Madam Speaker, I am very proud to be here today to speak on Bill C-232 this evening, which would proclaim April as Arab heritage month in Canada. I appreciated listening to the speech of my colleague for Scarborough Centre and to hear all of the people she named, all of the distinguished people of Arab descent. It is quite significant in our country. As many Canadians know, we have a long tradition in the House of Commons of recognizing certain months or days to honour individuals or groups or, indeed, entire peoples that make up this Canadian fabric. We do this much more than just the 12 months or the 365 days that make up the calendar.
April, for example, is already officially recognized as African American Women's Fitness Month, Alcohol Awareness Month, Black Women's History Month, Celebrate Diversity Month, Distracted Driving Awareness Month, Financial Literacy Month, Foot Health Awareness Month, International Guitar Month, Mathematics Awareness Month, Month of the Military Child, Pets are Wonderful Month, Scottish-American Heritage Month, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Sexually Transmitted Infections Awareness Month and Sikh Heritage Month. This is just the tip of the April iceberg.
Why do we need an Arab heritage month? The answer is that, like the worthy causes I just listed, we need to formally recognize the contributions that Arabs make to Canadian society.
Let me tell everyone about my riding of Saskatoon West and the contributions that Arabs make to my community. As many people know, I knocked on many doors over the past three years and on many occasions I got the usual politician-at-your-door treatment, which was, “Why are you here? Get off my lawn. I am voting for the other guy,” and that type of thing. When I would go into apartment buildings that had primarily Arab tenants or even people from other Islamic backgrounds, I received a different treatment. People said, “Yes, yes, please come in. Have some tea and biscuits. Sit down. Please discuss what you are here for.” I would spend 10 or 20 minutes there, then knock on the next door and it would be the same thing all over again.
As a westerner in a country like Canada, I am not used to Middle Eastern hospitality. Arab people are earnest and honest about treating outsiders with kindness, respect and dignity. This is a value that is ingrained in their culture. The result of those visits was that those polls that I visited, where I sat down and took tea and biscuits, ended up voting for me. If we look at the electoral map, this is the first time ever that some of those polls voted Conservative. It is because I took the time to make a one-on-one connection with the people there, which is the way they are. More importantly, they got to know me and to know more than just the politician. That is the amazing thing about the Arab and Muslim people. They love their children and care deeply about their families. They care for their neighbours, they love this country of Canada and want to make it a better place. They work hard, often working at multiple jobs or working at a job while running a family business at the same time.
As old-stock Canadians, we just need sometimes to move beyond our preconceived ideas that have formed in our minds from popular culture and past events and get to know our Muslim brothers and sisters. Just two blocks away from my constituency office live Ahlan, her husband Osoma and their six children. They are Arab Muslims from Jordan and want to visit Osoma’s ailing father, who is in a hospital in Jordan. The family has personal objections to the COVID vaccine and now that the world is reopening, they would like to go to Jordan to visit the children’s grandparent, whom they have not seen in eight years. The only thing stopping them from this trip is the NDP-Liberals' unscientific vaccine mandates, which prohibit them from boarding the airplane. I want this family to know that I am doing everything I can to fight these useless mandates put forward by the current government.
I want to tackle head-on some of the perceptions that Canadians have of Muslims and Arabs, in particular, due to past events and popular culture, and I am not going to sugar-coat this. When I was growing up, I and many people of my generation saw constant conflict in the Middle East between various nation-states, and the growth of terrorism scared many people. We saw the despots in control of Arab countries such as Syria, Iraq and Egypt and the puppet regimes in other countries such as Lebanon. The Persian neighbour of Iran saw the Ayatollah come to power, seize the U.S. embassy and declare us in North America to be the great Satan. Who could forget 9/11 and then war and even more war?
Canada went to war in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years with our American and European allies, only to let Kabul end up in the hands of the Taliban. Hollywood, the mainstream news media and now social media have added an extra layer to these actual historical world events. Hollywood takes everything and embellishes it. In the early and mid-2000s, we could not turn on the TV without hitting another American TV show with Arabs as the bad guys against the American good guys.
NCIS is still the number one show on TV, and for 19 years, in almost every episode, Gibbs is chasing down some fictional Arab terrorist.
Social media has taken all of that anti-Arab, anti-Muslim mixed bag of historical fact and popular culture and created the new global crisis of out-of-control conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories have always been a part of a free society, but now every hateful, spiteful thing that is said is twisted and amplified by the Internet.
Why am I bringing this up? It is because, as parliamentarians, we need to shine a light on the dark spaces and on the garbage dumps of our society in order to clean them up.
Unfortunately, but truly, Islamophobia and anti-Arab sentiment are real in Canada. If this bill, Bill C-232, which would create Arab heritage month, and the few hours of debate that we will have on it allow us to address this issue, then so much the better, because as members of Parliament, we owe it to all of the Arab folks to get this right.
Let me tell you, Hollywood has it wrong. Yes, bad historical events happened, but they happened because of bad individuals, not because of the religion or the area of the world. Putin is nominally a Christian, and he is engaging in a war of aggression. Mussolini was the first to call himself a fascist, and he was a Roman Catholic from Italy. Hitler was Austrian. These were individual men causing great harm, and they did not reflect European Christians at the time. Just like Saddam Hussein was one man and Gaddafi was one man, they did not reflect all Arab Muslims.
What we need to do is move beyond these individual men and these bad events and celebrate Arab people as a group. We need to better understand the Muslim religion in its entirety. That is what Bill C-232 strives to do.
The Tigris River is the birthplace of modern civilization. The Bronze Age, where man moved from stone tools to metalwork, took place in the delta of the Persian Gulf. From that moment on, civilization has been marked by the advances in the Arab world. Did you know that the concept of the number zero was invented by Arabs?
It actually goes back to the Quran, which calls upon Muslim people to count the phases of the moon in order to track days. As we know, there are 28 days in a month, with the new moon at the beginning of each cycle, so they needed a way to numerically write that and came up with a number to represent nothingness, the number zero.
It seems a simple concept to us but it was not the Greeks, nor the Romans, nor the Indians, nor the Chinese who could grasp this concept until the Arab world taught it to them.
What about language and learning? The Great Library at Alexandria, in Egypt, was the first place of learning. Long before Oxford and Cambridge were established in England as the first modern universities, the first university had already been established in Damascus in the eighth century. To the chagrin of many school-aged children, who invented algebra? It was an Arab, in the territory of Spain.
The first hospital was also established in the Arab world and, prior to that, there was no central place for physicians and patients to gather in one place. The first modern surgical procedure was also undertaken by Arabs.
How about inventions in the Arab world? Graph paper, the first planetary globe and the first mechanical clock. Yes, it was the Arabs, not the Swiss, who invented the clock.
In Canada, the first mosque built was the Al Rashid Mosque, in Edmonton, in the 1800s. My colleague from Edmonton West would argue that the Rahma Mosque in Edmonton West was the first, but I do not think he is right.