I’ve always found the concept of owning a sports team unsettling. What exactly does one own in a team? When it comes to basketball, the fact that most team owners are wealthy white men who possess teams made up largely of strong black men doesn’t help the imagery either. It definitely doesn’t help when an influential NBA team owner gets caught making racist remarks on tape. The fact that Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, actually believes he owns his players makes matters just a little more uncomfortable.

As has been widely reported, Donald Sterling was caught expressing frustration with his lady friend and reprimanding her for associating with black men; including the likes of Majic Johnson (oh…the lady friend appears to be of African descent too). When she reminds him of the team of black men that play for him, he responds, “I support them and give them food, and clothes, and cars, and houses. Who gives it to them? Does someone else give it to them? … Who makes the game? Do I make the game, or do they make the game?”

For those that know Sterling, these execrable remarks should come as a no surprise. His plantation mentality has been well documented. In 2009, former Clippers manager Elgin Baylor reported that Sterling remarked , ‘Personally, I would like to have a white Southern coach coaching poor black players’. In 2006, he was sued for housing discrimination when he refused to rent to blacks and Latinos. His reasons: “Because of all the blacks in this building, they smell, they’re not clean. … And it’s because of all of the Mexicans that just sit around and smoke and drink all day”. He’s been documented using the N-word repeatedly as well.

So, given that Sterling’s despicable views were well known, why is it only now that he’s fined and being forced to give up ownership of the team? What is the NBA punishing him for, being a racist or getting caught on a viral tape? The swift decision to penalize and ban him is laudable, but the moral high ground NBA claims is not one that is bona fide. Public outrage, loss of corporate sponsorships, brand damage and internal politics more aptly describe the leagues’ decisions. Being a member of one of the most exclusive and wealthiest clubs on the planet, Sterling no doubt has many enemies; this is their chance to take a shot at him.

As repulsive as Sterling’s comments are, one cannot overlook the ethical dilemma they’ve lead to. On one hand is the desire to hold accountable a powerful man for espousing abhorrent and intolerable views; on the other is the violation of his privacy and broadcasting of comments made in one’s personal space. After Snowden’s revelations on government spying, American’s have unequivocally deemed the private space as sacred and inviolable. So, it comes as a surprise that the same public would demand to penalize a man using evidence obtained surreptitiously through spying.

Sterling’s comments have sparked an inadvertent debate on race across America, and as it turns out, he’s not the only white man being tried in the court of public opinion. Princeton freshman Tal Fortgang made headlines last week after his essayon white privilege was re-published by Time magazine.

After being told repeatedly to ‘check his privilege’ on campus, Fortgang wrote the essay trying to dispel the notion that he was privileged. He attempts to do this by highlighting the struggles of his immigrant ancestors who escaped the horrors of the holocaust and started a new life the America. Since the publication he has received rather unwarranted attention; right wing groups giving him airtime to further their agenda, while left wingers lambasting him for defending racism.

I’ve never used the phrase and neither have been told to check my privilege; perhaps it’s because I am not white, or possibly because I went to school in Canada. Either way, I find it a rather harsh thing to say to anyone. Presumably it’s something you would say to shut someone out in an argument by telling them their opinions are invalid simply because of their skin colour; not to mention the emotional damage caused by accusing them of collective guilt. It’s the Ivy League equivalent of ‘your face is so [insert debate ending petty argument]’.

The frustration that might have caused Fortgang to pen that essay is understandable, he’s justified in doing that. While I am opposed to using that phrase, primarily because it’s rather petty, one can’t deny the legitimate privilege that accompany a particular race. In denying that privilege Fortgang displays his naïve outlook and a failure to comprehend racial realities that underpin our society.

‘Checking your privilege’ doesn’t mean to apologize for being white; it means to simply recognize that your race gives you an advantage in a multitude of arenas – think of it as a head start in a competition. Success ultimately rests on your abilities, but having the ‘right’ skin colour can make the road a little easier for you by eliminating prejudices that accompany the ‘wrong’ one.

