How Deep is Our Multiculturalism?

Jordanian Folklore
My experience as an Arab, and a hijab-donning Muslim woman tells me that not everyone really understands how multiculturalism works. Not everyone gets it.

From what I have seen, embracing multiculturalism is often celebrated with food and dance and clothing displays of the “other”. That’s a good place to start, sure… the eye craves visual flavours. What is agreed by all as important, is the differences in spices, famous dishes tastes, and traditional clothing styles.

And yet, how is this same level of urgency not inclusive to understand the life values, and most importantly, the experiences of the “other”? To understand what brings them pain, and what brings them joy? To understand how multidimensional identity aspects of their being can play out in their day to day world?

These more important matters that concern a human being’s soul, their thoughts, their feelings – that is not touched. As long as the physical outer appearance is embraced, and what’s on top of their bodies is acknowledged, there is no need to delve deeper into the messy things that actually make us human.

Except, I think there is.

Giving the benefit of the doubt, I’ll say this: lots of people just aren’t aware that there are unaddressed issues because they don’t have to deal with them on a constant basis. I’m not writing this post to point fingers of blame at anyone – that’s not what I do. Much of what I say might equally apply to me; I’m just thinking out loud here. I’m hoping to shed some light on shadows the mainstream narrative prefers to keep hidden… because if revealed, it challenges the dominant narrative, the status quo.

“Multicultural tolerance and the settler narrative suggest that even though Canada is open to all comers, the recognition of difference is limited to that which does not threaten white settler domination.” ( Carol Schick, White Resentment in Settler Society)

So, as long as multiculturalism doesn’t threaten the benevolent, open, tolerant image of the multicultural country… it’s allowed. As soon as it starts to reveal cracks in the system, intolerant behaviour ensues. It’s slyly disguised as “we are so tolerant, why are these people being so ungrateful now!”

Perhaps an example would help make sense of what I’m writing; just look at Aboriginal people in the West.

“Multiculturalism has been used to defend schools against the need for education for and about aboriginal peoples, in spite of ‘racism and colonialism.’ Ironically, ‘multiculturalism’ operates as a talisman that further relegates aboriginal peoples, along with their culture and history, to a museum-worthy site.” (Carol Schick)

Museum-worthy, eh… Yeah, this strikes a bell. Sure, do let us celebrate clothing, food and music. (No sarcasm, I mean it. Really, let’s!) But if it has to include listening to how racism still exists around us, and if it includes facing the impacts of colonialism that are ever still present…. why, it becomes too controversial for conversation. So controversial, in fact, to even include in educational curricula. While the winds are slowly changing on that front, there is a tremendously long way to go.

Many people will justify their decisions to not take a stance in matters of colonialism or occupation, as “I am neutral.”

Neutral? NEUTRAL?

Woman,

Man,

There is no such thing as a neutral stance in matters of oppression. When you’re silent about defending those stolen from, you are automatically validating the thief.

Hey. I get it. Talking about matters of diversity and lack-of, white privilege, sexism, racism, and other forms of discrimination… it’s not easy. It’s not always pleasant. I get that, okay? I’m a person of colour, a visible religious young woman, but that doesn’t mean that I am always in the mood to talk about how terribly insensitive people can be to one another.

But when the conversation is opened, it shouldn’t be shut down on grounds of “neutrality” or “well, I don’t see colour.” That’s a pathetic non-excuse to excuse yourself out of a potentially awkward conversation.

In Nayyirah Waheed’s crystal-clear resonating words:

do-not-trust

As a Palestinian, I have had to live with similar sensations my whole life. I have grown up in environments where my cultural food is celebrated, my Arabic music is enjoyed, our dancing is admired, our fashion is welcomed –  but our hearts, our minds, our experiences, are not worthy enough.

Spotlight

Our history is silenced. Our ghosts are in our heads. In the name of “neutrality”, I have been shunned instead, ignored, silently told “your suffering is not worthy.”

Of course this would be the message: in a land that has yet to fully reconcile with its Aboriginal peoples, who am I to expect that they’d care about the Indigenous peoples of another faraway land? This narrative only causes resentment.

“Anxiety and ambivalence rise in the conflicting desires to be the good, non-racist citizen/subject while maintaining one’s way of living as entitled and superior. The inability to resolve the contradictory and destabilizing stories that have to be told – about racial stereotypes and putative white innocence– are also grist for resentment.”

If you feel like you have to prove your self-worth to someone, then know their company is not worth yours. It shouldn’t be your burden to carry the guilt off of guilty shoulders – even if they don’t know what they are guilty of. Instead, be patient and kind with them until they realise the invisible weight they’re carrying. Whatever you do… don’t haul it onto your shoulders instead. Your mental comfort matters, too.

