On ex­pe­ri­enc­ing Is­lam­o­pho­bia at Mcgill

On Is­lam­o­pho­bia in Mcgill class­rooms

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Writ­ten by Sarah Shamy

As an Arab Mus­lim wo­man, I ex­pected to run into some is­sues at an elite colo­nial in­sti­tu­tion like Mcgill. How­ever, I could never have imag­ined just how much big­otry, racism, and sexism ebbs and flows in the in­sti­tu­tion. I am in my first year at Mcgill and I can con­fi­dently and truth­fully say this: Mcgill is not an aca­demic in­sti­tu­tion that cares about its stu­dents. From a very young age, I ac­cepted the fact that I will never fully feel like I be­long in a class­room. This feel­ing of iso­la­tion and alien­ation is one that I am fa­mil­iar with, and it is deep­ened be­cause of my re­li­gion, race, and gen­der. This was partly the rea­son why I de­cided to dou­ble ma­jor in African Stud­ies and World Is­lamic and Mid­dle East Stud­ies. Af­ter all, I thought, how can I not be­long in an aca­demic field that over­laps with my own iden­tity? Tak­ing a class in the Is­lamic Stud­ies depart­ment was the worst de­ci­sion I have ever made. My ex­pec­ta­tions for this spe­cific class were very low. I naively be­lieved that Mcgill would pro­tect me and pro­vide me with safe spa­ces. That was the first lie I be­lieved.

Per­son­ally, this class has al­ways made me tense. I as­sumed that a class in the Is­lamic Stud­ies depart­ment would be di­verse; how­ever, upon see­ing that the ma­jor­ity of stu­dents were white, I had my ini­tial ap­pre­hen­sions about how the ma­te­rial would be re­ceived. This is not to con­demn ANY non-mus­lim or non-mi­nor­ity peo­ple who take ISLA classes. I be­lieve that the more we know about some­thing (in this case – Is­lam), the less easy it is to be dis­mis­sive of state­ments such as “Is­lam is ter­ror­ism.” It pre­vents peo­ple from be­ing os­ten­si­bly ar­ro­gant and naïve in the twisted main­stream in­ter­pre­ta­tions re­gard­ing Is­lam. How­ever, that be­ing said I im­me­di­ately al­lowed my­self to be­come very crit­i­cal of the state­ments made by the pro­fes­sor; for ex­am­ple, he said: “ISIS does not in­vent any Qu­ranic verses or ha­diths,” which un­doubt­edly im­plies that Is­lam is com­pat­i­ble with ter­ror­ism. That is when I de­cided to dis­cuss my dis­com­fort with the teacher. I voiced my con­cerns to him and he seemed very ea­ger to take in my crit­i­cism. He claimed that he had given ad­e­quate warn­ings about Is­lam­o­pho­bia, but given my con­cerns he promised to ad­dress Is­lam­o­pho­bia more fre­quently. Three days later, in Que­bec City, six of my Mus­lim brothers were killed in an Is­lam­o­pho­bic ter­ror­ist at­tack at a mosque.

As a re­sponse to the tragedy, the pro­fes­sor walked in, poised and grin­ning, and sug­gested en­thu­si­as­ti­cally that we take a mo­ment of si­lence for the in­no­cent lives taken. Af­ter the mo­ment passed, he sparked a de­bate in which we be­gan to ar­gue with a hy­po­thet­i­cal Is­lam­o­pho­bic un­cle. As soon as he ut­tered th­ese words, the charis­matic, charm­ing, grin­ning pro­fes­sor was eclipsed by an un­ruf­fled man who used the tragedy as a plat­form to ex­press any stu­dents’ in­ter­nal­ized and/or ex­ter­nal­ized Is­lam­o­pho­bia, in­stead of us­ing it as a plat­form to incite change. Of course, this is wrong for many rea­sons, all of which I will ad­dress soon. How­ever, dur­ing this de­bate, he re­peat­edly in­ter­rupted me (a vis­i­bly Mus­lim wo­man) and did not give me enough time to prop­erly ar­tic­u­late any of my thoughts. A

friend of mine in the class de­cided to send a per­sonal email to the pro­fes­sor the night of the lecture to ex­plain her dis­com­fort with both the tim­ing and fram­ing of the de­bate. In his trademark bound­ary-less ap­proach, he de­cided to re­spond to her by send­ing an email to both her and my­self, even though I did not email him re­gard­ing this is­sue. He asked us if we would be avail­able af­ter the next class to dis­cuss the is­sue of Is­lam­o­pho­bia, and in­vited us to voice our con­cerns. I ac­cepted his of­fer to meet with him – af­ter all, who was I to deny a man his right to re­demp­tion?