Since we were speaking about basketball, (if you’re reading this Tal), let me illustrate the concept of how race can impact one’s success. Imagine you and I showed up at the tryouts for the basketball team at an inner city high school. You might be more qualified to make the team than me, but you can’t dispel the myth that ‘white men can’t jump’ (you should definitely check out that movie).

Being dark and tall will likely result in the coach and fellow players having greater faith in my abilities than you without too much effort; the struggles of my ancestors are irrelevant here. You, on the other hand, will have to go out of your way to prove yourself, your mistakes will be under greater scrutiny and your chances of ultimate success in the sport will be far lesser. I need to perform to ultimately make the team, but I won’t deny that darker skin does help a little in this case. I won’t apologize for it, but I recognize it and I don’t think it’s fair.

So Tal, how’s that for a personal Weltanschauung?

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First published at MuslimMatters on March 13, 2014

What started three years ago as anti-government protests has spiraled today into a bloody civil war with no end in sight. The brutal conflict has claimed the lives of well over a 100,000 people; it’s estimated that over 3 million have fled the country and are now in refugee camps spread across the Levant and beyond.

One of the most harrowing aspects of this human tragedy has been the unimaginable harm on children. Lives of over 5 million children have been tarnished due to the war according to the UN. Conservative estimates suggest at least 10,000 have been killed. 3 million have been displaced internally in Syria; nearly a million of them are trapped in areas that are under siege or that are hard to reach with humanitarian assistance. Another 1.2 million are now refugees living in overcrowded and under resourced camps in neighboring countries.

Thousand of children have been separated from their families; some living with only one parent while others living unaccompanied with no adult caregiver. In some cases the parents have either died, been detained or have sent their children into exile alone out of fear for their safety. Aid workers work tirelessly to reunite separated children or find families willing to look after them.

Collapse of Syria’s educational system is one of the most tragic aspects of the conflict. It will lead not only to immediate harm but will result in a generation of children without formal education. Prior to the conflict, primary school enrollment had been almost universal for a generation, literacy rates were over 90 per cent. Once the envy of the region, a fifth of all Syria’s school now have been destroyed, damaged or have been taken over by combatants. Nearly 3 million school aged children are now missing from the classroom.

The lack of safe places for healthy development has far reaching psychological repercussions on these young minds. Some stopped speaking out of shock; others randomly start crying from the memory of horror episodes. Death of family and desperation has led many teenagers to consider joining armed groups. Many children are in pure survival mode and have given up hopes and dreams for a future. “I wanted to be a doctor before,” eight year-old Jumana, now living in Turkey, told the UN. Three years of being out of school has caused her to lose hope; she now collects rubbish for US$4 a day.

The faltering state of Syria’s health system is highlighted with the reemergence of polio in the region after 14-years. Damage to the health infrastructure has been alarming – 60% of the country’s hospitals have been destroyed or damaged; less then a third of the ambulances and health centers still function. Immunization rates have fallen to about 50% compared to the 99% prior to the war. Public health is at severe risk due to the collapse of sanitation networks as well. A third of the water treatment plants have been damaged and only a third of the sewage is now being treated.

Despite the unfathomable horrors of this war, Syrian children continue to show resilience and courage. They’ve stepped up to the challenges of this conflict; providing for their families, making up for lost parents and trying to attend schools – whether it be in a refugees camp or a shelled school. There appear to be no signs of an end to this blood bath and in the face of such atrocity, it’s our turn to step up as well.

Prayer and charity are the main weapons we have – please give generously to the relief effort. Special prayers and vigils are being held around the globe this week to mark three years of this conflict; try organize special prayers this Friday in your communities too.

