By Shahina Siddiqui
16 December, 2014
While the discourse around the radicalization of a few Canadian Muslim youth is leading headlines, I am concerned that by focusing on a few who have been led down the path of violent extremism we are neglecting the vast majority of young Muslims who are struggling to find their bearings.
The sense of betrayal felt by Canadian Muslim youth in general is receiving very little attention. This is one segment of the Canadian population that continues to find itself under suspicion and maligned through guilt by association in the wider society.
Canadian Muslim youth who thought themselves like any other Canadian got a rude awakening post-9/11 -- a sort of cultural shock that they were not like any other Canadian. Overnight, they were the other, the enemy. This was traumatic in itself, but exposure to wholesale Islamophobia has added another layer of ongoing betrayal. The impact of this backlash against Canadian-born Muslims was devastating. Many experienced racism for the first time and felt rejected by their fellow Canadians. Even worse, they feel like they are seen and considered to be a threat by institutions meant to protect them. Racial and religious profiling have become acceptable when directed toward Muslim youth.
Canadian Muslim youth are being forced into defensive posturing, apologizing and under suspicion. They are expected to prove their loyalty to Canada -- a burden not placed on other Canadian youth, and they do this by remaining silent in the face of Islamophobia, a form of self-imposed censorship on free expression about geopolitical issues. This has placed serious stress on these young minds. To have to constantly defend one's faith, to continuously be called upon to condemn the actions of criminals and terrorists is emotional torture no one should be subjected to.
Even the schools are not paying attention to the second-hand trauma their Muslim students are experiencing as a result of witnessing the devastation in the countries their parents hail from and their extended families still reside. Is there any attempt to respond to their grief, anger and emotional pain? Do we not call in grief counsellors to help students DEAL with natural disasters, shootings and accidents?
It is obvious in the absence of such supports, many will internalize this pain and resentment and it may come out in unhealthy ways. Few with no family supports may turn to drugs and alcohol, others may act out, while some may turn to the Internet to find answers and become targets for violent extremism.
Very few resources, if any, have been applied to understanding and listening to the youth themselves. We have made little effort to provide safe spaces for them to express their grief and confusion and receive counselling. Why? Are we willing to validate their pain and embrace their anguish and express the same outrage over the suffering of Palestinian, Iraqi and Rohingya children that we do over the suffering of Israeli, Canadian and American children? Do we have a response when they ask that while Muslims continue to condemn violence committed by Muslims, fellow Canadians turn a blind eye to violence being committed against Muslims?
The extremist messaging coming through imported ideology of "True Islam" or "Real Islam" has caused a disconnect in many cases between immigrant parents and their Canadian-born children. Why have the youth been left to fend for themselves through this geopolitical religious maze? It is the responsibility of the Muslim community to provide a counter-narrative to the hate propaganda of the likes of IS and Al-Qaida.
As a society, we have been indifferent to the plight of Canadian Muslim youth far too long, it is time we took notice of their pain. We have to reject any attempts to marginalize Muslims as second-class citizens. Let the lessons learned from the internment of Japanese-Canadians be a reminder of how the politics of fear can divide our nation and diminish our humanity.
Fortunately, an overwhelming majority of Muslim youth, thanks to their spiritual resiliency, continue to maintain a strong commitment to a secure, just and inclusive Canada.
Fellow Canadians must reciprocate.
Shahina Siddiqui is executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association.