Photo by Kyle West

CW: Islamophobia, violence

 

On March 19, hundreds of students, faculty and staff filled the McMaster University Student Centre courtyard to mourn the victims of the Christchurch massacre.

The terrorist attack was committed on March 15 by a white supremacist who opened fire in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing a total of 50 people and injuring 50 others.

The attack was considered the worst mass shooting in New Zealand’s recent history.

The vigil was organized by the McMaster Muslim Students Association in collaboration with the McMaster Muslims for Peace and Justice and the McMaster Womanists. The three groups brought 15 speakers from various parts of the community to speak.

The vigil began with a recitation from the Quran.

In a particularly poignant moment following the recitation, the organizers honoured and read out the names of the 50 who died due to the attack.

A theme echoed throughout the vigil was that the attack reflected a larger movement of white supremacy, Islamophobia and bigotry across the globe.

“White supremacy exists, toxic masculinity exists, misogyny exists. Xenophobia, racism and Islamophobia exist. These things exist in New Zealand, in the United States. They also exist right here in Canada, in Ontario, in Hamilton,” said Khadijeh Rakie, a staff member of the McMaster Equity and Inclusion Office.

Rakie encouraged Muslim people to grieve freely.

“I don’t think our strength or grief must be looked at in one way, or need to be performative or palatable or always available for public consumption,” said Rakie.

Speakers pointed out the connection between Christchurch and the 2017 Quebec mosque attack, completed by a white supremacist, which killed six people in prayer.

“Far-right populist leaders around the world and false media narratives have stoked the fires behind the dehumanization and demonization of Muslims worldwide, causing events like the one in Christchurch,” said one student speaker.

Many speakers also expressed appreciation for other faith groups who have supported and stood in solidarity with them since the attack.

Other speakers encouraged Muslim and non-Muslims alike to actively stand against discrimination in all its forms.

“As different societies face all forms of prejudice, persecution and rhetoric against immigrants, refugees, visitors and worshippers of all kinds of faith, backgrounds, and communities, we must all stand together against all forms of violence, ignorance and hatred,” said another student speaker.

Mahmood Haddara, the president of McMaster MSA, called for compassion and unity.

“We need at times like these to build those connections with each other, to turn towards each other, to remind ourselves of that love and that connection, to look at the person next to you regardless  of their skin colour or their belief and remind yourself that they are your brother or sister in humanity,” said Haddara.

Following the speeches, the organizers held an open prayer in the MUSC atrium.

Gachi Issa, one of the organizers of the vigil, said she is grateful for the support from the McMaster community and hopes the vigil will also spark discussion about discrimination and Islamophobia in Hamilton and on the McMaster campus.

“The message is first and foremost to mourn these [50] and counting victims in New Zealand, but it’s also to localize it,” said Issa. “The same thing that has killed them affects us here.”

 

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Photo C/O @BethanyAllenEBR

By: William Li

On Feb. 11, Uighur activist Rukiye Turdush’s presentation at McMaster University about China’s mass internment of Muslims was disrupted by student protestors.

Controversially, these students had rallied not only to protest the event, but to coordinate with the Chinese Embassy.

The Washington Post reports that this coordination went beyond ordinary consular services: in addition to sending photos, the students say they were requested to search the talk for any university officials or Chinese nationals.

This is alarming, as it represents an attempt to harass and intimidate Turdush into silence. It is also disturbing because the Chinese government has no business collecting information about political events on campus.

It is important to remember that the Chinese Communist Party currently runs an authoritarian government with absolute control of China, including its foreign embassies. The regime also has a long history of violently crushing dissent.

Most notably, at the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, thousands of students were massacred with tanks and machine guns. Lawyers, activists and even Nobel laureates are regularly imprisoned for criticizing the Communist Party. Today, China also uses internet censorship and a social credit system to neuter any challenge to Party rule.

The incident with Turdush shows that similar political repression is not something distant and foreign; it is something that happened on campus and continues to happen.

One of the most overlooked victims here are the Chinese international students. This is especially true if photos are being sent to the Chinese Embassy. This essentially creates a system of fear in which students surveil each other, reporting to officials any deviance from the Communist Party line.
For international students seeking a liberal education in Canada, where our academic freedom would let them develop skills in independent-thinking that may be frowned upon in China, these hopes are dashed.

Instead, they are kept on a tight leash. Any deviance from Party-approved behaviour risks a report to the embassy, and resulting repercussions back home such as endangering family members or losing job and business opportunities.

Despite being on Canadian soil, these students will never get to fully experience basic freedoms that Canadian citizens take for granted. If Chinese students cannot speak freely, or even attend a political event, without risking state punishment, then this prevents any real discussion about Turdush’s presentation or any issues affecting them.
Even worse, this kind of political repression is being advanced by McMaster Students Union-ratified clubs.

In a statement written in Chinese, the McMaster Chinese Students and Scholar Association, McMaster Chinese News Network and McMaster Chinese Professional Society condemned Turdush and confirmed they contacted the Chinese Consulate in Toronto.

The McMaster English Language Development Student Association, an affiliate of the faculty of humanities, and the McMaster Chinese Graduate Students Club also signed the statement.

This statement was not directed at Turdush, nor any non-Chinese students. Rather, for the international students who can read Chinese, the thinly-veiled threat was crystal clear: promote the Communist Party line on political issues, or you will be reported to the Chinese consulate.
This is deplorable. MSU-ratified clubs and affiliates of the university should not be surveilling McMaster students and reporting their activities to foreign governments.

They should not propagate an environment where fear of surveillance prevents students from speaking out. They should not masquerade as safe spaces for international students if they have a hidden agenda to allow authoritarian regimes a backdoor to covertly monitor their citizens abroad.
There is also evidence that this problem is not unique to McMaster. The Chinese government has actively tried to influence academic institutions in several liberal democracies, particularly with its Confucius Institutes.

The MSU needs to investigate if these clubs have violated the Clubs Operating Policy by reporting political activity on campus to the Chinese government, through negatively affecting students’ ability to conduct their lawful affairs (5.1.1.1), interfering with other clubs’ activities (5.1.1.2) or failing to fully disclose connections to bodies outside of the MSU (4.2).
Declining to take action would betray anybody who feels surveilled, muffled or repressed by the Chinese government, and tarnish the MSU’s reputation as a safe and inclusive union that puts students’ interests first.

 

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