REFLECTIONS IN THE TIME OF CORONA (2)…a day in the life of..

7am: Wow slept in. Its late. Must jump out of bed…ouch that hurt the back. Ok slowly wash up and say prayers. Read the usual one page of Quran making marking in pencil stuff that needs more reflection or discussion. Realize hubbly is catching up fast so decide to fast forward a few extra pages.
7:30 Daily conversation with God. Look outside and see the weather. “Dear Allah..I know you are really really busy with the Corona stuff but if you have time, could you please make the weather a bit better? Someone recently quoted you as saying natural sun is good inhibiter of the virus so we could all use some sun. No pressure. Whenever you can as we have months to go. Thank you so much”
7:35 Hubby is asking for breakfast. I run to the kitchen (well ‘run’ would be an exaggeration so let’s say I breeze into the kitchen) where OCD has already started to clean. Before he can ask for eggs benedict, I boil the kettle and make his regular peanut butter on toast. I mean he knows too many eggs are bad for cholesterol. Put two Tapal teabags and Earl Grey loose tea in a teapot and set to brew while I fry an egg for me. Still at breakfast and he’s asking “what’s for lunch? “. I leave him to clean and go to the other end of the house which is only a few yards away but I can hear him.
8am Is it evening yet? OCD is busy disinfecting the house so I sneak away to the computer pretending to work from home, but as soon he sees me he says “ I have something really important to do so vamoose”. I slink away not letting on that was just a ruse. Now I can peacefully read the newspaper in the bedroom. But he’s looking for a way to respond to the first piece I wrote exposing his OCD. So, he sits at the computer and yells “How do you spell ‘responsibility’? What do you call “bekaar” (useless) in English? How do you spell ‘cleanliness?’ etc. etc. I get the message.
8:30 Can’t concentrate on the news as its mostly negative. Look at my whatsapp messages to figure out which conspiracy theory is the best. It’s the Chinese! No, it’s the Russians! Actually, it’s the Israelis but could be Iranians. Not to forget that it’s all done by Trump and Pharmaceutical companies.
Pick up pad and paper. (There’s pads of paper and pens everywhere because what’s not written is soon forgotten). Try to make a list of what I should do today. Not much comes to mind. So, start thinking of lunch. The freezer is fully stocked but I decided to cook something fresh. Bad move as it creates a mess in the kitchen and OCD is hovering
9:00 Start calling everyone I know in Pakistan. Sister-in-law complains that I always call when it’s her prayer time so apologize and make mental note (written note) to not call for a few days. Call brother-in-law in London who is coughing and hacking but won’t go to the doctor. Give him a piece of mind – I guess he won’t be calling back. Exchange recipes with niece and call my sister who is suffering from major anxiety so do my therapy practice on her. Then get tired already.
10 Take a shower and put on red lipstick (it’s down to its last but hurray found another one stashed away in a drawer I had not cleaned before) OCD makes special note of this fact and reminds me to clean the drawer. I gently suggest that if it bothers him so much, he should do it. He takes this personally and goes to the solarium to pout
Full Disclosure: Hubby is a Cancerian who wears his heart on his sleeve and is prone to being over-sensitive and pouts when told off. There’s a lot of that going on these days. Cancerians also love to hug, cuddle and demand lots of expression of love but social distancing is the excuse I use to keep him at arm’s length. Anyhooo……
11 Lunch is ready but I don’t want to eat so early so munch on some snacks which become a lot of snacks. Snacks need a drink so have a Fresca while OCD counts how many are left in the stash of dozens.
12-1 Lunch while being forced to watch a mindless, thoughtless game show – not my choice obviously. Gently suggest he take a walk. He agrees and goes outside while I walk in the corridor outside the condo – Okay its short but sweet and I feel great so in a gesture of goodwill I decide to do the dishes. No point. OCD does them again mumbling something to the effect of “wish your mother could see you”.
1pm Lie down for a nap. I try read for a while. Hubby asks “what are you reading?” I show him the book. “What’s it about?” I smile and say “you read it when I’m done” at which he turns over and in 5 minutes he’s snoring. Takes me a while to nod off.
2-3 We wake up according to our body clocks. Mental note to fix the radio clock that automatically comes on to loud music because when the time changed and clocks were being reset, somehow this one got on an automatic timer. Mental (written) note to ask my son about this and all the other technical issues we face
3-4 Evening tea. This time no teapot brew but straight in teacups. He wants a snack and lists a lot of things. Cookies do the trick. I had a go at making corn muffins which are just okay. Baking is not my forte
4 Write a few lines of my script (yes, I’m working on a script for a play) and reply to the 3 emails I’ve received. Learnt a new word “ikigai” (Japanese word meaning a reason for being”) and wonder how to use it in my writing. Facetime my grandkids and talk to them for a while. Am teaching my six-year old granddaughter one Urdu word everyday while her Dad tries to intervene with naughty words. Those are the only ones he knows.
Is it night yet? I’m yawning
5 Time for another snack. Looking for an excuse to go out but can’t find one because everything we need and more is already here. Watch one episode of a Pakistani drama but it’s depressing so decide not to watch anymore. Thinking of who else to call. Work on my book but am stuck
6-7 Putter around kitchen to make dinner. Mental block on recipes. Manage to put something together. Prayer times are great markers in the day. After Maghrib (sunset) prayers we have dinner while hubby consumes ….. he is so grateful that LCBO is considered essential service. Then we argue over which one movie to watch and who gets to sit in the recliner. Thank God for Netflix. So far, we’ve seen five Hindi and five Hollywood movies. The Indian ones were sweet arty films but after that hubby needs to get his undercover agent, FBI, Law and Order fix so I leave him to it.
Another month of this and the forensic experts who will come to investigate will be amazed that the “motive” was the TV remote!!!!!
9 Walk again and ingest medicines and try putting off going to bed early. Ipad comes in handy while hubby watches non-stop TV.
11 I’m in la-la land. Tomorrow is another day but will be a repeat of the same day.

