New Canadian Media
Sunday, 07 May 2017 12:58

The Unintended Consequences of Hate

Commentary by Hasan Zillur Rahim in San Jose

The pickup truck was following her. Dr. Sarah felt nervous but tried to convince herself it was just her imagination. He couldn’t possible know she was a Muslim, particularly since she was not wearing the optional hijab, the traditional Islamic head-cover to indicate modesty.

She pulled into the parking lot and got out of her car. The pickup slowed. As she crossed the street to get to her office, the driver, a middle-aged white man, rolled down the window and screamed at her: “Go back home!”

The heat of the man’s hate felt as if it were burning a hole in the back of her head. She ran to the safety of her hospital.

Dr. Sarah was born in Chicago to Muslim parents. After receiving a doctorate in psychology, she began working at a hospital in Silicon Valley in the pain management department as a psychologist, a job in which she has flourished for over a decade. When she reported the incident to her concerned supervisor, she advised her not to drive alone for a few weeks.

Trump has indeed loosened the shackles of bigotry among his supporters, emboldening them to threaten those who don’t look like them.

A week earlier, an engineer of Asian background, an American citizen, was confronted in the parking lot of a grocery store in San Jose by a driver who screamed: “Go back to where you came from.”

For many residents, the sprouting of bigotry in what is the heart of Silicon Valley, with a diversity of culture, religion and ethnicity rare in the world, is shocking.

“Before, I used to call my friends and relatives in India to ask if they were okay,” said Assemblyman Ash Kalra during a rally organized in response to the growing climate of fear following the election. “Now they call me to inquire if I am safe in Trump’s America!”

Trump has indeed loosened the shackles of bigotry among his supporters, emboldening them to threaten those who don’t look like them, and to hurl insults like, “Go back to where you came from!”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has reported harassment and threats targeting Muslim women and children in Minnesota, North Carolina, New York and California in just the past two weeks alone.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there were 867 hate incidents in the ten days after Trump’s win in November. The advocacy group South Asians Leading Together (SAALT) put out a report in January that documented 207 hate incidents targeting South Asians, Muslims and Middle Easterners in 2016. The report noted the climate resembled the months following the 9/11 attacks, and attributed the spike in hate to campaign rhetoric during the 2016 race. 

Here in San Jose, police documeted four cases of crimes targeting Muslims in 2016. There were no cases prior in the years going back to 2011. Experts say the numbers are misleading, and that because victms are often reluctant to come forward, due to cultural or linguistic barriers, or because they are scared, the figures could be higher. 

One of those cases involved the Evergreen Islamic Center, where a letter was received just prior to the Thanksgiving holiday that read, in part: “There’s a new sheriff in town – President Donald Trump. He is going to cleanse America and make it shine again. And he’s going to start with you Muslims.” The letter went on to make reference to Nazi Germany, saying Trump would “do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the Jews.”

Still, despite the rising tide of Islamophobia, something remarkable began to happen among members of the local Muslim community in the days and weeks following Trump’s win. Having learned in the aftermath of 9/11 that a culture of shame and silence only promoted the politics of fear, area Muslims instead started forging bonds with community residents at a grass-roots level. 

Several members of Evergreen (myself included) joined “Indivisible East San Jose,” one of nearly 6,000 ‘Indivisible’ groups that sprang up across the nation as a response and resistance to Trump’s presidency.

Meeting once every month, members knock on doors in San Jose’s depressed areas, informing undocumented workers, for example, of their rights if ICE shows up and the availability of free legal help. A few families in dire straits have been escorted to sanctuaries in synagogues and churches.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Evergreen teamed up with local Christians and Jews as members of “Abrahamic Alliance” at a church to prepare meals for the homeless. For most, this was their first experience with a soup kitchen. Many were shocked to find that in one of the most prosperous areas in the world, there were people for whom a decent meal and a bed to sleep on are luxuries often beyond reach.

As remarkable is the growing outreach and solidarity extended to area Muslims from other immigrant communities. There have been several marches staged to commemorate the Japanese internment and to draw connections between that dark period in U.S. history and its echo against Muslims in Trump’s time. Meetings were held with Internment survivors who spoke of the importance of resistance.

Then there are the acts of individual kindness. 

“Just think about it,” said Peggy, who drove an hour from the city of Santa Cruz with several friends in a show of solidarity with Evergreen following the recent threats. “Would we have even met if it were not for Trump? No! This is the silver lining in the dark cloud that hangs over our nation now.”

For local Muslims, the bridges now being formed in the era of Trump are a case of serendipity, the unintended but cathartic consequences of hate.

Hasan Zillur Rahim wrote this story with support from New America Media’s Tracking Hate Fellowship program. Rahim is a professor of mathematics at San Jose City College and the Outreach Director of the Evergreen Islamic Center in San Jose. 

Republished in partnership with New America Media.

Published in Commentary
Sunday, 19 March 2017 20:15

Refugees from U.S. are Breaking the Law

Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton

For many Sikhs in Canada today, the Komagata Maru incident still looms large in our consciousness.  

For anyone not familiar with this event in our nation’s history, in May 1914 the Komagata Maru sailed from Hong Kong bound for Vancouver, carrying 376 passengers.  Most of the passengers were from the Punjab, India. All were British subjects.  

At that time, Canada had a regulation referred to as “continuous passage” which stated that immigrants must "come from the country of their birth, or citizenship, by a continuous journey and on through tickets purchased before leaving the country of their birth, or citizenship."

