Last week, I spoke about Reconciliation to a room full of white people. I was invited by a local holistic health clinic to come speak before their keynote lecturer because a friend of mine that works there had let them know I am raising money in support of the Young Indigenous Women’s Circle of Leadership Cree cultural camp at the University of Alberta. I have done many talks for a variety of different audiences before, but this was the first time, in a very long time, that I was only one of four people in the room who belong to a visible minority. And I was certainly the only apparent Muslim in the room.

You can imagine my trepidation at suddenly realizing what I was about to do: I was about to stand in front of these people from a dominant socio-economic and racial strata of society, and I was going to talk to them about being on Treaty 6 territory, about our responsibility as settlers and refugees on Indigenous and First Nations land, about why adopting the language of reconciliation is important but why putting that language into action is even more critical to moving forward. About why this was their responsibility. About why someone like me –an ally – should not be ignored. This is difficult enough for anyone to do, never mind me as a Muslim.

I think the latter point is where my nerves kicked in: would this group of people see me – a veiled, Muslim woman – as an ally of the process of reconciliation and Indigenous peoples? Would I be harming the cause by appearing in front of such a group when so many view me and my Islam as a social adversary already?

Of course, I am not speaking to anxieties about this group of people in particular, but systemic uncertainties that made me think twice before talking to them – anxieties I hadn’t really had in over a year as a public speaker. The actual people in the room were friendly and inviting, and when I started speaking, I could see heads nodding as I acknowledged Treaty 6 and touched on points about our duties as people sharing this space with regards to how we could support the creation of safe spaces for young Cree women “to just be free to be Cree.”

After I spoke, the keynote was introduced and the main lecture began. I had to take off but I left an envelope on the side that people could put donations in, reminding myself not to be too disappointed if it came back empty. Yes, heads had been nodding, but no one clapped when I was done talking. And maybe my veil was just too much of a barrier for people to get past, even if they agreed with the words coming out of my mouth.

In the end, people did donate – enough, in fact, to cover all of the costs of food and crafting supplies for one young girl attending the camp for its two-week duration. But even if they hadn’t, I came to realize how powerful the whole experience was socially, if not monetarily. Rather than being anxious about talking to white people about reconciliation as a Muslim woman, I should have viewed it as an incredible opportunity to challenge what it means to stand in solidarity with one another.

I stood there as a Muslim woman calling for sisterhood, regardless of where our sisters come from, how they look and the culture they practice – a sisterhood that celebrates those origins and appearances and cultural elements. I stood there as a Muslim woman, enjoining people to what is just and compassionate behaviour – to contemplate their social position and what responsibilities it entails to others around them. I stood there as a Muslim woman imploring people to learn about one another and help create spaces for Indigenous people to learn about themselves. I didn’t do this in spite of my Islam, as I belatedly realized: I did this because of my Islam. Because respect, protecting the freedom to worship, enjoining what is just and kind, and seeking knowledge are all cornerstones of my way of life. In standing before a group of white people, talking to them about reconciliation, I was unintentionally dispelling misconceptions about my own people. And any chance we have to share with one another and explore intersections of knowledge to come to greater mutual understanding should never be taken lightly.

For some, what happened last week may have only been a ten minute fundraising speech to garner funds for social change. To me, it was the change itself that we are all looking for.

In solidarity,

Nakita

To donate to my campaign in support of the YIWCL’s Cree Women’s Cultural Camp, please visit: www.gofundme.com/creewomenscamp. Our next group run is on December 4th – pledge a runner today.

Image Credit: “Over Time We Come Together 2015″ by Cassie Leatham”


nakitaNakita Valerio is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta.  Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and the Vice President of External Affairs with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.

 

Can we talk about the fact that no one is talking about Yemen? This silence is far more deafening for me than most. I shouldn’t be surprised but forgive me if I can’t hide my disappointment. In a world where children of Aleppo can burn and the only people to bat an eyelash are the ones forcing themselves to pay attention, this shouldn’t be a surprise. In a world where Arab blood is cheaper than most, where our futures don’t matter as much as yours because of where we were born, the colour of our skin or the name of our God. Can we talk about how no one sane knows what to do? Can we talk about the fact that we can’t even talk about what to do in Yemen because no one is talking about it in the first place?

Yemen: a country now embroiled in a divisive war fought primarily between Houthi rebels and Saudi Arabia claiming to have intervened on behalf of the government. Can we talk about how foreign interventions just don’t work? Yemen: a country now consistently on the brink of famine. Can we talk about what it is like to watch your children starve while your stomach eats itself? Yemen: a country now being bombed by America after years of enduring Obama’s drones. Can we talk about the fact that most Western people can’t even find Yemen on a map and that it used to be the name of a hilariously far-away place we used in childhood like Timbuktu or Siberia?