Some aid agencies:
UNICEF
UNHCR 
Islamic Relief US / Canada
Save the Children  

Sources used:
Under Siege, March 2014, UNICEF
The Future of Syria, UNHCR


First published in The Silhouette along this piece on March 6th, 2014

In a recent book attacking academics that support Palestinian human rights, Professor Alan Dershowitz writes, “Many supporters of Israel – and I count myself among them – care deeply about the Palestinian people. I am pro-Israel and pro-Palestine. I want to see a vibrant, democratic, economically viable, peaceful Palestinian state…”

‘What a fair-minded guy’, I naively thought to myself back then. Little did I know that this deceptive mantra has long been deployed by apologists for Israel and sympathizers of its war crimes. It represents accurately Israel’s long standing two-faced propaganda tactic: pretend to be an advocate for peace to the Western world while continuing the unending oppression of the Palestinian people.

Knowingly or naively, many are inclined to adopt this flawed dogma because, on the outset, it appears as a fair stance to the uninformed. The major flaw in this idea of being pro-Israel and pro-Palestine is the following: it ignores that Palestinians have been living under Israel’s brutal military occupation since 1967.

Approaching its 50th anniversary, the occupation is the longest and one of the bloodiest in modern history. Israel continues to usurp Palestinian land to build colonies for the exclusive use of its Jewish population; barring Arabs access to their own land. It continues to implement draconian apartheid laws on these occupied people to maintain absolute domination. The military check-points, the Separation Wall, apartheid roads, permit systems – the list of injustices is never ending.

This conflict is between a nuclear armed beast and a defenseless people. It’s between the oppressor and oppressed; the occupier and the occupied; the colonizer and the colonized. In a conflict which is so brazenly disproportionate, how is it possible to argue for a balanced stance? It’s as ludicrous as taking a ‘pro-British’ and ‘pro-Indian’ stance when Britain colonized India. It’s as shameful as taking a ‘pro-white’ and ‘pro-black’ stance in apartheid South Africa. It’s as meaningless as taking a ‘pro-slavery’ and ‘pro-abolition’ stance during the American civil war.

Israel’s intention to control Palestinian territory is no secret, as highlighted in the Drobles Plan which was adopted by the Israel’s cabinet. It states: “there must not be the slightest doubt regarding our intention to hold the areas of Judea and Samaria (i.e. the West Bank) forever… State and uncultivated land should be seized immediately for the purpose of settlement in the areas located among and around the population centers with the aim of preventing as much as possible the establishment of another Arab state in these territories”.

As is evident by the shrinking map of the Palestinian territories, the Drobles Plan has been implemented to a tee – all the while Israel has been pretending to negotiate a ‘peace processes’ for two decades now. Former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Meron Benvenisti, observed that, “It goes without saying that ‘cooperation’ based on the current power relationship is no more than permanent Israeli domination in disguise, and that Palestinian self-rule is merely a euphemism for Bantustanization [i.e. dividing land based on race].”

Israel’s continued air, land and sea blockade of Gaza has made this Palestinian strip inhospitable. The UN declared that if the current siege continues, Gaza will be unlivable by 2020 – that’s only 6 years away. Sewage treatment plants are broken down and can’t be repaired due to the blockade; untreated sewage now pollutes the Mediterranean. This has rendered 90% of water there undrinkable.

The Israeli army regularly conducts raids to destroy agricultural produce in order to squash any nutritious growth. Fishermen are shot at for fishing in the ‘wrong places’; same goes for the farmers. Students are barred from studying because their schools have been shelled; winners of scholarships abroad are denied leaving the occupied territory. This is some of what is happening in Gaza; the injustices in the West Bank haven’t even been mentioned here.

In the face of such brutality, how can one pretend to keep silent about the perpetrator of these atrocities? How is one expected to stay ‘respectful’ and not express outrage? The path of co-operation and dialogue can happen when two parties are on some sort of equal footing. However, in a conflict where one side is armed with the military and financial arsenal of the world’s superpower, it becomes a moral obligation to support the oppressed.

