan women were ordered to wear a niqab in public, told to not leave their homes unless “necessary,” and banned from travelling without a male relative.

This past August in Kabul, women protested these draconian rules, chanting “bread, work and freedom,” as many had been relegated to poverty because of the imposed mobility restrictions. They, along with journalists who covered the protests, were beaten by Taliban fighters. In November, parks, gyms, public baths and theme parks were declared off-limits to women at all times.

The latest salvo in female erasure: Women have been “suspended” from attending university entirely, in order to preserve the “national interest” and “women’s honour,” according to the Taliban. There have been heartbreaking scenes of female students sobbing as they are turned away from university gates by Taliban guards. Dreams of getting an education, and hopes of serving their country, have been shattered. The Taliban have also banned women from working with NGOs, leading some to suspend operations.

There is no theological basis for the outrageous ban on female education in Afghanistan – the only country where such a prohibition exists. The Quran’s first revelation was the command, “Read!” It exhorts followers to reflect, to study the natural world, and to offer the prayer: “My Lord, increase me in knowledge.” Islamic history is replete with female scholars and judges. The world’s oldest university, according to UNESCO, is Al Quaraouiyine in Fez, Morocco, which was initially built in the 9th century by Fatima al-Fihri, who was highly educated in Islamic jurisprudence.

It is clear that the Taliban see nothing honourable in women, nor have any interest in their historical role or contemporary presence. Rather, they are viewed through the lens of misogyny, and seen as being troublesome and a source of fitnah (temptation). The Taliban believe that women should be removed from the public sphere, confined to their homes and kept illiterate.

International criticism of the women’s education ban has been swift and damning, especially from Muslim countries. Turkey’s government called the university ban “neither Islamic nor humane,” while Saudi Arabia has expressed “astonishment and regret” over the decree, joining Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in calling for the Taliban to reverse their decision.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), on behalf of its 57 member states, expressed “deep frustration.” The Gulf Cooperation Council not only condemned the decision as a clear violation of human rights, but also pointed out the obvious: that denying women’s education can “doom the economic future of Afghanistan, relegating half of its people to a life of poverty and ignorance.” There is no “national interest” – only national disaster – in banning education for women and girls.

Afghans are courageously standing up to this oppression. Male students walked out of their exams at several universities, in solidarity with their female counterparts. Protests have broken out in Kabul and Herat, as women, armed with their voices and moral conviction, demand a reversal of the ban. They have been met with arrests and water cannons.

Here in Canada, Muslim leaders can do their part by reminding communities that education is a right for all, that seeking knowledge is a duty, and that banning such opportunities for women is antithetical to Islamic teachings.

We must support all efforts to overturn the Taliban’s education ban while providing Afghan girls and women with online educational opportunities or even university placements until their full rights are restored. We must also support the women of Iran in their struggle. Once again, I say to the ruling elites, be they religious or secular: Leave Muslim women alone.

Sheema Khan is the author of Of Hockey and Hijab: Reflections of a Canadian Muslim Woman.

Source: Opinion: Banning education for Afghan women runs counter to …

Khan: Soccer is truly the beautiful game, unless you are a French Muslim woman who wears a hijab

Good reminder:

Thus far, the FIFA World Cup has not disappointed. Electrifying plays on the field, compelling storylines from Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski, and the festive, colourful fandom in the stands. It’s called the beautiful game for a reason. Soccer has a simple, universal appeal – all you need is a ball, a couple of teammates, and voilà, the dreams are yours to make.

Except if you are a Muslim woman in France who wears a hijab. According to a decree by the French Football Federation (FFF), anyone playing, coaching or officiating on a French football pitch is banned from wearing religious symbols. For all the focus in World Cup media coverage on Qatar’s policies towards migrant workers, women and the LGBTQ community, hardly anyone has made a peep about how a soccer powerhouse – France – bars Muslim women from participating in the sport simply for wearing a hijab.

France has a tortuous history of harmonizing its growing Muslim population and its official policy of secularity, or laicité. Suffice it to say that the hijab has never been welcomed in the land of liberté, égalité et fraternité. After a 2004 ban on wearing “conspicuous religious symbols,” including the hijab, in French public schools came into effect, the niqab was also banned in public spaces in 2010. Curiously, while mask mandates were implemented in France throughout the pandemic, niqabs were still subject to fines.