The regulation had been brought into force in 1908 to curb Indian immigration to Canada. The passengers on the ship intended to challenge this regulation.  On their arrival, the ship was denied docking privileges, and eventually the ship was escorted out of the harbour by the Canadian military in July 1914 and forced to sail back to India, where 19 of the passengers were killed by gunfire upon disembarking and many others imprisoned.

The Komagata Maru story is an example of what was then the ultimate expression of colonial bigotry, exposing Canada’s deliberate process in controlling immigration by excluding those people the government of the day deemed unfit to enter. These justifications were couched in racist and ethnocentric views of "progress", "civilization", and "suitability" which all were used to support the view that Canada should remain a "White Man's Country".

Greener pastures

In terms of immigration policy, the Canada of today is the complete opposite of still colonial pre-World War I Canada.

Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has declared that our borders are open to anyone. But this “openness” is now being tested.  Refugee claimants reacting to U.S. President Donald Trump’s tougher stand on immigration have begun to head north to what they may see as greener, more accepting pastures.  They are now daily crossings at the border, flouting the Canada – U.S. “Safe Third Country Agreement”, under which refugee claimants are required to request refugee protection in the first "safe" country they arrive in.  

In landing in the U.S., but crossing our border as refugees, they are in fact breaking the law and this has become a difficult situation for Prime Minister Trudeau, while simultaneously making many Canadians very uneasy.

Many of us applauded our new government’s efforts to bring Syrian refugees to Canada.  I believe a big part of the general acceptance of this policy was rooted in public perception that the process was well organized, refugee claimants were thoroughly screened and upon arrival the housing, schooling and other necessary supports were well in place.  The latest development is the opposite of organized, with claimants crossing Canada’s porous and largely uncontrolled border with no pre-screening and no homes and sponsors waiting to receive them.

Asylum shopping

Canadians are now watching to see how our government will react to this new refugee situation. If Canada does not exert its sovereignty, honour the Safe Third Country Agreement, and deter these opportunistic attempts at what can only be seen as “shopping for a yes” by claimants, this trickle will become a wave.

Canada is ill prepared for uncontrolled refugee claimants streaming into this country, and I believe the majority of Canadians expect our government to act in Canada’s best interest. This means not merely reacting to claimants crossing our borders, but to act by deterring it.  We are a country that values fair process and the rule of law.  

Today, Canada has a compassionate, principled approach to both immigration and refugees. Our government’s inability to control this developing situation may ultimately do harm to our current refugee system, ultimately causing Canadians to have a lack of faith in the system, and ultimately in the government that is charged with managing it.   

Prime Minister Trudeau will need to step outside of his comfort zone and put in place firm measures to respond to this looming crisis.  At times like these, his usual “sunny ways” approach will have to give way to more firm leadership.  

The Prime Minister is being tested here, and his next move may finally provide Canadians with a true indication of just how fit to lead Justin Trudeau really is. 

Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer. 

Published in Policy

By Jeremy J. Nuttall for TheTyee.ca

Residents of a small town in southern Quebec gathered Sunday to try and make sense of their hot spot status in Donald Trump’s new world order.

Hemmingford, Quebec is one of the few places in Canada on the front lines of an influx of refugees coming from the United States.

Representatives for police, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and a group that helps refugees in nearby Montreal sat in front of a packed rec centre gym at an event organized by a local United church.

The town is near an increasingly popular place for refugee-status seekers to enter Canada without using a designated crossing. Doing so is illegal under the Customs Act. But if they were to cross into Canada at a legal crossing, they would be sent back under the Safe Third Country Agreement, which requires refugees to seek status in their first safe country of entry.

Some who arrive at Hemmingford are reported to have wanted to live in the U.S. but were denied status there. Others intended to end up in Canada, but entered the U.S. first because there they could obtain a visa more easily.

In Hemmingford last month, a photo was taken of a Mountie smiling as he held up a young child making her way into Canada with her family. Around the same time, other photos showed handcuffed refugees detained by Canadian police. Some are calling Hemmingford, population 808, a terminus in a new underground railroad.

As their home becomes known as a back door into Canada, Hemmingford residents Sunday displayed a relaxed attitude toward the situation, and many were at the meeting hoping to find out how they can help.

Happy to have them

Hélène Gravel lives at the end of one of the first driveways refugees pass after they cross the rusty gate and ditch near a white marker signifying the international boundary between Canada and the U.S.

The crossing sits at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, about 10 kilometres from Hemmingford, where Roxham Road crosses into the U.S. near Champlain, N.Y.

There’s no Statue of Liberty here, not even a plaque, just trees and members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police sitting in their vehicles waiting to arrest those crossing for breaching the Customs Act.

Gravel said it’s nothing new to see people crossing — she’s watched it happen for 20 years — but never like this.

“There were only a few people every year, but now it’s a lot every day,” she said.

Recently the Canadian government told journalists about 2,500 people crossed into Canada via Quebec, Manitoba and B.C. illegally in 2016, and since the beginning of this year alone there have been about 430 in those regions combined.

Almost 300 of those were in Quebec. Quebec borders have seen a 230 per cent increase in “irregular” border crossings over last January.

It used to be mostly young, single men who would cross, Gravel said. If they happened to see her they would ask if they had arrived in Canada. Now, she said, it’s families she sees being picked up by police and driven past her property.