So it comes down to the following: you can delude yourself into thinking you are being fair-minded by arguing for both sides of the conflict; or you can join the global movement to put pressure on Israel to end its occupation of the Palestinian territories and comply with international law. The choice is yours.


SodaStream, the now infamous maker of soda machines, has found itself a new brand ambassador. Perhaps not as affable as Scarlet Johansson, Minister Jason Kenney has seemingly volunteered to be the new face of the company. He publicly intervened in the ongoing debacle between charity Oxfam and SodaStream by staging a “buycott” in support of the corporation. This outrageous gesture by a public official is appalling and antithetical to Canada’s foreign policy; it serves as a tacit approval of Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise.

Jason Kenney: Up the SodaStream without a paddle?Kenney’s recently posted a twitter message celebrating his purchase of a new SodaStream and exclaiming “Bought a nice @SodaStream unit at the @HudsonsBayCo. Thanks to @Oxfam for the tip. #Buycott #BDSfail #GoScarJo.” The controversy is this: SodaStream is an Israel company whose factory sits on occupied Palestinian land; deemed illegal by Canada and the rest of the world. Human development agency Oxfam, like most NGO’s, is opposed to all trade from the settlements as they serve to strengthen Israeli’s occupation of Palestinian lands.

So, what’s alarming is not the simple purchase of a soda maker, but Kenney’s decision to step into a public scandal which pits an NGO against a corporate profiteer of Israel’s occupation. The issue at stake is the economic support for illegal colonies at the cost of undermining Palestinian human rights. It’s tricky to say the least, if not obvious.

For Kenney to publicly take the sides of the corporation by staging a buycott, while sarcastically mocking and discrediting the charity is unacceptable. This move flies flat in the face of Canada’s official position which is opposed to expansion and support of the settlements. Given his role as the Minister of Employment and Social Development, it’s particularly hypocritical for him to defame an agency working to alleviate poverty and unemployment in the Palestinian territories and beyond.

Contrary to Kenney’s implication, Oxfam has not endorsed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel and has publicly denied supporting it. This further makes him guilty of false allegations. It’s clear he is unaware of the diversity and nuances that exist within solidarity activists and NGOs on this issue.

While BDS calls for a general boycott to economically isolate Israel, institutions have responded to this call by implementing selective boycotts in various ways. Most organizations with ethical investment policies that support boycotts have decided to oppose trade from Israeli settlements built on usurped Palestinian land. Oxfam, like many others, has taken this principled stance which seems to be beyond the comprehension of Kenney’s humble intellect.

Conservatives have long been pushed to reiterate Canada’s stance on Israel’s colonial activities; they’ve dodged the question at every possible chance. Actions speak louder than words and it has always been clear where Kenney and other Harperites stand. Corporate endorsements and public mockery of an aid agency represent a new low in a long string of diplomatic embarrassments — it certainly won’t be the last.

First published at Rabble.ca


Going abroad to study Arabic is one of the best ways to learn the language. With a vibrant culture and a rich intellectual heritage, Morocco is naturally a destination of choice for students from across the globe. What follows below is a guide for those looking to go there to study Arabic and Qurʾān. It is based on my experiences there last year.

Language Institutes

There are several schools spread across the country which focus on teaching Arabic to non-Arabs; English-speakers in particular. I went to Fez because of its intellectual history and the numerous opportunities to benefit outside class as well. I studied atALIF (Arabic Language Institute in Fez). It is one of the oldest Arabic schools in Morocco having been established for some 30 years now.

Bou Inania madrasa in Fez, Morocco

ALIF boasts some excellent teachers; some who are graduates from the Qarawiyyen. They have a well developed 7-level program which takes you to an advanced competency in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) i.e. Fusha. The curriculum followed is that of theAl-Kitab series which is taught at most Western universities (the colloquial sections in the book are skipped over). Most students are on exchange programs from American and British institutions. The default language of instruction is Arabic for all-classes; with English being employed at varying degrees depending on the level and teacher. Some teachers are strict about teaching in Arabic only; others are a bit lax.