The FFF’s rule runs contrary to official FIFA policy, which lifted its own hijab ban in 2014. The policy has had a painful impact on many aspiring French Muslim female soccer players, who have faced a choice between the sport they love and their faith. Some have grown up in the same Paris banlieues that produced Kylian Mbappé, Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté. During childhood, some of these young female players faced opposition from their own conservative families, who deemed soccer too masculine. As they thrived at sport-intensive programs and club tryouts, the families gave in – only to have the FFF turn their daughters away from the pitch because of their hijabs.

Yet the FFF could not kill the spirits of these remarkable young women, or their love of the game. In response to being excluded by the FFF, Les Hijabeuses, a collective of French female Muslim soccer players, was formed in 2020 with the aim of ensuring that all women can play the sport they love. Co-president Founé Diawararecalled feeling angry and excluded when being told to leave the pitch for wearing her hijab at the age of 15: “I was trapped between my passion [for football] and something that is a huge part of my identity. It’s like they tried to tell me that I had to choose between the two,” she told The Guardian in 2021.

Les Hijabeuses have used their strong social media following to rally against the FFF’s ban. They’ve launched petitions, gathered support from the broader sports community (including Nike), and organized soccer matches outside the French Senate building as a form of protest. The members and their allies play soccer together, connect with other French teams and provide training sessions to encourage other young Muslim women to get into the sport. It is a refuge, providing a safe space for Muslims to be who they are, while playing the sport they love. They have even lobbied the FFF to overturn the ban, and are now taking them to court. Earlier this year, the French Senate tried, unsuccessfully, to codify the FFF ban into law, arguing that the hijab was a means to spread radical Islam to sports clubs. Senator Stéphane Piednoir, a ban supporter, told The New York Times that he has yet to speak with a hijab-clad athlete, comparing such an encounter to a “firefighter” listening “to pyromaniacs.”

The ban is even more galling given that France is the only European country that excludes hijabis from playing in most competitive domestic sports, while foreign players with hijabs will be allowed to compete in the 2024 Paris Olympics. Why is France denying Olympic opportunities for its own hijab-clad athletes?

More importantly, why has the rest of the world been silent on this issue in recent weeks, especially during coverage of the World Cup? International media should be shining a spotlight on the FFF’s exclusionary policies. National soccer federations (including Canada Soccer) should be mounting a united stand against the FFF’s overt discrimination through boycotts and other measures. FIFA should sanction the FFF for violating official FIFA policy.

I have played soccer almost my entire life. I am an accredited soccer coach. But because I wear a hijab, I can’t play, coach or officiate on a soccer pitch in France. In Qatar, no problem. Let that sink in.

Sheema Khan is the author of Of Hockey and Hijab: Reflections of a Canadian Muslim Woman.

Source: Soccer is truly the beautiful game, unless you are a French Muslim woman who wears a hijab

Khan: The downfall of Quebec’s Bill 21 could come thanks to women

We will see:

The notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Charter is no longer an obscure legal term. Thanks to Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s recent use of Section 33 to prevent job action by education workers – he has invoked the clause, or threatened to do so, three times in four years – ordinary Canadians now know that their basic human rights can be suspended at any time. We aren’t talking about emergency measures here, nor are we discussing reasonable limits through democratic mechanisms; ours is the only constitutional democracy that potentially allows for the gutting of basic rights in the name of what a parliamentary majority deems a matter of governance.

Who could have foreseen the consequences of this clause?

Well, Canadian women, for one.

When the Charter was being drafted, women demanded equality rights – but they were derided at committee hearings for doing so. In 1980, Senator Harry Hays derisively countered by suggesting special rights for babies and children, since “all you girls will be out working and we’re not going to have anybody to look after them.” A year later, more than 1,300 women descended on Parliament Hill to assert equality rights in the Constitution, by affirming Section 15 on general equality and proposing Section 28, on gender equality rights.

Initially, the notwithstanding clause could have been used on Section 28, too. But women fought for its exclusion, having had the foresight to ensure that gender equality rights could not be denied by the potential whims of future governments. We owe them a great deal.

And yet, today, we see the Constitution’s notwithstanding clause leading to disproportionate damage to Muslim women in Quebec.

François Legault’s government has pre-emptively used the notwithstanding clause twice since 2019, to ensure the passage of two bills. One of them, Bill 21, bans some public-sector workers from wearing religious symbols, but lawyers have provided evidence at the Quebec Court of Appeal – which heard a legal challenge to the bill this month – that only Muslim women who wear the hijab have lost their jobs as a result of it.

