COVER

GROWING ANXIETY

SOME ARAB CANADIANS FEEL LIKE ALIENS

RAE CORELLI February 11 1991
COVER

GROWING ANXIETY

SOME ARAB CANADIANS FEEL LIKE ALIENS

RAE CORELLI February 11 1991

GROWING ANXIETY

SOME ARAB CANADIANS FEEL LIKE ALIENS

When they talk of how the Gulf War has affected them, they speak of fear, despair and anger. Their fellow citizens, they say, have become occasionally distant, mistrustful or openly hostile. For many of Canada’s estimated 180,000 Moslems, the battles that churn the desert sands have made them aliens in their own land. Said Khalida Peer, an Islamic teacher at a mosque in Windsor, Ont., and a mother of four children: “People now think that everyone who is Moslem is a terrorist.”

In fact, the war that began on Jan. 17 has heightened the visibility and the anxiety of Moslems across Canada, of whom about 125,000 are of Arab descent (as well, there are about 75,000 Christians of Arab descent living in Canada). Some Canadians of Arab descent say that they worry about family members still in the Middle East. Those who wear traditional Moslem clothing say that they have been the target of insults from passers-by. Mosques in some parts of the country have been pelted with eggs and other objects. Iraqis and Palestinians say they were also offended by Immigration Minister Barbara McDougall’s Jan. 16 order that if they have Canadian visitors’ visas, they will have to apply in person for renewals and that no visa will be extended for more than three months at a time.

Negative: Spokesmen for both the Iraqis and the Palestinians said that the action was discriminatory. Qasem Mahmud, of the Association of Palestinian-Arab Canadians, said that the restrictions may be legal, “but the way [the minister] did it reflects very negatively on our communities.”

As well, some Arab Canadians say that the discrimination is not confined to Iraqis and Palestinians. James Kafieh, president of the Toronto-based Canadian Arab Federation, which claims to represent the estimated 200,000 Canadians of Arab origin, said that dozens of Arabs had complained of being fol-

lowed, questioned or photographed by Canadian Security Intelligence Service agents at demonstrations. Solicitor General Pierre Cadieux maintains that CSIS is acting responsibly in trying to advise the government of potential security threats. But Kafieh said: “The message from the government is, if you are an Arab Canadian, keep your mouth shut.”

Still, Canadian Moslems refuse to withhold their views. In Edmonton, Youssef Chebli, the imam—or prayer leader—at the city’s AlRashid mosque, said that on Jan. 11 at an Islamic conference in Baghdad, he voted for a holy war against the UN coalition if it attacked Iraq. Said Chebli, who holds Lebanese and Canadian citizenship: “Saddam is a hero be-

cause he is standing up for his rights.” To Peer, who moved to Canada 21 years ago from South Africa, the results of the conflict are more personal. She said that when she drives across the Ambassador Bridge to Detroit wearing a traditional Islamic head scarf, U.S. immigration officers “take me for an Iraqi or a Palestinian, and I am not even from the Arab world. They want to search my whole car and they ask far too many questions.”

Syrian-born Arifa Garman, a 29-year-old second-year student at the University of Calgary who has been in Canada for 11 years, wears the traditional dress of Islamic women. Since the Gulf War began, she said, “I hear comments like ‘dumb Iraqis’ or ‘Shoot them’ or ‘It

serves them right.’ I am just as much a victim of this war as they are.”

Some Arab Canadians have had even more wrenching experiences. One of them is Nesreen Sarras, a 13-year-old Canadian-born student of Palestinian descent who attends a school in the Toronto-area community of Thornhill. Recently, she said, some of her schoolmates “have been calling me some names like ‘terrorist,’ ‘traitor,’ ‘Saddam Hussein’—stuff like that.” She added: “Sometimes they call me the names for fun, but sometimes they mean it and I get angry.” Said Donald O’Shaughnessy, a York Region separate school board representative: “It’s an unfortunate byproduct of a much more unfortunate situation.” Abdullah Hakim, the director of Toronto’s Islamic Social Services and Resources Association, said that Moslems are experiencing frustration and despair. “I had a man who talked of suicide the other night,” he said, “until I calmed him down.” Hypocrisy: Most Moslem Canadians, said Andrew Rippin, who teaches religion at the University of Calgary, feel that “there is a strong theme of hypocrisy in the Americans.” They worry that Washington is not insisting on imç plementation of earlier UN 2 resolutions calling for the Is^ raeli military to withdraw s from occupied territories.

I Hakim said that the war 1 has highlighted what he “ called a double standard. Declared Hakim: “When people in Israel are killed, there is a real uproar in the West. There is no uproar when people in Iraq are killed.” Amir Hussain, 25, a University of Toronto graduate student whose parents emigrated from Pakistan, said that Moslems “are not going to blow up your house because of Saddam Hussein. We are not the enemy. We are your neighbors.” Canadians of other races and religions, said Hussain, should make greater efforts to understand the nature of Islam. That may be happening already, as the war focuses attention on the culture and aspirations of the Arab world.

RAE CORELLI

DIANE BRADY

JOHN HOWSE

HAL QUINN