Sharing the power

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The Muslim Students Association’s sudden surge in political power on campus should be celebrated, not criticized, says Politics and Public Admin prof Grace-Edwards Galabuzi. Galabuzi, who also serves on the CFS Students’ Taskforce on the Needs of Muslim Students, has a beef with last week’s story — “Muslims playing for power” — and since we’re in the habit of generating debate on campus, we thought we’d let him share it.

Last week, The Eyeopener ran an article titled “Muslims playing for power.” I must say that I was troubled by the article’s inference that the rise to a key position of leadership in the Ryerson Student Union, the first Muslim (and first racialized) president in the history of the organization, has not led to a celebration of a triumph towards inclusion, but is interpreted as a ‘take over’ by Muslims. As a human rights activist who has been advocating for political inclusion for marginalized groups in Toronto (although about 50 per cent of the population of Toronto is racialized, after the recent city council elections, only four of the 44 members of council are from racialized communities!), the further implication that it is inappropriate for the Muslim Students Association to play an active role in campus politics causes me some consternation. Given the historical social exclusion and current challenges that Muslim students face in educational institutions, such participation should be seen as ensuring that traditional students groups can share power with historically marginalized groups.

Secondly, I am a member of the Canadian Federation of Students’ Taskforce on the Needs of Muslim Students. It was called in response to the growing concerns about the climate of Islamophobia at education institutions and more broadly because the reality of the post-Sept. 11 2001 and subsequent ‘war on terror’ that have become increasingly defined by a dominant clash of cultural and civilizational narrative, and national security efforts to protect society, often at the expense of the human and civil rights of certain identifiable groups.

The Taskforce is made up of 12 members from a cross-section of sectors. Among the objectives of the Taskforce is raising awareness and conducting public education about the needs of Muslim students in Ontario; providing a forum for Muslim students to speak openly about the challenges they face in educational institutions; and an opportunity for Muslim students to share experiences relating to incidents of Islamophobia on campuses.

Over the last two months, the Taskforce has held a number of hearings at campuses across the province. One of those was at Ryerson University on Nov. 1. Students unions, including the RSU have been an active supporter of the Taskforce. Information from the hearings suggests a need to redouble efforts to create campus environments that are inclusive and tolerant of diverse expressions of faiths and the necessity to address long standing gaps in services that meet the needs of Muslim students. The issue of access to prayer space remains very much a concern, given the size of the Muslim population and the very limited space there is in the multi-faith room and at Ryerson the overwhelming majority of the Muslim students have been forced to go off campus to find space to pray. The problem is one of inadequacy of space for all who need it.

It is important that when we take up these issues, we focus on tolerance and inclusion, rather than conflating the small steps historically marginalized groups have taken into some threat of a ‘take over’. History is replete with regrettable outcomes of sensational conflation of the ‘power’ of minorities.

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