By: Nicole Brumley and Tianna Reno
During the summer before university, social justice activist Gilary Massa found herself having to decide whether she would go back to school being “full on Muslim” or “full on non-Muslim.”
“The pressure is suffocating sometimes. It comes from a fear and a pressure to always be so publicly Muslim and so publicly accountable to that identity,” said Massa, an Advocacy Coordinator at the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM).
Massa and fellow panellists Fathima Cader, Naseem Mithoowani, Yusra Khogali and Thamina Jaferi enlightened attendees at the panel Racialized Muslim Women: Recognizing Resistance, Valuing Stories, hosted by Policy Studies PhD student, Binish Ahmed at Ryerson on Jan. 19.
Stand-up poetry performances by Rimshah Ahmed and Shadiya Aidid, left audience members snapping their fingers in poetic agreement as they set the tone to tackle issues of misrepresentation, discrimination and government surveillance of mosques in Muslim communities.
Cader, a civil and human rights litigator in Toronto said the countering-violent extremism (CVE) programs enforced by the RCMP, are forms of “mass surveillance” frequently affecting Somali communities and is “deeply racialized” and “targeted”.
CVE programs are used to address domestic and international terrorist threats by engaging with communities to spot root causes of terrorism.
Cader said a community member told her about children as young as six-years-old, being recruited as police informants to report violence in their neighbourhoods.
Amina Warsame, a third-year student at University of Toronto and panel attendee, said police surveillance that affects Black Muslim communities is “something we see but no one talks about.”
Mithoowani, a lawyer specializing in immigration and refugee law, addressed the misrepresentation of Muslim women in the media.
She said they are often portrayed as exotic or submissive, without actually involving their opinions in stories.
Mithoowani said this misrepresentation impacts Muslim women because they are “a part of public scrutiny without being a part of the conversation.”
In speaking to issues about discrimination, Massa said the bodies of racialized Muslim people have always been the “target.”
She said the fight for inclusion is ongoing as Muslim women have always been othered.
Massa said she often finds herself asking, “Will I be safe, will we be safe?” as she faces issues of white supremacy, sexism and Islamophobia.
In a call to action, Massa encouraged equity seeking groups and allies to “speak truth to power” when confronting systems of oppression.