August 2010

The controversy surrounding Park 51 or the so called ‘ground-zero mosque’ has been making headlines all over the United States. The intensity and interest surrounding this debate has been unprecedented. Everyone has an opinion on it. Sadly, it seems, most Americans are against the idea of building such an institution close to ground-zero. The very fact that this debate exists is indicative of several facts about the present day America. Following are some of the things it represents:

1) Most Americans still hold the collective Muslim community responsible for the World Trade Center attacks. After all the bridge building and dialogue that has happened over the past decade, it seems that public opinion is still against the Muslims. Unfortunately, the general American population can’t differentiate between the terrorists that attacked the World Trade Center and the average Muslim. I was outraged when I heard politician Newt Gingrich saying that the Nazi were to the holocaust victims what the Muslims are to the 9/11 victims.

2) The ignorance of the American people. Ignorance on innumerable levels. Ignorance about the project itself for example. A lot people don’t know that the mosque is actually a community center which will be open to everyone. Also, as Keith Olbermann pointed out, an existing mosque (Masjid Manhattan) close to ground-zero has already been in operation for the past 40 years; why then has this project become so controversial? Ignorance about Islam in general is another major problem and is the main thing fueling this debate. The project was initially named Cordoba House in honour of the historic city of Muslim Spain which was known for the peaceful co-existence of the Muslims, Jews and Christians. Opponents of the group forced the name to be changed, as to them it falsely represented Muslim subjugation of the medieval Christian world.

3) The good of the American people. Despite all the the opposition, there have been numerous people that have stood up and defended the Muslim community despite being themselves non-Muslim. These include journalists such as Keith Olbermann, politicians such as Mayor Bloomberg and even comedians like Jon Stewart. I greatly admire such individuals for their courage and strong indignation. Their open mindedness and their faith in American democratic values is not only inspirational but helps balance out the image of prejudice and ignorance painted by numerous Americans.

4) The work that still needs to be done by the Muslim community in order to change how the beautiful religion of Islam is perceived in America. The pious and upright character of early Muslims is something even their enemies attested to. Even up until the 60’s being Muslim in America was associated with something good thanks to the Black Muslim movement led by Malcolm X. Present day Muslims need to walk in those footsteps and take it upon themselves to educate the general populace about Islam. It is only through knowledge that ignorance,injustice and prejudice will be defeated.


Pakistan has been ravaged by catastrophic floods over the past few weeks. Thousands of homes and schools have been destroyed and millions left homeless. The UN estimates that so far at least 2000 people have died and about 20 million people have been effected by the floods. The number of affectees in this disaster is greater than the combined total of the 2004 Tsunami, 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haitian earthquake.

The aid response from the government has been more sluggish than usual. What is more alarming, however, is the slow response from the international community. The UN launched an initial appeal of $469 million to help the flood victims; less than half the money Canada spent on the G20 summit. Considering the scale of the disaster and the number of those effected, this isn’t an impossible amount to raise. However, governments have so far only donated 36% of this amount. A quarter of this aid was provided alone by the UK who described the response from the remaining international community as ‘pitiful’ and ‘lamentable’. UN’s secretary general Ban Ki-moon surveyed the area and described the catastrophe as the worst disaster he had seen. Millions have those effected so far haven’t received any aid at all.

The apathy shown by the international community saddens me, but intrigues me as well. Why was is it that people have reacted in a such a fashion? Aid agencies have expressed difficulty in conveying the scale of disaster to people. Perhaps its due to the fact that the disaster was not like an an earthquake or tsunami that happens over night and kills thousands of people. The floods started with heavy rains and gradually reached to levels where they wiped out entire villages. Perhaps it is due to the lack of casualties that people aren’t sympathizing with the victims. While the number of people that have died is significantly lower than other major disasters, the number of those effected is far higher. Hundreds of thousands have been left homeless and this should logically garner a larger response as the victims are still alive and are in dire need of help.

Either ways, it shouldn’t matter how many people died and how many are homeless compared to other disasters. The bottom line is that these are people in extreme need and the response from the international community needs to be strong, swift and generous; no one should be sitting at home weighing out whether its worth while to donate. So if you’re reading this and haven’t donated yet, please go ahead and donate whatever you can to the relief effort; its the month of Ramadan so there couldn’t be a better time to donate. I’ve attached links to charities that I know are active in the region.

Islamic Relief Canada
Canadian Red Cross
Pakistan Red Crescent

ICNA Relief Canada
The Humanitarian Coalition