Indigenous Rights and Muslims

This post has been a long time coming. The issue of Muslims and Indigenous rights, specifically in the context of Canada and the US, has been on my mind for many years, but recently, with an increase in Islamophobia in both Canada and the US (especially the US) its got me thinking about our relationship to the land, and subsequently, to those from whom the land was taken.

Growing up I was lucky that I didn’t hear the common stereotypes at home about Indigenous peoples in Canada. Perhaps it was my parents’ own anti-colonialism (as a result of being from a part of the world that was brutally colonized by the British) that produced empathy, rather than the disdain too commonly seen, toward Indigenous peoples. However, the same couldn’t be said of society in general.

Negative beliefs about Indigenous peoples are so ingrained in Canadian society it really doesn’t take long for those new to the country to adopt them. Muslim or not, I’ve heard too many immigrants and non-white peoples make the same racist and White supremacist comments as White Canadians. And it truly perplexes and shocks me each time how easy it is to be from an oppressed minority and perpetuate harmful and violent beliefs about other oppressed minorities. (I realize this adoption of white supremacist and colonial attitudes often has to do with survival, but I’ll save that for another post).

However, as shocking, offensive, and harmful as those may be, what tends to irk me more is sense of entitlement. It’s true that most white Canadians (and Americans) have a false sense of entitlement to the stolen land upon which they live. Basically, in very simplistic terms, much of Canada is unceded Indigenous territory. Taken, immorally, from Indigenous peoples. Canada, and the US, are both countries formed on the basis of Indigenous genocide and land theft. The non-Indigenous inhabitants of these countries live the lives they do, have the benefits they do, because of that genocide and land theft. In other words, we benefit from the devastation that was wreaked upon the original inhabitants of this land.

It really should go without saying that White people living on this land, especially those descending from the colonizers, should not have the sense of entitlement to this land they do. It is stolen land. No one should have a sense of entitlement to something they, or their ancestors, stole. The lack of humility is unnerving, especially in the US.  The same applies to Muslims.

Recently, in response to an incredible increase in Islamophobia among certain politicians in the US (who will remain unnamed) many American Muslims have felt the need to “prove” their “Americanness.” This sentiment is understandable. When politicians in the country you call home start talking about banning Muslims, including ones who already live there, you do feel the need to assert that you belong and that the US is your home. Canadian Muslims often have the same tendency to “prove” their “Canadianness.” However, this assertion must always be made with caution.

We are settlers on stolen and occupied land. Our relationship to this land is no more nor less secure than that of white people. So before we, as Muslims, make assertions of how American or Canadian we are we must humble ourselves and recognize what our relationship to this land truly is and how we have benefitted from the destruction of Indigenous lives. We must remember we are indebted to them, not the colonizers, and demonstrate our allyship by supporting calls for social justice. If we pride ourselves on the Islamic value of humility then this is surely the time to demonstrate that.

Discomfort Defines Me

I’m easily distracted. Too easily. I enjoy reading but I find myself thinking on tangents as I read, much too often for my liking. Grad school was particularly bad as it would take me much too long to finish a scholarly article because one phrase may trigger an indirectly related thought which would then take me down a rabbit hole of searching for information related to the musing. But, luckily, it was being distracted that actually lead me to write this post before I got distracted again.

I was reading this piece by Fatima Bhutto on her travels between Lahore, Pakistan and Amritsar, India – her impressions of the similarities between the two Punjabi cities and how they are inextricably tied together through not only history, but culture, language, and struggles. Perhaps it’s age, or perhaps it’s my constant struggles with identity, but I have found myself thinking about Lahore, in particular, and Pakistan in general, a lot lately.¬† Lahore is a city I shouldn’t get emotional about. I’ve never lived there after all, only visited a few times. I wasn’t even born there – or in Pakistan for that matter. But my history is there. My identity is tied to the history of that city, and, despite never having lived there, I have a certain affinity for that place.

Old Lahore. Photo by artasiapacific. From http://tinyurl.com/phnlyrn

Old Lahore. Photo by artasiapacific. From http://tinyurl.com/phnlyrn

To be fair though, it’s not just Lahore to which I’m attached. My roots span a few areas of Pakistan. My father and his entire family of many generations are from Lahore, as is my maternal grandfather’s family. My maternal grandmother’s family, however, hails from the KPK, specifically Bannu, a part of the country I have never visited but have heard so many stories about from my grandmother (Allah bakshay) and a place I long to visit. But my mother grew up in Lahore’s sister city, Kasur, and that is where I spend most of my time when I visit Pakistan. Despite my teasing my mother for loving the city so much (I always saw it as a boring and neglected city) it holds so many of my childhood memories. Memories that I can’t see in my mind, but that I can feel.

Even today when certain¬† memories are triggered I feel all warm and fuzzy inside – when the power goes out and we light candles; when I smell a diesel engine; the combination of warm summer air, street food, and cars (that’s my favourite); South Asian shops in Toronto with their neon lights flashing brightly at night. There’s a warm sort of comfort and relief I associate with all these memories that Canadian childhood memories don’t elicit. And this makes me wonder.

I wonder if my own sense of comfort and relief comes from the comfort and relief my parents most likely felt on our visits to Pakistan. Perhaps I picked up on their ease of mind and happiness when we visited. And perhaps my Canadian memories were associated with their stresses of trying to survive, on their own, in a culture they were learning to navigate every day. Alhumdollilah, they’ve done well. But balancing two very different cultures, and learning how to negotiate with them, is never an easy task, and it’s one that even children of immigrants can’t avoid. It’s a difficult struggle that shapes our identities. That constant sense of discomfort, sometimes obvious and other times subconscious, just becomes a part of who we are. Maybe that is the signature of those of us who straddle two, or more, different cultures. Discomfort.

Anyhow, in true South Asian fashion I refuse to divulge too much information about myself and my family (we’re a private bunch, often to a problematic level). However, my struggle to understand identity continues. It’s clear that place plays an important role in that understanding (and I haven’t even touched on my status as settler in Canada and how that informs my identity). I think the struggle is a worthwhile effort.