This program does a very good  job at taking a holistic approach and focuses on your speaking, reading, writing and listening skills– as opposed to just reading. They generally go through the material thoroughly – especially at the beginner levels. Classes are small which is very beneficial; on average about 4-6 students per class. However, this swells up to about 10-12 students during the summer time. In classes with 3 or more students you get 20 hours of instruction per week, 15 hours with in classes with 2 students and 10 hours/week if you are the only one. The material covered and tuition remain the same.

The main pros of the school are that it’s quite well organized, has good teachers, and their program builds a strong foundation for further studies. Despite the criticisms of Al-Kitab, I found it to be a very good book and it greatly aided my comprehension and understanding. Plus, ALIF adds complementary exercises to reinforce language skills.

The cons are that the school is rather pricey; although at a similar rate as other Moroccan schools and still cheaper than most options in North America. With multiple instructors rotating through the levels, sometimes you can end up with a teacher who might not be as good as some others, and at times your classmates aren’t of the appropriate level. Also, since almost all students are English speakers, you don’t get complete immersion and end-up using English outside class.

Like most language schools, the focus is not getting students to read Qurʾān – although you are still learning classical Arabic in a modern context. To comprehend Qurʾān, you have to complement your studies with resources to familiarize yourself with Quranic vocabulary, expressions and constructs. The teachers are all Muslim and well-versed in the tradition, so they can always answer any specific questions you may have. To understand Qurʾān, one needs a good foundation in the basics of the language. This school will provide you with that.

These are all general things you have to work around when studying abroad – it’s not specific to this school per se. If possible, I would try to avoid going during the summer months as this is a busy time with a lot of students doing summer exchanges. Nevertheless, you’ll still find it beneficial if you’re focused and keep on-top of things. Just keep an open mind and you’ll be okay.

I’ve listed below some other schools in Morocco I found on the internet. I can’t comment on them; though I know students who went to Subus-Asalam and Qalam and mentioned good reviews about them.

Subus-Asalam CenterQalam wa LawhINLACCLCIbn Ghazi

Qurʾān Studies

Moroccans have a deep rooted commitment to the preservation of the Qurʾān, which makes it one of the best places to memorize and study it. Just by virtue of living there, your attachment to the Book will increase. One of the most unique aspects of Morocco is that a juz  from the Qurʾān (i.e. 1/30th ) is read in each mosque everyday – half after Fajr and half after Maghrib. They do this congregationally in a magical rhythm which is a treat for the ears and the hearts – a precious skill to learn in itself.

To this day, most Moroccan madrassahs employ a pen and tablet to help students memorize the Qurʾān. If memorizing is your goal, then attending one of these schools is your best option.  I had friends in Fez who were enrolled in these Qurʾānschools and also a few in the southern desert villages. The only way to enroll in these schools is to show up and try to get in – there isn’t an online process and there might be an entrance exam. It can be hard at times as the administration can a bit suspicious of foreigners; but all the people I know were eventually able to enroll. The tuition is usually either free or there is a small fee associated with it.

If your goal is to improve your recitation and study tajweed on the side, then theDar-al-Qurʾān schools are your best options. These are little institutes set up in every neighborhood for people to drop-in and recite to a teacher. Most people I met there were working class people who had already memorized the Qurʾān and were reviewing with the shaykh in the evenings. My teacher there could easily teach Hafsrecitation as well, as opposed to the official Warsh. The tuition is quite affordable as well – about 100 Dhs for a semester ($10).

Furthermore, these centers are women-friendly. Some of them are exclusively for women while others have times allocated (usually the mornings) for women and evenings for men. Whatever neighborhood you end up staying in, just ask around for the local Dar-al-Qurʾān and you’ll be directed to one

Update: I came across the website of Madrassah Sharif al Wazzani for girls; there’s a similar one for boys in Majorca, Spain called Madrassah Muhammad Wazzani. I know some of the Spanish boys go to this school first before going to Morocco and it serves as a good starting point.

