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The other day I walked into a Mexican restaurant on Cote des Neiges. It was as big as a hallway and on its walls hung pictures of Aztec temples and bright blue beachsides. After getting a basket of nachos and some salsa-verde I hunkered down at a table on the patio overlooking the street and began to work from my computer. The waiter, a burly guy with olive skin and a thick beard came out to take my order. As he was telling me the password for the restaurant’s wi-fi he saw the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) sticker on my computer. Despite my prominent orange hair and pale skin he asked me “Are you Arab?” I replied, “No, Jewish”, and so our conversation began.
He told me that he was Tunisian and had just finished studying international relations at U de M. He had moved here before the ousting of Ben Ali but was headed back in a few weeks to visit relatives.
As my over-fried meal arrived the same waiter sat down at the table and began to talk at me. The BDS sticker had broken what hesitation he might have had and soon the topic of conversation turned to the history of Western imperialism in the Middle East. My co-conversationalist spoke on the issue with an obvious passion. His words took in the whole restaurant and no other conversations could be heard as he told me about what was happening in his country and his region.
I was interested, as of course most foreigners to the Middle East are, in how the Arab spring had been sparked. However, I wasn’t going be given a free ride. Instead, the questions were turned on me and I became, as so often is the case for immigrants to Canada, the representative of my country.
He asked me three questions that I’ll reproduce below:
1. If Canadians see every night on T.V that their armies bomb civilians and their politicians greet dictators, why don’t they do anything?
2. If those born in Canada have been given the privileges of a first world country than why do they resent the immigrant?
3. How can a country that believes in freedom of religion breed a government and population that calls someone a terrorist just because they have different rituals and clothing?
His questions stumped and then overwhelmed me. I had never been confronted in such a straightforward way on these issues, which I had come to take for granted. We often hear the Arab spring being talked about in terms of how ‘the oppressed masses are finally rising up after thirty years’ but what about the oppressor masses? By and large we stand idle while our wealth and relative privilege is amplified by the exploitation of the less powerful. Why don’t we hear from panels of Arab sociologists, anthropologists and journalists on why our countries continue to imperialize the rest of the world and why many of us refuse to do anything about it?
Dominion Weblogs compiles the weblogs of Dominion editors and writers. The topics discussed are wide-ranging, but Canadian Foreign Policy, grassroots politics, and independent media are chief among them.