WHAT LEADS YOUTH TO LEEDS?
The heart-rending loss of humanity in the wake of the London bombings is a tragedy that affects all of us, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.
The blasts didn’t come as a total surprise because the writing was on the wall. Despite the cause and effect theory which has been propounded extensively by commentators, this is a homegrown problem and it can only be solved within the community that allowed it to grow. That community is not necessarily a religious community, but a multicultural community like all of us here in Canada.
I say this with feeling because I am a Pakistani Muslim woman with two sons, the same age as the suicide bombers in London. The difference is that my sons are secular in their public life and soundly knowledgeable and religious in their private life. They have grown up in an environment of respect for interfaith and life.
More importantly they know how balance both.
Early this year my 20 year old son, Saif went to Birmingham, England to visit a friend he hadn’t seen in a long time. When he returned he was quite perturbed. Upon probing he confessed that he found his counterparts in England very disturbing in their religious ideology and even use a custom essay writing service. At Friday prayer in a mosque and was shocked at the fire and brimstone being spouted from the pulpit. Later, he took a drive with his Muslim friend and they had a flat tire. My son noted they had just passed a gas station and suggested they take the car there to be fixed. To his surprise and dismay, the three British-Muslim boys with him said they would rather walk than take their business to a non-Muslim. They proceeded to try and indoctrinate my son about the ills of the West and how important it was not to integrate with locals. Saif says he was alarmed at the attitude of these young Muslims and found they were totally dishonest and disconnected with the reality of living in the West and with any values of assimilation.
I’ve seen this trend on my visits to Britain. There is a growing sense of frustration in the youth and it’s dangerous. Last weeks events are symbolic of this malaise. Granted there are many political, economic and social factors that come into play when we talk about terrorism today. These are not part of a hidden agenda any more and anyone with half a brain is aware that the war in Iraq and US foreign policy plays a strong role in any reaction to the West. But it does not, and will never justify death of innocents.
Can this happen in Canada? Maybe. Unless we wake up and smell the coffee. And I don’t mean only Muslims, although public opinion would like to make this exclusively an Islamic problem. When the bubble bursts, it affects all of us and before we are left blaming each other, let’s try and look at solutions. I don’t believe technical surveillance, airport checks, limiting immigration and picking up bearded Muslim men at random is the solution. Obviously targeting one community is not the answer either. The solution lies with parents and guardians, peers and advisors, teachers and religious institutions. All of us need to more vigilant about the kind of rhetoric being spouted, about the ideology of hate being exported into Canada, about Muslim youth becoming targets for Al-Qaeda recruiters in places of Education and worship. Most important perhaps, is teaching our youth to raise their voices in condemning all acts of violence and being aware about what is going on around them.
Last month, two of the largest centers of Islamic Learning, Al Azhar in Egypt and Qum in Iran gave a joint fatwa that suicide bombing is a sin – unacceptable under any circumstance. In Amman, Jordan over 170 Muslim scholars, thinkers and historians who gathered for an International Islamic conference, agreed to forbid labeling anyone with apostasy, condemning extremists who used hate ideology to fire up sentiments against others.
In response to those who want to know where moderate Muslims are hiding, let me inform them we are alive and well and working around the clock to un-do the damage done by 30 years of indoctrination of an ideology of hate. (Where and how this ideology was invited into the West is whole other story) but let it suffice to say that we work hard to get our voices heard. But like every other extremist movement, the loudest voices are those of the damned.
Last week’s bombing in London was close to home. My brother-in-law was on the train just before the one that was bombed. We were terrified till we knew he was safe. Similarly, hundreds of other relatives, friends and loved ones must also have worried themselves sick. Today many families mourn their dead and so do we.
However our loss is greater as we mourn not only the dead and wounded, we also mourn the living who have lost their souls. Before the soul of our faith, our youth, our loved ones is sucked away by the devil in disguise, let’s join hands for the greatest of all jihads – the struggle to respect the dignity of human life. The Persian poet Saadi wrote about the challenge of humanity in the following words: "Human beings are like members of one body Created from one and the same essence When one member feels pain, the rest are distraught You - unmoved by the suffering of others Are unworthy of the name human."
CLASH OF CULTURES OR GROWING PAINS?
"Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you."
- Kahlil Gibran
South Asians come from varying ethnic backgrounds, traditions, cultures and faiths. Yet there some universal issues across the board that are common to the majority so no matter which part of South Asia they are from, they find themselves discussing these common causes in Canada. One of the commonalities is family and the challenge of bringing up children in the West, hoping they will uphold their heritage and culture. As second and third generation South Asians emerge in Canada, these discussions are now becoming popular ‘drawing room conversations’.
While parents express their concerns about kids losing their culture, many kids express their angst at the “imposition of values from back home.”
Hassan, a York University student is 20 and came to Canada from Pakistan when he was 4. “What I can’t understand is that if parents want to impose their own culture in a monolithic way, why do they bring us here in the first place?”. His beef along with his younger brother Saad who is 16, is that while they understand the basic rules of growing up with strong moral and ethical values, their parents were always tense and the boys feel “they trusted us but were afraid we would be influenced by our friends”. One thing the brothers were never allowed to do is sleep over with friends. “Although” they complain “it’s considered perfectly normal by all our non-South Asian friends. So it was always embarrassing and we had to make pitiful excuses when sleepovers happened”.