She reckons many of them are leaving the United States fearing the Donald Trump administration as the president targets immigrants and refugees as a place to lay the blame for the nation’s woes.

Last Tuesday, during a speech to congress, Trump invited relatives of people killed by undocumented immigrants as guests of the address and launched a website listing “victims of immigrant crime,” despite research showing immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born citizens.

On Monday, Trump announced tweaks to his travel ban after it was rejected by a judge last month.

But despite such moves by Trump and his loyalists, Gravel isn’t afraid of living metres from where these refugees come into the country. She’s actually tired of journalists knocking on her door asking her if she’s scared of them.

It is a bit too busy now though, Gravel said, stressing she’s happy to have the refugees come to Canada. She’s already lost one neighbour who no longer comes to his vacation property because the idling police vehicles and crossing refugees have become too much of an intrusion.

“It’s just a quiet place, we are not used to so many people,” she said, explaining she hopes Canada doesn’t establish any permanent processing centre at the crossing. “I live there because it’s quiet.”

Outpost for world’s troubles

It is indeed quiet.

Driving into Hemmingford is like entering a village arranged by a devoted collector of Lilliput Lane housing figurines.

Tall — but not too tall — hardwood trees hug the gutters of the road, giving way to gently sloped grass fields and carefully manicured properties.

A public outdoor skating rink slowly succumbs to the unseasonably warm March temperatures on the cusp of town. Residents stop reluctantly at the town’s lone blinking stoplight at its busiest intersection.

This is rural Quebec; a place for cows, apple cider and comfortable fall fashions. It’s not supposed to be a place where frightened refugees trudge their children across snow in biting cold fleeing a country threatening to send them back to places filled with violence and poverty.

Now Hemmingford has become connected to the world’s troubles as millions of people from places like Somalia and Syria roam outside their countries looking for help.

At Sunday’s rec centre meeting, experts explained why people are coming to Canada, more specifically, why they are coming to this tiny nook of the world.

It’s a matter of geography, RCMP Const. Marcel Pelletier told the crowd at the Hemmingford rec centre. Pelletier said it’s an easy place to cross, but most people using it are bound for places like Toronto, which is obstructed by the Great Lakes.

So, refugees make their way to Roxham Road instead, he said.

More coming

There is concern more people could make the trip as the weather warms and how Canada would handle a major influx, and what it would do with the people arrested after crossing.

Canada does hold some refugees, even refugee children, in detention centres, a practice Amnesty International has asked Ottawa to end.

Back at the rec centre, about 150 people who live along the road and in the area were more concerned about helping the refugees than keeping them out of the country or locking them up.

One asks Pelletier if it’s legal for her to feed or shelter people who have crossed illegally. He replies that he’d rather she call the police first.

Others are there to help in a joint letter writing exercise to Canada’s Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, asking him to rescind the U.S.’s designation as a safe third country.

That would mean refugees wouldn’t have to cross a ditch and rusty gate to enter Canada. They could ask for protection at a legal border crossing and not risk braving the elements to cross in places like Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle.

Among the audience on Sunday, knitting a scarf in the third row as she listens, is Jeanine Floyd, who immigrated to Canada herself from the United Kingdom years ago.

She remembers when crossing into the U.S. at the end of Roxham was child’s play for local kids.

“They would go down to the end of the road on their bicycles and they would dare each other to cross,” Floyd said. “This was the most exciting thing that would happen on Roxham, actually crossing the border to America.”

Now the border marker represents something other than fun and games as residents in the area worry about the suffering of those making the journey to the Canadian border.

They want to offer more than meaningless gestures to these people, Floyd says, suggesting that’s why people came together in Hemmingford Sunday.

“I think it’s just that pressure of wanting to fix it,” she says. Her tone goes dour. “We can’t fix it.” 

Republished with permission from TheTyee.ca. Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s reader-funded Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

Published in Top Stories
Thursday, 23 February 2017 17:09

America at a Crossroads: Land of Hope or Fear?

Commentary by Andrew Lam in San Francisco

Recently all 10 of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) submitted their resignations to President Trump. The main reason: Trump’s policies have adversely affected Asian Americans in particular and minorities in general.

“We cannot serve under an administration that seeks to exclude members of our society or take away their rights, especially the Muslim community, which is very much part of our AAPI community,” stated former Commissioner Maulik Pancholy.

The Trump regime has gone against the basic principles in which the advisory committee was set up to perform: protecting the civil rights of all those living in the US, including the most vulnerable, and respecting the unique attributes of all individuals and communities, and ensuring linguistic, cultural, and financial access to health care as well as economic and educational opportunities for all.

In an open letter the Advisory Commissioners wrote to Trump, they noted that they “firmly believe these principles are fundamental to our nation and need to be implemented and enforced at all times.”

Bans on refugees and those coming from the seven predominantly Muslim countries have torn families apart, creating confusion about America’s immigration and visa policies and created tension with countries that it needs to understand better. And by singling out individuals, families and communities for their religious beliefs, the president’s advisory committee concluded, Trump’s actions “create a religion-based test for entry into our country and threaten freedom of religion, a fundamental constitutional right.”

Indeed, America is now at a crossroad. In one direction is a pluralistic society defined by openness and porous borders and the profound understanding that it has always depended and thrived on the energy, ideas and contributions of newcomers, reborn through their hope and optimism.

