Four American diplomats in Libya are killed; including the Ambassador, Chris Stevens. Fourteen Libyans are dead. American fast food chains are set on fire. US, British and German consulates are attacked in Sudan. Fierce protesting continues in Libya and Egypt. Protesters in Chennai are pelting the US consulate. Yemen, along with numerous other Muslim countries, is engulfed in similar outrage.

All this is over an amateur movie no one has ever seen, and probably doesn’t exist. Whose creator is an unknown fraud.  The only evidence of this movie is a YouTube trailer – whose existence most protesters are probably unaware of and have never watched. The actors of the movie have come out and have declared themselves innocent; they were duped by the creator. Their scenes were manipulated and voices dubbed over during post-production.

While details of this bizarre story continue to unfold, some things are starting to become clear. One is that the attack on the US Consulate in Libya was led by heavily armed militants, not protesters; all this happening on the 9/11 anniversary isn’t mere coincidence it seems. The militants used the protesters as cover for their attacks. As for the attack on the Germany embassy in Sudan, its speculated that it was tied to the recent controversy about banning circumcision. In addition, the rumours about the film being ‘funded by Jews’ and being made by an Israeli-American have proven to be false. The creator of the film is an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian.

It is believed that it was the airing of the movie’s clip on the Egyptian channel, Al-Nas, that sparked this episode. U.S. officials believe that the Saturday broadcast of a talk show hosted by Sheikh Khalid Abdallah was the flashpoint for the unrest. Al-Nas is known to promote religious and sectarian hatred due to which its license has been periodically suspended.

While there is more than one force at play here; the similarity between these violent protests and those about the Danish cartoons are strikingly similar. It is clear that a group of opportunists have yet again managed to mobilize masses to meet their political ends. As Robert Fisk points out, religion and politics don’t just mix in the Middle East – they are the same. Clerics  have promoted the movie as if it was being televised across America and had full backing of West. Zealots have perfected ways of using people’s attachment to their faith as a means of lashing out at the Western countries.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to exonerate the protesters of their odious crime. They’ve proven yet again that the Muslim world has no shortage of lunatics who are willing to lash out at the drop of a hat. The Prophet, may peace and blessings be upon him, said: “Whoever kills a person who is granted protection by the Muslims shall not smell the fragrance of Paradise even though its fragrance can be smelt from a distance of forty years of travelling.” Why then storm diplomatic missions of Western nations over a trailer of an independently produced movie -which you’ve never seen ? Why defame our Prophet in the name of honouring him? Why give ammo to the bigots whose sole purpose is depicting Muslims as a bunch of violent barbarians? Illiteracy and foolishness are at the root of such behaviour.

This entire episode tells yet another tale of what a small group of extremists are capable of doing. A few Isalmophobes  managed to make a disgusting amateur movie to debase Islam, then a group of Muslim use the movie to incite people to attack Western diplomatic missions across the globe. Both extremists meet their objectives; the moderate majority is left to deal with the consequences of the disaster left behind.

 

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‘They’re a bunch of whiners’, a friend remarked as we had a discussion about the student protesters in Quebec. ‘Their tuition is less than a third of what everyone else pays – what are they complaining about?’ he continued. The sentiments he expressed echo the general opinion held my most people I’ve spoken to outside Quebec.

I too viewed these protesters as privileged ingrates who are complaining about a tuition hike which is peanuts compared to what everyone else pays. However, after visiting Quebec and witnessing these protests, I’ve been forced to reconsider my opinions; I strongly believe that other Canadians should too, and here’s why.

Imagine the following. Due to financial constraints our government has had to take some desperate measures. Starting next week, every Canadian will now have to pay a flat fee of $10 for every consultation with a doctor and about $ 200 for surgeries. It’s a small affordable fee that would help offset the financial strain on the government. Yes, our much cherished healthcare system is no longer free.

As one can imagine, there will be uproar in our society at the announcement of such news. How dare the government charge us for healthcare?! We will go out into the streets and will protest all night long. We will not stop until our demands our met. No way am I paying 10 bucks to visit a doctor! And as we lead mass rallies to protest these unjust measures, the Americans will look to us and say, ‘What a bunch of whiners! What are they complaining about? They pay nothing compared to what we have to pay’.

