Fighting for equal rights must be a team effort, not divided by xenophobia and hatred
I arrived in Calgary in the summer of 2000 as a graduate school recruit to the University of Alberta economics program. It was a time before 9/11, and self-obsession had taken the form of multiple selfies with pouty faces.
My first exposure to Canadians came through a gentle old lady who sported a cowboy hat at the Calgary airport. I had missed my flight to Edmonton. Being thousands of miles away from home, I was quite nervous and concerned about spending my limited dollars on new airfare to Edmonton. But she quelled my fears, telling me that I could just take the next flight free of charge and that it would not take me long to reach my destination.
I am not sure if she is still around. I don’t remember her name or even how she looked, but the memory of her kindness and generosity is etched in my mind. I have experienced this compassion from many other Canadians, including the Jewish psychiatrist who spent many sessions with me on LGBTQ2S+-affirming hermeneutics in 2004. It is this love over these last 18 years that has shaped my outlook of gratitude to this great country and has informed my approach towards activism.
Unlike many who were born in Canada and have not had exposure to problems in other parts of the world, I have witnessed how people are treated as second-class citizens in the rich Gulf States, and how easily they are deported for voicing an unpopular opinion. As such, I do not take freedom of expression and the right to protest for granted, nor without responsibility.
Unfortunately, exercise of freedoms in Canada is not always rooted in love. Often, those who loudly tout human rights usurp such freedoms to unleash a hateful narrative in Canadian spaces. This paradox is manifest when some exploit LGBTQ2S+ or feminist issues to badger Muslims and Islam, even as their own disposition is shaped by a deeply entrenched homophobia and sexism.
Such is also true of the Edmonton ethnic groups that joined institutional Catholic groups in rallying against same-sex marriage in 2005, and also of those who have repeatedly ignored my invitations for joint Muslim-LGBTQ2S+ community outreach over the past few years. There is simply no initiative on part of local Muslim institutional groups to meet the LGBTQ2S+ community, which would open doors for addressing the concerns of LGBTQ2S+ Muslims. Indeed, while raising concerns on racism and Islamophobia, such groups ignore their own homophobia and transphobia.
Those who are loudly stoking hatred of Muslims are afraid of demographic changes that would see them reduced to a minority. Some who are protesting Islamophobia are failing to address the deep-rooted heterosexism that informs their scriptural hermeneutics and cultural aversion to LGBTQ2S+ Muslims.
Yet, as such groups advance their agenda in the garb of human rights or religious freedoms, they are merely addressing inner hurts and fears. This then is a problem of our age where self-obsession leads to objectification and dehumanization of other people, and where shrill and aggressive calls for activism are more about tearing others down instead of forging communities based on common values and love.
All of this makes me reminisce of the gentle old lady with the cowboy hat at the Calgary airport and I wonder how different our Canadian milieu would be if that smile, warmth, and compassion dictated our public discourse and calls to action.