Originally published in The Silhouette on Sept 22nd 2011

Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently declared that the greatest threat to Canada was ‘Islamicism’- whatever that is. Sure, we might be familiar with ‘Islamism’, ‘Islamist’ and ‘Islamesque’. But even the word processor on my computer doesn’t recognize ‘Islamicism’.

The unfortunate reality is that our Prime Minister has coined a new term in the lexicon which is aimed at using Islamaphobic sentiment for political advantage.

The average Joe who has never met a Muslim, knows nothing about Islam or is out of touch with the political landscape of our world is now convinced that Muslims like me are the greatest threat to this nation. He hails PM Harper for speaking up, saying things like they really are and for not bowing down to political correctness. His next vote is going to Harper.

Harper and his supporters defend his statement by saying that he was referring to Muslim terrorists and their ideology. However, by using such loose and imprecise terminology with constant focus on the word ‘Islam’, he is appealing to a large uninformed part of our society. This crowd is increasingly skeptical of Muslims and is affected by xenophobic rhetoric from the US and Europe.

Harper’s sophistry allows him to gain political support and at the same time dismiss any criticism on grounds that he was referring to violent extremists. The Progressive Conservatives have employed similar divisive politics in the provincial campaign for the October elections by labeling new Ontarians as ‘foreign workers’.

The Norwegian PM responded to the recent terror attacks by vowing for more democracy and a more open society. Our Prime Minister, on the other hand, uses the pretext of ‘Islamicism’ to re-introduce two controversial pieces of anti-terror legislation which were thrown out in 2007. Both aim to sacrifice personal rights and freedoms to give us an illusion of security. It is interesting to note these laws were never employed by police when they existed, yet the PM feels the need to introduce them again ten years later.

The most notorious terrorist attacks in Canada include the Air India bombings, which were carried out by Sikh militants, the Montreal Massacre, executed by an anti-feminist and the Quebec October Crises, which was lead by militant separatists. History tells us that terrorism can happen on our soil from a multitude of extreme groups, so why all the fear mongering about Islam, considering Muslim militants have never attacked Canada? Why put 800,000 Canadian Muslims under the lens of suspicion out of fear of a hypothetical threat from an obscure minority ?

In conclusion, I would argue that it’s not ‘Islamicism’ that is a threat to Canada. Rather, it is Harper’s sleazy and divisive politics which threatens our multicultural tapestry. It’s his agenda to bring back expired, undemocratic legislation which threatens our freedoms and personal rights. And it is his unbending desire to autonomously run this country that threatens our democracy.


The devastating news of the Tohoku earthquake in Japan made headlines across the globe on Friday, March 11, 2011. The nerve wracking images and videos of the merciless tsunami waves sent shivers down our spines and gave us a glimpse of the catastrophe that had struck Japan.

A few hours after news of the earthquake, another aspect of the story started to surface. This was the story of the damage to the Fukushima nuclear reactors that were closest to the epicenter of the quake. From exaggerated reports of hazardous radiation leaks to the possibilities of a nuclear meltdown- these stories overshadowed the humanitarian crises in Japan and dominated the news for the remainder of its coverage.

There are many aspects of the news coverage that troubled me deeply. No doubt that damage to the nuclear reactor was important to report but it was frustrating to be constantly bombarded with updates of a possible radiation leak while there was no mention of the thousands that had already died and were left homeless. Media’s desire to sensationalize the news and debase the nuclear industry caused the human plight of the disaster to be ignored. This, I believe, is one of the main reasons why fundraising for this calamity has been deplorable.

As someone who currently works at a nuclear plant, I was fortunate enough to have access to information directly from sources at the Fukushima plant. It was this perspective that shielded me from the overly exaggerated and flawed reports that at times would draw outrageous parallels between Fukushima and Chernobyl. It was also this perspective that allowed me to sympathize with the workers at the plant and gave me a glimpse into the enormity of the task these people were dealing with. Imagine solving a nuclear crisis under conditions where your co-workers have passed away or your family is missing.

Since the coverage of this event has been antagonistic, the average reader is inclined to blame the operators of the plant for the crises, forgetting the fact that Fukushima has had to deal with two natural disasters simultaneously; which it has dealt with quite remarkably, might I add. Anti-nuclear protests have been spurred in several parts of the world and governments are nervous about going ahead with new builds despite the industry’s 30-year safety record.

It has only been in recent days that we have heard of harmful levels of radiation outside the plant due to a possible breach of containment. Still, the number of people affected by the nuclear incident so far is negligible compared to the thousands that have died due to the earth quake and tsunami. Many of their voices have been ignored thanks to the obsession of media outlets with news that is melodramatic but not necessarily relevant.