Housing and Food

There are a number of housing options in Morocco. Many students who come on exchange programs do a home stay with a local family. This is usually set up by the host institution where you study and they dictate the prices – I’ve seen this to be between $80-$100/week with meals included. Most students have a positive experience with this living arrangement; although you have to keep an open mind and be accepting of a new family and culture.

Another housing option is the ALIF residence villa which is conveniently located across from the institute . It’s equipped with all the amenities one needs and saves you plenty of time and the frustration that can come with a new country. It’s relatively affordable too (about $300-$350/month depending on the room) but the prices go up in the summer and it can be hard to find a spot at that time too. Keep in mind the residence is co-ed and the atmosphere depends on the type of students living there at the time. Like with anywhere else, it’s your job to find good and wholesome company.

For long term stays, finding your own apartment is usually the best option and the above two are good to get you accustomed to the country. The schools can find you an apartment or you can find other students and try to room with them. I’ve heard various rates (i.e.$300-$600/month) depending on the number of rooms, location, furniture etc. I think $350/month is a decent approximation for a two bedroom place.

Food is very inexpensive in Morocco and this is where you’ll save the most. Bread is 1.25 Dh, a pack of milk is 3 Dh, pack of cheese is 12Dh, coffee is 7Dh. A decent dinner with meat will be 20-25 Dh. Budgeting 50Dh ($6) a day is decent if you eat out all the time – it’s much cheaper if you cook. (These are prices locals pay – you have to find the non-tourist areas to get these).

 The Qarawiyyen

The jewel of Fez and the pride of Islam’s intellectual heritage, the Qarawiyyen university is located in the heart of the old city;  it continues to operate today after being founded nearly 1200 years ago. Being able to attend the classes here is the most rewarding aspect of studying in Fez. They still follow the traditional format and curriculum, with classes taking place by the pillars of the old mosque. The teacher sits on a throne-like chair and the students sit on the floor encircling him.

I found the administration generally open to letting foreign students sit in and audit the classes. Some of the teachers would even try to include you in the class and were quite open to answering questions. Classes are mostly in Fusha though the local dialect, Darija,  is used in varying degrees depending on the teacher. Attending the lessons is a great way to improve your listening and comprehension skills, as well as learning the traditional Islamic sciences.

Do note that there are no classes during the summer months (June – August). Final exams start around mid-May so that’s when they end. All summer the old mosque where the classes take place is closed and opens only for the daily prayers. Also, unfortunately, I was told that some classes will be moved this year to a new campus outside the old city. However, some, I believe the advanced levels, will continue to be taught in the old mosque – so that resource is still there.

20130522_174207

If you are a high achiever and want to formally enroll in the Qarawyieen, the admission requirements are shown on the left in a notice about entrance exams. For those that can’t read it, the two main conditions for writing it roughly translate to: a) Memorization of the Glorious Qurʾān with completeness and mastery b) Memorization of a few basic texts (Mutoons) – I presume this to be introductory texts like Ibn Ashir, Ajroomiyah and imām Nawawwi’s 40 hadiths. I’ve heard Qurʾān memorization requirements for foreigners are a bit relaxed, though I can’t confirm this. Again, I am not aware of an online process for enrolling in Qarawiyyeen, so you have to just show up and try to get in by writing entrance exams, talking with administration etc. It’s assumed you’re fluent in Arabic as there isn’t an official program, to my knowledge, to teach the language to foreigners.

Also published at MuslimMatters 


The collapse of RanaPlaza, a garment manufacturing complex in Bangladesh, which killed 1,134 workers, sent shockwaves around the globe this past April. Just a few months earlier, the Tazreen factory fire had already killed 117 people in the country. These latest episodes bring the death toll of Bangladeshi factory workers to over 1,800 since 2005.  The appalling disparity between these downtrodden substandard garment factories and the upscale stores where the products are sold is nothing short of criminal.

