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August 30, 2011

An open letter about the commemoration of 9/11

The Canadian Charger

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An Open Letter to the Toronto District School Board about the Commemoration of 9/11

As the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks approaches, we the undersigned – teachers, educators, parents, and concerned members of the public – urge the Toronto District School Board to consider carefully the way it chooses to commemorate this anniversary and to consider the impact of such commemorations on students and staff in our schools.

The events of September 11, which were unquestionably horrible, have unfortunately been used to justify the unlawful invasions and continued occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, resulting in the deaths and displacement of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, including women, children, and the elderly. While some consider these invasions to be wars of liberation, many of our students, and some of our staff, are refugees of those wars whose lived experience gives them a difference perspective.

Moreover, too often, expressions of sympathy for the victims of September 11 slip easily into highly politicized and sometimes even racist statements of support for a never-ending “war on terror” that has fuelled Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism and made Muslims and peoples of Middle-Eastern descent throughout Europe and North America into objects of suspicion and fear. Indeed, as the incessant public commemoration of the victims of 9/11 is generally accompanied by silence over the millions whose lives have been disrupted or destroyed by the political and military policies of Western governments, every September 11 memorial serves as a bitter reminder – not only to Muslims and peoples of Middle-Eastern descent, but to all victims of war and genocide whose histories are ignored – of the double standard that too often counts the tragedies of some people as more worthy of sympathy and attention than others.

The TDSB has recently stood its ground against Islamophobic groups engaging in public attacks against the decision to accommodate Muslim students by allowing lunch time prayers in school. We commend your principled stand. At the same time, we believe that the support of Muslim students should not be limited to religious accommodation alone, but that it requires the bringing of a critical and ant-racist lens to curriculum and system-wide practices that often unconsciously replicate the Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism that has become so pervasive in our society since 9/11. This means taking a good look at the way 9/11 events are commemorated, and may include asking the question of whether they should be commemorated at all.

The TDSB has an admirable commitment to ensuring “safe and caring” schools. We therefore urge the board to be mindful of the way in which the anniversary of the September 11 attacks are too often appropriated by those whose agenda is driven by racism and the promotion of war and violence against Muslims and Muslim lands. As educators, we must be mindful that, even with the best of intention, we do not reproduce that agenda in our classrooms.

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M. Elmasry

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