TORONTO (Dispatches) – “All of us should feel the pain of the Indigenous community here … because we have seen what imperialism does to our countries back home,” Aarij Anwer, Imam of the London Muslim Mosque in Ontario, said during Friday’s prayer, livestreamed on social media.
On Friday, Anwer was one of 75 Imams across Canada who offered condolences and expressed solidarity with Indigenous people following the discoveries of unmarked graves, now totaling more than 1,000, at forced-assimilation institutions known as residential schools.
The Canadian Council of Imams and Justice For All Canada led the coordinated effort to raise awareness. In a statement, the Imams wrote, “The discovery of hundreds-upon-hundreds of graves of innocent children — stolen from their families, abused, tortured and starved in the name of European imperialism — has left us numb with pain and shame.”
During prayer, Anwer called upon his fellow Muslims to show solidarity with Indigenous people, sharing the story of his grandfather fleeing Delhi after the 1947 British-sanctioned partition of India and Pakistan.
“All of you have similar stories, I can guarantee you that,” he said. “So if any community should feel the pain of imperialism and colonialism and brutal murder, it should be us. And that’s why our sympathies for the Indigenous should be even more, our support for them should be even more, because we know what that feels like.”
From the late 1800s until 1996, Canada forcibly removed 150,000 Indigenous children from their homes and kept them in institutions run by church staff, who cut their long hair, and forbade them from speaking their languages or practicing their cultures. Many were physically and sexually abused. They were tortured in an electric chair, starved, and put through nutritional experiments.
‘Putting Band-Aids on
Retired UN independent expert Alfred-Maurice de Zayas says amid heated discussions about atrocities against aboriginal children in Canada, nothing has yet been done for the genuine rehabilitation of the discriminated-against indigenous peoples of North America.
“The outrage at the residential schools is justified, but this is too little too late,” says the retired UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order. “It is like putting band-aids on old wounds, wounds that have not healed.”
Following the gruesome discoveries in May and June, a number of Catholic and Anglican churches were vandalized or set on fire across the country on Canada Day (1 July). The crowd of protesters toppled the monuments of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II in Winnipeg.
“Personally, I believe that removing statutes is only a symbolic act which does not provide any reparation or rehabilitation to the victims... It is the duty of U.S. and Canadian authorities today to apologize for the crimes and to take concrete measures to restore the indigenous to their human dignity” de Zayas notes.
The residential schools are but the last chapter in the four-century long process of deliberate destruction of indigenous cultures, according to the former UN expert.
“The abuses at the residential schools deserve national and international investigation, but in the context of much larger crimes, they constitute a marginal phenomenon,” de Zayas notes.