That analogy might have a few shortcomings, but it’s the same idea. You see, it’s not just the small fee and potential future hikes that we would be protesting. It’s the principle. We expect our government to provide universal healthcare; much like secondary education, library services and access to highways. Failure to do so results in uproar. We’ve worked hard to get our society to a point where we can enjoy these benefits; any attempt to jeopardize our access to these services is unacceptable.

Quebeckers view post-secondary education in the same light as the services I mentioned earlier. Yes, it’s not free but it was pretty close to it. The student movement has been working towards achieving universal access to post-secondary education; Quebec was perhaps the only hope of that dream being realized. A tuition hike of any sort, let alone one that increases tuition almost two fold, is a step backwards and squashes any chances of ever achieving full publicly funded universities.

As Rick Salutin pointed out, when society has a whole recognizes a service as fundamental priority, the excuses go out the door and the money gets found. This was the case for secondary education and universal healthcare. It’s not always feasible, but in order to get there, we as a society first need to collectively voice our expectations. We need to make it clear to our governments that higher education should be made accessible to all and not just the privileged few; that tuition hikes are not an acceptable of way dealing with budgetary restraints.

That is the message Quebecois students are sending to our government. We need to stand along with them and join hands in giving our support to this message. Our collective silence is a tacit approval to tuition hikes; we are saying that we are okay with such measures. Our indifference to the issue serves as precedence for tuition rises in other provinces and gives politicians the impression that they can simply get away with it.

In addition, the demonstrations are not just about a tuition increase. The students are protesting corruption, financial mismanagement and the lack of transparency on the government’s part. The newly introduced Bill 78, which puts many restrictions on the freedom of assembly, has given more reason to support the protests. However, support of the movement should not be blind and uncritical. Striking part way into the school year is an example of an imprudent move which resulted hundreds of students being unable to graduate.

Protesting every single night for weeks on end demonstrates a level of commitment unheard of in recent Canadian history. As I walked through the streets of Quebec City, I realized these protests were much more than just some students complaining. I saw old women in their 70’s cheering on the sidewalks, I saw a five year old girl marching with her mother; I saw people in their balconies clanging their pots and pans to express support.

While apathy and heedlessness are often used to describe young people, these students defy any such categorization. Their dedication to the cause, conviction in their beliefs and commitment to making a difference is inspirational by all accounts. That alone is enough merit to extend these students our support.

Also published in The Silhouette 


Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’ – Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan’s The Times They are a-Changin’ serves as an appropriate anthem to capture the spirit of revolution and the wave of change that is spreading across North Africa and the rest of the Arab world. This sentiment is unusual in nations which had seemingly gotten used to being ruled by dictators for decades. One can only guess what sparked it all; perhaps it’s simply an outburst of deep rooted resentment which was bottled up in the hearts of men for years. The protesters have sent a clear message across the world; they’ve had enough and they can’t take it any more.

On the surface, these uprising can be traced to the massive protests in Tunisia which led to the successful ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who had been in power for over 20 years. News of the success of the Tunisian people spread like wildfire across the Arab world. This resulted in similar protests sparking up in Egypt, Yemen and Jordan, amongst other places. All the demonstrations made the same demands; they were sparked over issues of unemployment, food inflation, corruption, freedom of speech and poor living conditions.

The protests in Egypt have now intensified greatly. The army was called for crowd control and curfews were declared in Cairo and other cities. Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s ruler for thirty years, responded by reshuffling the government. While this is not what the protestors wanted, it is indicative of how seriously they are being taken. The uprisings continue despite this announcement and have gained fuel as Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Laureate, who is seen by many as the next president, openly joined the protesters.

On another positive note, the referendum in Sudan was successfully executed and there is now hope that the decades long civil war between North and South Sudan will finally be over. Some 99% of South Sudanese voted to secede from the North which indicates that they have secured the mandate to soon become the world’s newest nation.

What will happen next is anyone’s guess, but I hope that it will be something positive and the civil unrest will eventually lead to good. The success of the Tunisians serves as a model as to how unwanted and unjust rulers can be removed in the Arab world. It’s a stark contrast to the methodology employed during the unjust invasion of Iraq which led to astronomical bloodshed. True social reforms happen in a society when its own people lead the change, not when foreign powers force values down people’s throats.

