Afghan-Canadians tell the real story behind Remembrance Day protest

| November 14, 2012
Photo: Laila Rashidie and Suraia Sahar

On November 11, 2012 we attended the Remembrance Day ceremony at Old City Hall in Toronto as an Afghan anti-war presence. Some sections of the conservative media have inaccurately portrayed our identity, action and purpose. We are Afghan-Canadian women peace activists with a voice that can stand for itself. We have a message which cannot be silenced by such tactics to censor and demonize us.

In 2001 we watched the invasion of our home country, Afghanistan. Fast forward 11 years later: Afghanistan is still occupied, and every year on Remembrance Day we are reminded of it. It has become painfully obvious that Remembrance Day is used as a war propaganda tool. If one is going to take offense to our presence, direct your misguided anger at those responsible for why we are taking offense. 

The war in Afghanistan has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Afghan civilians, and further escalated violence in an already war-torn nation. This war has created a platform where foreign military forces perform terrifying acts against the civilian population. The Canadian military is responsible for the detainment, torture and murder of Afghans. 

We do not support the NATO-led occupation and war in Afghanistan. We also do not support the increasing militarization of our Canadian generation -- Remembrance Day indoctrinates each new generation by glorifying militarism so as to mislead them to the conclusion that the Canadian Armed Forces are morally superior, while omitting the reality that it is in fact an occupying force here on stolen, Native lands and overseas in Afghanistan. The former continues to fight for sovereignty and the latter for self-determination. It is an arm of the state to maintain the imperialist system that it has been founded by, thus there is no real freedom in Canada from cultural, economic, political or military forms of Western imperialism.

This is a settler-colonial society, reinforcing itself through racism, which we witnessed at the Remembrance Day ceremony. This is what explains why a handful of racist, white men screamed in our faces to "go back to your country." They believe that they are the rightful owners of this land. We are never accepted as real Canadians in their rigid, exclusionary and alienating cultural terms. We are always deemed as a potential foreign threat especially when we reveal this status quo and hypocrisy.  

Our aim at the Remembrance Day ceremony was to project the voices of Afghans who wish to remember the Afghan people who have been directly killed by the Canadian military, in opposition to Canada's mission in Afghanistan. The pain and loss of the Afghan people is dishonoured and disrespected on this day when it is used in support of Canada's mission in Afghanistan. We refuse to keep silent in their memory. The unknown names and faces of our voiceless brothers and sisters who continue to suffer every day is what motivates us in our peace activism. 

If you wish to read our account on the chronological series of events of that day and evidence of false reporting, you can find it here. 

We have only one regret from that day. 

An elderly Canadian veteran, recognizable by his medals, quietly stood beside us in support as we held our banner about the Afghans killed by Canada's military. Had we not been suddenly and forcefully removed, we would have shaken his hand and thanked him. 

In light of the events that followed Remembrance Day, we received numerous messages of support from both Canadians and veterans. We would like to share their messages and thank them for their support. 

Support from UK veteran of Afghan War

"Stereotyping is a particular kind of failure, I know, but sadly nationhood is the language of the hour. There was a time when Canadians were rightly held throughout the world as a shining counterpoint to their rapacious cousins in England and America and I say that as an Englishman who has fought in U.S. contrived wars. Can a culture really exist among that people in which committed young women -- fine Afghan-Canadians, no less! -- are pilloried and threatened for opposing the prevailing jingoism? If this is the case, then a people once thought plucky and stubborn in the face of power have been robbed of their enviable history of sheltering resisters and dissidents. If our idealistic Johnny Canuck has truly gone when the world cries out for his contribution, as it does lately, then it's a bloody grim day for the rest of us." - Joe Glenton, Afghan veteran, author, anti-imperialist and filmmaker.  

U.S. war veteran supports Afghans who respectfully want their dead remembered 

"One of the starkly missing elements from Remembrance Day observances both in Canada and the United States is any acknowledgement of the heaps of corpses generated by modern industrial warfare. Im a American veteran of the Viet Nam War, and every time I attended such ceremonies in the US I speak up for the millions of SE Asians who died in that criminal folly. This is not popular. But it is right, and true, and the least I can do. We slaughtered millions. This war veteran supports completely Afghans or anyone else who respectfully want their dead -- many just bystanders, "collateral damage" -- acknowledged and remembered in Toronto, on this past Remembrance Day. The only disrespect I see is pretending Canadian forces are the only dead in this very ill advised and poorly executed invasion and occupation." - Chuck Winant, U.S. Army, Vietnam service 1968-69