It is one where there is an explicit understanding that immigrants have always transformed the world they enter, and in time they also influence the world they left behind as well. They are arguably the most crucial part of globalization that integrated the modern world. After all, who were the pilgrims but not the original boat people?

Many refugees along with immigrants resettled in America. And they are far from being helpless. Take the Vietnamese community, for instance. Now, 1.5 million strong, it’s a global tribe and quite an influential one since the Vietnam War ended 42 years ago when the first wave of refugees stepped onto the American shore. They helped build Silicon Valley here in California and from the very start, stood in assembly lines when the first Apple computer was being built. Their children grew up and worked in high-tech companies as engineers and designers, and now many are owners of new start-ups and some are running for local political offices.

Immigrants and refugees come to America to remake themselves and America in turn is renewed by their energy and vision.

Alas, the United States is currently being ruled by a xenophobic White House as it seeks to strengthen law enforcement and going after its most vulnerable population. It is pushing the country down a dangerous path in which the American society becomes dangerously divided, with growing anger and rising racism, and a population that lives in constant fear of arrest and assault.

If America was once a country that opened its doors to immigrants and refugees, today its policies stand in stark contrast to its this tradition and its premise of open societies and sustainable, equitable growth undermined by ineptitude and barely veiled racist intentions. It’s a country in which the immigrant becomes the enemy. And those from the Middle East are automatic suspects, potential subjects for registration and targets for attention and abuse.

To be sure the voice of opposition to the Trump White House and its assaults on civil liberties are reassuring as are the numerous protests and the fights being waged demanding for balance in governance, and to protect the poor and the vulnerable. Town halls are full of angry, unsettled citizens demanding transparency and accountability.

“The question that confronts all Americans now as we put up barriers at the airports and build the wall is whether we are creating a prison for the rest of the world, or for us,” asked Doctor Tung Nguyen, one of the president’s committee member who recently resigned, and a former refugee from Vietnam.

For if the West extinguished itself as a beacon of hope, it will become its own misfortune as well. An America that practices intolerance is an America dangerous to its own citizenry, and to the world.


Andrew Lam is an editor at New America Media in San Francisco and the author of “Birds of Paradise Lost,” a collection of stories about Vietnamese refugees in San Francisco, “East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres,” a book of essays on East-West relations, and a memoir, “Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora.”
 
Republished with permission
Published in Commentary
Tuesday, 21 February 2017 14:11

Trump and the Rise of Islamophobia

Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton

I believe it is fair to say that since 9-11, Islamophobia has been on the rise in North America.  With the rise of ISIL and attacks in this country and other nations, terrorist movements have given rise to a greater distrust of all refugees and immigrants, most of whom are Muslims fleeing the violence in the Middle East and North Africa.  

As an immigrant myself, perhaps I feel the impact of this trend more than my fellow Canadians whose journey to this country may have been many generations in the past.  As I watch the news, and particularly the fledgling and, to a degree, struggling administration of U.S. President Donald Trump I am growing even more troubled.

Trump’s recent Executive Order banning Muslim refugees or travel to the U.S. from a select list of seven countries has run afoul of the nation’s constitution and its courts.  But as Trump searches for a new way to achieve what his executive order has failed to do, I believe there will be long-term consequences. I believe Trump’s actions will encourage otherwise constrained and silent movements within the U.S. and in countries around the globe who have long wished for a legitimate platform to express their racist or xenophobic views in the hope that these views become the policy of their governments.

Meanwhile, here in Canada, we have two recent, troubling incidents that illustrate a very different response from our government.  First of all, this past weekend in Toronto, anti-Semitic notes were found on the doors of several units at a Willowdale condo building in Toronto.  In addition, notes with the statement “No Jews” were found on the front doors of several Jewish residences in a building on Beecroft Road, close to the Yonge Street and Park Home Avenue area.

Some of the notes contained anti-Semitic slurs and some neighbours reported that their mezuzahs – blessings traditionally posted on the doorways of Jewish homes – had been vandalized.  Mayor John Tory condemned the hate-motivated vandalism and said those actions do not reflect the city's spirit. “Anti-Semitism has no place in Toronto."

Anti-Islamophobia motion

This comes after the recent tragic murder of six Muslims at prayer in a Quebec City Mosque. Our government’s response to this tragedy was to debate Motion 103 in the Canadian Parliament.  Introduced by MP Iqra Khalid, the motion asked MPs to “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.” 

Locally, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie is strongly supporting Mississauga-Erin Mills MP Khalid in her push to end systemic racism in Canada. Mayor Crombie also said “Eliminating systemic racism, religious discrimination and Islamophobia is a national call to action. No one should ever have to think twice about calling Canada home.”

Substance, not symbolism

While I feel this a well-meant act in the face of unspeakable violence and tragedy, racism affects a broad spectrum of people and it is short-sighted of our government to single out Islamophobia in their motion. Racism is in itself an act of violence and the murder in that Quebec City Mosque is that racist violence made manifest.  It is an act of extreme cowardice, and an insult to God.

Our government should condemn all racism equally, and with total conviction. Symbolic acts like Motion 103 should be backed up with a new, comprehensive review of the legislation and enforcement powers that can give meaning and force to such well-intended symbolic gestures.

I know from personal experience the sting of distrust, disrespect, and prejudice that racism inflicts on those who are new, or different, or who worship in a different way. Racists ignore the reality that you cannot judge a race or a religion, but that if we are judged at all, it is based on our own behavior, our own actions.  

