by adam rasmi in


(Courtesy Patrick Cardinal)

(Courtesy Patrick Cardinal)

IT HAS BEEN a busy few months for the six Canadian CF-18 fighter jets tasked with bombing the Islamic State. On January 2, more airstrikes were launched than on any single day since June, which followed a month where more combat missions were flown than in any other month since July. These are curious developments for a Liberal government that vowed to end Canada’s participation in the coalition airstrikes in Syria and Iraq.

Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau never promised a specific timetable for withdrawal during the election, the gist was that Operation Impact would end soon. But nearly three months into office, Canadian air sorties are continuing—and recently at a more frequent pace than before.

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(Courtesy Twitter)

(Courtesy Twitter)

At around 6.00 p.m on Thursday, 12 November, two bombs went off in a shopping district in southern Beirut. At least 43 people died and more than 200 were injured in the deadliest blast to hit the Lebanese capital since the end of the civil war in 1990. Isis claimed responsibility.

No monuments in Europe were lit up with the tricolour Lebanese flag; no Facebook safety check was turned on for Beirut residents; there was no one-click feature to allow Facebook users to add a Lebanese flag filter to their profile picture. Not many Western heads of state felt obliged to offer public condolences to Lebanon, a country of 4.4 million people which has taken in more than a million Syrian refugees.

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Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaves at the conclusion of a news conference in Ottawa, Canada, November 2015. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaves at the conclusion of a news conference in Ottawa, Canada, November 2015. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

“Sunny ways, my friends. Sunny ways. This is what positive politics can do,” said Justin Trudeau, the new Canadian prime minister, in his victory speech in Montreal on October 19. The remarks were a direct nod to Sir Wilfrid Laurier, a former Canadian prime minister known for his pleasant manner and ability to forge compromises. Trudeau’s speech underscored how different he would be from his conservative predecessor, Stephen Harper, whom the Canadian historian Robert Bothwell recently called “the most cynical prime minister in Canadian history.”

After a 78-day campaign in which identity issues featured prominently, Trudeau’s first steps have been to emphasize diversity. His 31-member cabinet, which he unveiled as one that looks “like Canada,” is the most diverse the country has ever seen. Two indigenous Canadians were tapped to become minister of justice and attorney general; a Muslim woman of Afghan descent, Maryam Monsef, who came to Canada as a refugee in 1996, became minister of democratic institutions; four members of the Sikh community were appointed to various posts, including Harjit Sajjan, who became minister of national defense (Canada now has more Sikhs in its cabinet than India); and 50 percent of the cabinet is made up of women, another notable first.

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An NDP supporter reacts to results from Canada's federal election. (Courtesy Matthieu Belanger/ Reuters)

An NDP supporter reacts to results from Canada's federal election. (Courtesy Matthieu Belanger/ Reuters)

"Canada: the country you think of so little … that’s it, end of sentence,” quipped John Oliver, host of the satirical HBO program “Last Week Tonight,” on the eve of Canada’s 42nd federal election. As Oliver correctly observed, Canadian politics rarely generate much outside attention. Yet all that changed the next day, when the gregarious and charismatic Justin Trudeau led the Liberal Party to a resounding parliamentary win. The Guardian hailed the victory as a “big political shift to the center-left”; The Atlantic’s David Frum opined that Trudeau “repudiated” the “neoliberal Liberals of the 1990s”; and The Nation’s Washington correspondent John Nichols even called on American Democrats to “learn something” from the Liberal Party's example.

It isn’t hard to understand why this win was seen as a victory for the left. Many Canadians had grown weary of nine years of conservative rule under Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The Conservatives’ muzzling of government scientists in a bid to temper criticism of Alberta’s Tar Sands, a more hawkish foreign policy, shying away from welcoming refugees, and harsher security and policing laws were but a few of the prominent examples of the country’s rightward turn.

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Screengrab. (Courtesy HuffPost Live)

Screengrab. (Courtesy HuffPost Live)

Canada’s national election concludes Monday. Current Prime Minister Stephen Harper is hoping to best liberal challenger Justin Trudeau. But plurality will determine the outcome. We discuss the issues at stake in our northern neighbor's election.