Corporations such as Walmart Canada and Joe Fresh which outsourced from these sweatshops came under intense heat. Investigative journalists, such as that of the CBC and Toronto Star, have since revealed chilling facts. For example, it was found that workers evacuated RanaPlaza a day before the collapse but were forced to go back due to threats of termination. Since the collapse, workers continue to protest for the minimum wage to be increased from $39 a month to a mere $100. Stories of people like 10-year old Shakil Khan send shivers down the spine. He has been working as an unpaid trainee for 4-months and will make $4-a-day when he gets a salary eventually.

So, what has been done about all this? More importantly, what can we do as socially conscious consumers to ensure our clothes are not made through exploitation of others?

Calls for industry-wide reforms gave birth to initiatives such as the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. This is the first one of a kind agreement which promises to bring significant changes to working conditions in Bangladesh.

The Bangladesh Accord was drafted in conjunction with unions in Bangladesh, apparel companies and labour rights NGOs. It gives workers at factories increased protections such as the right to refuse unsafe work – something that could have saved the RanaPlaza disaster. In addition, it requires monetary commitments from global corporations to fund the repairs and renovations factories. Most importantly, the Accord is legally binding which means that global brands can now be held accountable in court for their operations abroad. Thanks to public pressure, this Accord has now been signed by over a hundred global clothing brands. This includes groups such as H&M, CalvinKlein, Tommy Hilfiger and even Canada’s Loblaws’ Joe Fresh.

However, corporate culprits Walmart and Gap have started a parallel safety initiative instead of joining the Accord. Along with 20 other brands, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety was created with hopes to also offer improved safety and better working conditions for factory workers. Despite the promises, the Alliance initiative lacks the rigour of the Bangladesh Accord, provisions for forming unions and more importantly, it’s not legally binding. This corporately-regulated voluntary initiative was drafted without consultation with unions and cannot be enforced by worker representatives – this leaves all the power with the companies. It was private regulation schemes that lead to disastrous results in the first place; it’s hard to see how a similar program could be a solution to the problem.

Many have dismissed the Walmart/Gap initiative as simply a public relations exercise. NGO’s such as CleanClothes, United Students Against Sweatshops, Macquila Solidarity Network and LaborRights have already called for and started campaigns urging them to sign up for the Bangladesh Accord. Leading US labour federations AFL-CIO and ChangeToWin jointly declared the Alliance initiative to be “weak and worthless”. In contrast, the Bangladesh Accord has been accepted by the UN Secretary General, EU and trade unions both globally and locally in Bangladesh.

So what are we to do in light of all these developments? Our best course of action is to pressure Walmart/Gap and associated retailers to sign onto the legally binding Bangladesh Accord. Consumers have a better case to make as competing brands have already signed on to it and thus deserve recognition and preferential treatment by ethical buyers.

Assisting campaigns calling for implementation of the Accord is our best bet. One of the most effective ways of doing so is personally delivering a letter to your local Walmart/Gap. Simply not buying from them isn’t effective as it won’t get the message across. Emailing these corporations, posting on their Facebook/Twitter and signing onto petitions are also effective methods. Whether it be raising awareness through social media or just talking about it with your friends- any thing which puts pressure on corporations to invest in worker safety is key.

As I watched footage of overworked factory workers being pulled out of the rubble, I couldn’t help but wonder if the very clothes in my closet originated from that factory. It is our collective demand for cheap fashion that has empowered corporations to push factory owners beyond their safety limits. It is therefore our responsibility to call on these companies to implement radical reforms to ensure worker safety, ethical pricing and fair-wages.

Also published at Rabble.ca


With the unveiling of appalling pictograms outlining how public employees can dress, Quebec’s government has taken its xenophobic rhetoric to new heights. The proposed legislation is supposed to ban headscarves, face veils, turbans, skullcaps and large crosses (small ones are okay). Whether it is a doctor at a hospital wearing a turban, or a hijab donning worker at a daycare – they will have to decide between work and religion. This militant and deviant expression of secularism fell short of just banning beards; it’s hypocritical, racist and self-contradictory.