U.S. veteran of Afghan War: These are the women we are supposedly 'saving'

"As an American Combat Veteran of the war in Afghanistan, the most important thing I have learned from my experience is to listen to the words of the oppressed. I am a dual citizen with Canada and my mother is Canadian. My grandfather fought in World War II. I grew up with Remembrance Day as a powerful reminder of the sacrifices by those who came before. It wasn't until I fought in a war that I realized there was another side to the story. For the people of the countries that we occupy there is no Remembrance Day. There is no consideration of them as human beings. They are just a number next to the term 'collateral damage.' This is unacceptable in a nation that claims to stand for human rights. Suraia Sahar and Laila Rashide stand up for the voices of those who cant speak for themselves. Those we are supposedly 'saving.' What keeps us supporting these wars is the idea that they will someday lead to peace. These women are working towards peace. They are working towards a world where no Canadian soldier ever has to leave home to fight someone else's war. That can only happen if we reconcile and learn to live with each other. As a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War I proudly stand in solidarity and support their fight to have a real discussion about the effects of our war in Afghanistan. Until we in the west do more listening instead of always dictating, we will never have peace." - Graham Clumpner, U.S. Veteran of the Afghanistan war

Pro-war rhetoric reveals patriarchal nature of colonial domination

"I'm a grandson of deceased US War Resister who fled to Canada as a conscientious objector in 1969, shortly after the birth of my mother, and a Cree father who was once a member of the Canadian Navy. Never have I felt so ashamed and embarrassed to have the identity of 'Canadian' attached to my person as I do now. The reprisal with which these brave young women, Suraia Sahar and Laila Rashidie, have been faced and the litany of racist, sexist and xenophobic comments and articles misrepresenting their position is beyond disgusting. Remembrance Day is used as a moment to commodify the extension of Western imperialism and to sell the notion of somehow delivering freedom to others that those of us over here don't have. The article put out by Joe Warmington from The Toronto Sun blindly characterizes anyone who dared not to agree with the racist, colonial expansionism taking place in Afghanistan, in part on behalf of the Canadian military as a major component of NATO, as supporters of the Taliban. It is astounding how little we as a collective aggregate population have travelled when this false dichotomy of you either support this genocidal mission, or you are supporting 'our' enemies is paraded around as some type of genuine defense. Comments explaining that these young brave women should be 'castrated,' go on to demonstrate that this is not solely an ethnic graphic attack, but more so an attack on gender. This demonstrates in a patriarchal nature of colonial domination in that it presents women with the 'option' of either being portrayed as hapless victims in need of being saved from 'inherently violent' Arab men or being in need of being colonially subjugated by a predominantly white population of ultra chauvinistic males who blindly support gross militarism." - Ryan Rainville

U.S. veteran: 'Peace starts at home in our communities' 

"In any given situation, if we chose to judge a group of people because they look differently than we do, then we are wrong; the culture is wrong. I am a veteran of the Global War on Terror and served in support of both OIF and OEF, as such I have come to question the actions that the military has taken in nations such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Having the opportunity to speak with people from Afghanistan and knowing Suraia personally, has allowed me to understand to a greater extent how my actions and the actions of the current UN forces are having in oppressing the people of these nations.  I am an active member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and I call into question the expansionist ideals and militarist mindsets that are driving the U.S., and consequently the UN, to oppress people of other nations while not focusing on the problems at home. Peace starts at home in our local communities, not in a distant land forcing others to struggle to survive. I stand in solidarity with Suraia Sahar, Laila Rashide, as well as Afghan Peace Volunteers." - Luke Daniel, U.S. Navy 2004-2008 - OIF / OEF

'Sun Media has been shocking even by their low standards'

"The coverage by Sun Media has been shocking even by their low standards. Joe Warmington admits to not even being there, yet falsely reports that we interrupted the Moment of Silence. Krista Erickson somehow vouches for herself as being 'not racist' right before telling two Canadian citizens to go 'back' to Afghanistan (uh, it's still occupied by NATO, Krista). Tarek Fatah is apparently closely monitoring the two women's social media profiles. And all accounts by Sun Media imply that the two women are somehow pro-Taliban, or anti-Canadian for expressing their right to protest, and opposing the Canada/NATO mission in Afghanistan. The vile cesspool of racism, sexism and physical threats in the comments section of the Sun's articles makes me ashamed to be human. As long as Remembrance Day is used as a tool of nationalist/militarist indoctrination, there will be people who want to break through the cult like spectacle and provide an alternative message. And any veteran that supposedly fought for our freedom should be proud that there are people questioning wars, and challenging the status quo -- especially on Remembrance Day." - Patrick Clohessy