President Trump’s anti Muslim, anti-immigration and refugee rhetoric may not, in itself, lead to the rise of Islamophobia and xenophobia, but the fact that a sitting President has stoked such sentiments should be reason for great concern for us all. The response of our Canadian government should be one of substance, not symbol. 


Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer.
Published in Commentary
Sunday, 12 February 2017 17:35

Is America Still A Nation of Immigrants?

Commentary by Andrew Lam in San Francisco

Dear Cousin,

What is it like to be an immigrant in America these days? Is it still worth coming, you ask, and is the American dream still possible?

Your questions gave me pause. Who from Vietnam, after all, would have thought to ask them a few years back? Didn’t the American dream, or rather the dream of coming to America, cause the movement of millions in our homeland, and stir the soul of many millions more? It breaks my heart then to hear that you might not come. It is to me the worst news yet about my adopted country.

Yet it’s undeniable. The nation of immigrants is turning its back on immigrants once more. The immigrant’s hold on American soil has become increasingly tenuous. Even citizens now face a barrage of hate speech and many are being attacked in a rising wave of hate crimes. In schools, white students scream “build the wall” at their classmates who are Mexicans or Muslims.

“Build the wall” has become a racist mantra chanted by many around the country against non-whites.

Cousin, have you heard the metaphor of the canary in the coal mine? When it stops singing, it means the oxygen has run out, providing a warning to all.

In America, and in the context of a free and open society, often the immigrant is that canary. In economic down times he is often the first to be blamed. And amid the ongoing US war against terrorism, he is fast becoming a scapegoat.

After the 2016 election that ushered in Donald Trump as President of the United States, many hate-crime related incidents occurred in which the President’s name was invoked by the perpetrators, as if to sanction the violence and verbal abuse.

In the name of protection and security, immigrants’ rights are being eroded as I write. Foreign students and workers tremble. I’ve seen an old South Asian man whose hands shook at the airport when he gave his green card to immigration officers, fearing sudden arrest and deportation. I know an undocumented college student at Berkeley — he was brought to the US when he was three years old — who now fakes his address on any application for fear of being deported.

‘I have my hopes’

Yet I have my hopes. Americans rallied at airports in protest when Trump signed an executive order to keep certain groups of people out of the country, including green card holders. The protest against the new tyranny is strong and ongoing. I have hope to that the damage Trump is creating both at home and abroad can be mitigated by his growing unpopularity. After all, he is dismantling international institutions that have been in place since World War II, potentially returning the world to a state of competing nations with hard borders, high tariffs, trade wars, and gun boat diplomacy, turning against the forces of globalization.

And worse, in turning against America’s liberal values and our identity as a nation of immigrant, we are losing our strength in diversity.

Over the years I find it beneficial to look at this country through two different lenses: America versus the United States. The United States is a sovereign nation with permanent interests that is currently waging a war on terrorism. And it will trample upon innocents in its path, be it at home or abroad, if need be, in order to win it. In the process, the newcomer to this country, one without a voice and resources, often becomes collateral damage.

America, on the other hand, has everything you and I ever dreamed of: transparency, freedom, democracy, opportunity, due process, fair play and the promise of progress. America is where you work hard and earn respect.

The two versions exist in a kind of complex dance. In good times, America leads. In bad times, America is forgotten and the United States dances alone. These days, I fear that to be a patriotic immigrant is to love the ideals of America despite what the United States is doing in the name of security.

While I understand the logic of permanent interests, if America is destroyed in the process, then what is the use? And as far as I am concerned the only good patriotism is a civilized one. Blind patriotism always leads to bloody ends. To be patriotic is to dare ask questions. Must rights be abused in the name of security? Is it truly the country’s interest to demonize its minorities and its newcomers?

Dear cousin, I hope I haven’t completely frightened you, but the situation requires honesty. To reach American shores these days is a much more difficult undertaking, with fewer ready-made promises on the horizon.

I still want you to make this difficult journey, but you must be prepared for the challenges ahead. And I’ll let you in on a secret about this American dream you spoke so fondly of: it is you who must renew it. Without you, who dream the American dream, the country is in danger of becoming old. Without your energy, we would weaken. Even if we don’t know it yet, we all desperately need to be reborn through your eyes.

So, is the American Dream still alive? No, cousin, not really. Not without you at the table. Not without you prospering. Not without you.

Andrew Lam is an editor at New America Media in San Francisco and the author of “Birds of Paradise Lost,” a collection of stories about Vietnamese refugees in San Francisco, “East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres,” a book of essays on East-West relations, and a memoir, “Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora.” The letter below was originally written after 9/11 as an open letter to a relative who had worries about migrating to America.  

Published in Commentary
Saturday, 04 February 2017 14:10

Risking War with Iran Over Nothing

Commentary by William O. Beeman

THE Trump administration appears to be renewing the possibility of violent confrontation with Iran using a questionable pretext — Iran’s testing of conventional missiles. 

No one in the U.S. government or the press seems to understand that Iranian ballistic missiles do not fall under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA (the "Iran Deal"). The JCPOA has nothing at all to do with conventional weapons, only nuclear technology. 

The current controversy over Iran's missile testing has entirely to do with interpretations of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231 (20 July 2015), which endorsed the JCPOA after it had been ratified. 

