Friday, September 15, 2006

My Canada includes the Arar family 

Reading about the Arar family's reception in Kamloops made me proud to be Canadian:
. . . The Kamloops Daily News broke the story Aug. 31 on its front page. In an accompanying column, Daily News editor Mel Rothenburger, the former mayor, wrote glowingly about the grace under pressure Mr. Arar and Dr. Mazigh had demonstrated throughout their ordeal. “It's an honour,” the editor wrote, “to have this courageous family among us.”
Mr. Arar's eyes moisten as he recalls reading the column the first time. “Words matter. I could feel the warmth of those words. It shows Canadian people, in general, do care about each other.”
People in Kamloops have been extremely supportive, Mr. Arar said, recalling that the first time the family was spotted on the street. “People wondered if we were on vacation. They were really very excited when we said, ‘No, we are moving here.''' . . . Their new house is a bit of a fixer-upper. Mr. Arar has been painting walls and putting in a small stone patio. Dr. Mazigh wants to put new plants and marigolds in the terraced garden in the back.
Mr. Arar seems to have adjusted to the role of house husband. He's volunteered at the school to help fix up the computer lab. He wants to get the children into soccer. He frets he doesn't get much exercise, and that he has developed a paunch.
There aren't many other Muslim families in Kamloops. Maybe just a dozen. Dr. Mazigh has encountered only one other person, a woman from Egypt, who wears a hijab, the Muslim headscarf.
“I know what they are feeling,” said Gurwinder Singh, a turbaned Sikh who moved here from Saskatoon four years ago. He thought Kamloops might be a cowboy town, but was pleasantly surprised by the range of amenities. “The people here are just so friendly and polite, they won't have any problems.”
Mr. Arar said Dr. Mazigh's hijab draws almost no stares on the streets, which was not the case in Ottawa.
He predicted that as more Muslims move to Kamloops, the community will develop the critical mass necessary to open a mosque and hire an imam.
Until then, he'll spend more time instructing the children in Arabic and introducing them to readings in the Koran.
Baraa has started to wear a hijab to school. It's no big deal at a school where teachers give instruction on multiculturalism as an icebreaker for the new pupils at the start of the school year. They ask the children what languages are spoken at home. Baraa was surprised to learn how many of her new classmates or their parents and grandparents speak languages such as Dutch, German and Italian. But she's the only one who speaks Arabic, English and some French, she said proudly. Each day brings a pleasant little surprise. This week the subscription department of Canadian Living finally got the new address label right.
And Mr. Arar has found a barber downtown who cuts his hair the way he likes it. Even better, the barber is also a member of the city council.
“I can complain to him about the taxes,” he said with a laugh.

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