Guests:

Ryan Maloney, Politics Editor, HuffPost Canada

John Wright, Senior Vice President, Ipsos Reid

Adam Rasmi, Journalist

Claire Durand, Sociology Professor, University of Montreal

Watch the video here.


by adam rasmi in


(Courtesy Chloe Cushman/National Post)

(Courtesy Chloe Cushman/National Post)

Rezan Mosa is a 22-year-old Vancouver-born Canadian. She is completing a double major in sociology and religious studies at Western University in London, Ontario, and works at the local campus bookstore. Rezan is also a Muslim and, about 18 months ago, she began wearing the face-covering niqab. “It was a decision I made myself and it was very empowering for me,” she says.

Although her friends supported her decision, her family was more reluctant. (No other women in her immediate or extended family wear the niqab.) Her father in particular worried about the impact it would have on her life—and how she would be treated in public. His fears have been borne out over the last month and a half. On about three or four occasions, passersby have told her to “Go back to your country” or that “This is Canada.” Rezan had heard these kinds of comments in the past—many Muslim women in Canada have—but she says the frequency has increased ever since the debate over the niqab took center stage in the upcoming federal election.

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Syrian refugee children participate in a religion class. Photographed in the Ketermaya informal tented settlement (ITS), outside Beirut, Lebanon on June 1, 2014. (Courtesy Dominic Chavez/World Bank)

Syrian refugee children participate in a religion class. Photographed in the Ketermaya informal tented settlement (ITS), outside Beirut, Lebanon on June 1, 2014. (Courtesy Dominic Chavez/World Bank)

THIS PAST SUMMER, at one of Beirut’s many trendy rooftop bars, I met an undocumented Syrian NGO worker named Hani. Since Syria began unravelling in 2011, its people have fled in many directions, and for all sorts of reasons related to the war. In Hani’s case, it was because he feared arrest for his opposition to the Assad regime.

According to Hani, he set out for Lebanon early one morning in August 2012, traversing the mountainous Syrian-Lebanese border. Hani had walked for five or six hours until arriving at a pre-arranged meeting place, where a car was waiting for him.

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Maghen Abraham, Beirut's oldest synagogue, undergoes renovation in Wadi Abu-Jamil district in downtown Beirut. (Courtesy Reuters)

Maghen Abraham, Beirut's oldest synagogue, undergoes renovation in Wadi Abu-Jamil district in downtown Beirut. (Courtesy Reuters)

Miriam Mizrahi Guindi, a Syrian Jew originally from Aleppo, set sail from Mexico City to Beirut in 1946. Already pregnant, she would soon give birth in her husband Elias’ hometown, the Lebanese capital. Miriam returned to the city on three occasions to deliver the youngest of her six children, spending five or so months there each time. Like many émigré Lebanese and Syrian Jews, Miriam and Elias maintained a strong attachment to the region despite having left their homeland. Both spoke French and Hebrew since their youth, but Arabic was their native and preferred tongue.

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(Courtesy Shutterstock/The Economist)

(Courtesy Shutterstock/The Economist)

WITH only the clothes on her back and a toothbrush in her pocket, Mariney, a Mexican-American NGO worker, flew from Beirut to Cyprus in April. It was a routine visa run made by many expatriates in Lebanon before the expiry of their two-month “tourist" visas, which are free on arrival. But when Mariney was clearing customs, security officials told her she would not be allowed to return to Lebanon.

Two months earlier Mariney’s employer, a Chicago-based human rights organisation, had started the paperwork to get Mariney a work visa. That led to months of back-and-forth exchanges with a disorganised and overwhelmed Lebanese bureaucracy, ending in nothing but flagging up Mariney to the authorities.

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An illustration by Suha Wanous. (Courtesy Najda Now)

An illustration by Suha Wanous. (Courtesy Najda Now)

In an upscale district of Downtown Beirut, two pre-teen boys rapped in Arabic during an exhibit showcasing the artwork of Syrian refugee children. Ramzi, a 12-year-old originally from Daraa, Syria, beatboxed as his friend Ayham, also from Daraa, spit rhymes. Guests watched quietly, impressed, as the two boys recalled life before the uprising turned civil war wreaked havoc on their country.

This was part of an exhibit called “Light Against Darkness,” the result of a three-month art workshop that focused on helping children overcome the trauma of war through creative expression. Forty-three children produced about 166 works of drawings and clay sculptures, many of which depicted colorful renditions of schools, kids playing together, and families bonding.