The ‘sleepover’ protest seems to be common across the board for South Asian youth. Anant Pai, 22 a University student living in Mississauga agrees that while he considers his parents quite liberal, sleeping over at friends was always a challenge. Pai comes from a multi-cultural background. His mother is from Calcutta and his father from Madras and he speaks a bit of both Bengali and Konkani. The family moved from India to the Middle East and then to Canada in 1998. Pai has an older sister and he feels that while there are no double standards for boys and girls in his family, age is more the factor. “My sister is older and more responsible, so she has a bit more freedom than I do in the sense that her curfew is later than mine, but my parents need to know where we are and who we are with”. Pai explains that curfews are acceptable because they are not a south Asian phenomenon and most of his friends have curfews. Saad says that parents asking lots of questions about their friends is something he and his brother got used to but found different from their mainstream anglo-saxon friends where parents were much more relaxed and casual.
Another practice that South Asian kids find different from the mainstream is working at a young age. “I realized then that South Asian kids don’t normally work outside the home for a living while studying, especially girls” explains Pai. “So I got my first paper route and my parents would wake up early to take me in their car to “protect me”. It was so embarrassing and I soon left the job.” Being protective of girls is also a norm in South Asian families, although modern girls are now moving out sooner and becoming much more independent than back in South Asia. Much of the onus of how kids fare while growing up straddling two cultures lies on the parents. Fariha Alavi 41, who’s husband works in the Gulf, so she feels like a single mother bringing up three children. Her daughters are 18 and 16 while her son is 12. “It’s very important to trust our kids otherwise we’ll be raising half-adults and that’s bad both for parents and kids”. Alavi allows her kids ample freedom. She confesses that her daughters are allowed the much coveted sleepover, “only with their friends who I know” she adds, “because I don’t believe in limitless freedom without responsibility. It’s crucial to have dialogue, friendship and communication with our kids, something we didn’t expect when we were growing up but parents have to change when they come to Canada. If we don’t, our kids will lead double lives.”
For some South Asian youth, the transition and challenge is not just about coming from South Asia to North America but from one Western culture to was born in London (England) and came to Canada 10 years. Pathmanathan finds the culture gap between the Tamils of U.K. and the Tamils of Canada, quite wide. “ The Tamils in London seem much more assimilated into the mainstream so growing up brown and Tamil was’nt such a big deal” says Pathmanathan who is doing a degree in political economy at Wilfred Laurier Unviversity. “Perhaps it’s because the Sri Lankans who came to settle in U.K. in the 70’s were highly educated and came by choice. Many Sri Lankans today are forced to leave their education and take refuge in Canada due to the ongoing strife in Sri Lanka so it’s a different dynamic”. Pathmanathna has feel of all three cultures because he travels back to U.K. and Sri Lanka almost once a year as he also has a Masters in Sri Lankan politics and follows them closely. Coming to Canada was a bit of a culture shock to him. “My challenge was being pushed to be more ‘Canadian’ than the white folks. My mother was so concerned about assimilation that she pushed me to take Tai Kwon do as opposed to learning Tamil music and culture.” Pathmanathan, who lives and studied in Scarborough where many Tamils live, considers himself lucky because he’s aware of the culture clashes faced by many of his friends who struggled with bullying, racism and a form of ghettoization. He tends to blame the parents because he feels that sometimes they are so hung up on their own way, that the kids start leading double lives.
Pai and Hassan have also seen the double lives of many South Asian kids in school and college. “At least we have an open relationship with our parents” says Pai, “so we don’t have to put on another face and change our clothes once we reach school, as some kids are forced to do because their parents won’t bend.” Hassan adds that this is why he and his brother still live at home and respect their parents. “We’ve been clearly given our do’s and don’ts and we respect them without being policed by our parents who trust us. Apart from a few things like calling all our parents friends ‘aunty’ and ‘uncle’, we have a happy balance of East and West in our home”.
“It also depends on which part of Canada you are fortunate to grow up in” points out Pai and the others agree. “It’s easy to find your own culture in the larger multi-cultural cities, but in some places it’s very hard to be different”. Amrit Singh, 25 was born and grew up in Winnipeg. Singh now lives in Toronto and is a student of acupuncture. “I grew up and went to school in an all white neighborhood and it was hard”. Singh explains that religion also plays a role in molding kids. “My mother was from a village in the Punjab and had strict religious and cultural rules while my father traveled a lot so he didn’t have much say in our growing up”. Singh didn’t have much of a choice in friends because there were few South Asians. “My childhood was rough because my mother could not understand or appreciate Western culture. Going to movies or ‘hanging out’ was a no-no. My only consolation was that I had more freedom than some of the other Sikh girls I knew.” Singh confesses that she was a bit of a rebel while her brother had fewer problems because he was quieter and more accepting. “I had to fight for everything and while I appreciate learning to respect my heritage and culture, it was a constant struggle”. Singh puts this struggle down to parent’s difficulty in “letting go”. “Many South Asian parents are more concerned about community feedback and ‘what others will say’, rather than their children’s interest. They are also afraid to lose the kids and use fear as a motivation.”
The youth offer suggestions for parents and kids which they hope will create better bonds and fewer clashes.
• When parents come to Canada, they need to shed some of their excess cultural baggage and realize that some adapting is important. So they are at liberty to practice and revel in their own culture without dictating it to the children who may want to pick up something different and new and have the best of the East and West.
• While parents should guide their kids, they should not impose their language and culture on the kids. Religion is an important binding factor and that is something they can teach as a priority.
• Hot issues like dating, leaving home, working and sleepovers should be discussed openly and honestly in the family. There needs to be trust.
These kids also understand that there is a generation gap between their own savvy technology-run lives and their parent’s technologically-challenged lives. This is a given. Let’s hope the next generation understands their children better.