“it’s not about making you uncomfortable. it’s about making me comfortable.” (“reparations” by Nayyirah Waheed, salt.)

There are so many people and initiatives out there sincerely trying to make the world a better place for all. When I meet these people I am overwhelmed with gratitude to find such goodness. I just pray that more and more of us can fall into this wonderful group – myself included. It is not enough to be a person of colour to absolve blame of blameworthy traits like judgment, discrimination, other forms of privilege… I hold myself accountable just as much.

All praise to the One who puts sakeena and inner tranquillity in hearts. May He put it in yours, whoever you are that is reading this.

Baby Steps

And God knows Best.
-A.S.

You Will Never Erase Me

by  Ismail Shammout

by Ismail Shammout

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

(un) Dear Zionists:

 

Isn’t it amazing that you hope

in fooling yourselves and others so easily

that you can

also

fool me?

As though I am unaware, or long ago stopped to care.

 

Isn’t it amazing that you think

by stealing my land,

my cuisine

and declaring tabboula

as  “Israeli salad”, it becomes your own?

As though I won’t recognize cultural appropriation when it is sown.

 

Isn’t it amazing that you insist

on calling the

occupied territories of Palestine

“Israel”?

Like it will erase the reality that

a Palestinian people were ever real.

 

Isn’t it amazing that you believe

by omitting maps of land theft in textbooks

it is as though you were never murderous crooks,

and that, by omitting genocidal facts in the education system,

you can pretend Palestinians wiped each other out,

out of barbaric desperation.

 

Isn’t it amazing that you think

in denying what you support,

what you’ve done,

what you’re doing,

criminalizing, abusing, and marginalizing me,

that you can strip away my heritage and identity?

 

No, zionism-infected minds

and a thousand times no!

You can ignore the truth of who you are,

although

at the cost of your dignity, integrity

and humanity. But…

 

you  will

never

ever

erase me.

 

Signed,

  • a Palestinian

Before You Say “I Love You”

~

I’ve been meaning to write about this for almost a year. Dedicated to my fabulous cheerleader of a sister, Rwan, who patiently allows me to spill all my thoughts beforehand to her so that I can actually write something coherent.

———

“Being sappy isn’t love.  Telling someone you love them doesn’t mean that you do.” [1]

Let’s talk about love.

 crumbling into

  • I am Palestinian; thus almost by default, I love dabka. The adrenaline, the synchronized choreography, the artistically-expressed resistance, all contribute to my love (as opposed to simple appreciation) of dabka.

I feel love to the ancestor who invented dabka. There is nothing I can do about this love, no way to express it, except through dance and poetry. My name is Aya, and I love dabka.

 

  • I am a woman of God under construction, and I love sunrises. The hope that the dawn brought, His Glory to behold, punctuating the time of the morning prayer, all contribute to my love (rather than neutral observation) of sunrises.

I feel a closeness and silent gratitude in my chest to the Creator of the sunrise. There is nothing I can do about this love, no way to express it, but to internalize its wonder and evaluate the level of sincerity in my deeds. My name is Aya, and I love sunrises.

 

Above are only a couple of examples of things I love. In both cases, this love forces me to act out to best express these joyful feelings. I can’t love dabka the way I do without participating in it, and I can’t love sunrises the way I do without contemplation on how this dazzling phenomenon could bring me closer to my Lord.

 

It therefore goes without saying that I can’t love a human being without actually loving.

 

(Say what?) No, you read it correctly; there were no typos. Literally,

I can’t love a human being without actually loving.

Photography by Aya Salah.

 

Here, pay attention to this:

 

I cry.

   I laugh.

      I smile.

         I breathe.

                 I jump.

                      I love.

 

What do all those statements have in common? They all begin with “I” and end with a verb.

 

A VERB. Did you know LOVE is a VERB?

A verb is an action, something you do… not just something you feel.

“It’s time that we changed the conversation about love.  It’s time that we redefine it.” [1]

Now, love can be used as an emotion, of course, yes (who am I to say otherwise). Love can be something felt within your heart, an instinctive compassionate knowledge you have about something or someone else.

  • Sure, you feel love for your mother. But is feeling it enough? Can you honestly say you love your mother if your inner love is never translated to exterior, physical acts of love? Do you constantly kiss your mother’s cheek, do the dishes without being asked, share intimate stories with her, surprise her with spontaneous calls while you’re on break at work – in other words, while no one doubts you feel love for your mother… are you acting on this love? Are you being loving? Have you turned the emotion into a verb?

Until you do, you should never say “I love you.” Actions speak louder than words.