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Charred books in Tripoli's Al-Saeh library. (Courtesy Hussein Malla/AP)

Charred books in Tripoli's Al-Saeh library. (Courtesy Hussein Malla/AP)

DAYS after a fire wreaked havoc on Tripoli’s largest library, much of it is already restored. Shelf after shelf holds books neatly wrapped in plastic to protect them from the humidity. Residents from the northern Lebanese city gather in the backyard eagerly discussing the library’s reconstruction.

On January 3rd, Tripoli’s Al-Saeh library was set aflame, purportedly by Salafists, fundamentalist Muslims, after rumours circulated accusing Father Ibrahim Sarrouj, a Greek Orthodox priest and the library’s founder, of writing a pamphlet insulting Islam. Among other things, the article was alleged to say that Abu Bakr, Islam’s first caliph, the leader of the Muslim community after Muhammad’s death, once beat the prophet’s wife Aisha with a newspaper.

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A camel foams at the mouth as he is whipped by a robot jockey during a race at Nad al-Sheba on December 6, 2006 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Courtesy Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

A camel foams at the mouth as he is whipped by a robot jockey during a race at Nad al-Sheba on December 6, 2006 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Courtesy Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates—A late-afternoon sandstorm had descended on the Al Marmoom racetrack, some 40 kilometers outside of Dubai, and dust swirled everywhere. But even with the harsh desert weather, the races went ahead as planned.

The camels—many of them owned by the royal families of the United Arab Emirates—galloped along a five-kilometer track, with the fastest ones zipping past the finish line, like clockwork, on or near the 7:40 mark. Stamped with electronic chips for identification, the animals are presented by their owners, along with parentage certificates specifying their breed and age, before every race. Afterwards, the top three finishers are taken to a nearby center to test for doping—routine fare for Dubai’s multimillion-dollar camel racing industry.

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A blood-soaked man marches in this Ashura procession. (Courtesy James Haines-Young)

A blood-soaked man marches in this Ashura procession. (Courtesy James Haines-Young)

THE excruciating wail could be heard without the microphones. On November 14th, thousands of women clad in black abayas and children watched the army of the caliph Yazid slaughter Hussein, a grandson and would-be heir of the Prophet Muhammad, in a theatrical recreation of the battle in 680 AD that split Islam into its Sunni and Shia branches. 

Below the stage in this town in southern Lebanon, groups of young men prepared themselves for a bloodier part of Ashura, as the day of mourning for Hussein’s death is known. Men used razors to carve small incisions on the scalps of the men and boys, some as young as two-years-old. Cries of “Ya Hussein, Ya Hussein” echoed through the streets as men pounded their foreheads, blood streaming down their faces.

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Surah 49, Al-Hujurat or The Chambers. (Courtesy Everitte Barbee)

Surah 49, Al-Hujurat or The Chambers. (Courtesy Everitte Barbee)

Plans to build or expand Islamic community centres in the United States have come under intense public scrutiny in recent years. In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for example, a 2010 proposal to expand the city's only Islamic centre caused a national uproar, raising larger questions about America's acceptance of its Muslim community.

Many of Murfreesboro's 111,000 people "thought we were invading their country to take away their life", said Saleh Sbenaty, a board member at the Islamic Community Centre of Murfreesboro (ICM) and a professor at Middle Tennessee State University. Some residents, Mr Sbenaty notes, were unaware that an Islamic centre had existed in Murfreesboro for more than 30 years already.

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A sign in Arabic reads “Homosexuality is here, get used to it.” (Courtesy Adam Rasmi)

A sign in Arabic reads “Homosexuality is here, get used to it.” (Courtesy Adam Rasmi)

ISTANBUL, Turkey: Pride parades are a rare occurrence in the Middle East. But in Istanbul, it is a decade-old event that draws tens of thousands of participants including, this year, countless Gezi Park activists who joined the resistance-themed procession this past Sunday.

Unlike many LGBTQ parades outside the Middle East, Istanbul's at times resembled more demonstration than celebration. Marching down Istiklal Street, the main thoroughfare of Taksim Square, the heart of the city, participants chanted against businesses known to be unfriendly to Pride or Gezi Park activists. Tensions mounted as supporters passed a small group – about a dozen men, mostly conservative Muslims – who held up banners against the day's festivities.

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