UNSC Resolution 2231 stated flatly that ALL of the previously existing UN sanctions against Iran were terminated, viz. 

"(a) The provisions of resolutions 1696 (2006), 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008), 1835 (2008), 1929 (2010) and 2224 (2015) shall be terminated" (p. 3 of the full document)

The current objections to Iran's missile testing has to do with a clause in Resolution 2231 that "calls upon Iran not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology,” until eight years after the implementation of the deal.

This clause can’t be found on the UNSC web page announcing the agreement to the press. 

It is buried on page 99 of the 104 page actual Resolution 2231 document with annexes.

The agreement does NOT prohibit Iran from developing conventional weapons or missiles at all. It also only "calls upon" Iran to not develop technology capable of carrying such nuclear weapons. It does not flat-out prohibit even this development. 

The language "calls upon" was deliberate because the other P5+1 signatories to the JCPOA (Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China) would not endorse a stronger "prohibition." Moreover, the provision written this way provides no prescription for punishment if the provision is violated--which Iran claims has not happened. This means that there cannot be any UN imposed sanctions on Iran without an additional resolution. 

It is notable that, according to experts, Iran never had, nor has today a nuclear weapons program, so there are no nuclear weapons that could be mounted on such missiles. 

Anything the United States does in retaliation is in fact a response NOT to the JCPOA, to which the US is a signatory, but rather to some perceived violation of this UN Resolution. The United States in doing this is essentially engaging in a remarkable activity--cherry picking the violations of UN Resolutions that it likes and ignoring violations of UN Resolutions that it doesn't like, and deciding to act entirely independently of the UN, meting out its own free-boot punishment. Once again, the United States is singling out and targeting Iran on highly questionable grounds without any real authority. 

The tiny issue on which the US objection rests is whether the Iranian missiles are capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. Iran says: no! The United States (and Israel) say "maybe," because they can't know for sure whether this is the case. In the latest missile test, the missile blew up, so no one can say one way or the other. 

This is splitting hairs in the most egregious way. The Trump administration continues the tradition of the hawks in Congress to do anything and everything to antagonize Iran. In this regard Iran's leaders have been remarkably calm. Hawkish legislators in the United States would like to completely eliminate Iran's conventional weapons AND its overall missile program. Iran has all kinds of reasons for wanting to maintain this technology including satellite launchings.

Today the Trump administration's sanctions proved to be wimpy at best, targeting “multiple entities and individuals involved in procuring technology and/or materials to support Iran’s ballistic missile program, as well as for acting for or on behalf of, or providing support to, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force." Since there were already existing sanctions against such individuals, this amounts to virtually no "punishment" at all. However, President Trump's insistence that "nothing has been taken off the table" ominously suggests some kind of military action. 

Iran responded with something much more symbolically effective, reportedly barring the U.S. wrestling team from competition in the Freestyle World Cup Competition on February 16-17. 

It is dismaying that the Trump administration would risk violent action over such a small matter, but hatred of Iran in U.S. Government circles is so ubiquitous, rationality seems never to prevail, and as can be seen, provides Iran with the opportunity to retaliate in ways that can provide much more effective press.

William O. Beeman is Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota. He has conducted research in Iran for over 40 years. His most recent forthcoming book is Understanding Iran from Ancient Times to the Islamic Republic. This commentary is republished with permission from New America Media.

Published in Commentary

Commentary by Phil Gurski

IF there was any doubt about what a Donald Trump presidency means for the U.S. over the next four years, and by extension for all of us, there is little doubt now. In the first week alone, a flurry of executive orders have been signed on a whole bunch of issues that Mr. Trump promised he would act on. 

Of interest to me is, of course, the ban on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries: Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. The Trump administration is selling this as a national security issue – a way to keep America and Americans safe.

But is it?

On the one hand, yes.  Terrorists from those seven nations will be unable to enter the U.S. and carry out their heinous plots against innocent people.

The question, however, is: how many individuals who have carried out terrorist attacks in the U.S. after 9/11 came from those countries (or from any country for that matter) to execute their plans?  To my knowledge, the answer is precisely – zero.  Every attack has been perpetrated by either U.S. citizens or landed immigrants who radicalised almost entirely in the U.S.  Hence, a ban on citizens from the listed countries would not have stopped a single incident.

Fact is, immigration has zero relationship to terrorism, absolutely zero.

As an aside, it is of interest that several countries are not on the list – i.e. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.  Given that 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi, would it not have made sense to put that country on the list?

Immigration a lifeblood

Some would argue that since a few people who went on to commit terrorism in the U.S. were born elsewhere, a ban on Muslim immigration (Mr. Trump’s denials notwithstanding, his act is exactly that) is justified.  Perhaps, but immigration is a risk at the best of times. 

How do we ensure that an immigrant does not become a murderer?  A rapist?  An embezzler?  A wife abuser?  A tax cheat?  As there are no guarantees, maybe we should have no immigration at all. 

I am kidding – immigration is the lifeblood of a society and the few negatives do not measure up to the many positives.

It is highly unlikely that this move by the new U.S. government will have any real effect on terrorism.  Attacks will still be planned by those living in the U.S.  A small number of Muslims will continue to be radicalised to violence in the U.S.  Terrorism will remain a very rare tragedy.

