Special Feature: Muslims & The Media
Welcoming address -- CIC 2006 annual gala, Ottawa

Shunpiking Online is posting below the text of the welcoming address to the 2006 Canadian Islamic Congress Annual Gala delivered by Wahida C. Valiante. Ms. Valiante is Vice Chair and National Vice President of the Canadian Islamic Congress. The Annual Gala was held in Ottawa on 30 October 2006.

Special to Shunpiking Online

In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate. Assalamu Alaikum and good evening:

It is my pleasure and honour to welcome to our annual CIC reception and dinner their Excellencies the Ambassadors; High Commissioners; Honourable Ministers; Speaker of the House; Members of Parliament; Senators; government officials; academics; Canadian Muslim community leaders; Canadian Muslim business leaders and dental professionals; journalists; CIC's 2006 Award Winners; friends and guests -- and a special welcome to the family of Captain Nichola Goddard.

Ordinarily, as national Vice-president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, my role this evening would simply be to welcome all of you, add a few pleasant words, and then leave the podium. However, I find it hard to do. Instead, I need to share with you concerns that I share with millions of Canadians on the current political environment -- after all, we are gathered here on Parliament Hill, in the Parliament buildings.

Most of you know that Canada is much admired and trusted as a nation for its international peace-keeping work and for being a shining example of harmonious religious, racial, and ethnic co-existence here at home. Unfortunately, both those historic distinctions are being seriously threatened under the current political thinking here in Ottawa.

As a proud Canadian, I find it unbelievable that our government has led us into a war in Afghanistan that most of us do not understand. We have been given no goal, and no defined circumstances or conditions under which Canadian troops will be allowed to return home for good. In fact, Canada is still sending its troops to Afghanistan, putting our bravest and best young people in harm's way, without any clear declaration of objectives.

Our leaders have bought into American-style foreign policy -- bomb them first and then offer candies
Instead of using our expertise, knowledge, experience and resources to empower ordinary Afghanis and to provide food, shelter, safety, a future for their children and a relatively better life than before, our leaders have bought into American-style foreign policy -- bomb them first and then offer candies. I don't need to tell you that this has never been Canada's foreign policy.

Even our political rhetoric now mimics that of the Bush administration. To justify the expanded Canadian Armed Forces deployment to Afghanistan, some of our politicians are demonizing the Afghan people as "murderers and scumbags" who "detest our freedoms ... detest our society ... [and] detest our liberties." We are blindly following the dangerously flawed logic of Mr. Bush and his advisors, who see violence and military aggression against Muslims as the only solution for the conflict they largely incited. This has never, ever been Canada's style of foreign policy; so why now?

It is equally baffling to hear Prime Minister Harper's response to the killing of thousands of Lebanese civilians in that recent war -- especially innocent children -- and the overwhelming use of fire- power, cluster bombs, phosphorous bombs, mines, and aerial bombardment by Israel as a "measured response."

On the home front, this increasingly militant political climate does not bode well for Canadian Muslims, whose ethnic roots are not only from the Arab world, but also from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. Now, we have become the "Other," those who are "Not Like Us." Now, we are subjected to draconian new laws, racial profiling, sudden arrest, surveillance, harassment, political and social marginalization -- we can even be secretly whisked off to other countries for indefinite detention and torture. Our media, who should provide us with objective information and keep us informed on national and international issues so that we can be informed voters, is instead focused on portraying Muslims as alien and threatening -- Others, not like Us.

Unfortunately, we all know that there are a few distorted individuals who invoke our religion as a justification for their heinous criminal acts against innocent people and against all human society. But remember also, there are nearly 1.5 billion Muslims in the world -- including some 750,000 living right here in Canada. The vast majority of Muslims, even those who live under brutal occupation and state- sanctioned terrorism, do not use their religion to commit violence against innocent people.

This I can say with confidence, because not long ago I spent two memorable and heart-rending weeks among our Palestinian brothers and sisters in the occupied territories. They long for freedom and liberty. They want democracy, peace, and security for themselves and their children -- just like the Jewish mothers and fathers next door who are not under occupation; who do not live under the constant fear of being bombed from the air, land and sea; who are not being starved by the international community -- including Canada, I'm ashamed to say -- for democratically electing their own government.

History has important lessons for all of us, if only we care enough to learn them!

In 1919 in India, the Rowlatt Act was passed, indefinitely extending wartime "emergency measures" in order to control public unrest and root out conspiracy. "This act effectively authorized the government to imprison without trial, any person suspected of terrorism living in the Raj (rule)."

"Na Vakeel, Na Daleel, Na Appeal," was the slogan raised by Indians against the imposition of the Rowlatt Act. In translation it means, "No lawyer, No Trial, No Appeal."

The Rt. Hon. Srinivasa Sastri, speaking in the Imperial Legislative Council at the introduction of the Rowlatt Bill on February 7, 1919 had this to say:

The innocent then is he who forswears politics, who takes no part in the public movements of the times, who retires into his house, mumbles his prayers, pays his taxes, and salaams all the government officials all round
"When Government undertakes a repressive policy, the innocent are not safe. Men like me would not be considered innocent. The innocent then is he who forswears politics, who takes no part in the public movements of the times, who retires into his house, mumbles his prayers, pays his taxes, and salaams all the government officials all round. The man who interferes in politics, the man who goes about collecting money for any public purpose, the man who addresses a public meeting, then becomes a suspect. I am always on the borderland and I, therefore, for personal reasons, if for nothing else, undertake to say that the possession, in the hands of the Executive, of powers of this drastic nature will not hurt only the wicked. It will hurt the good as well as the bad, and there will be such a lowering of public spirit, there will be such a lowering of the political tone in the country, that all your talk of responsible government will be mere mockery..."

Nearly 90 years later, Mr. Sastri's words come as both a legacy and a warning to us all. Now is the time to learn from them!

*WAHIDA C. VALIANTE is national vice-president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. she may be reached at (905) 771-1023, E-mail: nvp@canadianislamiccongress.com

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