Whitehorse Daily Star

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POWERFUL ADVICE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE – Dr. Monia Mazigh is seen Monday morning at Vanier Catholic Secondary School. Her husband, Maher Arar, returned to Canada ‘a changed man’ from the torture he endured in a Syrian jail, she told her audience.

Challenge injustices, activist urges students

High school students were encouraged to take action

By Stephanie Waddell on November 21, 2017

High school students were encouraged to take action in fighting against injustices during a presentation by Dr. Monia Mazigh on Monday morning at Vanier Catholic Secondary School.

The standing-room-only crowd of 100-plus Grades 9 to 12 students and staff from Vanier and the Individual Learning Centre listened intently.

Mazigh spoke for about an hour on her family’s experience after her husband, Maher Arar, was forcibly deported to Syria. There, he was held and tortured for more than a year without ever being charged.

Mazigh was in Whitehorse for the Yukon Nonfiction Festival, where she had also shared her experience and spoke over the weekend.

Arar had been taken into custody in New York while travelling back to Canada from Tunisia.

Deported to Syria

Despite carrying his Canadian passport, he was deported to Syria (he is originally from Syria, but had immigrated to Canada when he was 17) after two weeks of being detained in the U.S. There, American officials had suspected him of being associated with Al Qaeda.

When he was taken into custody, Mazigh was still vacationing in Tunisia and waiting for her husband’s call to say he was back home in Montreal.

He had no lawyer, and all the family could determine at that time was that he was accused of being associated with Al Qaeda. There was no evidence.

“My life took a really, very sharp turn,” Mazigh said.

Shoved into the role of single mother to her young family, Mazigh was also faced with a “cloud overhead” and had to begin a campaign to get her husband home.

She highlighted the laws that began being put in place after 9/11 in the name of protection against terrorism, noting at that time many did not question such actions.

Mazigh began her work to get Arar home, not knowing how long it would take nor what the result might be.

She began by sharing the type of person he was, “humanizing his story”: that he came to Canada as a teenager, worked as an engineer and is a good father.

A letter-writing campaign to government officials followed and grew to include the likes of Amnesty International.

As Mazigh told the students during the presentation, it’s in writing such letters and bringing attention to injustices that “we are practising our civic rights.”

Eventually, in October 2003, Arar was released, with the Syrian government stating that he was “completely innocent”.

“He came back a changed man,” Mazigh said, recalling her husband’s description of feeling like he was in a grave.

Knowing there were other Canadians in similar situations, it was important to continue the fight after Arar was home.

While Canada prides itself on being a land of immigrants, she said, it has failed some citizens, particularly those from Muslim countries.

A three-year public inquiry into Arar’s case started in 2004 and resulted in a formal apology and settlement from the federal government in 2007.

Mazigh has since written Hope and Despair, a book about her family’s experience in 2008.

Two novels have also followed: Mirrors and Mirages, published in 2014; and Hope Has Two Daughters, earlier this year.

She also unsuccessfully ran for federal office for the NDP, and continues to make presentations about the experience and the impact of Islamophobia.

As she told the students Monday, Islamophobic laws resulted in her husband’s deportation and being held in Syria for a year.

“It’s a very old concept,” she said of Islamophobia, citing documents going back to the 1920s that define it.

She then cited an Angus Reid survey from this year. It showed that 47 per cent of Canadians support a ban on head scarves, while 51 per cent endorse surveillance of mosques.

It also shows 31 per cent support the restrictions U.S. President Donald Trump had put forward on travel into the U.S. from predominately Muslim-countries.

Mazigh also stressed the impact perceptions have. She emphasized that she doesn’t have any fewer rights than any other woman “except when it comes to perception.”

As Mazigh encouraged the students to take action, she gave them some practical advice on just how to do that, stating she was “so, so grateful you came today.”

Listening to those who have faced challenges is important. There’s also a number of groups students can get involved with that work toward social justice.

Mazigh also stressed the importance of speaking up when anyone sees injustice.

Comments (7)

Up 2 Down 0

This Is Justice on Nov 26, 2017 at 8:56 am

Challenge injustices like:
-Child marriage
-Child soldiers
-Genocide through ethnic displacement
-Brainwashing fools with propaganda
-Female genital mutilation
-Anti semitism
-Anti Americanism
-Death penalty for blasphemy
-Death penalty for leaving the religion

Up 1 Down 1

CJ on Nov 23, 2017 at 2:20 pm

This woman is such a hero. She saved her husband's life, not giving up in the most hostile environment I could imagine. I remember reading a tiny little paragraph right after September 11, with her saying her husband was being held. She was just dogged in pursuing his release. She's right up there with Joyce Milgaard in my estimation. May we all have someone like them in our corner when we need them. And I wish we could all be so brave, but unfortunately, it's uncommon.

