Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Minority Rights on the TTC Subway

So on the subway today, as I was preparing to doze off until my stop, an elderly white gentleman seated beside me suddenly turned to me and said, "Excuse me, are you Muslim?"

When I replied in the affirmative, he said, "Can I ask you a question if you don't mind? Why is it that whenever Muslims come here, or to a Western country, they are all very nice about minority rights, but in Muslim countries minorities are treated like garbage?"

It was a very loaded question, and though he was a soft spoken man, I could see a couple of other people turn in to listen.

"Great," I thought. "Here I go, being the representative of 1.6 billion people."

"Thank you," I told him, "That you asked me. If you have questions about Muslims, go to a Muslim, or to the mosque. Is there any particular Muslim country you are thinking of?"

As chance would have it, he mentioned Bangladesh (how a secular publisher was hacked to death by fundamentalists) and Pakistan (whose Hindu minority is fleeing to India). I then asked him if he followed any religion. Very proudly, he replied he was a Catholic, and sang praises about the current Pope and his tolerance.

"Tell me one thing." I asked him. I was very grateful for the fact that he was willing to listen and engage. "Have the Catholics always been tolerant of minorities? Is there not a history of massacre and mayhem in Catholic history, particularly during the Crusades? Forget the fact that they massacred a whole city of Muslims and Jews in Jerusalem, these knights were personally blessed by the Pope and they killed Orthodox Christians by the thousands!"

He was quiet for a while, and then replied, "But that's in the past, IF it's true. I am talking about the present."

"Do you know who Rana Bhagwandas is?" I asked him. This is where I was glad I recently read about the very two people I would talk about now.

"No." He replied. "Is he Indian?"

"He is actually the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan." I replied (I didn't know that he had passed away this year, something I found out when composing this post). "A Hindu. A recent Captain of Pakistan cricket was Yousaf Youhana, a Christian then. Do you know who the current chief justice of Bangladesh is?"

When he said he didn't know, I replied it is a Hindu person as well (I didn't know the name then, but it's Surendra Kumar).

Then I told him, "No doubt, it is not as rosy as it is for minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh, as it is for Muslims here in Canada. But those countries have other political problems, and religion is just one factor. Many Muslims also die in the political violence there."

"But what about Saudi Arabia?" He said. "You can't build a church there, or drink beer, and the women are treated like animals."

"Have you been to Dubai? Or Beirut?" I asked him. "Those are right next to Saudi."

"I haven't been there," He conceded.

"I lived in the UAE." I told him. "Lots of expatriates there, many of them Christian and they have their own churches and services. They are not allowed to convert anyone though, In Lebanon, by law the President has to be a Christian and the Prime Minister a Muslim."

"But what about Saudi?" He insisted. "It is the home of Islam. In Rome, we recently built the largest mosque in Europe."

"I would think the home of Christianity is in the Holy Land." I really cannot defend Saudi Arabia, so I switched the venue. "Jerusalem, where Christ preached. His Church of Nativity still stands today, after a 1000+ years of Muslim rule. In fact, till today, the person holding the key of the Church is a Muslim, because the Christians are fighting amongst themselves."

I then decided to go on the offensive. "In this country, Canada, the Harper government has spent thousands of your dollar trying to prevent a woman, a Muslim and a minority, from covering her face. Where was the respect for minority rights then? In Quebec, they tried to ban women from covering their hair get government services. Where was the respect for minorities there? In France, women cannot cover their hair and go to school. Is that respect for minority rights?"

"Well..." He was quiet for a bit. "They are immigrants who should respect the culture of the land they moved to, and not try to impose their way on the majority."

"And that," I told him, "is what a fundamentalist in Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Burma would say."

We talked some more, but my stop had arrived, so I shook his hand and departed. I don't know if I changed his mind (he didn't seem convinced), but the hardest part in all of this exchange was for me to maintain my cool.

It would have been so easy to lash out and say "well f*** you the Western imperial army has destroyed the Middle East and support regimes and blah blah f*** you and look at black people being killed in USA" but I don't think that would have accomplished anything. I also went and did some reading on minority rights and the West. Hopefully I will run into this gentleman again.

12 comments:

Asrar Chowdhury said...

When entering into any debate with a like minded or a not like minded, remember two strategic weapons: First: DO NOT LOSE YOUR TEMPER. If you do, you will lose your sense of logic and line of reasoning. Second: if you see reason and dialogue is not possible, again DO NOT LOSE YOUR TEMPER. The person can't enter into a debate or dialogue. Waste of time. Do what I do: REALLY? Is that so? I was never aware. Good writing. Interesting experience :)

Asrar Chowdhury said...

When entering into any debate with a like minded or a not like minded, remember two strategic weapons: First: DO NOT LOSE YOUR TEMPER. If you do, you will lose your sense of logic and line of reasoning. Second: if you see reason and dialogue is not possible, again DO NOT LOSE YOUR TEMPER. The person can't enter into a debate or dialogue. Waste of time. Do what I do: REALLY? Is that so? I was never aware. Good writing. Interesting experience :)

Yawar Amin said...

Not sure what I'd say if I was faced with such a question. Maybe I'd talk about the long history of colonial oppression and then the wars and massacres that set back development of the South Asian countries perhaps by centuries. I think it's very possible that everyone has the seeds of racism and minority oppression within them, waiting to germinate and grow if they let it. I look at Bill Maher and how he was a liberal beacon after 9/11 and what he goes around saying now.

