Sobbing over today’s newspaper

20170113_142755.jpgI don’t know if this is a good state in which to begin a blog post, while sobbing over today’s newspaper, but I’ve been silent because I don’t know where to begin, not because I have nothing to say, so I will begin here.

This post is written in response to the murder of six Canadian men in a Quebec mosque. It is written in response to Trump’s ban from the US on refugees and people born in seven countries with largely Islamic populations (perhaps temporary, but we shall see; extreme policies are often floated as temporary measures only to become slyly entrenched).

This post is also written in response to the outpouring of peaceful protest that began the day after Trump’s inauguration, less than two weeks ago, and continues today. I was fortunate enough to march in Toronto, in the women’s march, and although I was glad to share the moment with my sister, sister-in-law, and friends, I felt mostly sombre: I thought, this is just the start.

20170121_122252.jpgThis morning, as soon as the house was emptied of kids, I began to weep, reading the stories of the men who were killed in Quebec City. Ordinary people who lived ordinary Canadian lives, and who believed in ordinary Canadian peace. The attack feels like a betrayal of Canada’s promise. We want to welcome refugees and immigrants. But bigots live here too, violence lives here too.

I am part of a neighbourhood group who has sponsored a refugee family from Syria; they arrived in December. I am fortunate enough to be quite closely involved in their lives here in Canada, helping with ESL, and also, I hope, offering my friendship. They are a beautiful young family, and their project is so enormous — moving to our cold country in winter, speaking no English, two small children, knowing no one — it sometimes overwhelms me to think about it. Yet they appear completely willing to embrace their new reality. I want them to thrive here.

I want Canada to be the promised land, where people thrive. But it isn’t always, is it.

Think about this land. The literal land over which I’m walking. There were people living on this land long before my ancestors (or a branch of my ancestors) settled here as farmers. These people were betrayed by the newcomers, by us, by Canada; not only was the land parcelled up and sold, but for almost a hundred years, residential schools tried to eradicate their cultures, to white-wash and convert and also to outright destroy, a history I learned nothing about in my Canadian education, a history running parallel to the stories we learned, obscured, buried. And this history isn’t past, it continues to inflect our present. When we invite newcomers to Canada, we can’t pretend this isn’t, also, our story: bigotry, violence, destruction, greed.

This might sound small, but I’ll tell you what guts me — the thought that my new friend, new to Canada, could be harassed for wearing her headscarf. I know this could happen — I know this does happen. It happens because of Othering.

I want Canada to be a place where Othering does not happen, where we don’t decide we know everything we need to know about a stranger based merely on how we’ve grouped him or her: according to race, class, gender, religion, sexual orientation, according to the flimsiest of superficial evidence, according to our own biases and blindness, according to our lack of imagination and empathy. I want Canada to be a place where strangers are welcomed because they have the opportunity to become known, for being themselves, complicated human selves.

Trump’s executive orders are Othering a huge swath of humanity: refugees, Mexicans, Muslims. Be afraid of these people, he is saying, they are not like us.

But they are. They are just like us. They are human. We are all human.

If we forget that, if we erase that, if we ignore that, we are doomed to division, to fear, to hatred, to war.

I am looking for hope. Hope seems to me something that you do, and by doing make real. So I’m looking for hope by spending a few mornings a week with a woman who was uprooted from her home by war, by designing and sharing curriculum that may inspire others to create, by coaching youth soccer, by walking and talking with friends, by getting up early to write, by marching, by making music, by meditating, by praying.

I keep looking for more ways to hope. Tell me yours, please.

xo, Carrie

Today, this is what I have to offer
Artist's statement


  1. Kerry

    I just had a life changing week in Mexico at a writing workshop. Every writer there and our teacher, we all spoke of compassionate things and tried to show that compassion to each other. I learned so much about the country I was visiting. I had to cross the US to get there, the same weekend of the protests. I came back and there were protests happening in the airport and then I heard about the mosque shootings on my way back into Canada and home. It was all so surreal. I just know we talked a lot at the workshop about how we can deal with the horrors of the world and make art, make beautiful things, write and how that’s supposed to work. I still have no easy answers. I just know that if everyone could have felt half of what I felt during that week, with those intelligent souls, there would be none of this division and hatred. It is so unnecessary.k

  2. Kerry

    Reading! Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark and Grace Paley’s collected non-fiction, and Ausma Zahanat Khan’s detective series.

