For our special 50th anniversary issue, Canada’s brightest, boldest, and most rebellious thinkers, doers, and creators share their best big ideas. Through ideas macro and micro, radical and everyday, we present 50 essays, think pieces, and calls to action. Picture: plans for sustainable food systems, radical legislation, revolutionary health care, a greener planet, Indigenous self-government, vibrant cities, safe spaces, peaceful collaboration, and more—we encouraged our writers to dream big, to hope, and to courageously share their ideas and wish lists for our collective better future. Here’s to another 50 years!
I vividly remember my first snow fall. We had just arrived in Canada, fresh off the plane in 1987. It was the first time I saw downtown Montreal. We were standing on Sherbrooke, padded with synthetic warmth in our puffed out jackets. The snow fell slowly. Little flakes of culture shock.
A couple years later, I was immersed in a new language, speaking a mixture of British English (from my schooling in Dubai) and French (with a battered Quebecois accent), maintaining Arabic at home. It was the early-’90s. The “Mother of All Battles” waged in Iraq, and I lived in a neighbourhood that wasn’t the brownest in town. I don’t know what changed me more: experiencing war through the xenophobia that comes with the conquest of a nation, or watching it on a television.
School bullying taught me I could be stronger than my physical presence. The constant pulling of my roots and my ethnicity, the jokes, the graffiti, the TV, the kids pushed me to be funny. It made me want to laugh at people, not with them, about how they feel about Iraqis, Arabs, Muslims, The Other.
By 2000, while studying Political Science and Communication Studies at Concordia, I started to dabble in song, using the university facilities to record at night. Then, a year into expanding my darkest and deepest thoughts into music, came another media war. September 11, 2001 was a tipping point for many in North America, and doubly so for those of us who are Iraqi Muslim boys and girls.
Fast-forward to today, and the events of the last two months have shaken my faith in humanity—and yet also affirmed the importance of placing hope in my children’s future paths. It is extremely difficult to watch the hijacking of our religion. It is more painful to scroll through social media feeds on my iPhone and see children weeping over their parents, and parents weeping over their dead children. I don’t know where to place all the injustice we experience third-hand. The news cycle is so quick. Two-hundred-and-fifty-eight dead in Baghdad. A police officer’s bullet deletes a young Black man from this Earth, streamed on Facebook Live. We are living in the most visible and blind times ever. Our choices will resonate even faster and longer into the future. The healing of our combined history is up to us—just having the conversation isn’t enough.
Canada, I bid you the best of peace, the hardest of self-reflection, and the sincerest of honesty on our history. I would like (and unlike) to believe that we are at a tipping point, yet again. The mistakes of our previous leaders must be accounted for, to help us understand the by-products of violence that today plague us. Our appointed leaders should be held accountable in a court of law, just like any citizen who wants a true and free democracy. As we move forward into the future, we must decide whether we want to pave the way to violence or build the world in peace.
A World War Free is possible—if we want it.
Yassin “Narcy” Alsalman is a Montreal-based professor, director, actor, musician, and multi-media enthusiast. He teaches hip-hop courses at Concordia University, while collaborating with visual and musical artists of Arab origin. His stage exploits have excelled him as a cultural pioneer of the Iraqi Diaspora.