Indeed, Quebec’s religious minorities have felt increased alienation and despair in recent years, according to the Association for Canadian Studies. Its survey found that the situation is particularly dire for Muslim women: 73 per cent of them said they’ve felt less safe in public since 2019, while 83 per cent said their confidence in their children’s future has worsened.

The Quebec government touted Bill 21 as a “feminist” law, but it has only reinforced prejudices, and given license to bigots. I know this firsthand: During a visit to Montreal, I was berated by a middle-aged francophone Uber driver for wearing the hijab. At the end of the ride, he asked me not to file a complaint. (Of course, I did the opposite.)

This all illustrates Bill 21′s egregious violation of Section 28 of the Charter – namely, that the law disproportionately affects women, and thus violates gender equality. Since the notwithstanding clause cannot override Section 28, Bill 21 could be seen by the courts as invalid – an argument that University of New Brunswick law professor Kerri Froc raised years ago, and is now gaining traction.

Quebec Muslim women are not wilting. They have protested alongside allies who believe in a Quebec where all individuals can thrive. Take, for example, Institut F, a Montreal-based organization that seeks to ensure Muslim women’s personal agency. Its programs provide resources so that each woman knows that she belongs, her voice matters and she is a valued member of society – even if the Quebec government thinks otherwise. At a recent Institut event, I met talented Muslim women in STEM fields such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology and data science – talent that Quebec needs to remain economically competitive. Yet, many of those women expressed doubts about thriving in a society that overtly discriminates against religious minorities.

Something may have to give on this front, too. The labour shortage is so acute in Quebec that the town of Hérouxville – infamous for issuing a code of conduct for immigrants warning them not to stone or burn women alive – is now actively courting newcomers. Today, neighbouring towns are helping migrants find halal food. Economic reality will force the realization that attracting workers means making all feel welcome – not just a select few.

Bill 21’s damage has been done – abetted by the notwithstanding clause. The women who fought to exclude Section 28 from the clause knew its dangers. As Canadians, we must continue that fight to guarantee basic rights for all, be they religious and linguistic minorities in Quebec, education workers in Ontario, or anyone threatened by the notwithstanding clause.

Source: The downfall of Quebec’s Bill 21 could come thanks to women

Khan: To the ruling elites, be they secular or religious: Just leave Muslim women alone

Of note:

A long while back, a good friend of mine decided to take a stand on the hijab. She was Muslim, and grew up in a Muslim household. She had thought long and hard about her decision, and decided to start wearing it.

Her father disagreed, berating her. When that didn’t work, he beat her. But she would not be cowed by the physical abuse. She could have filed a complaint with the authorities here in Canada, but decided, for personal reasons, against it. These were deeply personal choices made under difficult circumstances. But they were hers to make.

I thought of my friend upon hearing of the death of Mahsa Amini, a young Iranian woman who died after being taken into custody by Iran’s “morality” policy for allegedly violating the country’s hijab laws. The authorities claim that the 22-year-old woman had a heart attack at a re-education centre. Her family disputes the account, indicating that she was in perfect health. Autopsy reports were not made public. The official account defied credibility, given endemic institutional corruption. The allegations are that Ms. Amini was beaten to death.

That a woman was arrested and died for showing wisps of hair is reprehensible. That such a law exists is a travesty to basic human dignity. Iranian women are rightfully fed up with edicts that suffocate their lives and violate their personal agency. But it goes beyond women. You cannot shove religion down peoples’ throats without missing the point entirely. As the Quran succinctly puts it: “There is no compulsion in religion.”

While the current upheaval in Iran is partially the result of a population chafing against a ruling elite, it is also, at its heart, about the position of women in Iranian society. Half the population could more fully help their country to flourish, provided they were given the opportunity to do so. Instead, women have been suppressed and society has suffered as a consequence.

Some believe one of the solutions to ending the suppression of women is to ban the hijab. But this simply repeats the initial cardinal violation of taking away a woman’s agency in making her own choices. In any instance, a grown woman is fully capable of weighing the necessary information, consulting her peers, if she’d like, and reaching to the inner recesses of her conscience to make a decision that suits her.

Back in grad school at Harvard, one of my closest friends was an Iranian exile, whose family had suffered under the rule of Ayatollah Khomeini. Understandably, she hated state-sanctioned “Islam,” and, in particular, the hijab. We used to debate long into the night about the place of religion in society. I learned a great deal from her. When I chose to wear the hijab during the final year of my doctorate, she was mortified, and tried ardently to dissuade me. Another Pakistani friend tried to do the same. He hated the mullahs and their edicts; an imam had tried to sexually assault him when he was a child.