Can we talk about the fact that this far-away place is home to millions of innocent people – men, women and children – who have literally no idea why their country erupted into war and why no one is paying attention to them? Can we imagine for a second that we are them – trying to live in our lives in a hellish prison with no way out, a world gaslighting you into believing that you’re not their problem? Can we talk about how there are only so many times you can ask for help before you just stop asking? Can we talk about how every time desperate people take matters into their own hands, the idle West accuses them of extremism? What would you do?

Can we talk about the fact that we aren’t even hearing about Yemeni refugees because their country is bordered by the sea on one side and their oppressor on the other? That their displacement is internal?  Can we talk about the fact that Europe can’t even refuse them because they don’t even have a way out?

Can we talk about Trudeau’s weapons sales to the Saudi regime? How Canadian manufactured guns are ripping holes in the bodies of Yemeni children? How Canadian manufactured bombs are tearing apart halls where families celebrate weddings? How they wait for half an hour between bombings so they can not only kill civilians but the ones who come to search for survivors too? Can we talk about how violence is being normalized there? How trauma is a way of life? How, for every brick that crumbles into dust, a memory is transferred through DNA of unspeakable fear and unfathomable pain? How no one is talking about these generations that have been shattered and destroyed, about how it is only getting worse?

Why has the world forgotten Yemen? The origin-place of the Arab tribes? A place with more claims to the Hijaz than the impostors that reign over our Holy Places? Can we talk about this global silence about Saudi Arabia? About their reification of Shi’a phantoms in the name of political control?  About the silence that spells H Y P O C R I S Y in the stars over our Prophet’s mosque, over the Haram in Mecca? Can we talk about the blood that covers Saudi hands, never to be washed away in ablutions? Can we talk about how countries like Morocco and Algeria will boycott the Hajj because of an uncalled-for Saudi tax but not because the regime is killing their southern brothers?

Can we recognize that call-outs aren’t working on Western governments? Can we recognize that we don’t have any other options until enough of us are talking about it, until enough of us are sounding the alarm? Only with collective voices can the siren calls of war and death be drowned out by those who call for peace.

Can we talk about Yemen, please?


 Image Credit: Ovadia Alkara

nakitaNakita Valerio is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta.  Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and the Vice President of External Affairs with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.

If you haven’t heard the news by now, you’ve been sleeping under a rock: Britain has voted to leave the European Union, provoking the shock, astonishment and ridicule of netizens and media pundits the world over. In 24 hours, Britain has left the European Union, has had their Prime Minister resign and has dropped the value of the Pound to its lowest level since 1985.

And yet, like all historic events, the internet is divided on what to say about this. You have the brilliant satirical reactions, such as those from The Beaverton, which point out that a nation that conquered the world (and helped enslave millions of people) was suddenly sick of being controlled by external power.

Or Twitter activists who expressed India’s astonishment that one need only to vote in order to get Britain to leave.

india bretix voting.jpg

Other individuals tried to poke fun at something everyone is having a difficult time processing by lamenting the sudden loss of “culture” experienced by the UK as it leaves Europe (and its better food) behind.

brexit in one picture

Others – mainly in the social justice and humanitarian circles – rightfully mourned the means by which this decision was made, pointing out that not only had the elder generations made a major decision that would affect youth far longer than themselves, but also that it had been accomplished as a by-product of fear-mongering campaigns, that Britain has to “protect its borders” and keep out those nasty immigrants (who now form, you know, about 12 % of the UK population).

There is, however, two somewhat unexpected segments of the internet that seem to be celebrating this rupture for two very different reasons. There are those in the social justice circles with major socialist leanings that have said that while the means by which Britain has exited are unfortunate, the exit is still, as one amazing activist friend put it: “a black eye on the face of neo-liberalism”.

Enrico Tortolano feverishly argues the following:

“Voting to leave the EU is a no-brainer for the Left. The European Union is remote, racist, imperialist, anti-worker and anti-democratic: It is run by, of, and for the super-rich and their corporations. A future outside austerity and other economic blunders rests on winning the struggle to exit the EU, removing us from its neoliberal politics and institutions. Corporate bureaucrats in Brussels working as agents of the big banks and transnationals’ now exert control over every aspect of our lives. Neoliberal policies and practices dominate the European Commission, European Parliament, European Central Bank, European Court of Justice and a compliant media legitimises the whole conquest. This has left the EU constitution as the only one in the world that enshrines neoliberal economics into its text. Therefore the EU is not—and never can be—either socialist or a democracy.”

Tell us how you really feel Enrico.

While it might seem to be a happy outcome to an ugly battle, the reality is that the means cannot justify the ends. The EU might be “racist and imperialist” to socialists, but quite frankly, it was largely racism, imperialism and misinformation that got the exit vote to begin with. Just because hyper-nationalism and attempts to “Make Britain Great Again” result in something that *might* (see: are unlikely to) benefit the socialist cause, does not mean it will – especially if we got there by xenophobia and intolerance.

