I am the other. I am the quintessential other. I am female, I am a woman of colour, and I am Muslim. I am a proud Muslim, woman of colour and very fortunately I am Canadian. That doesn't mean that I didn’t feel the despair that half the United States felt in November and then once again Friday morning. In fact, I was in the US on Election Day and felt the dread and despair of many of my friends and colleagues. Some of them ‘others’ and some of them ‘sames.’
People questioned why I was so deeply affected. The answer is simple – while Canada has been ahead of the curve on many issues: women’s suffrage, universal healthcare and marriage equality, I have personally benefitted from the US in many ways. I studied in the US, I attend conferences and learn in the US and many of my clients and partners come from the US. Moreover, I continue to have friends and colleagues from the US; people who will be very deeply distressed by new economic and social policies. I, along with many others, fear that our world has regressed 100 years.
But I refuse to believe we have gone back 100 years and like many of us ‘others’ and ‘sames,’ I refuse to watch the reversal of all the progress that we have made over the past century. Women’s suffrage, the march in Selma, gay marriage, and countless other strides have been made so that all people, regardless of race, creed, religion, sexuality or disability are included. I refuse to believe that we are taking steps back as a civilization and I refuse to believe that as a society we can allow one person to perpetuate so much hate.
Our world is different from Nazi Germany. Democracy in Germany, as a German experiment, was in its very infancy. Civic institutions were not as robust as they are today. In today’s America, in today’s world, our civil society will have to play a very strong role. It will be the voice of the ‘others’ be they African-Americans, Muslim-Americans or American women. At the Ogden Lecture at Brown University the Aga Khan stated “The voices of civil society will reflect and express the growing complexity of society, not as autonomous fragments, but as diversified institutions seeking the common good. And I believe that the voices of civil society can be among the most powerful forces in our time. Where change has been overdue, they can be voices for change. Where people live in fear, they can be voices of hope.” In essence, we must continue to build our institutions and we must support the ‘other’ whether or not they fit into our category of ‘other.’
As an educated Muslim woman of colour, it is now my responsibility to educate and protect, in Canada and the US. I have had so many people walk with me through my life journey, it is now my responsibility to do the same. They were of all different races, religions, creeds, sexualities and abilities. It is our collective responsibility to do the same. How do we fight the oppression that will surely result from the Trump presidency? We work together, we fight back, we mobilize and we fuel our civic institutions. No government should be more powerful than the people it governs. And when the government seeks to oppress, our values and institutions must be strong enough to stand on their own.
As I walked with millions of women, men and children around the world today, I felt a renewed sense of hope. Hope that people will stand together for civil rights – whether or not their own sub-sect of society is marginalized; hope that demonstration is the first step to real action; hope that we are setting an example and empowering individuals to speak out in the face of injustice and most importantly hope that those who lead and who want to lead are paying attention – the collective voice will not go unheard, it will not go away. But marching is just a first step. Let’s not be fooled into a sense of complacency. We must continue to act and because millions of people came together, we must not assume that someone else will fill our shoes and act when we want to retreat.
I recognize that I say this as an outsider, a Canadian, whose government sees diversity as a pillar of the community and I appreciate that what lies ahead is difficult. Nevertheless, I strongly believe that Canadians do have a role in supporting the civic institutions of our southern neighbours as they begin their very difficult journeys. All this to say, dear ‘others’ and ‘sames’ in the United States, we ‘others’ and ‘sames’ in Canada stand with you. Your plight is our plight and we march with you.