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Remember the blackout in 2003? I was at work downtown and then stuck on the roadside because there was no public transit. My two loving and dedicated sons meanwhile took over. One handled the phone and the other who worked in a bank, handled the finances (ATM’s had stopped working). Somehow, they managed to find me wandering around Lakeshore and bring me home.
Seventeen years later, in a unique COVID crisis they said “Mama and Papa you are old. Don’t leave the house”. Which is a reality that we don’t want to acknowledge. We dream that our kids will be there for us all the time but they have their own families and jobs that they have to attend to. One son owns two restaurants which are now closed so he’s at wits end wondering how to cope. The other one works in an office where he is the only person on site running the place. The stress is real and we, as parents worry about the future.
My daughter in law is a flight attendant and she tells me about the difference in attitude. The privileged ones who are returning from West Palm Beach, Florida grumble, moan and groan the entire way. The ones coming from South America thank the flight attendants profusely and show immense gratitude and empathy.
So, what does COVID 19 mean to two retirees living in a small two-bedroom condo? Well let me tell you it can strain the best of relationships. Even after 43 years of being happily married, we are getting on each other’s nerves. To be honest the success of our marriage lies in the fact that my husband worked for an airline and therefore he worked shifts. Which meant that we were rarely home together, even on weekends so when we did meet it was great to catch up and show some love and romance.
However, as we know, too much togetherness can wear you down. With one computer in the house we have to take turns and time each other but there are moments when kick-kick, nudge-nudge is needed.
I am in self-isolation because (as reminded constantly by the kids) I’m a senior and my immune system is not the best. While kids say we are old, the grandkids think we are gold and keep in touch a few times a day which is the highlight. We send each other jokes and riddles. It’s hard to explain to my four-year-old granddaughter why she can’t hug me but we tell her its only for a short time – I hope. I miss the physical contact a lot.
Hubby who should also be home gets cabin fever and takes a drive everyday complete with mask and gloves (Thank God). He has discovered where all the coveted items are available and arrives home every day with paper towels (I swear I have enough paper towels for the next year and no place to stash them), toilet paper, masks, tissues, sanitizers etc. etc. I don’t believe in hoarding so am now supplying stuff to the kids, friends and neighbors.
However, on his rounds hubby also picks up odds and ends of exotic food items he wants to eat. In the best of time, I was never much of a cook but now there are requests for different foods every day. So, I pulled out old recipes hand written by my mother-in-law and this brings back wonderful memories. By default, we have become foodies! And with very little exercise, the weight gain has started to show. Only one friend is allowed into our home and that too after sunset. He’s from Scotland and his name is Johnny Walker. He puts a smile on hubby’ face.
Added to this is the fact that hubby’s OCD syndrome is at its height. I mean he was always a ‘clean-freak’ but now it’s over the top. The house is smelling of Lysol and you could eat off the floor. I mean how many times can you clean a small home? According to OCD, all day long and while he tries to rope me into the cleaning, I fake a backache and decline politely the first time, and with a growl the second. My brother in Pakistan was telling me that he cleaned his bedroom and bathroom for the first time in his life and I guess they are facing challenges with no household help which they are so used to.
When the term “social distancing” was announced it should have included a small warning not to go crazy with WhatsApp and bombard everyone you know with every conspiracy theory, warnings of gloom and doom, memes, jokes, spiritual healing, prayer chains and cures. (I’m guilty as well!). Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for prayers but also for prevention and precaution.
BTW I don’t like some of these terms. “Self-isolation”? Should be ‘stay at home’ or ‘homebound’ – isolation is real for many people and I feel for them. “Social distancing” should be ‘keep your distance’ even in the best of times i.e. don’t be in my face. But the need to connect with people is more urgent now than ever before.
Happily, I’m now in socializing mode. I just pick up the phone and call people and have re-connected with many relatives and friends which is so therapeutic.
I’m also trying to get back to writing prose and poetry – something I was able to do without any effort all my life – but then got writers block. It’s easy to just hang around in pajamas all day but I recall my mother (may her soul rest in peace). Despite immense pain and medical issues, she would dress up and apply red lipstick and go about her daily chores. She repeated the old cliché “when you smile, the world smiles with you. When cry, you cry alone.”
So, I’m trying to do the same. Only problem is that I’ve used up all my red lipstick and since this is not ‘essential’ service, I’ll have to do with pink.

