What happened to me today at Concordia University
by Shujaat Wasty
Montreal - October 5, 2004 (MMN): I didn't have class today, but I do have quite a few tests and assignments due soon, since it's midterm time, so I decided to head to school to do some research and to study. Little did I know what would happen later that day.
Apparently, Hillel and other Zionist groups organized a "freedom of speech rally" in front of Concordia, in protest of the Concordia Administration refusing to let Ehud Barak speak on Campus. 3 friends (who are Muslim of different backgrounds) and I happened to be walking by, when we decided to stand and listen to the various speeches, just like others were doing.
Shortly thereafter, we were approached by a couple of plainclothes policemen who identified themselves to be from the Montreal Police Force. They asked us to step aside. We were taken aback, and asked what the problem was. They then asked us which "side" we were on. We were even more taken aback by this.
We told them we were students at Concordia, standing and listening to the speeches. I I asked them why they were asking us this question, and why only us, while there were many other people standing around. They responded by saying they wanted to keep things "peaceful".
We told them this was unconstitutional, this was racial profiling. I also asked him if it was my skin colour, or my friend's beard that made them approach us like this. I told them I know the constitution of Canada and I know my rights, and my standing in front of my school is not illegal, nor does it warrant them harassing us...and only us. We informed one officer that this wasn't Israel or any other repressive state. By this point, I noticed that we were surrounded by numerous police officers and plainclothes police.
Then every media that was there (CTV/CFCF, CBC/Radio-Canada, Global TV, 940 News, La Presse, etc.) surrounded us with questions, and I ended up conducting a Press Conference.
There was a mixture of emotions that went through my mind. How could us standing there, listening to a speech at an open rally, be subjected to such behaviour?? Why only us?? It was also quite intimidating, to be surrounded by a bunch of police officers...like wolves around sheep. They made us feel like criminals, for standing there, listening to a speech on our school property: because of the way we looked. It was embarassing and despicable.
One journalist even said it was probably because my appearance is Latino or Arab. I responded I'm neither, but EVEN if I was, does this justify this behaviour??
I've been lucky thus far in the sense where I haven't been subjected to blatant racism of this magnitude...but this was honestly disgusting. As a born & raised Canadian, I was subjected to open discrimination for my physical appearance - I actually got a glimpse of how Jews felt in the late 30's in Germany, of how blacks felt in the US and in apartheid South Africa.
This world is becoming increasingly Islamophobic, and unfortunately, even Canadian society is taking that route...yet some of us live in denial. I urge you all to band together, to get active, to write, to show that WE ARE Canadians, we are HUMANS, and that intolerant actions such as this is against our morals as both of those groups.
Honestly, many of us don't feel for the victims of oppression elsewhere in the world...but it may be that the day is not far where we might become victims ourselves. What will we do then, when it's too late??
I'm still shaken up and upset about it... :(
Shujaat Wasty is a student at Concordia University. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org