On the day of our sched­uled meet­ing, the pro­fes­sor brought up the per­sonal email that my friend had writ­ten to him in class. He asked the stu­dents if any­one else thought the de­bate was of­fen­sive, to which a stu­dent bravely de­clared that it is in­ap­pro­pri­ate to have a fo­rum in which he ex­pects stu­dents to raise their hand at that ques­tion. He dis­missed her com­ment and said that he still thinks it would be use­ful to open up the dis­cus­sion, af­ter which, I raised my hand and voiced my dis­com­fort. I ex­plained that it was not so much the na­ture of the de­bate that was the is­sue, but rather the tim­ing. I felt like fram­ing Is­lam­o­pho­bia as a de­bate with a fic­tional ‘Is­lam­o­pho­bic un­cle’ was de­mean­ing to the tragedy that had tran­spired a few days prior. I did not be­lieve it was ap­pro­pri­ate to ex­pect stu­dents to rea­son with an Is­lam­o­phobe and pro­vide ar­gu­ments to re­fute Is­lam­o­pho­bia, es­pe­cially in light of re­cent events. I ex­plained that if there was an ar­gu­ment that could stop Is­lam­o­phobes from be­ing ig­no­rant, then there would be no Is­lam­o­pho­bia. I stated that al­though I didn’t doubt that the pro­fes­sor’s in­ten­tions were gen­uine, and per­haps even noble, that the way he ap­proached the is­sue cre­ated a plat­form for Is­lam­o­pho­bia. I ex­pressed my dis­com­fort in hav­ing to ra­tio­nal­ize with a fic­tional Is­lam­o­pho­bic un­cle, who isn’t ac­tu­ally fic­tional. This is a re­al­ity that many Mus­lims must face. I didn’t (and still don’t) un­der­stand why we were ex­pected to ex­clu­sively dis­cuss it within hy­po­thet­i­cal, aca­demic con­texts.

De­spite clearly voic­ing this, some fel­low class­mates, who are non-mus­lim, took it upon them­selves to state that the de­bate was “needed” and “nec­es­sary” es­pe­cially af­ter a ter­ror­ist at­tack. They made state­ments such as “I’m go­ing to speak on be­half of the prov­ince of Que­bec” (dis­re­gard­ing that I, my­self, was born and raised here and this is as much my prov­ince as it is theirs). One par­tic­u­lar fe­male stu­dent tried to ex­cuse the ter­ror­ist’s wil­ful ig­no­rance by say­ing that Que­bec city is “homo-Que­be­cus” – which is not truth­ful (un­less she has taken it upon her­self to dis­cuss “al­ter­na­tive facts”). State­ments like th­ese ex­clude the en­tire Mus­lim com­mu­nity of Que­bec as well as other mi­nor­ity groups, be­cause they are im­ply­ing that fel­low mi­nori­ties aren’t re­ally ‘ Que­be­cois.’ The en­vi­ron­ment was hos­tile and de­plorable – it had an over­all ef­fect of “us ver­sus them.” In this case, the ‘us’ re­ferred to me and those who spoke up against the de­bate dur­ing the class. My white, priv­i­leged class­mates, who have never faced the con­se­quences of Is­lam­o­pho­bia or racism, raised their hands in re­sponse to the ques­tion of whether they thought the de­bate was ef­fec­tive. Half­way through, I ended up walk­ing out of the class.

The en­vi­ron­ment in the class was ex­tremely hos­tile and un­com­fort­able. The pro­fes­sor con­tin­u­ously dis­re­garded Mus­lim women’s feel­ings and, in­stead, re­lied on white women in the class­room. He re­peat­edly in­ter­rupted me; how­ever, when a white class­mate de­fended our po­si­tion and sim­ply re­it­er­ated my and other Mus­lim women’s ar­gu­ments, the pro­fes­sor gave her his full at­ten­tion and val­i­da­tion. When I dared as­sert my right to speak freely, and spoke over any­one who tried to in­ter­rupt me, the pro­fes­sor asked me not to in­ter­rupt any­one – even though he gave me the plat­form to speak when he called on my raised hand, and let him­self and the stu­dents freely and re­peat­edly in­ter­rupt me. He val­i­dated white women’s opin­ions and thoughts over Mus­lim women’s bla­tant dis­com­fort. We were made subor­di­nate and unim­por­tant. He did not pro­vide Mus­lim women a plat­form to ex­press our con­cerns, nor did he al­lo­cate us enough time to do so. Iron­i­cally, the pro­fes­sor likes to pro­mote his class as be­ing a safe space for ev­ery­one; but this sense of safety seemed to be ex­clu­sively al­lo­cated to non-mus­lim stu­dents. If he truly cared about the dis­com­fort of his stu­dents, as he has of­ten stated, he would have waited for our sched­uled meet­ing. How­ever, I think we can log­i­cally de­duce that he does not care about how his stu­dents feel. He has proven him­self to be in­ept at han­dling dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions, though I still can­not un­der­stand how dif­fi­cult it is to be re­spect­ful and mind­ful of marginalised peo­ple’s con­cerns.

