In the aftermath of the 1971 War of Liberation in East Pakistan, which left an estimated three million people dead as well as an estimated quarter million women raped, my parents fled to Canada. Though not officially as refugees, my parents have called Canada home for nearly half a century. I still remember what my mother told me the day Justin Trudeau became Prime Minister. “I’m so happy,” she said, “it’s as if my own son won.” Never in my life has my mother been this passionate about politics. But, given what was happening in the country, I could see why.
Under the leadership of then Prime Minister Stephen Harper, my parents (and the Canadian Muslim community we are a part of) began to feel unwelcome in the land we call home. In June 2014, the Harper Government passed Bill C-24 effectively making my parents second-class citizens. Even people such as myself, born and raised in Canada and with no other citizenship elsewhere, were deemed second-class citizens with revocable citizenship.
While many in America are aghast at Donald Trump’s Muslim and refugee ban, many in Canada will remember Harper did it first. Before Trump, it was Stephen Harper who halted the influx of Syrian refugees and prioritized Christian over Muslim refugees. Before Trump, it was Harper who vilified mosques, wanted to create a special tip line geared towards reporting Muslims, and ban Muslim clothing. Well before Trump’s Presidential bid, it was Harper’s Conservative Party accusing brown people of taking away the job of whites.
Muslims like me are scared and we have every right to be.
As my neighbours in an Ontario suburb proudly put up Conservative party lawn signs during the last election, I began to ask myself the same questions Americans and refugees-to-America are asking themselves right now: Am I welcome here? If I’m not welcome here than where is home? What if my family faced what refugees are facing now? Would I even be alive? How many will die because of these racist policies?
Allah must have been listening to my fears and prayers because, after an unusually high voter turnout, Canadians had given a strong majority government to Justin Trudeau. Trudeau campaigned on a message of anti-racism and anti-Islamophobia. Anti-Muslim court battles undertaken by Harper were dropped by Trudeau and Harper’s vision of second-class citizenry was replaced with the catch-phrase “A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian”. It felt good to be proud of my country’s government again.
Since moving from right-leaning suburbia to left-leaning Toronto, I’ve been surprised to find many on the left do not share my relief and pride at having Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister. Many on the left want a world free of fossil fuels and are furious Trudeau has approved construction of new pipelines. Others feel he has moved too slowly on electoral reform, or hasn’t sufficiently increased funding for health care, or hasn’t improved the rights and relationship with Indigenous people. While such criticism is part of a healthy democracy, in the face of Donald Trump, now is the time to rally behind our Prime Minister.
Muslims like me are scared and we have every right to be. Many of us and/or those within our community are directly affected by the American Muslim ban. Being this side of the border doesn’t mean much. Canada is often a hair’s breadth away from mirroring the politics in America. With a reality TV star leading the race for leader of the Canadian Conservative Party and another Conservative candidate proposing barring immigrants for “anti-Canadian values”, we could easily become “Trump North”. Unfortunately, as the polls show, bashing Trudeau (even if that criticism comes from the left) tends to help Trump-like candidates on the right.
Prime Minister Trudeau, for his part, is saying all the right things in the face of a Trump Presidency. Trump closes borders, Trudeau welcomes refugees. Trump lashes out at protesters, Trudeau praises the Women’s March. While many argue Trudeau could do more (such as withdrawing from agreements which prevent refugees denied entry in the USA from coming to Canada), Trudeau must strike a balance of exercising Canada’s soft power while not making Canada the next target of Trump’s capricious policies. Trudeau must walk a fine line and we need to give him the patience and support needed for him to walk it.
While this may seem like a no-brainer, many Canadians who hate Trump are unwilling to drop their hatred of Justin Trudeau. Instead, I’ve seen many activists and organizers on the left try and conflate Trudeau with Trump in hopes of transferring anti-Trump momentum towards anti-Trudeau efforts. As a brown Muslim of an immigrant family that fled from war, I can’t help but see this as political opportunism from those in a position of relative privilege.
While debates are part of a healthy democracy, in the face of Donald Trump and rising Islamophobia, now is the time for Canadians to set aside our political differences and rally behind our anti-Islamophobia Prime Minister.