Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Afghan-Canadian women peace activists respond to false accusations in Toronto Sun article, “Remembrance Day protest an insult to Canada’s war dead”

(Note: facebook page - Solidarity with Laila Rashdie and Suraia Sahar)

November 13, 2012 

Written: Laila Rashidie, Suraia Sahar

We, as two Afghan Canadian women, were present at the Remembrance Day ceremony with a banner in remembrance of Afghans murdered by the Canadian military operations. We were not responsible for the alleged disruption of the Moment of Silence as the news media falsely reported, which has censored and attempts to discredit our peace activism. From our account, we will provide an honest chronology of events that occurred minutes before and after the police-incited scuffle, recorded [video 1] and [video 2] on November 11th at Old City Hall in downtown Toronto. There were also two other separate groups at this ceremony with banners, one promoting anti-fascism and the other promoting peace through non-violence. In total, there were three groups located at different parts and times around and outside of the ceremony.

The anti-fascist group began to chant slogans after the police aggressively confronted them and confiscated their banner. They were then pushed towards the sidewalk where we were silently holding our banner. As a matter of fact a elderly veteran chose to stand right beside us and shared no opposition to our message. As the group struggled to retain their banner while it was being crumbled, the police unexpectedly snatched ours. It was during this moment that a bystander began to video record this incident when we were shouting to have our banner back. It appears as if we were shouting for no reason other than to disrupt and provoke. However, in the start of the video, you can hear Laila saying “As an Afghan woman, you will not let me hold a sign. What freedom?” We were avoiding and preventing confrontation since the police had removed us earlier and threatened arrest before the ceremony began. Meanwhile, a mob of white, men escalated the incident when they branched out of the ceremony crowd towards the anti-fascists. They singled out one of them and began to physically attack him with punches to his head several times. At this point, we attempted to stop the violence being inflicted on this protester from his attackers. Once the attackers were pulled off, the police ordered us to leave in which we did and did not return.

We were unable to exercise our freedom of expression. We did not plan or cause any disruption to the Moment of Silence which can be proven by the fact that the memorial was on schedule. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, the Toronto Sun and its Sun News Network has misrepresented us, such as the following:

1) A Toronto Sun columnist was tweeting us with accusations of being Left-wing Islamists. His followers tweeted us even more racist and islamphobic tweets as well as a threat. He did not condemn such explicit racism and islamophobia but participated in it. He also continued to bother us and another Twitter user to answer to his unprofessional questioning.

2) A Sun News Network host Michael Coren aired an interview uploaded by a YouTube user ridiculously titled “Remembrance Day with Islamic Jihadists”. This user falsely writes in the Description that we were “shouting jihad during a Moment of Silence” and associated us to Islamic Jihadists. In this program, Coren interviews a Sun News Network reporter who has the same opinion about the incident as him. This reporter uses the term Jihadist and suspects “enemy is within the midst.” The islamophobia is reinforced by Coren, he says that they are “many people within the Islamic community who do believe that no foreign troop should be on Islamic land.” Our anti-war activism is not about representing Islam, we are representing our own individual political positions. This tactic to criminalize a religion by the actions of a person who they would like to deem as representative of that religious community, this is an old, racist and popular media trick.

3) The November 12 feature article in Toronto Sun by columnist Joe Warmington titled “Remembrance Day protest an insult to Canada’s war dead” was advertised on its websites front page in a banner titled “The ugly side of freedom.” The article wrongly attributes the entire disruption to us with no inclusion of our voice but a private e-mail from Suraia that was shared with them by their conservative media friends at NewsTalk 1010. The disturbing part of the article is the description under the photo of the scuffle, it baselessly states that we were the cause of this “chaos.” Another even disturbing false accusation is that we were “women supporting the Taliban¹s position” and are “Taliban sympathizers.” A tactic to censor anyone else in the future who publicly does not support the Canadian military in fear of being labelled a terrorist. Mr. Warmington’s article Comment Section is now full of closet-xenophobe-racist-sexists rampaging with threats and hate-speech, reinforced by the articles dishonest reporting. A comment demanded that we be water-boarded and stripped of our citizenship, this was liked 143 times - very telling of a so-called peacekeeping nation.

The ugly side of freedom is the state-run military spectacle supporting the NATO-led imperialist war and occupation in Afghanistan but parading as a false guilt-trip memorial for those who sacrificed to fight for “our” freedoms. Well, just in case you selectively forgot, your parade is and has always been on stolen, occupied, Native land - what about their freedoms to sovereignty and the Afghan peoples for self-determination? What about our freedom of speech which was infringed on when an officer called our message “trash” and “laughable.” We courageously endured a violent and racist crowd calling out: “go back to your country”, “kill more [Afghans]” and “we dont care about Afghans.” There is no real freedom or peace - it is a national myth - when cultural, economic, military and political imperialism is what maintains it.

