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. 



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