  3. Juliet

    “I keep looking for more ways to hope. Tell me yours, please.”

    Here’s my hope, Carrie. (I’m writing from France.) (By the way, your writings and messages are beautiful.) My hope is that the many Muslim fathers and husbands who come to Canada will move forward into the 21st century. That they will step out of their narrowly-circumscribed views and allow their wives and daughters more liberties. That’s what I hope.

    “…that my new friend, new to Canada, could be harassed for wearing her headscarf. I know this could happen — I know this does happen. It happens because of Othering.”

    Yes, this undoubtedly happens because of Othering (I’ve never heard this word before), but you failed to mention the reason the headscarf is worn in the first place. Many Muslim husbands and fathers dictate to their wives and daughters to wear the headscarf. In some cases, daughters as young as 5 or 6.

    “…I want Canada to be a place where strangers are welcomed because they have the opportunity to become known, for being themselves…”

    I want Canada, my native country, to be a place where the wearing of the headscarf is a voluntary decision, not an imposed one. Imposing the hijab, niqab, abaya, burka onto a woman runs against everything Canada stands for.

    There’s an admirable, brave intellectual writer in Algeria called Kamel Daoud, I’m a huge fan of his. He’s a novelist, journalist, critic, forward-thinking, modern man. Read his article published in The New York Times and translated into 3 languages. It’s eye-opening.

    • Carrie

      Thank you for your thoughts, Juliet. I’ve struggled with how to respond. I recognize that your views are offered in a caring and honest way. My point about Othering relates to grouping people together in a homogenous way, rather than seeing people as individuals. I hear in your hopes a blanket assumption about how Muslim men treat Muslim women, and with that an inherent comparison to how white or Canadian men treat Canadian women. Misogyny exists here too. My original point is that generalizations cause harm. Welcoming refugees means welcoming people who have been forced from their homes by war; this is traumatic, this is not a minor disruption in a life. My question is: how can we give refugees a stake in their new home, how can we help refugees FEEL and BE part of the Canadian project, where ideally, yes, men help with childcare, and women have careers, and children are educated, and the hijab is worn by those who consciously make that choice? My answer is: by making no assumptions, by listening, by getting to know individuals, by offering friendship, care and support, by giving people time to adjust and get out of survival mode … all of which is to say by modelling our own ideals and beliefs through individual actions.

  4. Juliet

    Hi Carrie, many thanks for your thoughtful reply. I know you are struggling, it’s not an easy subject.

    I make no assumptions or generalizations. What I wrote is based on personal experience.

    Before leaving Toronto to live in Paris (I’ve lived here twenty years now), I knew nothing about the Muslim culture. Until I met my fiancé, Kaïss, a Muslim, originally from Baghdad. We were together for 7 years (here in Paris.) Kaïss is now married to a Palestinian-Jordanian woman (we’re friends) and they have 4 beautiful children who are my god-children. They are a liberal, open-minded, modern Muslim family. They do not eat halal and Kaïss would NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS impose or even dream of imposing the hijab on his wife or daughter. (If he did, I would end the friendship.)

    Sadly though, this is not the case with their neighbours. In their apartment building in the north of France, I help all of the kids (in the whole building) with their English and French homework: all ages, all nationalities; it’s a public housing building. When their Algerian neighbours, for example, come over, I sit on the couch with the two little girls, aged 4 and 6, a hijab covering their heads, and I wonder why this is. Because, frankly, I am disturbed to see pre-pubescent girls dressed this way. I learned that the father imposes it on them, on their 10 year old sister, and on his wife.

    Thankfully, and because the headscarf is banned in state schools in France, the kids remove it before entering class.

    The following two lines are not my words, they’re from a website titled We Need to talk about Islam –

    “As a modern and civilized western society, we owe it to children to scrutinize certain Islamic practices and pose very serious questions, such as pertaining to the use of the Islamic headdress on children.“

    “Why exactly should a child have to “preserve her modesty”? Children are not sexual beings. We must never tolerate cultural practices that would ever consider them so. Although, we are, and we do.“

    In your post you wrote –

    “…that my new friend, new to Canada, could be harassed for wearing her headscarf. I know this could happen — I know this does happen. It happens because of Othering.”