Originally written for The Mirror

The bizarre Raymond Davis saga finally comes to a close. The CIA spy, who murdered two Pakistani’s in a busy street in Lahore in a fashion that would have resembled something from a James bond movie, was acquitted today by a Pakistani court. This comes after weeks of intense pressure from the Pakistani people to hang him and from the American government to release him on grounds of ‘diplomatic immunity’.

America as usual threatened Pakistan by cutting off the billions of dollars in aid, and the Pakistan government being a slave to this money obviously had to comply; so the release of Raymond Davis shouldn’t surprise anyone. What is surprising, however, is how quickly this man was released and the means employed in the process.

Although Pakistani law isn’t based on the Shariah (Islamic Law) in its entirety, aspects of it have been incorporated into it. The part of Shariah which came to the aid of the Americans is the concept of blood money in the case of a murder. Islamic law allows for the relatives of the murdered to pardon the accused in return for monetary compensation in certain circumstances. This is essentially what happened and families of the victims were reportedly paid out in the millions; whether or not they were compelled into this agreement remains uncertain considering they were isolated from their lawyers during the deal.

The irony of this outcome is that it happened at time when there is a huge anti-shariah movement in the United States. This movement which is rooted in ignorance has succeeded in introducing bills banning Shariah from a number of states in America. Little do the bigots behind this initiative know that about 95% of the Shariah deals with laws relating to things such as prayer, fasting, charity, dietary requirements and business transactions; banning the Shariah would essentially disallow Muslims from practicing their faith.

Another ironic aspect of this episode is that the religious right which lead the protests in Pakistan can’t really accuse its government of misappropriation since the settlement was based on Islamic law. Its a solution that appeases America and is inline with the principles the protesters supposedly stand for; who would have thought the Pakistani government could have wiggled its way out of this mess so smoothly.

One aspect of this incident that troubles me greatly is the motivation behind the protests that demanded Raymond Davis to be punished. One would think these people were seeking justice for the deceased but really they just wanted to avenge America and punishing a CIA spy was symbolic of it. Hundreds of innocent people are killed in terrorist attacks and suicide bombings in Pakistan regularly; where are these protesters when its comes to demanding that the government bring the instigators of these crimes to justice? Pakistan is a country of dichotomies and this is just one face it.

Following the lead of German Chancellor, Angela Markel, Prime Minister David Cameron took a stab at the multiculturalism debate during a speech on extremism at the Munich Security Conference. Like the Chancellor, who was sharing the stage with him, he too concluded that multiculturalism had failed in Britain and identified it as a catalyst to extremism. While Markel only implied that Muslims were the culprits, Cameron stated this quite frankly.

Perhaps it was the 6-hour lunch with the Chancellor that led the PM to make such accusations, but it is quite clear that he feels Muslims in Britain aren’t British enough. In his simplistic attempt to point out the cause of extremism amongst British Muslim youth, he blamed state sponsored multiculturalism which encourages people to live separate lives instead of assimilating with the mainstream.

David Cameron’s conclusions are flawed on levels too many enumerate. To begin with, the accusation that British Muslims live isolated lives and aren’t a part of the mainstream is completely absurd. Muslims have been a part of Britain since Victorian times and have especially played an active role in society over the last half century. They are successful politicians, lawyers, doctors, social workers, artists and athletes. From cricketers like Naseer Hussain to musicians like Yusuf Islam, there isn’t a walk a life that Muslims have left untouched. Peter Sanders explored this very theme in his exhibit, ‘The Art of Integration’, something I would strongly recommend for David Cameron.

Another thing Mr. Cameron overlooks is our natural inclination as human beings to cling onto people with shared values, customs and beliefs. Just like goths hangout with goths and homosexuals thrive in certain parts of the city, similarly, Muslims too have a subculture that they find easier to relate too. Would the former groups be the next ones to be accused of not integrating into wider society? British Muslims have their own unique identity and to dismiss this as separatism is simply injustice. While preaching for liberal democratic values, the Prime Minister wants to eradicate individualism and wants to everyone to be a part of the mainstream? Am I the only one seeing the irony in this?

While I would agree that isolation from the mainstream community is the type of the environment that would fuel extremism, I disagree that this isolation exists because of a lack of shared national values. It exists because of the constant dehumanization of Muslims and uninterrupted bigotry that they are faced with. It is because of movements like the English Defense League and politicians like Geert Wilders whose sole aim is to spread fear mongering. As a result of this prejudice and constant stereotyping in the media, anti-Muslim sentiments have become increasingly acceptable in the UK. When society as a whole sees you as the ‘other’, it is only natural for you to isolate yourself from society.

It’s perplexing to see the Prime Minister of a country as old as Britain, with its rich history and timeless legacy, questioning national identity. This is a reflection of the insecurity felt not only in Britain but all across Europe. With David Cameron’s strong nationalistic tone and a call for assimilation into mainstream society, it seems like he won’t settle for anything less than Muslim women taking on the Union Jack for a headscarf.

Also published at Iqra

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.