Propaganda bonus

We must also not discount the propaganda bonus this gives actual terrorist groups like Islamic State.  IS has long said that the West hates Islam and that Western governments do not want Muslims to live in their countries.  As a result, Muslims must perform hijra (migrate) to a Muslim land.  The Trump move underscores and supports what the terrorists are saying.

I am happy that Canada’s Trudeau government is not going down that path.  Canada is proudly a nation of immigrants, including Muslim ones, and will remain so, I hope.

Terrorism is real and requires real solutions.  The Trump administration immigration ban is not one of them.

Phil Gurski worked for more than three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield). He blogs at http://www.borealisthreatandrisk.com/blog/

Published in Commentary
Tuesday, 06 December 2016 12:53

The ‘One China’ Policy is a Diplomatic Lie

Commentary by Jonathan Manthorpe in Vancouver

How does Donald Trump’s mind work? The Beijing government hasn’t a clue; neither does the rest of the world. Maybe the president-elect’s thinking is a mystery even to himself.

Sensibly, Chinese Communist Party leaders have opted not to interpret Trump’s telephone conversation on Friday with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen as a deliberate act jettisoning nearly 40 years of careful obfuscation that has kept the peace between Washington and Beijing.

Instead, the men behind the high red wall of the Zhongnanhai leaders’ compound in Beijing decided to say that the phone call was a “petty trick” by Tsai. “For Trump,” said a state-controlled newspaper, “it exposed nothing but his transition team’s inexperience in dealing with foreign affairs.”

So Beijing has decided that for the moment there should be no crisis. Trump, though, seems reluctant to go along with that idea and appears, in fact, to be setting up the Beijing regime as a whipping boy. On Sunday evening he used his preferred method of communication with the world — Twitter — to say:

“Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into … their country (the U.S. doesn’t tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don’t think so!”

This suggests that, unlike the other promises he has already abandoned, Trump might charge ahead with his campaign vow to stick massive duties on Chinese imports.

That could pose a threat to the survival in power of the Chinese Communist Party — whose Mandate of Heaven is now expressed in the growth of China’s gross domestic product. And that is a far more pressing question for Beijing than the fate of Taiwan

But the Taiwan question cannot be ignored. The Communist Party claims the island and its 23 million people are “a renegade province” that must be gathered into the bosom of Mother China — by force if necessary. Three generations of Chinese have been indoctrinated at school with this mantra, even though it has little historic, legal or political merit. But there is a long history of authoritarian states being mauled to death by the hyper-nationalism they have fostered in order to stay in power.

So there are reasons to applaud the phone call between Trump and Tsai. It is shining a bright light on the iniquities visited upon the people of Taiwan, a vibrant democracy with one of the world’s most successful and sophisticated economies, by the sleazy deal between Washington and Beijing.

The breach of protocol established in 1979 would be far more welcome if someone more trustworthy than Trump were about to become the U.S. president. It’s hard to believe that Trump will see through what he started on Friday, that the ridiculous “one China policy” will be ditched, and that Taiwan will be able to take its proper position as an internationally recognized independent nation.

As with so many U.S. diplomatic follies of the last half century, the blame for this one can be laid at the feet of Henry Kissinger.

Like Trump, Kissinger’s capacity for self-promotion has successfully masked his lack of more useful talents. In 1971, Kissinger was President Richard Nixon’s national security advisor when he went to Beijing to negotiate with Premier Zhou En-lai the establishment of diplomatic relations.

At the time, Washington still recognized as the legitimate government of China the old Kuomintang regime of Chiang Kai-shek, which had fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the civil war to Mao Zedong’s communists.

Premier Zhou played Kissinger like a violin. Despite Nixon’s insistence that Taiwan’s independence must be guaranteed, Kissinger told Zhou that he could foresee the island becoming part of China. He also agreed to “acknowledge” China’s claim to Taiwan. This wording — which the Chinese usually translate as “accept” — has remained part of the problem.

(In contrast, when then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was negotiating Canada’s establishment of diplomatic relations with Beijing, he insisted that Ottawa would only “note” the Communist Party’s claim to Taiwan. Most other countries have followed the Canadian model.)

The establishment of Washington-Beijing diplomatic relations meant that the fiction that the Chiang regime in Taiwan was the true government of China could not continue. In 1979, during Jimmy Carter’s presidency, the U.S. ended formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan — though, like most other countries (including Canada), it keeps an unofficial embassy in Taipei and continues to have a military and intelligence relationship with the government.

With this ambiguous diplomatic and legal relationship has gone what is known as the “one China policy,” which Beijing has insisted other governments, especially Washington and Taipei, accept as a condition of economic relations.

In essence this policy says that everyone accepts that there is only “one China.” What constitutes China is left undefined. Beijing, of course, says China includes Taiwan and the Chinese Communist Party is its sovereign authority.

In Taiwan, around 90 per cent of the island’s people want to keep their independence. If pushed, they will say there is indeed only one China — but Taiwan is not part of it.

The same goes in Washington. So for nearly 40 years, peace has been maintained across the Taiwan Strait and relations between Beijing and Washington have continued without serious conflict because everyone has agreed to accept there is “one China” without asking what that means.

U.S. administrations have added a couple of other ambiguities to this “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” approach. There is domestic legislation — the 1979 Taiwan Affairs Act — which requires Washington to help defend Taiwan if it is attacked. It is left up to each Washington administration, however, to decide how enthusiastically it rushes to Taiwan’s defence. As U.S.-China economic interdependence has grown, it has become less and less likely that any Washington administration would go to the wall for 23 million Taiwanese, even if they are part of the democracy circle.