I clearly saw that both of my friends’ choices were informed by their respective experiences. However, as I explained, my choice was predicated on my own path – not theirs. It was deeply personal, and remains so. I do not impose it on anyone. Nor do I appreciate when others try to impose their choices on me or other women. Many years ago, I stood by my friend who was beaten by her father for choosing to wear the hijab. I stand by my Iranian sisters for the right to choose not to wear it, and their right to be free from coercion and violence.

In the end, it is about power and control. This summer, a Leger poll found that as a result of Quebec’s Bill 21, which bans the wearing of “religious symbols” (including the hijab) by public-sector workers, more than 70 per cent of Muslim women in the province feel less safe and more than 80 per cent said they feel less hopeful for the next generation.

To the ruling elites, be they secular (in Quebec and France) or religious (in Iran and Afghanistan), I say this: Just leave Muslim women alone. Let us live our lives and contribute to society. We have so much to offer, and we want to be part of the greater whole. We are not enemies of the state.

To my sisters in humanity: As women, we rarely see life as a zero-sum game. Let us respect individual choices. Let us be supportive of each other and band together against the haters. Let us remember Mahsa Amini and the many women who struggle on the path of freedom. Our inner voice is our strength – and no one can take it away.

Source: To the ruling elites, be they secular or religious: Just leave Muslim women alone

ICYMI – Khan: Every community has a responsibility to address intimate partner violence

Good column and reminnder:

Forty years ago, NDP MP Margaret Mitchell rose in Parliament to address the issue of domestic violence during question period, based on her experience hearing from battered women as a member of the Standing Committee on Health, Welfare and Social Affairs. But her opening remarks, in which she recounted that one in 10 husbands regularly beat their wives, were met with derisive laughter and heckling from a number of fellow MPs. “I don’t think this is very much of a laughing matter,” she was forced to respond.

Around the same time, in the early 1980s, budding journalist Anna Maria Tremonti was experiencing the very trauma recounted in the committee hearings. Like so many women, she carefully hid all signs of intimate partner violence (IPV) from the outside world, and she went on to become a high-profile reporter, hosting The Current on CBC for many years. However, the emotional scars never really healed. Now – in a tremendous act of public service – she has courageously shared details of the pain and shame that she has carried privately for decades, in the podcast Welcome to Paradise.

Canada has come a long way in recognizing the issue of IPV, but it remains damaging on many levels. According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner every six days, and children who witness violence in the home have twice the rate of psychiatric disorders as children from non-violent homes. Domestic violence also threatens a woman’s path to economic independence: roughly 40 per cent of victims found it difficult to return to work, while about 8.5 per cent said that they lost their jobs because of it.

As Nova Scotia’s inquiry into the worst mass shooting in modern Canadian history examines the role of intimate partner violence, a recent U.S. studyfound that more than two-thirds of mass shootings from 2014 to 2019 stemmed from violence toward partners or family members, or are perpetrated by shooters with a history of domestic violence toward their intimates.

While Canada may not have the prevalence of mass shootings as the United States, we are certainly not immune to the type of incidents described in that study. In 2015, Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam were murdered by a mutual ex-partner in Ontario. After hearing testimony into the triple femicide last month, an inquest jury made 86 recommendations in response to the murders, including a recognition of femicide as a distinct crime and manner of death. It also called on Ontario to declare intimate partner violence an epidemic.

Indeed, researchers have described the potential rise of IPV incidents during the COVID-19 pandemic as a “shadow pandemic”. Lockdowns increased the risk factors for IPV, owing to enhanced financial stressors, lack of space for women to leave the home, isolation from support systems and lack of privacy to call for help.

IPV occurs across faiths, cultures, and income groups. However, immigrant women may be more vulnerable to domestic violence owing to economic dependence on male partners, language barriers and a lack of knowledge about resources.

Within Muslim communities, there are a number of issues that exacerbate the potential for domestic violence. In some circles, there is tacit religious approval of beating one’s wife as a means of control and discipline. I still remember wandering into a bookshop on Toronto’s Gerrard Street while shopping for a wedding dress some 25 years ago, and reading a tract by an imam who counselled men to beat their wife on the wedding night. There needs to be unequivocal, repeated condemnation of all forms of domestic violence by imams when addressing their congregants.