"I'm sorry for the hate you have to endure. It's a sad state of affairs when one is branded a 'Taliban sympathizer' for remembering the innocents killed in a blatant act of aggression. You're a brave person." - Brandon Hughey, U.S. veteran of the Afghanistan war and war resister

"The image of the peaceful Canadian was always a myth, but at least it was based on a grain of truth -- no doubt many Canadians aspired to live up to the mythical ideal. However, the facts of Canada's colonial history through to the current evermore aggressive foreign policy regime disprove the myth. I do agree Joe that 'Johnny Canuck' should fight for his soul -- the mythical ideal of the peaceful Canadian should be pursued." - Dr. Mike Skinner, researcher at York University

 

Laila Rashidie and Suraia Sahar are Afghan-Canadians living in Toronto. 

embedded_video

Comments

The fact that these peaceful women were forcibly removed from so-called "Remembrance Day" ceremonies should finally put the lie to the naive belief that the occasion is all about celebrating our freedom rather than a glorification of war.

They shouldn't be shocked to discover that the moment they chose to express them completely overshadowed the content of their message.


Their protest was juvenile, ignorant and hate-driven. Had they pulled themselves out of their cocoon for but a moment they'd be able to recognize that in Canada we celebrate Remembrance Day, not Veteran's Day, and that the day itself is a commemoration of the horrors of armed conflict and a sombre reflection on the casualties of war.

Remembrance Day is not and should not ever be construed to be a day of jingoistic nationalism or glorification of war. It is a day of quiet reflection on why we should endeavour to avoid armed conflict and, most importantly, the causes from which armed conflict erupts.

This includes remembering the deaths of Afghani civilians, towards whom they showed extreme disrespect by not using the opportunity to share their story in a respectful manner and instead chose to use their tragedy as a tool to leverage their own political agenda.

Shame on them. Shame on them for using the deaths of Afghani civilians on Remembrance Day towards a political end. Shame on them for disrupting the single moment of quiet reflection intended to draw our hearts towards the voices silenced in conflict. Shame on them for bringing hate into a day intended to dispel hate.

The appropriate action would have been to gather these statements of support and present them at a community Remembrance Day ceremony, or as a letter to the editor in the local paper, or as a blog post, or as a letter to friends and family, or in any way whatsoever they could have peacefully brought attention to the horrors of the Afghan war without showing disrespect towards a ceremony whose primary purpose is reflection upon the horror of war.

How on earth did they expect to sway opinion by disrupting a moment of sombre reflection in that manner? How was it not obvious to them that the backlash of anger they're experiencing wouldn't be the outcome from their actions?

...

If only you young ladies could channel this passion and energy into a cause that does not insult an entire nation. I live in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and I saw the video of your actions on our local television channel. 

Although your actions insulted me, my family and my entire nation, I do have a small ounce of sympathy for both of you.

You ladies may not realize it now, but you have destroyed your futures in a way that is different from the average protestor or activist. You insulted an entire country and unfortunately for you, it was aired on national television.

From what I have read in various articles online, Laila is hoping to become a teacher and as an instructor at one of the largest universities in the maritimes, I can assure you that when you apply for a position at a school or institution of higher learning, your name will be checked. When these articles, news segments et cetera are viewed by the administration, you will be overlooked without hesitation.

I wish you ladies would have thought about the ramifications of your actions before you did what you did because I can guarantee you that this will follow you for the rest of your lives. 

Love and solidarity to these brave women.

Speak for yourself, EasternLove. I'm not insulted at all by their actions. In fact, I find them inspiring. What's insulting is your level of condescension.

"It is an arm of the state to maintain the imperialist system that it has been founded by, thus there is no real freedom in Canada from cultural, economic, political or military forms of Western imperialism."
"This is a settler-colonial society, reinforcing itself through racism, which we witnessed at the Remembrance Day ceremony. This is what explains why a handful of racist, white men screamed in our faces to "go back to your country." They believe that they are the rightful owners of this land. We are never accepted as real Canadians in their rigid, exclusionary and alienating cultural terms. We are always deemed as a potential foreign threat especially when we reveal this status quo and hypocrisy. "

How can anyone with one iota of intelligence claim this. Canada is arguably the most tolerant and multicultural nation on this planet. it accepts immigrants in greater numbers as a per- centage of the existing population then any other country on this planet.