Stu­dent jour­nal­ism is the only venue avail­able to me at Mcgill that al­lows me to voice my con­cerns. The in­sti­tu­tion has pro­vided me with no other re­sources to ex- press my griev­ances. Mcgill seem­ingly con­demns vi­o­lence against Mus­lims, but will al­low Mus­lim women to feel un­safe and marginal­ized in the class­room. Mus­lims don’t need token pity. We need ac­tion. We need prom­ises that will not be bro­ken. The true vi­o­lence was not in the de­bate it­self, but in his (and my fel­low class­mates) in­abil­ity to rec­og­nize the act as be­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate, or to pro­vide a shift in at­ti­tude through em­pathic un­der­stand­ing. Ev­ery­one who par­tic­i­pates in this op­pres­sive so­cial or­der is com­plicit in it. How­ever, given that the sweep­ing ma­jor­ity of them were Cau­casian – they were un­able to rec­og­nize their priv­i­lege. The class­room de­picted the world as an easy fix, to be solved by en­thu­si­asm and aca­demic de­bates.

I am tired of hav­ing to walk the streets of my city, ner­vous and afraid. I am tired of feel­ing like ev­ery­day needs to be a bat­tle, in which I must both pro­tect my­self and de­fend ev­ery­thing I rep­re­sent. I am tired of feel­ing like I don’t be­long in an aca­demic in­sti­tu­tion that con­tin­ues to boast about its di­ver­sity and ac­cep­tance. I am tired of tak­ing classes where I can (fi­nally) feel like I re­late to the ma­te­rial on a fun­da­men­tal level, only to find stu­dents try­ing to quench their white guilt and us­ing marginal­ized peo­ple as a venue through which they can ex­empt them­selves from any re­spon­si­bil­ity. I am tired of hav­ing peo­ple call upon my tol­er­ance and de­mand I be le­nient in the face of vi­o­lent be­hav­ior. I am tired of feel­ing guilty for be­ing an­gry, and feel­ing re­spon­si­ble for peo­ple’s con­scious de­ci­sion to re­main ig­no­rant and vi­o­lent. I am tired of feel­ing ir­re­deemably bro­ken and frag­mented. I am tired and I am only 19 years old.

I am not only hold­ing ac­count­able the stu­dents who contributed to Mus­lim women’s feel­ings of dis­com­fort in the class­room; I am also hold­ing ac­count­able the pro­fes­sor who made it pos­si­ble for Mus­lim women to feel un­safe and un­com­fort­able in what is sup­posed to be a safe space. I am hold­ing the Is­lamic Stud­ies depart­ment ac­count­able for turn­ing a blind eye to the on­go­ing vi­o­lent be­hav­ior; I am hold­ing ac­count­able the in­sti­tu­tion of Mcgill, which has made it clear that the com­fort of their stu­dents is not a pri­or­ity, if even a con­cern; lastly, I am also hold­ing ac­count­able the reader of this ar­ti­cle. You have a duty to stand up for what is right, you have a duty to pre­vent the fur­ther marginal­iza­tion of marginalised peo­ples in class­rooms. You have a duty to be hu­man and to treat oth­ers as such.

Upon com­ing to North Amer­ica, my peo­ple were promised free­dom. Upon com­ing to this land, we were promised rights. Upon com­ing to Canada, we were promised peace. Upon com­ing to Que­bec, we were promised ac­cep­tance. Upon com­ing to Mon­treal, we were promised mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism. Upon com­ing to Mcgill, we were promised safety. Th­ese are prom­ises that have all been bro­ken; and with it, so have the spir­its of my beloved mi­nori­ties. The price of a bro­ken prom­ise is the dreams of all the stu­dents who have ever felt un­safe within this in­sti­tu­tion.

This feel­ing iso­la­tion and alien­ation is one that I am famil­liar with, and it is deep­ened be­cause of my re­li­gion, race and gen­der. I ex­pressed my dis­com­fort in hav­ing to ra­tio­nal­ize with a fic­tional Is­lam­o­pho­bic un­cle, who isn’t ac­tu­ally fic­tional. Stu­dent jour­nal­ism is the only av­enue avail­able to me at Mcgill that al­lows me to voice my con­cerns. This in­sti­tu­tion has pro­vided me with no other re­sources to ex­press my griev­ances.

Marina Djur­d­je­vic | The Mcgill Daily

Rahma Wiry­omartono | The Mcgill Daily

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.