No One is Illegal-Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories is a grassroots anti-colonial migrant justice group with leadership from members of migrant and/or racialized backgrounds. As a movement for self-determination, we challenge the racist ideology inherent to the War on Terror that is intrinsically linked to repressive immigration controls. This past week four men were arrested, three in Ottawa, as part of a 2-year investigation entitled “Project Samosa” (cultural sensitivity training seems to have missed the fact that not many Pakistanis and Indians actually like samosas). According to reports, Misbahuddin Ahmed, Hiva Alizadeh, and Dr. Khurram Syed Sher have been charged; a fourth person has been arrested but not yet charged; while three to four others are overseas suspects and co-conspirators.
The men must be presumed to be innocent, both in the court process and in public consciousness. Media sensationalism, government statements, and public commentaries have revealed that the men are being considered and treated as guilty terrorists. This is despite the fact that defence counsel Anser Farooq has said that he knows almost nothing about the specifics of the case and that the charges are vague.
In a press conference, law enforcement official Mr. Juneau-Katsuya articulated high-tech detective skills: “We’ve got red flags everywhere and you can trip one of those flags anytime. If you’re travelling to Pakistan, that’s a red flag…When you’ve got enough red flags, then you become a person of interest. My understanding is they were caught from the Internet.” Juneau-Katsuya also stated that one of the alleged targets was the Montreal transit system. However Isabelle Tremblay, a spokeswoman for the Montreal transit authority, said there have been “no threats, and no information regarding this claim. If something like that occurs, we’re informed. On this matter, there’s nothing.” In an extensive Globe and Mail interview Rizgar Alizadeh, Hiva’s older brother, described the allegations against both him and his brother as “a pack of lies” and said he was neither angry nor fearful because his “conscience is clear”.
The mainstream corporate media has played a crucial role in stirring public frenzy by uncritically parroting government rhetoric such as “homegrown terrorists” and “Jihad generation” and that the suspects were “inspired by Al Qaeda”, without providing any evidence to substantiate such a claim. Such stigmatizing statements will have a permanent damaging effect on the men and their families and their “guilt” will surely continue even if the charges are dropped or the men are acquitted.
Seven years ago in 2003, over twenty South Asian- predominantly Pakistani- Muslim men were arrested in Toronto in a sweep called “Operation Thread” for allegedly being an Al-Qaeda sleeper cell. None of the allegations were proven to be true and not one of the men was ever formally charged, let alone convicted. Yet most were deported and their lives destroyed by the unsubstantiated allegations linking them to terrorism. Four years ago, eighteen men and youth were arrested in the Toronto 18 terror plot. Seven subsequently had all charges dropped, while others were convicted or had to plead guilty under excruciating circumstances, including the pre-arrest existence of well-paid police informants pushing and heavily influencing activity amongst youth, and post-arrest the detainees having to endure conditions of isolation and segregation in high-security prisons for several years. These are reasons enough to remain vigilant. As Alex Neve, the secretary general of Amnesty International has said “the main lesson here is that there can easily be a great deal of hysteria. But there have been previous cases that have collapsed or proved not to be as advertised.”
Despite the fact that the men arrested are all residents and citizens of Canada, the questioning of their “Canadian-ness” reveals a shallow multiculturalism and reinforces the racialized national space. Stories about their Otherness abound: “the suspect with a full, long beard”, “there was nothing that seemed too out of the ordinary except neighbours noted the women wore a niqab or burqa”, or “she said the couple talked openly about their Muslim beliefs”. Profiling is a hateful double standard by which individual members of communities are judged and held responsible for acts or behaviours based on their culture, race, ethnicity, and/or religion. In contrast, white Christian middle-aged men aged 18-45 did not suffer the indignities of suspicion and stereotyping after the bombings of Oklahoma City. Their “ability to integrate” or their positioning within North American society was not challenged. In a media statement after the arrests, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews singled out immigrant communities to be ‘vigilant and to report any suspicious behaviour of homegrown extremism’. Of course he did not ask white people to be vigilant against the growing presence and extremism of white supremacists and neo-nazis who have brazenly been taking to the streets over the past few years.
These arrests will also provide further justification for the policing and security apparatus, which since 9/11, has already resulted in pervasive government and media censorship of information, the silencing of dissent, legislation granting intelligence and law enforcement agencies much broader powers of intrusion, and increasingly exclusionary and racist immigration policies. Over the year, $2 billion security budgets for the Olympics and G20 summit have led to increased law enforcement, coordinated operations of unprecedented mass arrests, and creeping surveillance technologies. Currently the Canadian government is strengthening the false association between migrants and terrorists in their dehumanizing treatment of 492 Tamil refugees, including women and children, who arrived to the coast and are all currently being incarcerated. CSIS has recently revealed it is tracking more than 200 individuals in Canada with possible terrorist links.
The discourse of the War on Terror is rooted in a deliberately-cultivated fear and paranoia, which reduces our capacity to think and debate critically. In the past few years, Canada has re-invented itself as an aggressive and crusading Western imperialist power with an increasing presence of occupation forces in Afghanistan, while strengthening ties to the apartheid state of Israel. Meanwhile, Omar Khadr continues to languish in Guantanamo Bay, facing a military trial where evidence gained through torture is admissible. The historical and present reality is that Canadian state policies have been far from peaceful or benevolent. The foundational values of the Canadian state locally are self-evident through residential schools, the Komagatamaru incident, the Indian Act, Japanese-Canadian internment, forced sterilization, the Chinese Head-Tax, and countless other realities.
We commit ourselves to continuing to defend our communities against the demonization of being “The Enemy Within” that is justifying increasingly repressive and racist policies. We struggle for the elimination of all forms of oppressive violence waged against the peoples of the world, particularly the never-ending War on Terrorism which is bringing the greatest degree of terror and fear in the lives of the world’s majority. We place ourselves within the broader movement for global justice struggling against capitalism, homophobia, imperialism, occupation, patriarchy, poverty, racism and other forms of domination because we recognize that these are interconnected systems. We envision and actively strive for a humanity where everyone has the right to sustenance and the ability to provide it, where we are free of misery and exploitation, and are able to live meaningfully in relationship to one another and in reverence for Mother Earth that sustains us.