The love you have inside is of no value until it’s expressed outside. The best time to express it is when one’s actions have already declared it and the receiver of that sweet phrase is delighted, and not necessarily stunned into perplexed shock, to hear it.

 

Now on behalf of the many girls I know who are sick and tired of being emotionally manipulated because they hold that phrase in such high esteem… to the gentlemen on the metros or university hallways, that want to tell a girl “I love you” –

DON’T.

 

You fool yourself before you lie to her. Because you don’t love her.

  • Now perhaps you are interested to know her better; “I am interested to get to know you” –
  • Maybe you are curious about her hopes and dreams, with all genuine intentions; “I would love to talk about this over some coffee” –
  • You may even find her so beautiful that it’s killing you to find out if that beauty resonates in her heart and intellect as well…

That is normal, that is wonderful, and that is heartwarming. It is not blameworthy to feel as though you are starting to “fall in love”. But that is only the emotional aspect of it; you have not lived the verb of loving, and therefore, by default, you do not ‘love’ her.

So don’t say “I love you” when you don’t even know her. You can love strangers for the sake of God, but do you want to live with them all under the same roof for the rest of your life? Please don’t be rash.

We live in a world where “I love you” completes its meaning at the emotion. As a result, we have a bunch of adults in dysfunctional relationships because the magical feeling has worn off and has been unable to be renewed because no one is acting the love out. Love is a feeling that, once gone, cannot be recaptured. Oh, is it really?

Proactive people make love a verb. Love is something you do, the sacrifices you make, the giving of self… Love is a value that is actualized through loving actions. Proactive people subordinate feelings to values. Love, the feeling, can be recaptured.” [2]

 

 IMG_5005

I cannot tell who will be reading this, and thus cannot anticipate whether you are currently nodding your head in agreement, or feeling like you are repeatedly getting slapped in the face. If you are the latter, don’t worry; you’re not the only one who’s been living a lie.

Now you’re probably wondering: when do you say “I love you”? I mean, it is kind of a big deal in our modern world. Every girl and every boy, every man and every woman, wants someone to say it to them; it’s only human nature. The problem is, people are freely throwing that phrase around left and right, and we’re losing the ability to actually understand what love even means.

 

  • I am a Muslim, and I love the Prophet Muhammed (peace and blessings be upon him). His courage, unshakeable belief and heartmelting mercy to God’s creation, all contribute to my love (love as a feeling) for him. But I begin to doubt this love if I don’t find ways to express it (love as a verb).

 

Am I being a cold-hearted unemotional robot about all this? On the contrary; my heart is often quite a complicated mess and tends to fight to overpower the rational part of me. Which is why, more and more, I am learning to use my emotions to think, and not let the emotions do the thinking for me. 

So when DO you say “I love you”?

 

You don’t… yet.

Simply, it’s all about timing. Until your actions express it as a foreshadowing of the words, one should not be obliged to hear it. And even when you say the words, they won’t mean a thing if you don’t keep expressing it.

 

Actions speak louder than words. We need to learn to define love as a verb and show love to our friends, family, neighbors, and fellow brothers and sisters in humanity. You want love and peace for all, do you? Then be loving and peaceful! Turn the values you believe in into a part of who you are.

 

“Learning to love takes practice and time, especially in an era that focuses so intensely on romantic love.” [3]

Practice makes perfect. Loving is a process, not a destination.

It is only then that “I love you” will have meaning again.

Photograph by Aya Salah.

And al-Wadud (the All-Loving) knows best.

-A.S.

————————————————————————————————

REFERENCES:

[1] –  Article: I Didn’t Love My Wife When We Got Married (Pop Chassid)

[2] – 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey, p.80

[3] –  Initiating & Upholding an Islamic Marriage (Hedaya Hartford), p.29

Image

Daughter of the Land

Daughter of the Land

“The sight of it, from afar or inside the labyrinth of its walls, softens me. Every inch of it holds the confidence of ancient civilizations, their deaths and their birthmarks pressed deep into the city’s viscera and onto the rubble of its edges. The deified and the condemned have set their footprints in its sand. It has been conquered, razed, and rebuilt so many times that its stones seem to possess life, bestowed by the audit trail of prayer and blood. Yet somehow, it exhales humility. It sparks an inherent sense of familiarity in me– that doubtless, irrefutable Palestinian certainty that I belong to this land. It possesses me, no matter who conquers it, because its soil is the keeper of my roots, of the bones of my ancestors. […] I am a daughter of the land, and Jerusalem reassures me of this inalienable title, far more than the yellowed property deeds, the Ottoman land registries, the iron keys to our stolen homes, or UN resolutions and decrees of superpowers could ever do.”
-Mornings in Jenin, p.140