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COVID 19 has brought the world to its knees. The news, social media and conversation is all about the virus. And rightly so because it seems that at least in my lifetime, we have never experienced anything like this global threat.
In my Province of Ontario, an emergency has been declared which means everything except essential services is closed. (BTW the liquor store is not closed as I guess this is ‘essential’). This is not a big deal for those of my generation from countries like Pakistan who are used to such ‘shut downs’ having lived through Martial law, coups, “piyya jaam” and major strikes. We are pretty resilient. But the peace-loving Canadian who is born here has not experienced a major crisis and is therefore in a state of shock and mild panic.
However, with every darkness there are always rays of light. Stories of people helping out show that humanity and compassion are still alive and with a mixture of awareness, precaution, dava and dua, we pray and hope that everyone remains safe. Families are bonding whether they like it or not. In a fast-paced world where parents go to work and kids to school, they are being forced to take stock and spend quality time with each other.
Keeping our sense of humor intact is also important. There are dozens of memes floating around which do make us laugh and while some people are offended, it’s a kind of therapy in a world gone mad.
And mad they have become. The ‘toilet paper” wars are very real – I’ve actually seen them happen. At the grocery store, people were lined up till outside and there was no place to park so I just left.
In Africa people came out for a rally against COVID 19. Seriously? When we are being told that social distancing (dafa ho in Urdu) is necessary, a rally?
South Asians are being pretty complacent. The desi stores are well stocked and full of buyers. The “lota” has become very popular and selling like hot cakes. I saw people buying Ludo and carom boards while Dettol is out of stock. My doctor’s appointment will be over the phone.
Indians are falling back on the practice of “namaste” while others are using “Adaab” after a long time. Many niqabis are delighted that their faces are covered and they don’t shake hands anyway.
Desis claim (like me) that we always have enough ‘daal chawal’ in stock for two weeks. We are hoarders by nature so there is always enough backup for emergencies but now there is more.
From my native land of Pakistan there are rumors that the elite Begums are self-isolating because beauty parlors are shut down so they dare not show their faces; in other news, the ‘hired help’ must come to homes for sure because what would life be without “Maasi”, driver and cook – some people are justifying this by saying they are helping them get clean but the poor people have to clamber on buses to get to work. No sympathy here.
This is also a time when evil shows it face. In Toronto a group of thieves dressed in white are knocking on doors and saying they are from the health department and need to check the house for health and safety. Then they rob the house. There are many alerts to warn people against this hoax.
I’m using this time to work on a book and binge watch Pakistani dramas – Alif being my favorite. Then we have discussions over the phone. I am also using this time to read the pile of books on my bedside.
Since kids are generally immune, but can be carriers of the virus my grandson asked me “are schools closed because the teachers are afraid of getting it”? I do not have an answer.

