I decided to write this post after a true sister encouraged me to do so in the hopes that our fellow Muslims and immigrants will become aware of how we all contribute to neo-colonialism and the oppression of others.
Living in Canada is a matter of internal struggle for me. On the one hand, I did not leave my country in a context of conflict, so I can’t speak to those realities. On the other, the situation that my country faces today, and has experienced since I have any recognition, filled with violence, poverty and corruption is very much the result of its colonial history, imperialism and neoliberalism. All of these have been, at the very least, endorsed by Western powers, like Canada. Although there are many examples, one that is currently relevant to my work is the inclusion of Mexico in Canada’s list of Safe Countries. This list negates the increased levels of violence, persecution and poverty that Mexican civilians face nowadays after the War on Drugs was launched.
As an immigrant, nonetheless, I contribute to a very particular reality. I reside in stolen land and I abide to settler laws. What is more, my very own status as an “immigrant” requires me to pledge “alliance” to Elizabeth II. No First Nations, Métis or Inuit group is considered to be “worthy” of this same right because, even though I reside in their lands, they are very much blurred from the fabric of the “Canadian nation.”
A few weeks ago I attended Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), an event that raises awareness about Israel’s occupation of Palestine as well as its human rights violations. The Palestinian cause is very close to my heart, as it is for many Indigenous peoples around the world. We empathize with the colonial aspect, we identify with the struggle, we understand the human rights violations and we see possibilities for resistance and collaboration with Palestinians. Thus, it is not surprising that these events are often filled with Indigenous activists from around the world. In fact, much of the rhetoric at these events focuses on words like “brother” and “sister” to create nation-to-nation solidarities. Although it is also important to note that some Indigenous peoples, particularly those in power positions, engage with Israel in very problematic ways.
The Palestinian issue also attracts a lot of Muslims (and some contention as well). The religious aspect is strongly emphasized as means of showing that our brotherhoods and sisterhoods in Islam are more than tokenistic words. In fact, my own experience as a convert has showed me that one of the very first pieces of information we receive in mosques is that of the Palestinian struggle. It is one of the only times I have heard the term “colonialism” being used in a mosque. Palestine unites Muslims in a way that not many other causes do…
The point is that we share spaces as Muslims, Palestinians and Indigenous peoples, but beyond the Palestinian struggle, we seldom work together. Or rather, the solidarity goes one way.
Last year I attended a discussion on violence against women in Ottawa. Whereas the discussion was more of a presentation by academics and NGOs than an actual discussion, one of the questions put forward to the public was that of inter-group collaboration to address violence against women in Canada. Not surprisingly, two First Nations women, the only ones at the 50 people discussion, spoke about the missing and murdered Indigenous women who have been largely neglected by the government and mainstream society. At that point, these two women emphasized that without support from other communities of women, the situation will just continue to worsen. A woman representing a Muslim organization made a point of saying that Muslim women in Canada have their own problems, which does not allow them to engage with First Nations women.
I froze. I was not only at odds with this Muslim women’s position, but I was actually quite offended. What do you mean you have your own problems? Don’t we all? Suddenly, I perceived an identity clash between being a Muslim, an Indigenous woman and an immigrant. Hence, as the discussion ended, I approached the First Nations representatives to ask them about the kind of support that they were hoping to gather from Muslim women.
The woman looked at me and painfully said, “I would not want to say this… but the reality of things is that every time we have asked for Muslim support we are slapped with a no. We have been there to oppose Islamophobic laws and policies; we have been there to defend their right to wear veils; we have been there to protest the situation in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Syria, etc.; we have been there… They are in our lands; yet, we have gotten very little support back.”
At the heart of this statement was the unwillingness of many Muslim organizations to collaborate or to even inform themselves about the situation of Indigenous women in Canada. However, I believe that it goes deeper than that.
Even among our own Muslim communities we rarely discuss colonialism in Canada or the status of Indigenous peoples in here. In fact, we dread having conversations that may show Canada in a negative light. Such an attitude poses, in my view, an oxymoron. We complain about Islamophobia, racial profiling and discrimination. Yet, we are oblivious to the fact that these three things are very much an extension of a system that has been oppressing Indigenous peoples for centuries. We want Canadians to understand that we are not connected to terrorism in any way, shape or form. Nonetheless, we turn away from having conversations about the criminalization of Indigenous peoples. We are surprised when we face racism and discrimination, but we think it is “normal” for Indigenous peoples to be excluded.
As Muslims and as immigrants we are perpetrators of oppression.
Some of us will go so far as to uphold stereotypes against Indigenous peoples (i.e. lazy, drunk, poor) and to believe that we are “superior” because we have jobs and a nice home to go to. However, for the most part, our complicity is more settled. We just don’t ever want to question or to even think about it. We just assume that we are righteously in this land and that our Canadian passports, permanent resident cards and visas “certify” us as righteous settlers (this may change with bill c-24).
But is it? How is it that we can be so empathetic towards the Palestinian cause in speech, but we never question the Canadian settler state? How is it that we wear the keffiyeh but never wonder about whose land we are occupying and the processes that brought us here?
In the conversation that I had with my friend we speculated about what it would take for Muslims and immigrants to stand against oppression? As she noted, the only people who are able to “tell it like it is” are Indigenous activists who are beyond “politeness” and “political correctness.” The fact that many Indigenous peoples have nothing left to lose pushes them to be critical and to resist. Is that the point that Muslims and immigrants need to reach before they take a stand against oppression and their own complicity in the conditions that Indigenous peoples face in Canada?