Another issue is the concept of “sitr,” or concealment. Muslims are advised not to publicize the faults and mistakes of others. However, when the fault results in harm to another individual, there is a duty to report such behaviour to stop the harm. Unfortunately, some take “sitr” to an extreme, deeming spousal abuse as a “private matter,” without any consideration given to the harm inflicted. The limits of “sitr,” seen through the lens of harm prevention, need to be reconsidered.

In recent years, however, denial has given way to acknowledgement and efforts to remedy the problem. Sakeenah Homes, founded in 2018, has provided culturally appropriate services to women, children and families facing homelessness, violence and poverty. And since 2015, Nisa Homes has opened nine shelters across Canada, providing refuge and care to more than 1,000 women and children. These spaces can empower and give hope to the vulnerable, allowing the broken to be rebuilt.

The scourge of IPV will not disappear anytime soon. We must address it with resolve to protect the most vulnerable – and never lose sight of the inherent dignity, resilience and strength of each and every woman forced to traverse this most difficult path.

Source: Every community has a responsibility to address intimate partner violence

Khan: I thought the Charter protected Canadians’ fundamental rights, but I was wrong

Another good column by Sheema Khan:

Like you, there have been many times I have felt proud to be Canadian. For example, our government’s principled refusal to join the immoral invasion of Iraq. Attending citizenship ceremonies, where new Canadians remind us of the deeper meaning of citizenship. Being told by one of my Harvard professors that Canadian students were the best prepared – a testament to our excellent public education system. And of course, the 1995 Unity Rally in Montreal, on the eve of the Quebec referendum, where Canadians joined hands peacefully to express our heartfelt love for Canada and Quebec.

The contentment has been punctuated by instances of profound doubt, when I wonder what we really stand for. For example, the longstanding Canadian project to inflict cultural genocide on Indigenous communities. Just read the summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report to get a shocking glimpse into the depravity of our country’s official policy: Last year’s gut-wrenching announcements about the unmarked graves of Indigenous children on the grounds of former residential schools. And let’s not forget the complicity on the part of government agencies in the rendition of Maher Arar to torture in Syria.

Post 9/11, our courts served as a check on government overreach on basic civil liberties. I grew to love our Constitution, which replaced hockey as a central feature of my Canadian identity.

I am not a historian. Nor am I a lawyer. I am, simply, a Canadian citizen who cherishes our Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a safeguard for fundamental rights and freedoms.

Imagine, then, the gut-punch upon discovering that the highest law of the land – to which new citizens pledge allegiance – makes no such guarantees of fundamental rights and freedoms whatsoever. All owing to the notwithstanding clause, which is enshrined in the Charter.

For years, I saw the “notwithstanding clause” as a polysyllabic legal term, bandied about by constitutional experts. I didn’t know what it meant. Mainstream media clarified it as a right, given to provincial and federal governments, to suspend Sections 2 and 7 to 15 of the Charter. All of this still seemed abstract. Until it wasn’t, after reading those sections.

In a nutshell, the Charter grants governments the right to suspend basic individual freedoms that we all take for granted. Namely, freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion and expression, as well as freedom of the press, peaceful assembly and freedom of association. We aren’t talking about emergency measures, nor reasonable limits that are justified in a democracy. No, we are talking about a constitution that makes it perfectly legal to suspend basic human rights, as a matter of governance.

It does not stop there.

A number of basic legal rights can be suspended. These include the right to life, liberty and security (barring some exceptions, such as the prison system); requirement of warrants for search and seizure; the right to be informed why one is being detained; the right to a lawyer upon arrest; the right against unlawful imprisonment; presumption of innocence until proven guilty; and the right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. The clause allows suspension of the right of every individual to be equal before, and under the law; and suspends the right to equal protection of the law without discrimination based on race, ethnicity, colour, religion, sex, age or disability.

This needs to be spelled out: our Charter makes it perfectly legal to gut basic rights. There is no need for a coup, no need to politicize selection of judges, no need to gerrymander, no need to use a loophole. The potential for abuse is encoded into law. There is no other constitutional democracy that allows for the gutting of basic rights as a matter of governance.

Much has been written about the history of how the notwithstanding clause came to be: a compromise between federal and provincial powers; a balance between elected representatives and unelected judges. Yet, this does not explain how basic human rights were used as a bargaining chip, rendering our Charter of Rights and Freedoms hollow.

