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FARIHA NAQVI-MOHAMED: A right to participate in democracy without fear

Mariam Ishak, the Conservative candidate in Pierrefonds-Dollard, stands in front of one of her campaign signs that had been defaced with a swastika, in a screengrab from a video she posted on Facebook Sept. 16, 2019. Credit: Facebook
Mariam Ishak, the Conservative candidate in Pierrefonds-Dollard, stands in front of one of her campaign signs that had been defaced with a swastika, in a screengrab from a video she posted on Facebook Sept. 16, 2019. Credit: Facebook

Scene at Pierrefonds-Dollard nomination meeting evoked pride, while elsewhere, signs defaced with swastikas were sickening to see.

Martin Luther King Jr. said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” So I’d like to speak up here about something that matters a great deal: the right of all citizens to participate in our democracy, and do so without fear, in a climate of mutual respect.

It was inspiring to see culturally diverse Canadians show up in droves to cast their votes at the Liberal nomination meeting that took place this week in the riding of Pierrefonds-Dollard. They were full of pride, enthusiasm, zest and political engagement. I was there as an observer, and it filled my heart with pride to see families bring their young children along, with a large percentage of visible-minority voters present. After a lengthy 24-plus hours of counting and re-counting votes, a winner was declared.

That pride in the democratic process reminded me of the sacrifices that my parents made and their parents before them to build a brighter future for their children. Many have died fighting for the right to vote and the rights and freedoms that so many of us take for granted.

In South Asia, where my ancestors are from, it was not unusual in the past for people who oppose their leaders to either get killed, kidnapped or both. The right to a democratic election is one that we are privileged to have. The ability for candidates to campaign openly without fear and while having their rights safeguarded is something we must vehemently defend.

Just a few days later, I saw something online that made me sick to my stomach. The posters of the Conservative candidate in the same riding had been defaced with swastikas. She was not alone. There was at least one similar report concerning signs belonging to the Liberal candidate in Hochelaga.

Drawing a swastika on an election poster is never OK. It does not matter who the candidate is. It does not matter what political party the candidate is with. Yes, the defacing of election posters is nothing new. There was a time when it used to be with devil ears or moustaches. Neither were acceptable. It says something about the world we are living in that something as heinous as a swastika would be used to deface a poster in a democratic election.

Over the past few years, we have seen a growing undercurrent of neo-Nazism that has surfaced periodically by way of hate crimes, most notably in the United States, but also here in Quebec and internationally. Some have dismissed the defacing of candidates’ signs with swastikas by saying it was probably just teenagers messing around. Comments like this disappoint me; it is never OK to do something like this, or to downplay it, as those teenagers — if it indeed was teenagers who who did this — are going to grow up to be adults in a few short years. People are not born as bigots, it is learned. Just as something is learned, it can be unlearned.

We are living in what seems to be an increasingly polarized world, where those on the left and right seem to be moving farther and farther apart in their views, and in their treatment of what they consider to be the “other.”  As citizens of this beautiful country and province, we need to stand up and collectively speak out against all behaviour that leads to extremism, radicalization, intolerance and hate. This is perhaps as important as casting a ballot on Oct. 21.

I urge us all to engage ourselves politically, whether that means volunteering for a candidate we support, or by making sure that we cast our vote.  But let’s do it as Canadians, with respect and dignity, trying to build a better future for ourselves and our children.

Fariha Naqvi-Mohamed is the founder and editor in chief of CanadianMomEh.com , a lifestyle blog.

twitter.com/canadianmomeh

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019


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