Response to @CandiceMalcolm on @MaryamMonsef
I still believe that Monsef is a success story for Canadian immigration and integration. However, the controversy surrounding where and when she was born — Iran in 1984, not Afghanistan in 1985 as she had previously stated — and when she learned the truth, deserve proper scrutiny and more answers.
I believe that Candice Malcom’s latest piece on Maryam Monsef is a sincere expression of her concerns. I also feel that Malcom’s focus reflects a degree of white privilege.
For the record — I’m a Caucasian male from Eastern Ontario; when I talk about white privilege, I’m talking about myself as well.
There has never been a question of where or when I was born, nor where I “really came from.” I grew up with the benefits of solid social infrastructure, record-keeping, all the rest of it.
I have never had to worry about being killed by militants while walking to school; my family has never had to flee in the middle of the night to avoid a massacre, taking nothing but the clothes on our backs (paperwork — (sorry, records). I have never thought of “home” and been afraid of what would happen to me if I was ever sent back.
The closest anyone in my family has come to anything like the refugee experience is my grandfather. My grandpa Ed grew up in Hamilton Ontario, signed up as an airman during World War II and ended up surviving Buchenwald Concentration Camp.
Long story short — when they got home after the war, my grandfather and his fellow Lost Airmen of Buchenwald were re-victimized by countrymen who simple didn’t believe they had been in Concentration Camps.
Dwell on that for a second.
My grandfather experienced one of the worst horrors in human history, but to speak about it when back in his safe, democratic, free speech-enforcing country was to risk not getting a job, losing friends, becoming a social pariah. Just for speaking an uncomfortable truth.
To most Canadians, the Holocaust was strictly about Jews — Allied airmen saying they’d been in a camp challenged that narrative. Instead of changing their perspective, it was far easier for people to dismiss the airmen, including my grandpa, as frauds.
When Malcom refers to “Laws that must be applied in an equal and unbiased way”, she’s inferencing a clean system, an orderly system. Life in a country like Canada with peace, order and good government is never clean — it’s even less so in a country ravaged by war.
The current Syrian refugee crisis is like this. The war began long before the general Canadian public started paying attention. The refugees we have welcomed as neighbours weren’t scooped up by Canadian troops from hot zones; they had spent months and years in refugee camps or make-do shelter in countries like Turkey, Jordan or Greece.
Most of the Syrian refugees who have come to Canada didn’t speak or read English; many of the most vulnerable aren’t even literate in written Arabic, their mother tongue.
Imagine you are a Syrian refugee — say, a woman who lost her husband when your house was bombed. You were pregnant when you fled, gave birth somewhere — with all the pain, fear, hunger, loss, it’s hard to remember where — and end up in a refugee camp in Greece.
You’re given a bunch of forms by well-spoken officials who you find slightly intimidating, because you know they have power over you. You’re illiterate, and nervous, and do your best to answer their questions.
Where are you and your baby from? Well, we’re Syrians.
Date of birth? Sorry, didn’t have a calendar on me that day, nor the weeks before or after.
Place of birth? I don’t know. Why do you want to know?
Did you do this? Did you do that? Does a wrong answer put you back in the war zone that was your home?
The officials and their forms are just one confusing and exhausting experience in a litany of frustration, fear and survival. You just want to get on with your life, to get some semblance of stability so you can provide for your child.
Then, picture you are brought to Canada — a country you know little about but quickly learn is stable, has good healthcare, and welcomes newcomers from all walks of life and backgrounds. It seems like things might finally be going your way.
And then you hear that there is serious talk about kicking a member of Canada’s government out of the country, even by those who commend her for the work she has done — all because of a paperwork thing. The calls of “kick her out!” sound eerily similar to the “lock her up!” refrain south of the border. It sends a chill down your spine, reminding you a bit too much of what you left behind.
A Canadian Minister of the Crown is being called a fraud because of something that happened in the chaos of war zones and refugee camps when she was only a child.
Canadians get mad when they’re pulled over for speeding or texting while driving; it’s not fair, we say. It was just that one time, and I had a really important meeting, we’d argue.
Yet we’re strict enough about “being a country of laws” that we’d kick out a community leader and model citizen, sending her back to… where? Iran? Maryam Monsef was never a citizen of Iran. To that country, she’s an Afghan. Her family were visitors, never residents.
Sending Monsef back to Afghanistan would be a death sentence — forget misogynist bullies like Donald Trump, we’re talking about the Tablian. Without strong security and a safe-zone to exist within, Monsef would be dead in a week.
Which is kind of why her family, like so many refugee families, have come to Canada.
I fundamentally disagree with Candice Malcom when she says that “Canada is a country of laws.” Canada is a country of people; we have laws to support people, ensure fairness and allow for the peace, order and good governance that underpin a successful society.
Our laws aren’t applied in an equal way — they are applied in an equitable way. This is why we have police, courts, judges, juries and appeal processes.
We don’t judge someone who commits murder to escape rape the same way as someone who commits murder for an insurance claim. A driver who kills a pedestrian while driving drunk is judged differently than a driver who does the same, but because of an ill-timed heart attack.
To say that refugees in war zones should be treated as fraudsters because how they fill out a form doesn’t align with our safe, stable, clean sensibilities says more about us than it does about the refugees themselves. That any of us would tout laws as a reason to send a proud, contributing Canadian to a place where those contributions guarantee her a death sentence is deeply disturbing.
I personally don’t care which side of the Afghanistan/Iran border Maryam Monsef was born on. I judge her based on what she has done, which is considerable, if not surprising; no one appreciates the value of democratic peace, order and good governance like a refugee.
Candice Malcom and I do agree that Monsef is a success story for Canadian immigration and integration; she is the embodiment of the ideals Canada holds up to the world proudly, and rightly so.
While speaking to the world from Canada’s Parliament, US President Barack Obama referred to Monsef, saying: “And today she serves in this chamber and in the cabinet because Canada is home.”
Maryam Monsef’s story is not just one of refugee integration; it’s about the message and image Canada presents to the world, the positive alternative we offer to nations whose people are still struggling for the rights we take for granted.
How we respond to Monsef’s situation says less about her and more about Canada.