Not all Muslim victims of violence are created equal.
That, undeniably, is the unstated view of most Canadian politicians and corporate media.
They won’t admit it, of course. But it’s true and this never acknowledged axiom was on display — for anyone willing to see — last week in Ottawa when Malala Yousafzai was belatedly granted honorary Canadian citizenship.
Malala is a remarkable young woman. Since an assassin’s bullet failed to silence her, she has become an eloquent symbol of the tangible power of peaceful resistance to ignorance, brutality and hate.
The 19-year-old Pakistani knows that she isn’t the first Muslim schoolgirl to be maimed, nor will she be the last to be hurt or killed by a bullet or bomb fired by the Taliban or by the West’s “good guys.”
So why has Malala been vaulted from obscurity and embraced by Western politicians and mainstream media, while the countless other dead and damaged Muslim schoolgirls in countless other places remain anonymous?
The answer to that instructive question, I believe, speaks to the appalling double standard and hypocrisy that is scarcely conceded or honestly confronted by the politicians and journalists who applaud themselves for applauding one Muslim schoolgirl.
Palestinian children and mute politicians
Recall, the politicians and journalists who saluted Malala in the House of Commons went mute or gave their explicit or tacit approval to the sickeningly indiscriminate killing and the psychological, emotional and physical disfigurement of thousands of school-aged Palestinian girls and boys during the Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2014.
The pain, loss and suffering endured by those Muslim students in Gaza has never been and will never be recognized by the same politicians and journalists who paid homage to Malala with standing ovations and a grand ceremony filled with red carpets and speeches about the value, meaning and purpose of one child’s life.
Unlike Malala, the 551 Palestinian children who were killed and the 3,436 other children who were grievously and permanently injured are invisible and forgotten by politicians of a variety of denominations and the establishment press.
To remember, let alone honour, any one of those Palestinian kids would mean implicitly acknowledging who caused all that pain, loss and suffering: Canada’s friend and ally, Israel. And that’s just not on — politically, historically or diplomatically — is it?
The Taliban, on the other hand, is the ruthless, inhumane enemy. It’s in this myopic geopolitical context that Malala’s pain, loss and suffering is considered real and worthy of recognition.
Meanwhile, Israel’s ruthlessness and inhumanity towards Gaza’s children isn’t censured or condemned. Instead, it’s saluted as necessary by the mainstream media and rewarded with trade missions headed by a Liberal premier more than happy to do business with Benjamin Netanyahu less than two years after the slaughter in Gaza.
No honorary citizenship for Gaza doctor
I have no doubt that if Malala were a Palestinian from Gaza, she would not have been asked to speak to the House or feted as a hero by any Canadian prime minister. Why am I convinced of this?
Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish is a Palestinian from Gaza. Today, he is a Canadian.
Dr. Abuelaish has experienced the lasting, nightmarish suffering too many Palestinian fathers and mothers have had to experience for far too long.
In 2009, Israeli tank shells obliterated his home and family in Gaza. In an instant, Dr. Abuelaish lost three daughters and a niece. Beyond their many other scars, shrapnel from the tank shell remains embedded in a few of his five surviving children.
Dr. Abuelaish, who tended to Israelis and Palestinians as a gynecologist, wrote a book about the horror called I Shall Not Hate, where, like Malala, he preached love over hate, understanding over suspicion, education over ignorance.
Like Malala, Dr. Abuelaish has met and been decorated by presidents and prime ministers. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. He has spoken before the European Parliament, the Knesset, U.S. Congressional committees and other august institutions. (Dr. Abuelaish accompanied Governor General David Johnston on a trip to the Middle East in late 2016. Gaza was not on the itinerary.)
Yet, despite all the awards and accolades, there was no honorary Canadian citizenship in the offing for Dr. Abuelaish. Indeed, he and his children waited six years to be awarded their Canadian citizenship and only after several curious bureaucratic delays and an official demand that they all be fingerprinted.
While he waited, Dr. Abuelaish tried to convince a predictably recalcitrant Stephen Harper to grant visas to 100 Gazan children injured during the 2014 Israeli invasion so they could receive urgent medical treatment in Canada.
Harper and then foreign minister, John Baird, refused Dr. Abuelaish’s request and would not meet with him to discuss the humanitarian initiative.
You see, some Muslim victims of violence are more worthy than others.
No support from Canadian government
Earlier this month, Dr. Abuelaish — accompanied by his daughters Shatha, 25, and Raffa, 17 — was back in an Israeli courtroom, fighting to force the Israeli government to finally accept responsibility for the killing of his lost loved ones and to apologize formally to his family.
Dr. Abuelaish and his daughters — one a little older than Malala, the other a little younger — appeared before the court as Canadian citizens. No one from the Canadian government or any member of parliament has offered the family any support, moral or otherwise, in their pursuit of justice and, not surprisingly, the lawsuit has received little or no media attention in Canada.
Is it any wonder then that neither Dr. Abuelaish nor any of his equally brave, resilient and articulate children have been invited to address a special session of Parliament about their trauma or to share a Palestinian-inspired message of hope and reconciliation?
Still, while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose made sure to have their pictures taken with Malala to praise her and extol the virtues of childhood education, Dr. Abuelaish and his daughters have been working quietly for years to raise money through their charitable foundation Daughters for Life to help young women of many faiths and nationalities, including Israelis, to study at some of the world’s finest post-secondary institutions in Canada and abroad.
Trudeau and Ambrose have not uttered a word in support of the Abuelaish family’s noble endeavour. To my knowledge, no federal government has offered so much as a cent to Daughters for Life to fulfill its mission to provide scholarships and fellowships to students yearning to harness the power of an education to build a better future for themselves or their often shattered homes.
Unrealistic as it may be, Trudeau and Ambrose ought to dispense with the self-congratulatory rhetoric and photo ops, and agree publicly as well as financially to back an esteemed Palestinian-Canadian doctor’s mission to foster peace through education. The clock starts now.
While Dr. Abuelaish would, I’m sure, welcome their aid, he’s not waiting for it. Last May, he and his industrious daughters organized a fundraising gala in Toronto. The guests of honour that evening in lieu of Malala’s last-minute absence? Her parents.