    Kaïss’s 12 year old daughter (my god-daughter) is harassed in her school cantine. Why? Because she freely chooses to eat the non-halal chicken and burgers that are served there. Halal meat is also on offer, but, as I said, she chooses to eat the non-halal chicken and burgers. (Her parents, incidentally, pay 3 euros a day for her to have a hot school lunch.) Angered and eager to defend the free choice of his daughter, Kaïss was obliged to meet with the school principal and complain that groups of Muslim girls, as young as 10, are intimidating other Muslim girls for not eating halal and not wearing the hijab once school is let out.

    This is just a normal day in France, Carrie. Oh, and this is a secular state school, not a private religious one.

    The inter-religious and inter-cultural tensions that occur here in France are a snapshot, a preview if you wish, of the same tensions that might occur in Canada in ten years, maybe less.

    In 2011, the Muslim population in Canada passed the one million mark, comprising more than three percent of the total population (and representing one of the fastest growing religious groups).

    In 2011, the Muslim population in France was 7.7 million, comprising 11 percent of the population.

    You wrote, and I agree with you 100% – « My answer is: by making no assumptions, by listening, by getting to know individuals, by offering friendship, care and support, by giving people time to adjust and get out of survival mode… all of which is to say by modelling our own ideals and beliefs through individual actions. »

    Ah, now that last line is interesting…by modelling our own ideals and beliefs…

    Modelling means to serve as an example to be imitated or compared; an ideal, if you wish.

    And what if certain newcomer groups to Canada have different ideals, values, belief systems, cultural or tribal norms and rituals that clash severely with Canadian ones?

    Like FGM, for example, (female genital mutilation) or Sharia law (nearly happened in Ontario). Or the forcing of the veil onto females and children or the spread of Salafism (a specific interpretation of Islam in stark opposition to western values and cultures.)

    I guess what I’m saying, Carrie – and I do not believe that many Canadians will find this unreasonable – is that it has to work both ways. In other words, it is our privilege to welcome you to Canada. But there are certain things that we do a certain way, written into our Constitution actually, that need to be respected.

    I say this because there is a growing conservatism of Islam worldwide, an Islamic rebirth taking hold…and the Western world needs to keep it’s eyes opened.

    It’s great to have this open conversation…between two Canadian women. Now let us have this same conversation with newcomers to Canada.

    • Carrie Snyder

      Yup, I hear you. And I agree that we must protect the rights upheld in our constitution. I assume that many who choose to come to Canada come precisely because these rights exist, not because they want to change our constitution.

      My background is Mennonite, and among Mennonites there are conservative sects, including those in which women are expected to wear head coverings. My own mother wore a covering as a young woman, which she rejected when she was older. I don’t agree with this being forced on girls and women, yet I wonder why it’s less feared when conservative Christian sects do this than when Muslims do? There are conservative Christians (a large body in the US) who are working to revoke legal rights that women have fought hard for. So this is something that we have to stay extremely vigilant about, on different fronts, I think.

      I totally agree that a child should not be harassed for her food choices, nor should a child be forced to cover her head … but this gets really tricky, doesn’t it? At what point does the state step in and prevent a parent from parenting according to his or her beliefs? What is the line that we would consider damaging? Obviously, FGM is illegal, physical and mental abuse is illegal. But as parents we restrict and monitor our children’s behaviour in a variety of totally legal ways, in accordance with our beliefs and values. Some parents don’t vaccinate their children, for example (very problematic from a public health perspective, but nevertheless still legal). In Ontario, there’s been controversy over the new sex ed curriculum, with conservative religious parents (Muslim and Christian) withdrawing their children from school to prevent them from being “brainwashed.” This troubles me. But I don’t see an easy solution — I think government is always seeking a balance between protecting individual rights and protecting the larger society as a whole. In Canada we talk a lot about tolerance, a word I don’t love, but maybe there’s value in it. It leaves room for disagreement, but points to a basic value: within the boundaries of the law, you may live your life as you choose, without imposing your choices on others.



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