After this protest, we have received strong love and support from reputable groups and individuals, thanks to the integrity we have built in our peace activism:

Im sorry for the hate you have to endure. Its a sad state of affairs when one is branded a “Taliban sympathizer” for remembering the innocents killed in a blatant act of aggression. You’re a brave person.
-Brandon Hughey, US veteran and war resister

Stereotyping is a particular kind of failure, I know, but sadly nationhood is the language of the hour. There was a time when Canadians were rightly held throughout the world as a shining counterpoint to their rapacious cousins in England and America and I say that as an Englishman who has fought in US contrived wars. Can a culture really exist among that people in which committed young women – fine Afghan-Canadians, no less! – are pilloried and threatened for opposing the prevailing jingoism? If this is the case, then a people once thought plucky and stubborn in the face of power have been robbed of their enviable history of sheltering resisters and dissidents. If our idealistic Johnny Canuck has truly gone when the world cries out for his contribution, as it does lately, then it’s a bloody grim day for the rest of us
- Joe J. Glenton, UK veteran served in Afghanistan

“Seems people still continue to listen to the myths they believe about their country and military. Violence seems to be the standard with those racists.”
-A. B., York University alum

One of the starkly missing elements from Remembrance Day observances both in Canada and the United States is any acknowledgement of the heaps of corpses generated by modern industrial warfare. Im a American veteran of the Viet Nam War, and every time I attended such ceremonies in the US I speak up for the millions of SE Asians who died in that criminal folly. This is not popular. But it is right, and true, and the least I can do. We slaughtered MILLIONS. THIS war veteran supports completely Afghans or anyone else who respectfully want their dead - many just bystanders, “collateral damage” - acknowledged and remembered in Toronto, on this past Remembrance Day. The only disrespect I see is pretending Canadian forces are the only dead in this very ill advised and poorly executed invasion and occupation.
- Chuck Winant, US Army, Viet Nam service 1968-69

They weren’t engaging in any violence nor were they saying things like “fuck the troops” etc. You should realise that Remembrance Day is being used by many governments now that celebrate it to promote their war of aggression in other countries, and this should be spoken out against! If the governments really cared about these veterans they wouldn’t send more soldiers to die, no? And the entire point that Remembrance Day was created for was to realise what the soldiers went through and say NO to war, not to make more of it!
A.A, student at University of Waterloo

The comments under [Toronto Sun’s] article just goes to show how unsafe it is for Muslim people here. And even worse, how the media reinforces hate by lying and manipulating what you guys actually did there….. that is terrible.
-A.R, student at University of Toronto

The image of the peaceful Canadian was always a myth, but at least it was based on a grain of truth - no doubt many Canadians aspired to live up to the mythical ideal. However, the facts of Canada’s colonial history through to the current evermore aggressive foreign policy regime disprove the myth. I do agree Joe that “Johnny Canuck” should fight for his soul - the mythical ideal of the peaceful Canadian should be pursued.
-Mike Skinner, researcher at York University

We gratefully thank those who stood by us with such love and support when the status quo began a shameless campaign singling out two, young, Afghan Canadian women peace activists to be wrongfully hated, threatened and abused. How can a nation be “liberating” Afghan women overseas when it is not protecting but attacking its own here? Now this is HERstory to not be forgotten but remembered and honored.


November 13, 2012 - 7:39 PM - Toronto Sun columnist continues with intimidation tactics by inappropriate contact via Tumblr.

10:31 PM - Toronto Sun columnist has published a new article with further baseless, false accusations flooded with racist and islamophobic commentary. Without permission to disclose, the columnist has retreived a last name to put to Laila. He also wrongly tries to link us to a act of vandalism. Then he indirectly claims that Laila produced a poster stating ‘f—k the troops’ which is completely untrue. Due this latest propaganda, the abuse from his Twitter followers has started again.

November 15, 2012 - Friends have created a Facebook page Solidarity with Laila Rashdiie and Suraia Sahar’ as a direct response to the racist FB page created from a (unnamed/unknown) organized islamophobic-white supremacist lobby. Reports have been made to have their page removed but Facebook has chosen not to still. One of the Toronto Sun columnists has joined and posted his articles on this clearly endangering FB page.

7:18 PM - Our official response is published on Rabble.ca.

A colleague of Toronto Sun columnist has a article on Huffington Post with similar false remarks and attempting to link us to vandalism which we clearly have nothing to do with or know of.

Another skewed and extremely biased article by Toronto Sun published today, with further threatening comments fueled.

We were notified that there was in fact a total of 4 - not 3 - groups with banners at Old City Halls Remembrance Day, the 4th one was advocating for First Nations rights and sovereignty.

November 17, 2012 - A new (and 3rd) defamatory TV news interview has been made against us by Sun News Network with the same Toronto Sun columnist who wrote one of the defamatory articles. Yet again, Sun Media attempts to link us baselessly (and ridiculously) to a act of a vandalism and ”islamo-fascism.” The islamophobic and racist remarks are clearly apparent: “They’re not in full clad burqas; they seem like modern ladies.” The interview continues to reinforce the false reports of causing and as only us two women causing a ”disruption.”