Interestingly, this puts these guys in the same camp with unlikely bedfellows: far-right anti-government, anti-bureaucracy, anti-New-World-Order “truthers”. A cursory glance at some of the most virulent (and xenophobic) “freedom” websites shows the vote to be breaking, celebratory news because the Brits have thrown off the shackles of their oppressors! And, like I said, from a socialist perspective that’s great (that’s my inherent bias) but this was not a socialist revolution and the rhetoric which initiated a deluge of misinformed exit votes is more in line with the racist views of these people than anyone else. And let’s be clear, these are the same people who view the EU as the Rothschild-ian arm of a complex Jewish world conspiracy, or view Islam and “Shania” law as the greatest threat to Western civilization (who’s cave have your boots been under?), or won’t ever let the US congress take away their guns, or are in the habit of forming militias to keep the gov’t out of their “bizness”, no matter where they come from.

In the end, it’s alright to mourn the UK’s exit from the European Union without necessarily endorsing the EU because you might be mourning the fact that the exit happened on racist and intolerant grounds. It is not alright to celebrate #brexit without recognizing those deeply problematic premises which will, unfortunately, likely serve as the foundation of a newly independent Britain.

bretix arrogance belligerent voting eu

When massive wildfires threatened to engulf northern Albertan communities in early May, residents of several municipalities such as Fort McMurray and High Level were faced with total evacuation. Families sometimes only had a few minutes to gather up everything they could before being forced to make the long trek out of the city and into an uncertain reality. What do you bring with you? Where will you go? When will you be back?

There have been a few humorous posts online about how, in their panic, Fort Mac residents packed ridiculous items like watermelons and snow pants in an effort to leave their homes as quickly as possible. And as funny as they are, and as welcome as such posts are in such a bleak time, they point to something much more stark in reality than simply being silly in a moment of crisis: these moments signify a lack of preparedness for disaster.

And perhaps we can count our blessings that we are so unprepared because disasters which threaten the loss of life and property are so infrequent here in Canada – and, if they occur, they are usually natural. One can only imagine what goes through the mind of someone who imagines that their home and family might go up in flames, and especially when it’s at the hands of other people.

For some evacuees, this was the not the first time they experienced total exile from their belongings and sometimes loved ones. Some residents that were evacuated were newly-arrived Syrian refugees and refugees from other parts of the globe – individuals who had experience losing everything (not just preparing to lose it) and who now know that it is most important to get out with your life and those of your loved ones intact. Refugees have made harrowing journeys with almost nothing on their backs and sometimes little to no hope of having anywhere to go, as doors continue to slam shut in their faces. For those experiencing the double exodus of Fort Mac, it must have been both a cruel reminder as well as a deeply unfortunate chance for the communities who welcomed them to have a small glimpse into their journeys.

An organization out of Edmonton called The Green Room (a branch of Islamic Family Social Services) recently started posting an online photo series depicting the meaning of ‘home’. The photos show each individual’s most valuable possessions – what they might take with them if they had to leave in a hurry. The question asked and answered through the photos is: If your house was burning, what would you take with you?

Recently, we moved to a new apartment building in the south-side of Edmonton. While I was preparing the iftar (fastbreaking) meal one Ramadan night last week, the fire alarm went off. I initially thought it was only in our suite and that something in the oven had caused it and continued what I was doing. Despite frantic waving of a towel over the smoke detector, it would not turn off. That’s when we realized the alarm was going off in the entire building. When we looked outside, we saw people walking out of their homes saying that there was a fire in the building on the fourth floor. Within a few minutes, the sound of fire trucks wailed in the distance.

I immediately though of The Green Room’s project and felt grateful for it because when I first saw it online, I had made a mental inventory of where all of our important items are so that I would be able to grab them in case of emergency.

As a result, I got my daughter dressed and out the door with my husband while I walked around the house filling my backpack with the following items:

  • Every Qur’an we own
  • Our phones and chargers
  • My laptop and charger
  • Passports and documents from Morocco and Italy
  • Pull-ups and Wipes
  • Snacks

In less than three minutes, I had the essentials in a bag and was walking out the door. On the threshold of the patio, I hesitated for a second and thought of all the new furniture I had just spent a couple weeks building by myself, of all the beloved books, of extra clothes (surely I would need more than one hijab?). I thought of every tiny item I had carried back and forth across oceans between Canada and Morocco over five years. I thought of my daughter’s toys and stuffies. Of all her irreplaceable drawings. An image formed in my mind of a Syrian family I had seen walking through Europe with a couple of backpacks and a sleeping child in their arms. I dismissed my hesitation and just kept walking, grateful to get out with what we had.

In the end, it was a false alarm and five fire trucks arrived to turn the switch and send everyone back home. We walked back into our home where our dinner table was laden with an iftar meal that would otherwise have gone up in flames, looked around us at our possessions and smiling at each other.

Breaking our fast never felt so good. Whether an evacuee or a refugee, having to carry your life with you in emergency situations is common ground for all of us. Learning that, at the end of the day, our lives are primarily comprised of our loved ones, the bare essentials and methods of communication shows that we have a lot more in common than we think.