This month, Conservative Senator Linda Frum stood up in our Canada’s Senate and called Iran (and by extension all Iranians around the world) “one of the most malign nations in the world.” Unfortunately, this sort of disrespect is something which many Iranian-Canadians have come to expect from many of our nation’s elected representatives. Iranians have been the veritable whipping boy in our houses of government for years, with politicians such as a Senator implying that Iranians are entering Canada to commit terrorism in 2016. However, while these representatives usually have the sense to apologize for their comments (as the Senator in our example did), Senator Frum stood by and doubled down on her comments, choosing to single Iranians out as a force for evil in the world.
The Senator was immediately met with a deluge of criticism for her remarks from Iranian-Canadians, who sent over 2,000 of emails and hundreds of phone calls to Senator Frum’s office and the office of Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer asking Senator Frum to retract her comments and apologize to Iranian Canadians. In response to this, she vainly enlisted the support of Conservative Senators Leo Housakos and Judith Seidman to defend her on Twitter, along with an army of Twitter accounts, mostly from the US and France, affiliated with the Mojahedin-e-Khalgh (MEK/NCRI) — a controversial Iranian opposition organization and Saddam Hussein ally that was designated as a terrorist organization in Canada until 2012 when Stephen Harper’s Conservative government delisted them.
Why do Canadian politicians, especially on the Right, feel so free to demonize Iran and Iranians?
At the end however, it was clear that Senator Frum’s comments were universally unacceptable; in addition to the thousands of Iranian-Canadians who condemned her remarks, all four elected Iranian-Canadian politicians in Canada condemned or asked her to clarify her remarks, and NDP Foreign Affairs critic Hélène Levardiere unequivocally condemned the Senator as well.
There is however a deeper question in the drama that has been unfolding for the past week. Why do Canadian politicians, especially on the Right, feel so free to demonize Iran and Iranians? Some would say this is because of Iran’s record on human rights or its “destabilizing influence” in the Middle East region. However, it is clear that Iran’s human rights record is no worse than China, or Saudi Arabia, or Bahrain, countries with which Canada has often cordial relations or to whom we even sell arms – arms which have been used in violence against their own citizens or even to commit war crimes. Additionally, it is very difficult to assert that Iran is any more engaged in regional conflicts than our Persian Gulf allies such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who have not only been heavily involved in destabilizing the region, not least by launching a brutal war against one of the poorest countries in the world and causing a humanitarian crisis in Yemen, but who have also been consistently found to have connections with Sunni extremist groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS, groups who seek to actively harm Canadians and others who they see as unbelievers including Iranians.
What then distinguishes Iran and Iranians from these other countries than the fact that the former are Iranian? Is it merely an anti-Iranian sentiment, a hatred for all things Iranian that is driving these individuals to callously call a whole nation malign? Does this anti-Iranian sentiment the almost comical obsession with Iran in Canadian political circles? (One needs only to look at so-called “Iran Accountability Week”, the only week dedicated to a country’s human rights abuses, for an example of this) Is this hatred, which likely originates from a region where Iranians are both an ethnic and religious minority surrounded by people who see them as Shia Persian speaking outsiders in Arab Sunni territory, being imported to Canada at the highest levels where it is being used, once again, to discriminate against Iranians?
Iranian-Canadians certainly seem to think so. A survey done by the Iranian Canadian Congress on discrimination showed that not only do a large majority (65%) of Iranian-Canadians experience discrimination, but that they also see this discrimination as specifically targeting them because they are Iranian (49%) as Iranians. Perhaps even more interestingly, the vast majority (77%) of respondents thought that the treatment of Iran on the world stage and anti-Iran rhetoric and policies, especially by the Canadian government, significantly increase the discrimination they face in their daily lives.
Nor are we short on examples of the results of this discrimination against individuals of Iranian descent. In March of this year, an Iranian-Canadian father was racially abused by a customer in his cab. In Summer of 2016, a student from Iran was brutally attacked in London, Ontario while being told to go back to his country. Even more concerning, two Indian-Americans were shot (and one killed) in Kansas in February of this year by a white supremacist who thought that he was killing “Iranian people”.
It is therefore time for Canadian politicians to open their eyes and see that by singling Iran and Iranians out they are contributing to a virulent anti-Iranian sentiment. Indeed, this is something we already recognize with other countries, and one struggles to think how Israeli- or Chinese-Canadians would react if Israel or China were called “malign nations” by a Senator or any public figure. Iranian-Canadians merely want the same respect accorded to other Canadians, and, as they have shown over the past month with Senator Frum, will effectively mobilize civil society to get it.
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