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We Should Not Let Racialized Fear Define Our Political Future

10/11/2015 11:48 EDT | Updated 10/11/2016 05:12 EDT
TanjalaGica via Getty Images
Portrait of a middle eastern woman

At Ross Street Sikh temple in South Vancouver, there is a beautiful little museum to commemorate the Komagata Maru that chronicles the story of this tragic mark on Canadian history.

There is one section of the museum that features newspaper articles from the time that the ship and its passengers were languishing in the harbour. The headlines in these articles are eerily similar to the discussions happening today across the world and here on our doorstep. I fear that not much has changed.

The other day, I heard about Khalil Ramal, a candidate in the federal election that is having his signs defaced with racist statements -- some of his signs have even been burned. Recently in Montreal, a pregnant Muslim woman wearing her hijab was attacked while picking up her child at school.

After these incidents, we often hear people say "this is not my Canada" -- except history has taught us that it can be. We do not have to look far into the past to know this to be true from the treatment of aboriginal people, the Japanese internment, the Chinese head tax, and the list goes on.

We need to look deeper. The feelings that spur oppression of minority groups can be deceptive even on to the individual person. Those Canadians whose opinions are swayed by the niqab debate probably feel morally justified in their view. It may feel righteous, culturally superior, and rooted in a desire to defend their closely held values. I promise you that these are exactly the feelings that have spurred the oppression of minority groups since the beginning of time.

It is time to sound the alarm.

Be conscious that we are in 2015 and male political leaders are debating what a woman has the right to wear in Canada. Be aware that this election campaign has turned a small group of minority women into political footballs. Be aware that, in our midst, a group of Canadian citizens is being dehumanized. History has shown us over and over again that this leads to oppression, hatred, and violence.

Move past your knee-jerk reaction of protectionism. Don't be fooled by rhetoric. Understand that to that Muslim woman wearing the niqab, not being able to choose what she wears is oppression, even if it makes you personally uncomfortable.

We should all visit the Komagata Maru museum and look at the faces of those people who suffered at the hands of Canada's laws. At that time, they looked different -- their heads were covered, they wore long beards, and had different cultural practices. Ask yourself if we have truly learned from the mistakes of the past.

We have a clear choice on how to move forward before more Canadians are hurt by racialized hatred. Let us not let ignorance and fear define our political future as it has in the past.

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