When it was introduced, the thought was that it would be rarely used. Some termed it the “nuclear button.” For decades, that was the case. However, within the past three years, it has been used twice by Quebec and once by Ontario. Quebec Bills 21 and 96 unequivocally suspend individual and legal rights of minorities. Conservative Party leadership candidates Jean Charest, Pierre Poilievre and Patrick Brown have promised to strike down the recent Supreme Court decision on sentencing, using the clause.

It’s time for each Canadian to engage in a conversation about who we are as a country, given that our Charter allows for cancellation of basic civil liberties.

Source: I thought the Charter protected Canadians’ fundamental rights, but I was wrong

Khan: Muslims can improve our communities on our own. We just have to be willing to speak out

Indeed. And good initiative to address equality and equity issues:

Some years ago, I learned that our local mosque refused to allow women to serve on the board. This sexist practice was also entrenched in the bylaws of the British Columbia Muslim Association for nearly four decades. Only Muslim men, it turned out, could be elected to the board, and only by Muslim men. When I asked the mosque and the BCMA if they would change their policies, they unequivocally refused.

But when I began to prepare a column about the issue, a lawyer reached out, asking me to refrain from speaking out. Why? There was concern that then-prime minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government would use this information to go after mosques. “Not now – give us time,” came the plea.

“So, once the Liberals are elected, mosques will open their boards to women?” I asked. We both knew the answer.

Rather than address the discrimination within, some organizations have found it easier to simply ignore internal criticism, while silencing whistle-blowers with emotional blackmail: You’ll hurt the community by airing dirty laundry. The problem is that the laundry is piling up and the stench is getting unbearable, while those who can access the washing machine continue to refuse to do their chores.

The situation is especially acute for victims of violence and abuse. They are often pressed to keep matters quiet, and not file charges, so that the community won’t look bad in the eyes of the public. Meanwhile, there is little accountability of perpetrators. Those who do speak out are shamed as traitors, enablers of Islamophobia, or worse, as self-hating Muslims. Often, it is the voices of women that are silenced by these heavy-handed tactics. Consequently, justice is thrown under the bus of community self-censorship.

It’s why well-meaning institutions overreach in their attempts to stamp out a quantum of Islamophobia. The Toronto District School Board (TDSB), for instance, has yet to decide whether it will allow teenaged girls to participate in a book club event featuring Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman who was enslaved, tortured and raped by members of the Islamic State. This courageous young woman refused to remain silent, and has even won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to seek justice for her people. That she was assaulted by sadistic individuals acting under the cover of an inhumane interpretation of Islam is part of her truth, as is the fact that Muslims worldwide repudiate the Islamic State. The TDSB apparently fears that impressionable teens may not be able to distinguish between an extremist group and ordinary Muslims who are their friends and neighbours.

But here’s a thought: The Muslim community can simultaneously fight Islamophobia and address the ills within it. It is not, and should not be, a zero-sum game. Just as Muslims desire from others safety, freedom from discrimination, access to justice and the opportunity to thrive, they should work hard to ensure the same principles apply to those who are themselves Muslims. One cannot make demands and then plead indifference when asked to fulfill those same demands. As the Quran states in the chapter titled “Women”: “Oh you who believe. Stand firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even though it is against yourselves, your family, the rich or the poor.”

Here’s another thought: Muslim women have the agency to improve their own lives. Their own history is replete with illustrious paradigms, including that of Khawlah bint Tha’labah, who challenged a cruel marital custom in 7th-century Arabia when no one else dared; her courageous stand led to its abolition. She is known as “al-Mujaadilah,” or “the woman who pleaded,” in the 58th chapter of the Quran. For 14 centuries, Khawlah has been a model for unwavering commitment to justice within.

In the coming weeks, the Mujaadilah Centre – founded on the noble example of Khawlah – will be launching. Its goal is to unapologetically address harms faced by Canadian Muslim women within their communities. This will include an in-depth analysis of the gender make-up of mosque boards across the country. And in 2022, the centre will address the controversial practice of polygamy here in Canada, by providing new legal research of the Criminal Code along with documentation of harm suffered by women and children.

There is hope on the horizon. A new generation of Muslims is demanding greater accountability of leadership. They will not turn a blind eye to discrimination and abuse within, since they understand that wrongdoings left unaddressed will only lead to worse outcomes. Too many lives have been destroyed for this to continue. This cohort is taking the lead on addressing taboos head-on. They will make a difference for the better.

In the meantime, let’s all strive for a better society – standing up for what is right, and forbidding what is wrong, across all communities.