Originally written for The Mirror


After hearing about the crazy protests in Toronto this Saturday, I decided to take a stroll downtown on Sunday to take a look at the damage that was done and to see if I could get a glimpse of the action myself. Things of that magnitude never happen in Canada so it was a once in a life time opportunity. I’ve never really been to a protest or witnessed vandalism of that sort so curiosity dragged me to the core of Toronto where the G20 was happening.

My bag was thoroughly searched as soon as I got out of Union station; apparently the police was given full permission to go through everyone’s stuff. I started walking around to see if any protests were going on. The downtown area was pretty much empty around 4:30pm, with the exception of a small group of people protesting by King and Bay. They were just sitting in a circle peacefully surrounded by police; there wasn’t much action there. I then starting walking North. The vandalism from yesterday was still quite apparent; windows of nearly every other store were smashed up till Dundas Street. The Eaton Center was almost empty; nothing like what you’d normally see on a Sunday. I made my way up to Queens Park and it was deserted too. ‘I missed all the action’ I thought to myself. After surveying most of the downtown core, I started walking back to Union station to head home.

I saw a girl handcuffed and being questioned by a few cops on University Avenue as I was heading back. I decided to stand and watch what was going on. All of sudden this officer turns around and yells at me, ‘What the hell you doing standing behind my back you creep!! Get back!! Do you know this girl??!! This is none of your business! Get Back you Creep!!’. I was infuriated at the unnecessary rudeness demonstrated by this officer but there wasn’t much I could do. ‘Try being a little nicer’ I whispered. Two cops came up to me and started searching my backpack (this was the third time now) and questioning me. I protested when the officer pulled out my journal and started skimming through my notes, ‘So you guys are just gonna violate our basic right today’ I said. He bluntly responded, ‘Right now, you have no rights’. I was about to experience that statement in full force a few minutes later.

I was ready to go back home after this quick confrontation with the police. However, walking back I saw a large group of protestors rallying westward on Queen Street. I got a little excited and quickly joined them. There must have been over a thousand odd people, it was a pretty large group. After walking with the group for a few blocks I started to realize that most of the people weren’t really protesting anything significant. I heard them chant random things such as ‘Whose Streets? Our Streets!’ every once in while; only a few people actually had banners and signs. Majority of the crowd comprised of curious young adults and teenagers walking along peacefully and taking pictures; trying to be a part of the G20 experience. I’d say may be about 50-100 people were actually a part of the protest, the rest were random folks like myself who just wanted to check out what was happening.

The ‘protestors’ were finally stopped by a wall of police officers and their bikes at Queen and Spadina. We couldn’t go forward or turn southward on Spadina. I don’t really know what the police wanted us to do. The protestors started chanting, ‘Let us through! Let us through!’ but the police wouldn’t budge. People settled down in the middle of the intersection and starting protesting in various ways. One guy started throwing out monopoly money in the crowd while dancing with a boom box on his shoulders, thus symbolizing the money wasted on this summit. Another guy was holding a sign that read ‘Everything is OK!’. He would go up to the police ocassionaly and say things like, ‘Are you guys a fan of oppression?!’ and ‘You guys need to quit your jobs and start doing something more meaningful with your lives!’. Others just sat around in circles and sang songs like ‘We shall over come…’ and ‘Oh Canada’. There were journalists taking video footage and reporting live from the scene. With the exception of the southbound traffic being blocked on Spadina, everything was very peaceful. It was quite the party actually.

After about fifteen minutes our so we started noticing riot police arrive in their vans in the distance; it was about 6 pm at this point. They parked on the south side of Spadina. People started booing and expressed disappointment, ‘Oh Right, cuz we are just that scary’ one protester exclaimed. After about 10 minutes they quickly marched up and instantaneously replaced the regular police officers and their bikes. Their sheer presence was intimidating and I got a little frightened. I decided I was going to head back. Some protestors continued and chanted, ‘You’re sexy! You’re cute! Take off your riot suit!’ Only a few minutes later another group of riot police marched up from behind the first group in their usual robotic swagger and quickly blocked off the eastern end of Queen Street. They pushed and knocked over innocent bystanders as they did so. We were blocked from three sides now. I was only thinking about heading northwards when I saw another group block the North end of the intersection. Th intersection at Queen and Spadina was blocked off from all four corners now.

