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EY film-maker hoping ‘Islamophobia’ doc can spark dialogue

Screen capture from "Change Your Name Ousama"

Screen capture from “Change Your Name Ousama”

\ By Gary Webb-Proctor \

An East York film-maker says he wants to make his 2012 documentary about Islamophobia available for showing locally again to help foster dialogue about the role and perceptions of Muslims in the community.

Fuad Chowdhury, whose “Change Your Name Ousama” film was made for OMNI-TV and shown along a with panel discussion in 2013 at a local community centre, told East York Chronicle today in an online interview from Dhaka, Bangladesh, that when he returns to Toronto Feb. 7 he hopes to participate in more showings and discussions.

Mr. Chowdhury said he would be “glad to co-operate” with any group or political representative wanting to arrange showing of the film and a discussion of its subject matter, “How Canadian Muslims Were Marginalized by 9/11.”

Fuad Chowdhury in 2013 -BETH FORD

Fuad Chowdhury in 2013 -BETH FORD

Produced and directed by Chowdhury with CBC security affairs reporter Bill Gillespie, the film explores how negative perceptions and assumptions about Muslims were still affecting the lives of residents in the Crescent Town area and elsewhere ten years after the 9/11 attacks in New York.

Its title refers to a comment that one interviewee had received from a “friend” advising them how to be better accepted by non-Muslim Canadians, while others who appear on camera describe feeling they are required “to be extra friendly” and helpful “in order to prove I’m not a terrorist.”

The 50-minute documentary, which can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube, also interviews journalists, a member of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), scholars and religious and community leaders as it probes what is described as a pervasive fear of Muslims in general, or Islamophobia, which arose in Canadian as well as U.S. society after the 9/11 attacks in New York.

Speaking to a reporter after the local viewing and discussion arranged by then Beaches East-York MP Matthew Kellway in 2013, Chowdhury said that many young Muslims he spoke with during the making of the film seemed to feel the need to hide their religion.

“Many young people I spoke with —ones that were born in Canada and don`t know any other life— would say ‘my name is Mohamed and I`m a practicing Muslim but I’m thinking of changing it,’” he said.

He also said that many Muslims were afraid of speaking openly or being identified on camera due to fear of receiving attention from security forces or police despite being involved in no wrongdoing.

“Muslims were not co-operating with me. They would tell me things while the camera was off but once it started rolling they would hesitate to talk because they fear the Canada Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the RCMP,” Chowdhury said.

That situation does not appear to have changed much since the film was made —unless it has worsened.

According to a recent study of the experiences of young Muslims in Canada prepared by the non-profit Inspirit Foundation, which grew out of Vision TV and promotes Canadian pluralism and inclusion, nearly one-half (48%) of those surveyed reported being discriminated against or being treated unfairly.  Nearly as many, 42%, said they were “very worried” about discrimination against Muslims in Canada and just shy of a third (32%) reported they had experienced instances of religious discrimination in public spaces.

A statement issued by the Canadian Council of Imams in the wake of Sunday’s massacre at a mosque in Quebec City attributed the slaughter to Islamophobia.  Many critics have also ascribed the same motivation to U.S. president Donald Trump’s recent executive order halting immigration and barring visitors to the country from seven predominantly Muslim nations.

The council’s statement advises “anyone in the Canadian Muslim community who may experience Islamophobia not to suffer in silence. We must report acts of hate and bring them to the attention of our fellow citizens.”

In the 2013 interview after the local film screening, Chowdhury, along with Toronto Imam Saeed Saeigah, who was also part of the panel discussion, emphasized that politicians have a pivotal role to play in breaking down stereotypes about Muslims that have been created in part through mainstream media and those using them as scapegoats.

“Are we going to sit here and talk and talk or are you as politicians going to do something about it?” Mr. Saeigah asked pointedly.

Chowdhury, who noted then that Muslim leaders also need “to work with local politicians and recognize they have a role to play” in affecting attitudes and public policy, said this morning that “I love the stand taken by the Canadian government but nothing will be easy.

“The Canadian PM has become a hero in developing countries,” he said from Bangladesh.

“Unfortunately, I am expecting more madness from south of the border.”

-with files from Beth Ford

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