Here's another interesting related post: https://medium.com/@pedramnavid/a-refreshing-dose-of-racism-7d2ac7bd0e88 (also local to Toronto).

Anonymous said...

You handled it well

Tambi Dude said...

If I were that elderly gentleman, I would have said "All said and done, you chose to dump your islamic society and chose to live in a christian society, so what is the point in talking about crusades. You are one big hypocrite.".

ps: Like you I am also living here, but unlike you I will not drag crusades for moral equivalency. Islamic society are generally worst and no one knows it better than muslims themselves.


mezba said...

@Asrar (rony bhai), thanks for the advice. Yes, it was hard not to lose my temper at his seemingly discarding logic and facts that didn't suit his argument. After some time you have to say, good day!

@Yawar, thanks for the link, it was highly entertaining read!

@Anon, thanks.

@Tambi, Canada is not a Christian society. It's a secular society. None of the laws of the Bible are followed. If you want a Christian society, probably the Vatican is still there. Or perhaps you want Angola where Christian militia are murdering Muslims. Or Burma where Buddhists are doing the same.

Crusades have to be brought into the argument because they are the prime example of Christians ruling over minorities where they simply butchered the minorities, as opposed to centuries of Muslim rule.

Tambi Dude said...

"Canada is not a Christian society. It's a secular society. None of the laws of the Bible are followed."

Profound logic. A society is made up of majority of people, their values etc.
Overwhelming majority of Canadians are Christians. More so, if you include atheists Canadians who are born Christians and are enlightened enough to realize that all religions are man made concoctions. And Canada is *secular* because of them.

Your concept of cause and effect is very poor. You think if Canada becomes 60% muslims, it will be the same in 'secular tolerance' as it is today. Fat chance.

There is no denying that Christian countries of the west had a bloody past. But they have changed and no further proof is required when millions of muslim/Hindus/Sikhs migrate to the same christian countries *today*. Did you (or your parents) take their bloody past into consideration when dumping BD.

That's why I find it rich when muslims/hindus living in the west try this moral equivalence business. Hypocrites.

I lived in Toronto for 6 yrs. I have met many Pakistanis and Bangladesis in GO train. Many of them have lived in Dubai (the so called most enlightened place in ME). When asked why they moved to Canada, their horror stories about UAE is worth few blog postings.


Do you think Ben Carson or Donald Trump is pissed for what muslim invaders did centuries ago, or what they are doing today in Paris.

BTW I am relatively fine with a bong sitting in Dhaka pontificating a Canadian about slaves or native indians. At least he is not a hypocrite living in Toronto.




mezba said...

@Tambi, If you want to see what a Christian Western country will be,
rather than a secular one, just look at the vile Trump campaign and their racist platform that makes enemies of everyone - refugees, blacks, Latinos, Muslims etc. And supposedly he and Ben Carson is supported by the "values" group of evangelical Christians.

So yes, Canada is not a Christian country but a secular one.

You can get your own blog and say whatever you want. Your argument has no logic hence you are resorting to name calling.

Tambi Dude said...

"If you want to see what a Christian Western country will be, rather than a secular one, just look at the vile Trump campaign and their racist platform that makes enemies of everyone -"

I don't disagree with you, but the above is a pure what-if scenario and not what Canada or USA actually is. It seems you have a dislike for reality. When it comes to realities of the Islamic society , you point out to its glorious past. And when it comes to reminding you of present secular west, you point to what-if-scenario of possible future racist society. All a matter of convenience.

Why can't you deal with what the ground reality is.

mezba said...

@Tambi, if you read the elderly gentleman's question, it was about minority rights in a Muslim country vs a Christian country (which he, like you, assumed Canada and the West is).

I have to bring up the past because that's when you had a Muslim empire (or several) with laws guided by the Shariah, and Christian empires (guided by the Bible).

Today there is no Christian country in the West - they are secular where church and state are separate. Any time there is a movement to bring the church back (or as they say, go back to "our heritage"), minorities suffer. This can be seen in many places in Europe where laws on minorities (usually Muslims) are oppressive (France is a good example).

The what-if scenario you propose isn't so 'what-if'. It happened before in Europe and it can happen again in USA, and it nearly happened in Canada with Harper.

The ground reality is that in today's Muslim countries, there's a whole range of situation of minorities depending on the country (Malaysia is much better for minorities than Pakistan, for example). Also, situation in some countries such as Pakistan or Bangladesh is not as bad as it's made out in the Western media, but no arguing that it's bad in some places (Swat, for example). And it's not Islam that's to blame - today's geopolitics have multiple causes such as economics, ethnic tension, effects of colonialism, education etc. Even in USA you find differences in how blacks are treated vs whites, and there's multiple historical causes.

This is of course not even taking into count the imperial wars etc. that cause numerous deaths carried out by the major Western powers.

Yawar Amin said...

@Tambi Dude: the ground reality is things aren't so rosy even in advanced Western countries: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2015/11/23/new-research-shows-that-french-muslims-experience-extraordinary-discrimination-in-the-job-market/?postshare=6241448286120363&tid=ss_tw

This type of study consistently finds strong indicators of racial or cultural discrimination in the workplace and academia. Just because it's not out in the open doesn't mean it isn't happening.

Anonymous said...

The secular nature of Western, "Christian", societies is as a direct result of how the Catholics and Protestants butchered and tortured EACH OTHER for centuries in Europe. No need even to draw the Crusades or imperialism cards.