Khan: Why would we ever believe that the Taliban will now be kinder to women?


The Taliban have promised a “kinder, gentler” approach after the fall of Kabul – vowing to be more inclusive and humane following the defeat of the internationally-backed Afghan government.

The world must not fall for this charm offensive.

Thus far, the interim government has no women, nor any representation from the ethnic Hazara minority; the cabinet is formed entirely by Taliban members; on Sunday, Kabul’s Taliban-appointed mayor told the city government’s female employees to stay home. The ministry of women’s affairs has been eliminated, cutting off vital services for women. In addition, peaceful protests have been met with arbitrary detention, live ammunition, batons and whips, according to the United Nations. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, the country’s constitutionally enshrined watchdog, has been unable to fulfill its duties after the Taliban’s forces occupied its buildings.

On Aug. 25, the government issued a “temporary” policy requiring all Afghan women to stay at home until its fighters could be trained to respect women. Imagine having 20 years to build an army, but failing to instill basic respect for women during that time, and having no shame in admitting so. As a result, Muslim women in Afghanistan are effectively being told to fear for their safety from Muslim men, their so-called “brothers” in faith. This should be condemned throughout the Muslim world.

Many don’t believe this is a temporary order. Humaira Rasuli – a human-rights lawyer who is the founder and executive director of the Kabul-based Women for Justice Organization (WJO) – remembers that in 1996, the Taliban declared that they weren’t against education or work for women, but that they needed more time to ensure their safety. But while the prohibition of women from the workplace never did lift before the government fell in 2001, women who were the sole providers for their families were relegated to poverty during that time; some were forced to beg on the streets. Little wonder Ms. Rasuli is convinced that the Taliban intends to suppress the advances made by women over the past two decades.

Ms. Rasuli herself serves a case in point. Her organization is crucial for the functioning of civil society: providing robust legal representation, raising the next generation of lawyer leaders and strengthening government institutions. The WJO spearheaded forums for leaders to contribute to law and policy reform proposals on criminal procedures, sexual harassment laws and policies and edicts demanding virginity testing. But their office was raided by Taliban fighters during their first morning of rule. The staff has since been forced into hiding, destroying documents overnight. Three staff members, including Ms. Rasuli, had to flee Afghanistan; others are in hiding in Kabul.

But over the past two weeks, despite the chaos and challenging personal circumstances, the WJO has managed to re-group with a new strategy. Having overcome corruption, conflict and endless challenges in Afghanistan in recent years, it is determined not to give up.

Taliban militants, says Ms. Rasuli, have usurped and are monopolizing interpretations of sharia, or Islamic law, co-opting it for their political ideology around female erasure. IS and al-Qaeda factions, which are rooted in similar ideologies but have veered in even more extreme directions, have rapidly proliferated too, making the threat all the more urgent. So the WJO has worked to form a coalition of Afghan law and sharia experts to push back on such interpretations, while equipping young leaders and civil-society activists with the language and concepts they need to contest them.

They are not hopeful that the Taliban will be receptive to a more gender-equal interpretation of sharia, but they will try – and at least, as a matter of principle, they have vowed not to allow extremist ideas to harden into unquestioned consensus. Even amidst the enormous challenges, they remain committed to the long-term goal of an inclusive government elected through free and fair voting, and to the preservation of key legal structures that safeguard the fundamental human rights of all Afghans, especially women and minority groups.

If only the world showed the same resolve.

“I am calling on the international community and the world to eliminate terrorism in Afghanistan,” said Ms. Rasuli, speaking to me from a military camp in the U.S. following her evacuation from Afghanistan. “So many people have died in this war, so many left injured, so many people displaced internally, so much grief and suffering and now, Afghanistan has been entirely abandoned. Please, for the sake of innocent civilians, support us. We have sacrificed our work, home, families and basic rights to bring peace to Afghanistan. We have built Afghanistan with our own hands. It is enraging and disappointing to see it used as a battleground for warring nations. Neither peace has come to Afghanistan, nor our rights have been protected. I am really disappointed by the silence of the international community.”


Khan: We all have a role to play in rooting out Islamophobia

While I am not a fan of one-time summits to effect change, Khan’s more positive commentary worth noting. Noteworthy that the silence of the PM and other leaders on Quebec’s discriminatory bill 21 is highlighted. Money quote:

“With a federal election on the horizon, here are a few recommendations to party leaders whose words and actions carry great responsibility: Disqualify any candidate who has expressed xenophobia or has been affiliated with extremist groups; reject dog whistles to rile up your base; and finally, sign a memorandum of understanding among all party leaders to speak in unison against Bill 21 as an affront to fundamental human rights. Stop jockeying for Quebec votes on the backs of religious minorities.”

