My candle against hate crimes in Canada

“Don’t curse the darkness; light a candle.”

—Chinese proverb, often misattributed to Eleanor Roosevelt or JFK

So I’ve probably mentioned here, or elsewhere, that a growing number of public hate crimes against Muslims across Ontario, Canada—from a woman savagely beaten in front of her children to the burning down of an entire mosque—has prompted me to turn my very limited art & design skills to activism to try and help. The result is this bilingual “safe stranger” (English/Arabic) button, which I’ve made for peaceful Canadians of all faiths to wear, so that both incoming refugees and Muslims already living in this country can identify “safe strangers” in an emergency, especially on public transit where so many of these events seem to be happening.

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The best thing I could come up with to try and help stop these tragedies in their tracks.

Hate criminals are cowards by nature and I can’t emphasize enough the importance of standing beside vulnerable people and putting our privilege to use in preventing the war from coming to us. It’s no surprise (to me, anyway) that with all the Syrian refugees now streaming into Canada, the radical upswing in sectarian violence is coming not from them, but from us.

So I’ve used the resources available to me—a limited art & design background and a very limited online store—to do what I can to stem the tide. The #IllRideWithYou hashtag went out of style almost the day I finished the design, but it’s still a poignant and helpful reminder of what the button means. And Salaam, of course, never goes out of style.

Anyway, I’m posting all this again because for whatever reason, the redesign of the site to make it slicker for mobile browsing has completely erased my heartfelt letter to the allies looking at this button. I guess that’s the price of using a consumerist portal to promote my activism: I’ve lost control of words I consider important in favour of what the parent company deems “good business.”

So here, unabridged, is my original “product description” for the #IllRideWithYou – Salaam buttons. I hope it helps explain my intent and reasoning behind creating this product.

After a series of anti-Muslim hate crimes in Toronto, Canada, peaceful Canadians of all backgrounds and faiths have been reaching out to the Muslim community with the hashtag #IllRideWithYou.

But a tag on Twitter doesn’t help much in the moment when people feel threatened or persecuted in public. Now, anyone who wants to use their privilege to protect their neighbours and provide a safe space against harassment can wear these three symbols to demonstrate your commitment to keeping the peace and helping everyone feel safe in public spaces: the famous hashtag #ILLRIDEWITHYOU, a Canadian Maple Leaf with a peace symbol, and the Arabic word Salaam, a symbol of peace even to recent immigrants and refugees who don’t read in English or French.

If we make these symbols popular enough, people in need will recognize us as safe spaces & companions. Together we can make a united statement that Canada is not a home to hate crime or racism. Be a part of the global peace process right now, on the bus, on street corners, in stores, in schools. Wherever you go, carry peace with you, and let it plant new seeds of peace wherever you walk.

Some people have since criticized me for singling out Muslim/Arabic people in particular by including Salaam, when people of other minorities and/or marginalized genders are also at risk, and the #IllRideWithYou hashtag was meant to protect all of them. My reasoning for including it is this: first, we are seeing factual and cumulative evidence, right now, that the violence happening in Canada is disproportionately targeting Muslims and Arabs. Second, the arrival of thousands of Syrian refugees means that of all the threatened people in Canada, Muslims and Arabic speakers are the most likely to need a word in their own language to identify a “safe stranger.” Yes, transwomen and First Nations women also face a disproportionate threat on public transit (and these buttons may be of help to them, too). But they are far less likely to suffer the same language barriers as a Syrian refugee who’s had no time to learn functional English before arriving in Canada and coming into this dangerous situation.

My intent is not to deny the plight of others, nor to suggest that Muslims are the only victims of hate crimes in Canada (they certainly aren’t). But my goal is to extend the benefit and protection of these things to the greatest number of people possible, and especially to those who lack that most basic defense tool of all: the ability to call for help in a language people around them would understand.

This product is not something I dreamed up to get rich. It’s not a thing I did to promote the store. It’s just a modest effort to oppose this crisis more directly and more effectively than all my lamenting it on Facebook seems to have done. It’s better, they say, to light a candle than curse the darkness; this little button might not be much of a candle, but it’s my candle; and if it helps even one refugee feel safe or avoid a violent hate crime, then it was a candle worth lighting.

We owe it to ourselves to be proactive in our efforts to keep new Canadians safe. Please share & wear these buttons if you can help me make a difference to people in need.

Link to the Button page here.

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