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Fear overwhelmed by support and hope January 9, 2010

Posted by hamiltonmuslims in Article.
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January 07, 2010

HUSSEIN HAMDANI

SPECIAL TO THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR

I am celebrating today my “career” as a columnist of one year.

Every second Thursday, I have had the honour of writing a column. I have learned a lot, gained many friends and supporters, and also realized that there are a few people out there, who no matter what I write, will call me names and try to demonize me. That is fine.

In a healthy democracy, when one puts ideas out for public circulation, one should expect the ideas to be criticized. However, it is objectionable when the criticism is not of ideas but of another voice.

I would like to reflect on some of the lessons I learned from writing these columns.

First, I want to express to all my Christian friends that I hope they had a Merry Christmas, filled with joy and spirituality. It seems that wishing people a Merry Christmas has become politically incorrect. This is unfortunate.

Newcomer religious communities such as Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims do not have issues or concerns about rejoicing in such holidays. But often, they get blamed for it. It seems those who have such issues against wishing people a Merry Christmas come from more established religious or cultural communities. Instead of negating Christmas, we should salute all religious holidays and not hesitate to wish people well as they celebrate their special days.

Many of my columns generated discussions and feedback with the occasional letter to the editor. The articles that generated the most feedback are revealing.

The most difficult articles I wrote were the two about my grandfather (may God rest his soul). He was my inspiration and I wanted to share his lessons to me with all of you. As I have recounted, my grandfather was a poultry farmer in Uganda who came to Canada with his large family as refugees in the mid-’70s.

This was a foreign land, with different customs and language. He worked very hard. He was brilliant. He started businesses and donated as much as he could to local charities. He taught his family the importance of being in service to others, and that real wealth was in alleviating other people’s hardships. He died last year and his loss is still being felt.

I was surprised at the amount of feedback I received about my article on how Muslims saved Jews during the Holocaust.

Perhaps I should not have been surprised as many people are ignorant of this fact.

Some members of the local Hamilton Jewish community seemed to be outraged that Jews could be saved by Muslims. It seems they were never taught this part of their own history.

I wrote that in his recent book, Among The Righteous (PublicAffairs, $31.50), Robert Satloff notes, “in every place that it occurred, Arabs helped Jews. Some Arabs spoke out against the persecution of Jews and took public stands of unity with them. Some Arabs denied the support and assistance that would have made the wheels of the anti-Jewish campaign spin more efficiently … And there were occasions when certain Arabs chose to do more than just offer moral support to Jews. They bravely saved Jewish lives, at times risking their own in the process. Those Arabs were true heroes.”

However, the article that generated the most feedback was the one in which I described the personal threat made against me.

The bigot crossed out my eyes (which the police told me means a death threat) and wrote a rant about how immigrants are stealing jobs from white people.

The person placed the message in a place where his message was not only to me, but also to all immigrants and minorities.

It also informed the police that this person was aware of the places where I volunteer.

As difficult as that moment was for my family and me, we were overwhelmed with the support we received from many of you.

We vowed to keep working to make Canada a more pluralistic and inclusive place. My fear gave way to hope with a renewed sense of determination.

These columns are intended to generate discussion and dialogue, and to be a different voice in the paper.

We must not let hate-mongers silence our voices.

The next column will discuss issues or ground that will be covered in the upcoming year.

Freelance columnist Hussein Hamdani lives in Burlington, and works as a lawyer in Hamilton.

His column appears every other Thursday.

Canadian Identity December 21, 2009

Posted by hamiltonmuslims in Article.
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In the last few weeks, events and circumstances surrounding me have forced me to turn my mind to defining what it means to be a Canadian.  In other words, how can we define Canadian identity? First, I turned my mind to the issue around Remembrance Day.  I reflected on the 117,000 Canadians who lost their lives in defending this country. The next day, I wrote my (now controversial) column on these fallen soldiers.  I will not restate the article here, but the article recognized the sacrifices made to make Canada what it is today: a bastion of democracy; pluralism; and affluence.

A couple of days later, on November 14th, several hundred Muslim Canadians and I attended the Inspired and Engaged Citizens conference in Hamilton.  This was a large gathering of Muslim Canadians collectively focused on discussing what it means to be a practicing, observant or secular Muslim in Canada today.  It was a profoundly successful conference in that it assisted attendees in recognizing that one can remain a devout Muslim (as part of their spiritual path) and a Canadian patriot (as part of their national identity).

Various speakers at the conference reminded us that the question of Canadian identity was traditionally dominated by three fundamental themes: first, the often conflicted relations between English Canadians and French Canadians, stemming from the French Canadian imperative for cultural and linguistic survival; secondly, the generally close ties between English Canadians and the British Empire, resulting in a gradual political process towards complete independence from the imperial power; and lastly, the close proximity of English-speaking Canadians a southern neighbour who is militarily, culturally and economically a global powerhouse.

However, as some speakers stated, that with the gradual loosening of political and cultural ties to Britain (the repatriation of our Constitution in 1982), and the increase of non-British immigration from source countries found in Europe, Middle East, Africa the Caribbean and Asia have reshaped the Canadian identity. This process will continue with the continuing arrival of large numbers of immigrants from non British or French backgrounds, adding the theme of multiculturalism to the debate.

Supporters of Canadian multiculturalism argue cultural appreciation of ethnic and religious diversity promotes a greater willingness to tolerate political differences, and multiculturalism is often cited as one of Canada’s significant accomplishments and a key distinguishing element of Canadian identity.

It is quite ironic that only a few days after the conclusion of this conference where hundreds of Canadians gathered in Hamilton to discuss being Canadian, that a bigot reacted to my article the way he did.  His demands that we all “go home” presupposes that “home” is somewhere else. Fortunately for Canada and for us, and unfortunately for him, Canada is our home and native land.

The issue of defining a Canadian identity is a challenging one.  The definition must take into consideration our national history along with our current realities.  Perhaps, it is foolish to think that we can come up with one, monolithic definition of what it means to be Canadian?  One thing is for certain, whether you are a new immigrant or you can trace your ancestral roots in Canada to the time of Confederation, we are all blessed to live in a country where such discussions can take place without fear of persecution or torture or a dilution of civil liberties.

Hamilton should be congratulated once again for hosting a conference where hundreds of Canadians discussed and debated the very profound issue of Canadian identity.

By Hussein A. Hamdani, Published in Hamilton Spectator