The Life of a Canadian-Arab Muslim

Inevitably, at all hockey games, there is a moment when as a crowd we stand and applaud individuals for their service as part of the Canadian Forces (of some sort). These individuals, projected on the jumbotron, are often in uniform, are smiling, and seem like genuinely nice people.

Every single time, I feel like I’m going to throw up when I stand up to clap.

It feels like my clapping encourages a war I don’t understand. I am fully aware that Canadian men and women are not being sent overseas, in risk of their lives, to kill civilians who look just like me. But on the other hand, I am fully aware that the war the West is fighting against the Middle East is often not driven by what we think it is; that Canadians are losing their lives, their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, their sons and daughters, for things not clearly explained. I am fully aware that civilians, who look just like me, are often killed for no good reason. I am also fully aware that very few in Western civilization even care.

It is terrifying to think that had I been given a different life, I could easily be, or have been, one of those civilians.

I was born and raised in Canada. I love hockey, am constantly apologizing, enjoy Timmies, and would prefer the temperature were cold rather than warm. I am the epitome of Canadian; I say eh for crying out loud.

Here’s the thing though, I will never be as Canadian as anyone who is Christian. My religion and my culture are the barrier. Thank God I am white or else my trials and tribulations might have been a lot harder than they already are.

When the Ottawa Shooting happened, I was on the University of Ottawa campus, smack in the middle of downtown Ottawa. When my mom called, she asked me if I was okay, then quickly asked who I was with. When I told her I was with a friend, she pressed further, almost in a panic, asking who the friend was. She was relieved when I told her I was with my friend Emma.

Why? Because Emma is white.

If, for some reason, a group of crazies decided to target a Muslim for what was happening around us, Emma could vouch for me only because she is white. My mother made me promise her that I would not leave Emma’s side. Isn’t it heartbreaking that a mother doesn’t feel her child is safe in these situations unless she’s with someone who can vouch for her?

The next day, I was muttered at twice and spat at once. It’s not an experience I would recommend.

Being a Canadian-Arab Muslim means I am constantly at battle between two parts of myself. It means that no matter where I am, who I’m with, or what I’m doing, there’s a game of tug-o-war being played inside me. With Arabs, I’m too Canadian, and with Canadians, I'm too Arab.

When I meet people for the first time, I need to be sure to set up these weird boundaries around myself. I need to swear to let them know I’m not a prude, but I need to dress well, sit up straight and say something smart to prove I’m not trash or scum.

I worry when my parents are talking loudly in Arabic in public people may think I'm being yelled at. I hate being late because I worry that people will associate my tardiness with stereotypes that all of “my kind” are always late. I often wonder what’s it like not to feel like you represent your entire religion and culture. I often wonder what it’s like to simply represent who you are.

And what bothers me most is that when I share this with people, they often tell me it’s all in my head, that I can just be myself and no one will judge me, that I don’t need to calculate my every move.

Well imagine this: what would people think of me if I didn’t stand up and clap in those moments at hockey games?