These two superior intellects would have Canadians believe that their country" reinforces itself through racism." A despicable falsehood. Are we not routinely told by 'certain' religious groups that we should not label the whole religious group by the bad actions of a small number. And yet these hypocrites generalize that Canada is a "imperialist" racist society and is based upon "alienating cultural terms" and that this is the "status quo and hypocrisy" because of a small number of veterans who expressed their displeasure at having their solemn ceremony rudely disrupted. Quite right those veterans and the vast majority of Canadians  should be pissed off at their juvenile and disrespectful actions!

Question:

Do these two represent any 'reasonable' political viewpoint in Canada? I think not! To espouse this philosophy is to be on the far-out fringe.
Indeed, the fact that they are permitted to have this philosophy and be able to publicly state it, actually CONTRADICTS their scurrilous claims about the 'imperialist racist society' they claim exists in Canada. Canada is actually SO TOLERANT that we allow people to call for the death of those who should criticize their religion openly on the streets of our cities.

Do I agree with these two women's views? Of course not!

Should these two have the right to have them and state them publicly. Yes!

But I draw the line at those who call for the death of those who criticize a religion, philosophy, or ideology. (just like the Taliban that were removed from power would call for).

The same group by the way (that would not permit girls to go to school and who would stone women adulterers to death and other assorted evils) that apparently these two would prefer to still be in power and would still be in power, if not for the NATO led invasion that they opposed. Disgusting!!!

If anyone actually read their account of the demonstration, you would note that the confrontation and shouting didn't start until police started removing the banners, without cause, from another group.  Up till that point, they were being silent.

 

As a parting thought, perhaps, instead of these women moving back to Canada, why don't the rest of you move to a country where protesting the government is illegal?  I hear Cuba is quite nice in the winter.

For shame.  You chose the wrong time and place to voice your opinion, and in doing so you shamed yourselves and your families. 

When I was in Afghanistan, the elders I spoke with understood that we were there to help rebuild Afghanistan after almost 20 years of war. 

The mullahs understood that we were there to help them rebuild their village mosques (even though most of us were "infidels" - in fact, one mullah put his arm around my friend and confided "We are all children of Allah/God" as he welcomed my friend into his mosque.

The teachers understood that we were there to help build and rebuild schools, inorder for all children to receive a proper education (unlike the inadequate education you two have received)

You do not understand Remembrance Day, and you are a disgrace to your families.

 

What is a disgrace is the men (I'll wager dollars to poppies that all of them are white) ganging up on two courageous young women who put paid to the myth that Rembrance Day is anything less than a jingoistic glorification of Canada's ongoing militaristic hopes and dreams.

Sit down, ladies, and let Canadians wax orgiastically about our wars in the Middle East. In the name of peace.

Personal threats and sexist or racist insults will be removed, as they violate our comments policy.

It's obvious that the hostile comments in this thread were posted by paid activists of the Conservative Party.  So many repeated phrases and memes...so little attention paid to what these women actually did(as opposed to what the Toronto Sun SAID they did or what the cynically edited video footage left out).

These women didn't disrespect the Remembrance Day event at all.  It was the police who disrespected it, by deliberately provoking a confrontation that otherwise would not have occurred.

 

Good that these two women can so eloquently talk truth to Canucklheads who have been brainwashed that our war-dead died for 'freedom and democracy' instead of the truth which is that they died for profit and hegemony. As in Afghanistan. mythology dies hard and as you can see, consciousness is painful. Thank you again for your courage and my deepest apologies for what Canada has done there, here, Libya and elsewhere

in solidarity and resistance!

I wouldn't worry about it.  They're probably just Sun news management and staff trying out new day jobs.  But as a military vet with 28 years service and a Southwest Asia Service Medal to boot, I find there's plenty enough work to do here at home with introducing notions of democracy, freedom of speech, of conscience, of the values of peace, of respect for dissenting views, etc, that its clearly inappropriate to be telling anyone, anywhere to get their shit together in that regard.

Our education system could obviously do with a little spare excess from an over bloated military budget.  Some of these so called freedom and peace loving citizens can't tell the difference between sycophancy and courage, or freedom and tyranny for that matter.

Seems the message certain volks are trying to get across here is that woman and minorities should better know their place, and that if we must hear from them at all, it should be at a time and place as chosen by Sun news and the mindless zombies who trudge along behind it, which is not very far removed from the ideology of al-qaeda and the Taliban when you think about it.

God bless you two. Thank you for putting this issue on the map and generating a real dialogue. Please remember in the face of all the insanity that there are many Canadians who abhor their country's imperialism and support you for speaking out against it. Stay strong! Love and blessings from Parkdale in Toronto.

Login or register to post comments