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Canadian elections are in less than a week and the cards dealt to Canadians from the political deck are: Three jokers and a Trump!

Although these may be the most crucial elections of our times, the one word that describes them is “boring”! It’s no wonder then that most Canadians are more interested in the U.S. 2020 elections rather than their own just a week away (October 21).

Enter the Islamists. As a Muslim, I am encouraged to see more Muslim candidates, but I fear of the entrance of the Islamists, particularly those influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood or their affiliates like the Jamaat-e-Islami or the Pakistani Interservice Intelligence (ISI) operating freely in Canada and sticking their nose in politics.

Let’s focus on the front running parties in this election which are the Liberals and Conservatives. They are so paranoid about being portrayed as “Islamohobes,” they are paying no heed to political wolves coming in sheep’s clothing.

Case in point: the introduction of Motion M103 by a Liberal Islamist member of parliament. This is a prime example of playing into the Islamists agenda.

Unfortunately, the conservatives — although promising to stand behind moderate Muslims — have shunned moderate Muslim candidates like Salim Mansur and Tahir Gora for fear of criticism.

Now they are both running as candidates for the People’s Party of Canada.

The Parties
Mandate: More money for middle class families, climate crisis, stronger gun control, environment and gender equality.


Mandate: peace and freedom on the world stage, responsible management of taxpayers’ money, a welcoming land of refuge for the world’s persecuted and afflicted, the defense of clean Canadian technologies and a clear understanding of responsibilities between levels of government.

NDP (New Democratic Party)

Mandate: Universal pharmacare, climate, clean energy jobs, affordable housing, rights of indigenous people and affordable child care.

PPC (People’s Party of Canada)

Mandate: Canadian identity (ending official policy of multiculturalism and preserving Canadian values and culture), immigration, freedom of Expression.

Bloc Quebecois:
Mandate: Canada’s leading separatist political party (only runs candidates in Quebec).

Green Party
Mandate: Environment and climate change

The Players
Justin Trudeau (Liberal)
Charismatic but plays identity politics. Famous line: “A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.”

Justin Trudeau has taken a beating on many fronts and is embroiled in controversies:

Paid over $10m self-confessed convicted terrorist Omar Khadr
Tried to cover up the SNC Lavalin scandal through political interference and fired Minister of Justice and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould
While Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, a top-ranking officer was charged and accused with breach of trust for allegedly leaking confidential details of a cabinet discussion about a supply ship contract, Trudeau had to have the case dismissed due to lack of evidence
Exposure of photos with “Brown Face”
Scolded more than once by ethics commissioner for taking a family vacation at an Island of the Aga Khan
Took a family trip to India where he pretended to be a Bollywood star and danced the Bhangra while he was snubbed by Prime Minister Modi causing great embarrassment to Canada

Andrew Scheer (Conservative)
Some would say he would make a great mayor of a small town but has a long way to go in order to establish himself as the leader of a G7 country.

Scheer is terrified of being called a racist or an Islamophobe so his advisors keep him politically correct. This also means allowing Islamist candidates to be nominated by his party, as well as having meetings with known hate-spouting Islamists while promising moderate Muslims that he is on their side.

He has kept out winnable Muslim candidates who have criticized radical Islam while parachuting in prominence Islamists and Khomeini lovers.

He has learned from Justin Trudeau how to play identity politics and even though he’s a front runner, his policies on immigration, health care and climate change are similar to those of Trudeau

Jagdeep Singh (NDP)
Although the most eloquent and seemingly most caring of the lot, policies of his party veer extreme Left. He keeps calling everyone racist and will not speak out against troubling issues like the Khalistani Sikhs who want a separate homeland in the Punjab or radical Islamists.

Maxime Bernier (PPC)
Here is a man who says it as he sees it. But from the outset he has been labelled racist and is running at three percent of the popular vote.

