Shahla Khan Salter Headshot

Dear Stephen Harper, Eid Mubarak

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Dear Prime Minister Harper,

In the past month the world has witnessed thousands suffer in Gaza, Iraq and Syria, forced to flee their homes and/or face massacres. We have watched ISIS terrorists take over huge swathes of land in Iraq and head into Syria, killing thousands and implementing cruel and barbaric laws. And we have witnessed Israel bomb Gaza while Palestinians, including many children, have been injured or lost their lives.

The non-profit I represent, Universalist Muslims, alongside our partners -- other small, inclusive, egalitarian, Muslim community organizations -- around the globe, speak out for all who suffer, demanding justice and human rights for everyone, regardless of faith and target the oppressive policies of all those instituting them, regardless of grounds.

As a result, I have written to you in the past seeking help for: Christians in Pakistan, Shia minorities throughout the Muslim world, Canadians imprisoned in Iran, women stranded in Saudi Arabia and many others.

Most recently I asked you to speak up for Raif Badawi, a secularist and Saudi human rights defender, sentenced to 1000 lashes, 10 years in jail and a fine of approximately $260,000. A Saudi court convicted Mr. Badawi of insulting Islam because he published a website in which he asked Saudi Arabian authorities the reason it fails to allow women rights, Christians churches and continues to enforce medieval apostasy laws. Since Mr. Badawi's arrest in 2012, other Saudi human rights defenders have been imprisoned by the Saudi authorities as well, including his lawyer, head of the Saudi Human Rights Monitor, Waleed Abulkhair. Recently, Mr. Abulkhair was sentenced to 15 years in jail for the "crime" of "undermining the regime." It is reported by human rights organizations that Saudi Arabia is using its new policy, which mandates that all unbelievers are terrorists, to quash dissent.

You may have heard of Mr. Badawi from Canada's UN Human Rights Council delegation. It may have not made the headlines here, but recently Canada was one of a few countries, who demanded that the representative from The Centre for Inquiry, a US non-profit NGO, be allowed to raise Mr. Badawi's case there, after a motion to block was made by Saudi Arabia, who is surprisingly also a member. Mr. Badawi's case has also been raised in public statements by NDP MPs, such as Pierre Luc Dusseault and Wayne Marston.

But you have made no public statement at all respecting Mr. Badawi, notwithstanding that his wife, Ensaf Haider and their three children live here in Canada and badly need your help.

Why not? Is it because Canada needs Saudi oil? Is it because we need the jobs created by manufacturing light-armoured vehicles for Saudi Arabia?

Are you afraid to offend Saudi Arabia, Prime Minister Harper?

Perhaps that is a risk worth taking.

After all, Saudi authorities and their friends in the Gulf have allowed the world to become a more dangerous place by failing to stop a few of its citizens from bank rolling terrorist organizations, including ISIS. And last week ISIS marked the homes of Christians in Iraq, whose families have lived there for two thousand years, outrageously demanding they convert, vacate or be killed. Do you believe the values of ISIS differ from those of the authorities of Saudi Arabia? Hardly. - So why stay silent?

One reason for my concern, Prime Minister Harper, is that like you, I am a parent. And in case you have not been advised, what is happening to children in the region right now is the worst nightmare of any parent. My heart goes out to parents like this Syrian mother:

2014-07-28-mominGaza.jpg

(Zein-Al Rifai/AFP)

Children have paid the price in Syria and continue to in that country, with at least 8,607 children killed since the war began in 2011. They have been murdered in Iraq for more than a decade and will continue to be killed in greater numbers, once again under the regime of ISIS. (It is estimated that more than 5,000 people have been killed by ISIS already this year.)

And most recently, the world has watched in horror as the bodies of children are lifted from the rubble in Gaza.

The world grieves while children bear the brunt of the carnage throughout the region.

And, what compounds our grief is that most world leaders are doing nothing to save them.

We must do more in the name of humanity Prime Minister Harper. It is sad that Canada has taken so few refugees from Syria, since 2011. And your recent statement that Israel has a right to defend itself, in light of that country's atrocious actions and policies, inspires no one, except those who are blind to the humanity of children and their parents.

Prime Minister Harper, I love Canada. We are blessed to raise our children here.

But the world is small and interconnected. It means we must speak out and remain on the side of compassion and love, even if at times, there is a price.

After all, we must not be selective in our humanity.

Eid Mubarak.

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