The Parti Québécois claims it is doing so to maintain ‘religious neutrality.’ If that is the case then it should perhaps start by banning the province’s most overt religious symbol: its flag.

Also known as the Fleur-de-lis, Quebec’s flag, with its four fleurs-de-lis and a cross, is a beautiful expression of Christian symbolism. Historically associated with French Roman Catholic monarchs, the white fleur-de-lis symbolizes religious purity and chastity. The three petals are widely considered to represent the Holy Trinity; the band on the bottom represents Mary. Images of the Virgin Mary carrying the flower in her right hand are standard portrayals in Christian art.

Hypocrisy of the proposed legislation becomes evident when the more obvious issues that theoretically impact ‘religious neutrality’ are left unquestioned. Examples of this include the gigantic cross in the National Assembly, taking an oath on the Bible or Christmas trees. Will the government stop funding Catholic schools to attain this neutrality? What about funding for chaplaincy services? It appears Marois’ government is unable to distinguish between the concepts of a secular state and the inevitable interaction of that state between itself and religious agencies.

But the Quebec government is not oblivious to these facts. And that’s where the racist element comes in. Banning civil servants from wearing religious symbols doesn’t amend any supposed shortcomings of Quebec’s secularism. One can hold strong religious views without displaying it on their sleeves. In fact, there have been instance of justices refusing to marry same-sex couples because the justices were opposed to gay marriage, and they weren’t wearing a niqab when they did so. Claiming to champion secularism is simply PQ’s way to brazenly discriminate minority groups with hopes of gathering support through identity politics.

This proposed legislation is self-contradictory. It effectively creates two classes of citizens; one that is noble enough to become civil servants and one who is deprived of this privilege. The province is thus not ‘neutral’ by any standards – it’s openly saying that religious people ‘need not apply’. Even voicing such outrageous views creates an unhealthy segregated society. If religious minorities can’t participate in public life, how could they ever hope to blossom into our social fabric? What is even scarier is that the PQ is pushing this charter on the private sector as well, the textbook definition of systematic discrimination.

Parti Québécois is well aware that their proposals are so blatantly unconstitutional that they will be shot down by the courts. But that doesn’t matter as the objective of this political exercise has already been achieved, even if it meant having to stoop to an all-time low. The old game of identity politics has allowed the party to stir up enough support from its nationalist constituency to survive the next election. When the legislation is struck down, they’ll quickly turn around proclaim, ‘See how different we are from the rest of them, we do need our own country!’

One of the ironic aspects of this repulsive ‘Charter of Quebec Values’ is that it has indirectly helped exemplify values that most Canadians share. Editorials of all major newspapers are filled with condemnations of the charter. In a rather innovative spirit, Lakeridge Hospital in Oshawa, Ont., released a recruitment poster of a woman wearing a hijab stating, “We don’t care what’s on your head; we care what’s in it.” Politicians from all facets have openly opposed the Charter, from leader of the opposition, Thomas Mulcair, to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. The political leadership of Montreal, Quebec’s biggest city and economic hub, unanimously denounced the charter. Even within the PQ there were dissenters: MP Maria Mourani was expelled from caucus for her opposition to this edict.

Despite the lunacy of this entire episode, it’s important to resist the temptation to stereotype Quebec residents as intolerant and narrow-minded. During my short time there, I found the Quebecois to be a warm hearted and friendly people. Whether it was the affectionate ‘Bon Appétit’ from the lunch lady at Université Laval, the student protestors who gave me their iconic red square to wear or my gracious French teacher who put up with my non-existent language skills: I have nothing but good memories. Let’s hope this debacle is forgotten as a cheap political gimmick that has unfortunately brought unprecedented shame to Quebec, and the rest of Canada.

Also published at the The Silhouette and MuslimMatters.org