All he wants is to be able to discuss and debate issues like Immigration, freedom of speech and trade. But in this politically correct environment, he has a real challenge on his hands as his party is brand new, so he is being shunned from media coverage.

Yves-François Blanchet (Bloc Quebecois)
Bloc Quebecois is a Left-wing nationalist party which believes in Quebec sovereigntism, regionalism, republicanism, environmentalism and social democracy. They have a very small following

Elizabeth May (Green Party)
This tree-hugging party has supported policies strengthening participatory democracy, nonviolence, social justice, sustainability, respect for diversity and ecological wisdom. Their main mandate is climate change. They have a very small following as well.

My Prediction for the Canadian Elections
My position is not unique. The majority of Canadians believe that there is going to be a minority government, which means that Canadians will have to go through this boredom once again (probably within two years).

I can only pray that the cards dealt to them at that time will be better for all of Canada.

Meanwhile my humble suggestion to Canadians is: Vote you must even if it means the choice is between three jokers and a Trump.

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WOMEN’S MOSQUE OF CANADA….a much needed initiative

I first heard about The Women’s Mosque of Canada in April when there was a news item that a group of women were praying together at a Church in downtown Toronto. The idea intrigued me as a Women’s rights activist and someone who feels that the need for an exclusive sacred space for women is key to growth and empowerment of Muslim women.
However I have to admit that I was also sceptical as I did not know how this was going to pan out. But I got busy and did not attend any of the Friday sessions.
I followed their progress on facebook and learned that on Friday 12 July the Women’s Mosque was hosting an inaugural event where they were going to launch their permanent space at the Daniel’s Presentation Centre in Regents Park.
So I decided to attend and check it out. I was especially interested in this event because the keynote speaker was Samra Zafar, award-winning international speaker, author of “The Good Wife”, scholar, and social entrepreneur. I have just finished reading her book and was excited to hear her speak.
The Women’s Mosque of Canada identifies themselves as the first women led, women only congregation in Canada. They are a sacred space for Muslim Women and their sister allies to pray, learn and grow. They say that they are an inclusive space where all women can attend and no one will be judged. “Come as you are….We welcome you whole-heartedly.”
There was heavy security at the entrance because there has of course been push back. I asked Farheen Khan, one of the founders of the Women’s Mosque about resistance and she said “it’s mostly from our own community..”. This does not surprise me.
Kristyn Wong-Tam, the Toronto City Councillor representing neighbourhoods including Regent Park where the Mosque is located, spoke congratulating the organizers for the initiative. She mentioned that Regent’s Park is home to the largest Muslim community in the Toronto area.
Keynote speaker Samra Zafar said she wished there had been a place like this when she first came to Canada and was lost and lonely. She said “there is no honor in silence, shame and abuse” and the best thing women can do is support each other.
There were about a dozen Muslim women present and they were a diverse group. There were women in hijab, one in niqab and some with no head covering. There were also a dozen Christian and Jewish women who came to support the imitative and they respectfully sat at the back and observed the proceedings.
The proceedings were actually what impressed me the most. I recall telling non-Muslims audiences in my classes as well as speaking engagements that the first Mosque of Islam started by Prophet Mohammed, was not an exclusive men’s club but a place for community. It was heart warming for me to see that this Women’s Mosque is holding fast to the real tradition. They spoke largely about the need for a safe space for women where they could discuss and support issues of domestic abuse, honor violence, misogyny and patriarchy etc.
The actual prayer part was only about five minutes and in her khutbah, Farheen Khan spoke about “a new world order in which women are respected, elevated and not judged..”. She mentioned the need for a safe, exclusive and sacred space for all women and said that she hoped this Mosque would fulfil that need.
I am inspired and hope that this initiative will grow and find a larger audience soon

