“A distinctive and insightful perspective on being Muslim in the post-9/11 world.” — Charles Taylor
Veteran Toronto Star editor Haroon Siddiqui, brown and Muslim, has spent a life on the media front lines, covering conflicts both global and local, and tracked rising xenophobia.
Canada has no official culture. It follows that there's no standard way of being Canadian, beyond obeying the law. Toronto Star editor Haroon Siddiqui shows how Canada let him succeed on his own terms.
Coming from India in 1967, he didn't do in Rome as some Romans expected him to. He refused to forget his past. He didn't change his name, didn't dilute his dignity, didn't compromise his conscience or his dissident views. Championed immigration and multiculturalism when that was not popular. Upbraided media colleagues for being white-centric, Orientalist. Pioneered cross-cultural journalism, bridging divided communities. Insisted it was un-Canadian to use free speech as a licence for hate speech. Opposed the limitless American war on terror, the invasion of Iraq, the long war on Afghanistan. Exposed how liberals could also be narrow-minded and nasty.
Here he shares such journalistic forays into the corridors of power, war zones, and cultural minefields. He also takes the reader along his personal journey from British colonial India to the evolution of Canada as the only Western nation where skin colour is no longer a fault line.
About the author
Haroon Siddiqui, one of Canada's most highly regarded editors and past president of PEN Canada, has been a voice of moderation and wisdom in the post-9/11 world. A columnist at the Toronto Star, Canada's largest newspaper, he has a readership that includes people from every corner of the earth and practitioners of all the world's religions. He has been critical of his media colleagues for their reliance on sensationalist cliches and stereotypes. He has questioned almost every aspect of George W. Bush's failed "war on terrorism." His work has been notable in promoting understanding. Siddiqui as been awarded the Order of Canada, the nation's highest civilian honor, for his journalistic contributions as well as for his voluntary work in helping to forge the new Canadian identity. A former news editor, national editor and editorial-page editor, he writes from his experience of traveling the world, covering such historic events as the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan, the American hostage crisis in Tehran, the Iran-Iraq war and India's emergence as an economic and global power. He is one of the most trusted voices today on issues surrounding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, on Iran and Islamophobia in the world.
Excerpt: My Name Is Not Harry: A Memoir (by (author) Haroon Siddiqui)
1 Expo 67
Landing in Montreal days before the closing of Expo 67, I was asked by the immigration officer the rote question: What are you bringing into Canada? Not much. Clothes, books, and $150 — or was it $200?— the maximum foreign exchange allowed out of India in those days.
That, however, wasn’t the whole truth, now that I think about it five decades later. I was also bringing my cross-cultural Indian genes and my family DNA. Both were to prove decisive in Canada, especially after 9/11 when I was turned overnight from a columnist who happened to be Muslim into a Muslim columnist whose only job was to apologize for my faith and condemn fellow Muslims. Being an Uncle Tom wasn’t part of the family ethos — several ancestors had stood up to the sultans of their day. My second column after 9/11, “It’s the U.S. Foreign Policy, Stupid,” evinced much abuse, as would dozens of others in the following months and years, including the ones opposing the war on Iraq under false pretences and the endless war on terror. I was labelled an apologist for terrorism, Saddam Hussein, and the Third World. Any terrorist incident anywhere and I’d be asked: “What do you have to say about this?” I was deemed personally responsible. Dinner invitations dried up. Those who used to woo me because of my position stopped calling. Acquaintances avoided eye contact. There was social media bullying. Poison oozed out of the nearly 40,000 emails and other responses to my columns, even as a majority of respondents by far remained quintessentially Canadian — polite, fair, open-minded, and committed to the idea that Canada became a light unto nations not by imitating the United States or Europe but by setting its own high standards.
Having never faced outright racism in Canada, this hatred seemed un-Canadian. Perhaps it wasn’t. Japanese Canadians, like Japanese Americans, were interned during the Second World War. Post-9/11, Canadian and American Muslims were similarly burdened with collective guilt and made to feel psychologically interned.
With Islamophobia being the new anti-Semitism, old anti-Jewish tropes have been applied to Muslims: Islam is incompatible with secularism, just as Judaism was said to be; Muslims can’t be trusted, just as Jews couldn’t be; Muslims harbour dual loyalty, just as Jews did and ostensibly still do; Muslims wield too much influence, as did the Jews and still do; and sharia is seditious, just as Jewish religious law was alleged to be. Sure enough, polls confirmed that religious antipathy toward Jews ran not that far behind hostility toward Muslims, especially in Quebec. For columnists, criticism and excoriation come with the turf. We develop thick hides. Still, the post-9/11 hysteria was potent, combining religious bigotry with racism. Internet bullying was in its infancy, and I was accorded the dubious distinction of being among its early victims. Yet I didn’t lose sleep over it.
What sustained me was not some grand ideology or a heroic act of courage but simply the “baggage from back home,” an ethos of rolling with the punches and a reflexive recoiling from the American imperial proclivity of pulverizing weaker nations and the Western habit of abandoning minorities exactly when they most need protection. Those instincts helped make me a more useful Canadian, as they also did during such reporting stints as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Islamic Revolution in Iran.
