Thursday, September 9, 2010

NOII-Ottawa statement on Project Samosa and racism

taking a stand against Islamophobic public discourses

No One is Illegal (NOII) Ottawa is a coalition of migrants and allies that advocates and fights for the rights, dignity, and respect of immigrants and refugees, as well as those living without status in Canada. We also stand in solidarity with the struggles of indigenous peoples for land, self-determination and sovereignty. We challenge the racist ideology inherent to the "War on Terror" that is intrinsically linked to repressive immigration controls. This past week four men were arrested, three in Ottawa, as part of a 2-year investigation entitled “Project Samosa” - an absurd and culturally incompetent name that reveals the racist underpinnings of this so-called security operation.

We believe that the men must be presumed to be innocent, both in the court process and in public consciousness. Media sensationalism, government statements, and public commentaries have revealed that the men are being considered and treated as guilty terrorists. The mainstream corporate media has played a crucial role in stirring public frenzy by uncritically parroting government rhetoric such as “homegrown terrorists” and “Jihad generation” and that the suspects were “inspired by Al Qaeda”, without providing any evidence to substantiate such claims. Such stigmatizing statements will have a permanent damaging effect on the men and their families and their “guilt” will surely continue even if the charges are dropped or the men are acquitted. Much like the stigmatization and media's guilty verdict of the Tamil migrants aboard the MV Sun Sea, or the case of Professor Hassan Diab, or Maher Arar, we believe it is important, in the face of racist stereotypes and xenophobia, to actively challenge such rhetoric.

We remember the disastrous consequences of racism in Canadian society. We remember the SS St-Louis, where a boat carrying Jewish passengers fleeing Nazi persecution was turned away from Canada, and sent to their deaths in concentration camps. We remember Grise, a pregnant 24-year-old Mexican refugee, who was deported from Canada to her death in Mexico, after attempting to gain status as a refugee fleeing death threats. We remember “Operation Thread” in 2003, when over twenty South Asian - predominantly Pakistani - Muslim men were arrested in Toronto for allegedly being an Al-Qaeda sleeper cell. None of the allegations were proven to be true and not one of the men was ever formally charged, let alone convicted. Yet most were deported and their lives destroyed by the unsubstantiated allegations linking them to terrorism. Four years ago, eighteen men and youth were arrested in the Toronto 18 terror plot. Seven subsequently had all charges dropped, while others were convicted or had to plead guilty under excruciating circumstances. These are reasons enough to remain vigilant. As Alex Neve, the secretary general of Amnesty International has said, “the main lesson here is that there can easily be a great deal of hysteria. But there have been previous cases that have collapsed or proved not to be as advertised.”

Despite the fact that the men arrested are all residents and citizens of Canada, the questioning of their “Canadian-ness” reveals a shallow multiculturalism and clear racist tendencies. Stories about their Otherness abound: “the suspect with a full, long beard”; “there was nothing that seemed too out of the ordinary except neighbors noted the women wore a niqab or burqa”; or “she said the couple talked openly about their Muslim beliefs”. Profiling is a hateful double standard by which individual members of communities are judged and held responsible for acts or behaviors based on their culture, race, ethnicity, and/or religion.

In the past few weeks an ugly side of Canadian society has been rearing its head. Across the country known racist neo-nazi organizer Paul Fromm has been hosting xenophobic anti-Tamil protests. Though fairly unsuccessful attendance-wise, these rallies are a frightening reminder of what we are facing if we give up the fight against racism. We must commit ourselves to continuing to defend our communities against demonization. We must continue to struggle for the elimination of all forms of oppressive violence waged against the peoples of the world, particularly the never-ending 'War on Terrorism" which is bringing the greatest degree of so much terror and fear into the lives of the world’s majority.

We place ourselves within the broader movement for global justice struggling against capitalism, homophobia, imperialism, occupation, patriarchy, poverty, racism and other forms of domination because we recognize that these are interconnected systems.

Against racism, xenophobia, scapegoating and all borders, we say NO ONE IS ILLEGAL