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This July 1 on Canada Day it will be 31 years since we came to Canada. We have lived longer in Canada than any other country including Pakistan which is my land of birth so there is no denying “this is home”.
This is also where the heart is and as I think back, these are some exclusive Canadian qualities that stand out for me.
• The way Canadians stop their cars if geese or ducks are crossing the road
• Canadians are usually reserved, but if you are lost and ask for the way, they will drop everything to guide you and most probably take you to your destination
• How in rural Canada, if you ask the way someone will say “you are here – now you need to get over there” (happened to us in Prince Edward Island and melted my heart)
• Fact that Canadians say “zed” and not “zee”
• Start a line and Canadians will line up behind you. Once there was a long line and only after waiting for a long time, when I went up to the front did I realise that there was nothing there. Someone had just stood there and everyone lined up behind him thinking this was the exit 
• Start a cause and Canadians will rally behind you. I have found Canadians to be the most giving and philanthropic people I have ever met and I am proud to be one
• The way they wear their poppies with pride and remember their Veterans
• They way Canadians don’t like conflict. This has sometimes been a challenge in our work but I love the fact that they mostly believe everyone is good until proven otherwise.
• Their love of reading……I used to watch in fascination on public transit, in parks, waiting rooms, lines – everyone has a book
• Fact that Canadians depend upon a rodent to decide when Spring will come.
• I’m not a super fan of sports but was totally joyous to see the fervour transform from ice hockey to basketball – GO RAPTORS!
• Although complaining is a national pastime, Canadians make the best of all weather conditions.
• Despite vigorous and sometimes hot debates about National identity, one thing Canadians are sure about – THEY ARE NOT AMERICAN!
• Canadians are food junkies and have accepted the transformation from hotdogs to samosas eh.
• Part of the Canadian National Anthem I love best – “We stand on guard for Thee”
I do with all my heart and soul. HAPPY CANADA DAY

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In a diverse country like Canada where myriads of faiths and culture live together, we work hard at co-existence and keeping communities together. This needs mutual respect and tolerance plus a total condemnation of hate, wherever it’s coming from.
There is one day that embarrasses me as a Muslim because it’s all about hate. This is the Al Quds day parade, a hate fest (in an already increasing atmosphere of rising anti-Semitism) that takes place every year in public. Imagine a parade being organized against Muslims; what part of “Islamophobia” will that fall under and what would be the government’s reaction?
We have spoken out against this before, and will say it again. There is no place for hate!
As Canadians should we follow the agenda of Hamas, Hezbollah and the IRGC using ordinary Muslims as pawns or should we focus on our relations with each other which needs a lot of work?
Why do we even allow such hate to be paraded on our streets.
We say NO to Al Quds day.

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When I was in school, there was always the one kid who constantly ratted on others and called them names. When challenged, he hid behind the teachers skirt and curried favours from them. He became the teachers ‘pet’ and no one could touch him. Would you be surprised, if one day, found alone that kid could be roughed up?
A similar scenario seems to be playing out in North America.
Thanks to the ‘victim ideology’ promoted by the likes of CAIR and their darling Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, some Islamist individuals and organizations seem to be getting away with hate mongering at a dangerous level. Omar has left no stone unturned in her vicious anti-Semitism. At the same time she’s lobbying for release of a Muslim Brotherhood operative and worse, she spoke about 9/11 as “some people who did something”. Does she think people are stupid? Omar’s ongoing diatribes not only expose her hatred but like the kid who irritated other kids and got away with it, Omar also lashes out with the confidence that she can get away with saying whatever she likes and nothing will happen.
The hate perpetuated by Omar is very dangerous. As we know from the new documentary Kids Chasing Paradise by Clarion Project, hate leads to radicalization which leads to violence. Omar is from Somalia and should be focused on Somali youth who are at risk of being radicalized, instead of fanning the flames of hate and division.
North of the border, in Canada the same drama is being played out where Islamists wrap themselves in a cloak of protection by Motion 103 (which is that basically critiquing Muslims or Islam makes you an Islamophobe). While indulging in deflection, wilful ignorance and offensive remarks, they are being handled with cotton gloves by political and religious leaders so they feel they can blame everyone else but continue to be hateful themselves. As soon as they are called out, they yell ‘Islamophobia’.
There is a strong sentiment by ordinary Canadians that Islamist organizations are being pandered to and getting special handling despite some of the subversive activities they are involved in.
On April 6, an event was held at the Noor Cultural Centre in Toronto titled: Dalit & Muslim Persecution in India: History and Current Politics; Noor claims to be a ‘progressive’ Islamic center. But the ideology of the administration at Noor, is troubling.
According to a report in The New Delhi Times which was forwarded to me by an irate and frustrated Hindu friend, at this event Muslim speakers called the Hindu Gods, Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu rapists. As well at the discussion, a Muslim speaker accused the ‘Hindu Right’ of being in cahoots with American White Supremacists and then demanded Prime Minister Modi be sent to prison for abandoning his wife. According to one eye witness, there were uniformed guards at the event so no one could object or speak out and the audience was informed as much
Such blatant hate has never been seen in Toronto. One wonders if this was their own initiative or are they playing out the agenda of India’s enemies?
Some years ago when we had the Toronto launch of Honor Diaries, the same mother-daughter team that run the Noor Center came and threw a temper tantrum and then proceeded to write a piece lambasting the film. However, they could not pinpoint any factual inconsistencies.
First the Jews, then the Hindus – who next? Obviously these Muslims do not understand the concept of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.
At this tenuous time when the gulf between people of faith is increasing, how are Islamist organizations and institutions that deal in ‘fake’ interfaith dialog (and blame their own shortcomings on white supremists) any different?