Panic was in the air at this time as most of the people were just innocent bystanders and curious onlookers checking out the protest. It wasn’t fun and games any more. Police in riot gear are scary as hell and to top that they were screaming and yelling at us, telling us to move back while banging on their shields with the batons and marching forward. Amongst those corralled were journalists, seniors, young teenagers and dogs. Most people just wanted to get out of there but there were no options. Tensions were running high. I heard some people started to cry out of fear and anxiety. The officer in command went around telling the police, ‘If they cross the line, they are under arrest’.

We asked the riot police how we could get out. Many of them were just as clueless as we were and some told us to just calm down and they’ll soon give us a way out. I thought this was their way of breaking up the crowd and clearing the intersection; it worked fairly well as we were pushed to the sides and the intersection was cleared up in just a few minutes. I figured they’d let us go soon. All of a sudden I saw a group of 4 or 5 officers violently jump one guy from the crowd and took him in. He was pinned against the floor and handcuffed. I figured he might be one of the violent protesters they were searching for from yesterday. A few minutes later another guy was taken in, not as violently this time. This procedure was repeated several times. So much so that at one point it seemed that they were doing it completely randomly; if you were close enough they’d grab you. I decided to stand as far as I could from the frontline where they were snatching people.

After about an hour or so, rumors started spreading around in the crowd that we were all under arrest. I was horrified when I heard the news. Will I have a criminal record now? That’s gonna ruin my future I thought. How am I going to tell my folks at home where I am? My mum would freak if I told her I got arrested. How am I gonna explain my absence from work? What will my manager think? All these thoughts were running wild in my head as I stood there helplessly waiting. I was beginning to regret my decision to come downtown. Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, it started raining cats and dogs. I don’t think it has ever rained as hard. It continued to pour and pour. Some people had umbrellas and others didn’t. Luckily I had mine and a group of people flocked under it as soon as I held it up.

There were several media personnel from stations such as CP24, CTV and 680 News. This gave me some hope as I thought they’d get us out of here; however after sometime most of these people had disappeared. Either they too were arrested or were allowed to leave because of their special name tags, I don’t quite know. I started asking the riot police for updates and they confirmed the rumors about all of us being arrested. They told us that they only quick way to get out of the rain was to voluntarily get arrested; they’ll eventually come get all of us anyways. About two hours later several people lined up and voluntarily turned themselves in out of desperation. I too thought about doing the same but later decided against it, ‘they’ll have to come get me if they want me’ I told myself.

The crowd was slowly shrinking. People were hungry, cold and wet; many feared they’d contract hypothermia. The rain wouldn’t stop and the cops weren’t making things easy. No official instructions were given to us and we weren’t told what they were going to do with us. All the information received was either rumors or information individuals received after inquiring with some officers which was later spread around. Many officers wouldn’t even answer questions. At one point they stopped arresting volunteers. We were told that there wasn’t any room to put us and they were waiting for buses to come that would take us to the detention centre. I saw buses arrive at around 8:45 pm. Some were TTC streetcars and others were large Greyhound style buses.

At one point even the riot police put their guards down. They started chatting and joking around with those that were corralled; even they recognized that something wasn’t right. By this time people had made new friends within the crowd. I met this poor woman who was on a lunch break from work and got stuck here. People continued complaining about how their rights were violated and how they’d sue the city as soon as they got out. Many compared the treatment to that of the Nazi’s. I soon realized that this experience was a slight preview into the lives of those that are oppressed around the world. The Palestinians go through oppression far worse than this on a daily basis. This feeling of complete helplessness and subjugation is something I’ve never experienced. I thank God for the freedoms he’s blessed us with in this land.

At about 9:40 pm, over 3 hours after this episode began an officer came out and made an inaudible announcement. Shortly after, the riot police magically dispersed and those remaining in the crowd were allowed to go free. There were still around 100 odd people left. The crowd dispersed immediately and people started running home as soon as they were released. Bystanders clapped and cheered us on as we made our way out; we felt like heroes. There were reporters standing outside filming us and taking interviews, I even managed to make my way onto live television. It was quite the moment.

I came looking for an adventure and I got more than what I asked for. In the five hours that I spent in Toronto, I’ve learned lessons worth a lifetime. Its hard to believe that things of this nature could happen in a free democratic state like Canada; I’ve learned to not take our freedom for granted. As frustrastring as the situation was, I must say that the experience was certianly unforgettable. I returned home, tired yet thankful, only to hear the ‘I told you so’ lecture conveniently prepared by my mother.

More on this :
The National Post
The Star
Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s Report – see page 4
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