William Wordsworth famously wrote “the child is father of the man,” implying that childhood experiences shape our development into adulthood. Trauma, if left unaddressed, often leads to devastating consequences. We see this today in the aftermath of the Canadian government’s 150-year-old policy of cultural genocide toward the Indigenous peoples of this land.

Unfortunately, we are witnessing the emergence of a traumatized generation of Canadian children due to Islamophobia, exacerbated by the targeted killings of Muslims in Quebec City, Etobicoke and London. This alarming state of affairs was described in depth by lawyer Nusaiba Al-Azem at the National Summit on Islamophobia recently, which brought together government officials and members of the Muslim community for a spirited dialogue on ways to confront the scourge of anti-Muslim sentiment.

The summit wasn’t merely a gabfest, but provided a platform for community groups and experts to submit concrete policy recommendations, such as a national support fund for survivors of hate-motivated crimes, a special envoy for Islamophobia, and amendments to municipal bylaws and the federal Criminal Code to better deal with hate crimes.

On the issue of children, many panelists emphasized the importance of raising awareness of different cultures and faiths in our schools, so as to broaden the outlook of Canada’s youth. One excellent resource is the comprehensive Islamic Heritage Month Resource Guidebook for Educators developed for the Toronto District School Board. Pleas were made to review school curriculums with an anti-Islamophobic lens.

The plethora of voices at the summit included a new generation of leaders within the Muslim community that is articulate, insightful and fully immersed in Canadian culture and politics. A number of common themes did emerge from the diversity of opinions at the event.

First and foremost, there is an expectation that there will be tangible government action on the recommendations. Further consultations without action are not acceptable.

There is a pressing need to address online hate through legislation, since social media companies have failed to rein it in – with devastating consequences. This was tied to demands that the federal government take more forceful action against white supremacist groups.

Another common theme included the need to investigate anti-Muslim bias in a number of federal agencies, such as the Canada Revenue Agency, the Canada Border Services Agency and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Gendered Islamophobia also emerged as concern, given that it is Muslim women who are bearing the brunt of hate-motivated incidents. The spate of attacks against veiled Muslim women in EdmontonCalgary, and Hamiltonrequires immediate action. No woman should ever be assaulted – let alone for what she chooses to wear in public. On the flip side, many hate incidents go unreported because victims don’t believe the police will take any concrete action. We need to build trust between law enforcement, the justice system and communities subject to hate-motivated attacks.

And while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, cabinet ministers, elected MPs and other government officials all expressed support for many of these initiatives, their steely silence on one issue spoke volumes. Muslim panelists unanimously spoke of the harm fostered by Quebec’s Bill 21, which forbids public employees from wearing religious-based symbols in the workplace. Judge Marc-André Blanchard, ruling on Bill 21 this spring, described how it ostracizes, excludes and dehumanizes those targeted, but said it was nonetheless legal because of the notwithstanding clause. All groups at the summit called for the attorney-general to be involved in legal challenges to this discriminatory law, which targets religious minorities.

Rarely discussed at the summit was the role of the political class in fostering anti-Muslim sentiment. Erica Ifill, writing in The Hill Times, lays out the evidence of “a direct line from the political and policy responses following 9/11 to the murder of the Afzaal-Salman family.” Muslims were vilified as a result of the “barbaric practices” snitch line and the banning of the niqab at citizenship ceremonies. Less than two months after the mass shooting of Muslims at a Quebec City mosque, Conservative and Bloc MPs voted against a non-binding motion condemning Islamophobia.

With a federal election on the horizon, here are a few recommendations to party leaders whose words and actions carry great responsibility: Disqualify any candidate who has expressed xenophobia or has been affiliated with extremist groups; reject dog whistles to rile up your base; and finally, sign a memorandum of understanding among all party leaders to speak in unison against Bill 21 as an affront to fundamental human rights. Stop jockeying for Quebec votes on the backs of religious minorities.

Let’s not forget that each of us has the responsibility to work toward the kind of society we wish to foster – a place where every member feels safe, where we value the humanity of every individual, and where we respect differences – remembering that it is our common values that unite us.

Sheema Khan is the author of Of Hockey and Hijab: Reflections of a Canadian Muslim Woman.