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It was a great honor for Canada to welcome Baroness Caroline Cox of the UK House of Lords last week.

How to describe this indomitable person? A headline of The Daily Telegraph reads:

“The feisty baroness defending ‘voiceless’ Muslim women: Baroness Cox of Queensbury is fighting to stop sharia ‘seeping’ into enforcing divorce settlements.”

Cox has increasingly become involved in endeavors to be a “voice for the voiceless” in the UK, where she has been working on behalf of Muslim women suffering from gender discrimination inherent in the application of sharia law.

She introduced a private member’s bill into the House of Lords to highlight the issues and address some of the problems. This has strong support from members of all parties in both chambers as well as Muslim women’s organisations. The website provides updates on this and related initiatives.

That’s not all Baroness Cox does. She is an advocate for and mentors victims of UK grooming gangs. She is also the founder and CEO of an organization called Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART) through which she has campaigned for humanitarian causes, particularly relating to disabilities.

Through HART, she travels to remote parts of the world to personally meet victims of oppression and persecution including those in northern Uganda afflicted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA); the people of Timor Leste, who are still affected by the Indonesian occupation (with a particular focus on child malnutrition); and Dalits in India, including Devadasi women entrapped in the enforced prostitution of the centuries-old tradition of “temple service.”

She is a voice for persecuted Christians in areas of the world where there is little media coverage and where traditional humanitarian aid does not reach.

Of course, Islamists in Canada were irked by the presence of Baroness Cox, as they are with other activists who speak on Muslim matters. They are afraid the truth may expose their own falsehoods in the communities they have succeeded in fooling.

So the Islamists set out to derail her appearance in Ottawa. Individual Islamists with anti-Semitic views and Islamist organizations closely affiliated with a terrorist entity went to media and cried “Islamophobia” (as Islamists are wont to do so that their own shortcomings can be deflected).

They tried to turn the baroness’s visit into a smear campaign leveling unfounded accusations against her. One of the accusations was that she invited Geert Wilders to speak in UK.

To her credit, Cox responded with frankness to all the allegations made against her and even offered to speak to her detractors but, of course, they did not respond.

She said:

“1. I work with, and have very affectionate relationships, with Muslim women’s groups in the UK helping them with problems caused by gender discrimination inherent in the application of Sharia Law in the UK. If interested, please see an article in the Daily Telegraph with the heading ‘They would love to call me Islamophobic – but I love Muslim women.’

“Please see our website for evidence of work to help Muslims in the UK. Anyone can be in touch with Muslim women’s organisations mentioned on that website to counter allegations of Islamophobic sentiments.

“Also, in my humanitarian work, we risk our lives to help Muslims suffering at the hands of oppressive regimes – such as the Muslims in Blue Nile State, Sudan. We visited them last year; met 9,000 IDPs who had fled from civil war and were at risk of dying from starvation – and raised funds to save their lives. So I will robustly challenge any attempts to call me ‘Islamophobic’ or to the claim that I spread ‘fear and division’. You should have seen the warmth and appreciation – and love – expressed by many Sudanese Muslims at a meeting I chaired in Parliament last week. They (and many Muslim women) will readily come to my defence if any slurs are published about me being ‘Islamophobic!