Up 6 Down 0

June Jackson on Nov 22, 2017 at 4:02 pm

It is a measure of our freedom that Ms. Mazigh could even come into our schools and talk about one sided interpretation of events. I often wonder why any one specific group of people want to come here, because Ms. Mazigh chose to speak to Islam, I'll use that..so why come to Canada that espouses western value's so alien to Islamic values instead to Muslim countries whose beliefs and social structure are more in line with your own? The United States did go through 9/11..and the Boston Marathon, and many others..
This would give rise to the US trying to protect their country and citizens.. was any of that presented to the school audience? It is true that not all Muslims are terrorists...

That being said.. I totally agree that injustice needs to be addressed but i also think that the definition is subjective. It is not justice that someone fighting for their belief gets to cut another head off.. but they think it's perfect justice..who gets to decide? The guy with the mask and scimitar? or the guy kneeling?
To me social injustice is Morneau and Trudeau sheltering their millions of dollars in income so they can evade taxes, while kids don't have enough to eat. https://foodsecurecanada.org/resources-news/news-media/fsc-news/too-many-canadian-kids-are-going-hungry,
600,000 seniors in poverty.. http://www.carp.ca/2014/12/11/600000-seniors-canada-live-poverty/

We did not totally support Ms. Mazigh.. wonder how many posts will come in calling me a racist? well.. social injustice means one thing to this speaker, and another thing to me.
PSG.. soooo very well stated.

Up 6 Down 0

Just Say'in on Nov 22, 2017 at 3:02 pm

I have no idea what the exact circumstances are in this case, however I do not see why when these people continue to travel to war torn areas and maintain dual Passports and have Canada as a safe haven to be rescued when they get themselves in a jackpot.
Overtime there are problems in some country and Canada has thousands to get out of there, and when you see the pictures they are people that are living there but have a Canadian passport of convenience.
I am tired of saving people from their own stupidity. By the way why do we have to pay these guys out since it was the US and Syria that grabbed them. Same with Khadr and the others we are writing cheques to. Send the bill to those guys and see if they would pay.

Up 12 Down 0

Groucho d'North on Nov 22, 2017 at 2:56 pm

"Challenge injustices, activist urges students" I wonder where she stands on Sharia Law and permitted wife beatings? With the recent surge in women accusing men of sexual impropriety in the entertainment industry, you'd think there would be some equal time given to preventing violence against women- yet it remains unspoken by the regular female activists, Muslim or not.

Up 11 Down 0

Josey Wales on Nov 22, 2017 at 7:30 am

Hey PSG....well done! Cannot speak to your first line as I am ignorant of that situation. Could not agree more with virtually every character after however. I can tell this one came right from the epicentre of your values, Vs your often intelligent interesting opinions on the goings on of our home.
The positive thing I have observed as our fan blades get covered in fecal matter? More folks start expressing themselves from core value zone, they then often “awake” realizing the level of decay.
I know you are not snoozing, and need less clarity in illustrations of rot.
Please, never cease...

Up 24 Down 4

ProScience Greenie on Nov 21, 2017 at 3:10 pm

Maher Arar was just some random dude that got swept up in the post 9/11 fear and paranoia. A way different scenario than that of Omar Khadr who was raised by a family of terrorists to build bombs to kill allied troops in a legal war in the totalitarian theocratic hell hole that is Afghanistan. A country which sheltered the mastermind of 9/11. Nothing wrong with fair compensation for Arar but a total ripoff to Canadian taxpayers and our veterans, alive and passed away, that Khadr received one red cent of our money.

Who cares about head scarves, base ball caps, turbans or whatever. Have at it. It's the facial covering headgear in public places that is wrong in so many ways, from it's symbolism of theocratic and misogynistic oppression to the barrier to our primal need of facial recognition and eye contact to communicate between ourselves which predates all religion and culture.

We need a more egalitarian society. MKL had it right 50 years ago - "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

That said, it should be open season verbally on any and all movements, political and religious, that threaten basic freedoms, equality, liberties and the democratic process.

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