So there’s something to be said about immigrants who are well anchored and arrive brimming with self-confidence,a sense of self-worth, and a view of the world different than that of the native-born. They resist admonitions to “do in Rome as the Romans do.” They follow the law, of course, our common holy parchment. Anything beyond that is subjective, often a tool to lord over newcomers. Immigrants are delighted to come, having chosen this land. But they don’t necessarily feel “grateful” for being given immigration — a contract of mutual benefit. They feel little or no need to apologize for their racial, religious, cultural, ethnic, and linguistic identity in deference to majoritarian mores. They don’t pretend to develop amnesia the moment they arrive in Canada. Nor do they want to reinvent themselves, as did those who escaped the Iron Curtain and other hellholes and did very much want to forget what they left behind.
We, on the other hand, want to retain as much of our pasts as possible. In my case, a strong sense of self-identity born of an indulgent upbringing of unconditional love, and as an inheritor of thousands of years of Indian civilization as well as 1,500 years of Islamic religious, cultural, and literary heritage, I didn’t feel inferior to anyone. I could go anywhere, knock on any door, walk into any room, meet anybody. My past was my pride and part of my present and my future.
Yet this valuable commodity counts for little on the point system by which Canada chooses immigrants based on education, skills, and proficiency in English or French. Nor is it properly acknowledged in the narratives of those who tell tales of having come with $5 in their pockets and made themselves billionaires by their own brilliance.
* * *
I hadn’t heard of Toronto until I got to college where an eclectic English lecturer had us read a book published by the University of Toronto Press in 1945 — Some Tasks for Education by Sir Richard Livingstone. How and why he chose that book, we had no idea. Canada wouldn’t loom large for me until a few years later when I worked at the Press Trust of India, the national news agency in Bombay (since renamed Mumbai).
To break the monotony of the midnight copy-editing shift, the chief editor, a crusty yet kind old man, agreed to let a colleague and me get some reporting assignments. There were diplomatic and trade events galore that the agency didn’t bother to cover, but we could and did file a few paragraphs. That appealed particularly to my old classmate and roommate, Syed Sajjad Hyder, who was always looking for a free drink. We’d turn up at various consulates, no matter their insignificance or geopolitical affiliation. India was a non-aligned nation and so were we. It was for one such get-together at the plush Taj Hotel at India Gate by the Arabian Sea that Roland Michener, the Canadian high commissioner, flew in from Delhi. That proved to be a fateful encounter. In the chitter-chatter of the reception, he said, “Young men like you should go to Canada.”
With youthful irreverence, I responded, “Why would anyone want to go to Canada. It’s so cold there, isn’t it?”
Not long after that I had to quit my job and go home to Hyderabad when my father, abba in Urdu, had a heart attack. As the older son, I was soon looking after Abba, his business, and the family.
* * *
This is a love letter to the new Canada that allows its citizens, whether a Harry or a Haroon, to be what they are and what they want to be. Intelligent, controversial, and often brilliant reflections on Canada.
John English, professor emeritus and chair of the Canadian International Council
Haroon’s is a true Canadian story, from salesperson at Simpson’s to Editorial Page Editor of Canada’s largest newspaper. His memoir is a thoughtful and balanced review of contemporary Canada. Haroon brings us closer to the truth – and to the fundamental values enshrined in our Charter of Rights.
Paul Cavalluzzo, constitutional lawyer and lead counsel to the Maher Arar Commission (2004-06)
A thoroughly engaging, frank, and insightful memoir by one of the major international journalists of our time.
John L. Esposito, distinguished professor, Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University
This witty, informative, and unapologetic book is a splendid outcome of his many years of challenging set ways of thinking.
Karim H. Karim, chancellor’s professor of journalism and communication, Carleton University
An outstanding memoir, beautifully written.
Dennis O’Connor, former chief justice of Ontario
This is a series of books within a book. You begin on any page, and it will draw you in more and more deeply. It turns cliches on their heads. It challenges widely held assumptions. It sparks substantive conversations on Canadian values, ideals and our dynamic, rather than fixed, culture. A rich and candid read from one of our country's most esteemed journalists.
Nurjehan Mawani, former chair of the Immigration and Refugee Board, commissioner of the Public Service Commission of Canada, and His Highness the Aga Khan’s diplomatic representative in Afghanistan
My Name is Not Harry is not your typical immigrant story, and Canadian journalism (and Canada) will forever owe a debt of gratitude to one of Hyderabad, India’s, favourite sons.
Michael Dan, philanthropist and former neurosurgeon
The gift of honesty is precious: it radiates through this book. A rich and wonderful read.
Nathalie DesRosiers, principal, Massey College, University of Toronto
This is an account of a life of conviction and courage, and a passionate determination to leverage the power and responsibility of journalism to push us to see our faults and encourage us to build a better world.
Alex Neves, former secretary general of Amnesty International Canada
A distinctive and insightful perspective on being Muslim in the post-9/11 world.
Charles Taylor, professor emeritus, McGill University
Haroon Siddiqui has written a beautiful memoir. It is, of course, his story and a rich, fascinating one at that. But as always with Haroon, when he writes, we learn about ourselves as human beings and as Canadians.
Kathleen Wynne, Former Premier of Ontario
Canada is an oasis of multicultural harmony in an increasingly fractious world where the liberal order is in disarray, and isolationism and majoritarianism are ascendant. This book shows how and why Canada is so splendidly different. Haroon Siddiqui is a uniquely Canadian talent. His memoir is as wide-ranging and cross-cultural as his journalism has been — at once local, national, international
Sir Christopher Ondaatje
Witty, informative, and unapologetic.
Karim H. Karim, professor, Carleton University
Haroon Siddiqui is among our keenest observers of world politics, not only because of his critical acumen and searing honesty but because he is a global thinker with a cosmopolitan vision.
Juan Cole, professor and director, Arab and Muslim American studies, University of Michigan