“2. Yes, I did support Geert Wilders’ visit to UK. I believe in freedom of speech; he was a democratically elected member of a European Parliament; and I do not agree with all he says, but one cannot have a dialogue to discuss different views if you promote censorship.”

Much to the surprise and chagrin of Islamists, and despite their pushback, Baroness Cox’s appearances in Toronto and Ottawa were a huge success, especially in relation to women and youth. In Toronto at a seminal event, she stood and spoke alongside courageous women from the Muslim world and was awarded a medal of courage.

This is the difference between Islam and Islamism. Moderate Muslims support those who work towards human rights and the integrity of women, rejecting those norms against humanity incorporated in some aspects of sharia.

Islamists, on the other hand, want to politicize an activist’s visit to shut down all discussion and debate.

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March is when we celebrate women. Although March 8 is International Women’s Day, activities take place throughout the month. Some people question as to why we need a “Women Day”? Well we need this to create awareness that women are still not recognized for their complete human rights in many parts of the world.

It’s in this essence that I travelled halfway across the world to participate in the The 49% Film Festival held in Jerusalem from March 6 – 8, 2019.

What exactly is The 49% Film Festival? This is the brainchild of Paula Kweskin, a Human Rights lawyer whose first film Honor Diaries went on to become an award-winning documentary about honor based violence. Why is this festival different? She invited films, film makers and activists to openly address issues that are considered taboo or too controversial to be included in regular festivals, but are the burning issues for women of today e.g. FGM, sexual harassment, religious space for women and forced marriage. The line-up was diverse and international. The participants to the festival included filmmakers and activists from Canada, Egypt, Israel, the US, and the UK.

In creating the Festival she explains:

“Women are disruptors of their societies and the agents of social change. While women are 49% of the population they are only:
* 32% of national parliamentarians worldwide
* 4.8% of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies
* less than 30% of researchers worldwide
* 24% of protagonists in Hollywood films

We believe that women must tell their stories in order for the status quo to change. That’s why we are launching The 49% Film Festival. The 49% Film Festival will feature films from underrepresented female (and male) filmmakers from around the world whose films focus on women’s stories and struggles.”

So it is with a sense of anticipation that I attended the opening night on March 6 with the Canadian Ambassador to Israel as the keynote speaker. This was followed by a screening of In Her Footsteps at the Cinematheque, a film by Rana Abu Fraiha. The film documents an entire family torn between fulfilling the mother’s last wish and social codes that cannot be ignored. During the process of separation from the mother, the film reveals the family intimacy, secrets and dilemmas, raises serious questions about women’s identity, nationality and the meaning of home.

There was also a screening of The Cruel Cut which a film about Female Genital Mutilation. Every 11 seconds, a girl undergoes female genital mutilation (FGM). Leyla Hussein is an anti-FGM campaigner and a survivor who shares her personal experience of FGM with the goal of protecting girls from this abusive practice. Originally from Somalia, Leyla works as a psychotherapist in the UK and addresses the prevalence of FGM around the world. As Leyla reminds us, FGM is a practice of oppressing women and controlling women’s sexuality. It is not an African issue, it is not an Asian issue; it is a global issue that requires a global investment in women.

Other films that were screened were The Youngest and His Cucumber by Sharine Atif. Each film was followed by a panel discussion in which the audience participated.

On March 7, there was the first ever screening of a Pakistani film in Israel. Dukhtar was screened at Cinematheque with English and Hebrew subtitles and I spoke on a panel after the screening. Accompanying me was a Haredi Jewish activist, Fainy Sukenik who runs an organization called Basher Telchi (which roughly translates as “wherever you go”. It was mind boggling to hear her speak of some of the issues faced by Orthodox Jewish women with regards to divorce and child custody. It also made me realise that we have similar issues and it’s so important for women of different backgrounds to come together to discuss and debate these problem. This is why I found this festival so inspiring, innovative and exciting.

Subsequent festivals will be held in various locations throughout the world with a goal toward empowering and emboldening women’s voices globally.
My trip was made even more poignant when upon landing back in Toronto, I was standing at the baggage carousel at the airport, and a stranger came up to me, shook my hand and said “Thank you for the work you do. Please don’t ever stop”….

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