And in a sop to Beijing, successive U.S. presidents have kept well away from any formal or even informal association with their Taiwanese counterparts.

That’s why Trump’s phone conversation with Tsai stands out.

It’s not entirely clear that it has dawned on Trump yet that, on January 20, he will become the U.S. president. He is still acting like someone who just won a game show and is revelling in the attention showered on him by groupies.

Whether the phone call means anything more than that will be seen after January 20.

Republished under arrangement with ipolitics.ca

Published in Commentary
Wednesday, 04 January 2017 10:51

From Helwi Hamdoun to Nabil Warda

Commentary by Khaled Salama in Mississauga, Ontario

Last summer, I had an interesting debate with a young, well-travelled Qatari friend in Doha. Not unlike millions of others around the world, he was curious to know what I thought of Donald Trump’s chances winning the Nov. elections.

“He is going to win;Donald Trump will be the incoming President,” I said emphatically, many months before the elections.

My friend was shocked. When he pressed me to back up my prediction, I explained: it’s not because Trump is the best candidate and nor is Hillary Clinton the worst nightmare, but the American people want Trump and they will make sure that Trump will be the next U.S. President.

Clearly intrigued, my Qatari friend moved closer, in an effort to speak more privately.

My reasoning went something like this: the profile of immigrants to both Canada and the U.S. has changed over the years and it’s not hard to understand the anxiety in both countries.

For me, two names personify what I see as a sea change in the attitude of immigrants to Canada over the last 80 years: Helwi Hamdoun of Edmonton and Nabil Warda of Montreal.

Canada in the 1930’s

I painted for my skeptical friend the story of Canada’s first mosque that was built nearly 80 years ago in the Alberta city of Edmonton, at a time when the number of Muslims in Canada was less than 700 . With such a small number of Muslims, most of whom had migrated from Lebanon and Syria, the community didn’t have a lot money.

They worked on farms, and some of them learned to trade in fur, the main commodity in Canada at the time.

As Edmonton’s Muslim community began to grow and prosper, they felt that their religious life was being hampered. After several meetings, they concluded that a mosque is urgently needed to accommodate the small number of Muslim families who wanted not only to guard their traditions, but also have a place to socialize, party, and give back to the community as well.

The real heroes were actually heroines, the wives of those hard-working Muslim men. These women, who had challenges with the English language, knocked on the doors of businesses in their community. They were led by Helwi Hamdoun, who managed to fund-raise exactly $5,750, despite the dire economic circumstances caused by the Great Depression.

They managed to raise money for their project and get donations from non-Muslim business owners, lawyers, politicians and members of the community who donated generously. Thanks in part to support and land from the then Edmonton mayor John W. Fry, the community broke ground for the mosque in May 1938. 

To me, as an Arab immigrant to Canada, the story of the first mosque is essential to the fabric of Canada. Without Christians, Jews and other non-Muslim Canadians, the mosque wouldn’t have existed. I’ve read that I.F. Shaker, a Christian Arab, was the master of ceremonies at the opening.

The building itself was inclusive. In addition to the prayer hall, it had a social and recreational venue in the basement, with a donated piano to also entertain guests from different faiths. The mosque also housed ovens to make baked goods that could be donated and served free-of-charge to neighbours and friends.

Canada of today

I compare that with what I see today.The issue is not in Islam as a religion, but rather with some of today’s Muslims who choose freely and willingly to migrate to Canada, but have a different approach, with goals that are irreconcilable with Canada’s diversity and multiculturalism.

Here’s what I have witnessed first-hand:

·         Some Muslims believe that – only because they’re Muslims – they are better than everybody else

·         Some of them teach their kids not to greet people from other faiths on their religious occasions or holidays

·         Some feel offended when they see Christmas decorations in public places

·         Some of them will not send their kids to public schools and will provide them with home schooling or other forms of secluded education

This leaves us with a new reality, a new ideology within our society, which brings me to my second character study: Nabil Warda, the Montreal real estate developer who wants to build a community exclusively for Muslims.

Most disturbing to me was a statement he made in an interview he gave to the Montreal Gazette in which he was quoted as saying, “We would share services between us and live with people who believe that life on Earth is not only to eat and sleep but that there is something else, and to try to live as close as possible to the monotheist ideals which started with Abraham.” 

Really?

Diversity, peace and equality

Why don’t these people just follow the Koran, which has lots of verses that suggest co-existence (“diversity”), kindness (“peace”) and the principle that all individuals are equal before God (“equality”).

To me, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms can literally be found in the Koran, which was written thousands of years ago, and yet many of today’s so-called followers deny others the right to live peacefully.

Let me just cite one verse from the Koran that has been interpreted as follows:

"O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)”

I sincerely wonder why Warda decided to immigrate to Canada in the first place.

This sort of narrow-mindedness bothers me. I don’t find it surprising that lots of people in Canada now feel that it’s important to screen newcomers who want to live in our countries. Are these anxious people to blame?

Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch is proposing a values test for all new immigrants. I suggest that we should seriously consider the factors that have led her to make such a proposal.

Unfortunately, we'd rather debate the fallout from her proposal, rather than examining the root causes that may be behind it.

Khaled Salama is an Egyptian-born journalist, columnist, radio host and reporter for Arab media. 

Published in Commentary
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