By Annie Rochon

The decree of Donald Trump, which was intended to forbid the entry of US nationals to seven Muslim-majority countries, has provoked reactions from the world of culture and already has concrete and potentially disastrous consequences on the sector in the United States, but also abroad. A federal judge was audacious enough to temporarily block the travel ban imposed by Trump. It is easy to forget that this ban has many consequences and affects some of our closest colleagues.

For the past four years, Aquil Virani has been working with our freshmen here at Paul Smith’s College to create a ‘chef d’oeuvre’ – a piece of art that represents Paul Smith’s community: our mission, our vision and our core values.

Aquil and I share the same birth country: Canada. We also share a love for the arts and an open mind, as well as respect towards diversity and inclusion. Following the recent political events in both the United States and Canada, I reached out to Aquil. I wanted to hear his views on our current political climate.

Here are some of Aquil’s opinions on hot topics such as ethnicity, race, religions, and gender orientation based on his own experience:

“I’m a half-French, half-Indian Muslim-born Canadian. I’m a feminist. I don’t know what it’s like to be born into a body that doesn’t quite match how I feel about my gender. I have never had to defend my sexual orientation. As all of us do, I have a complex, ‘intersectional’ identity. In many ways, I am lucky. In some ways, I am not.

“My Muslim father immigrated to Canada in the 1970s. During the independence movements of countries in Eastern Africa where my father grew up, the Indian population were seen as British colonizers, enduring both institutional and everyday racism. I used to think that because I looked white, I was treated as a white person. Because of my Arabic and Indian name, I know that people see me differently.

“There have been studies that show that someone with a white name is more likely to get an interview with the same qualifications in our society. This does not mean there are individual ‘racists,’ but rather that we have unperceived biases that systematically discriminate even if there is not explicit intention.”

On the topic of Islamophobia:

“If you think Islam is the religion of terrorists, you should judge Christianity based on the KKK. If you think Islam is a violent religion, ask yourself who you have been asking and who you have based your decision on. Have you asked a friend who is Muslim? Have you read work written by a Muslim scholar? Or have you heard years and years of non-Muslims tell you things about Islam?

“I think I’m a smart person. Most people do. It takes a ton of maturity and humility to accept that I cannot know everything. In my interactions and discussions with people, I keep certain things in my mind because I understand that there is no such thing as being “objective” – the entire field of psychology has understood for many years that we all have biases. I accept that, by definition, I cannot know everything. Will you?

“Because I am a man, I can never understand what it’s like to experience womanhood. I don’t know what it’s like, and therefore, I am categorically excluded from that knowledge. As a result, I can never be privy to a certain kind of knowledge that is extremely relevant to making decisions about women and their bodies. My job, then, is to listen first to these struggles and advocate accordingly.

“Because I am heterosexual (straight), I can never understand what it’s like to experience being LGBTQ+. I don’t know what it’s like, and therefore, I am categorically excluded from that knowledge. As a result, I can never be privy to a certain kind of knowledge that is extremely relevant to making decisions about the LGBTQ+ community. My job, then, is to listen first to these struggles and advocate accordingly.

“Because I have white skin (even if I am half-Indian and my name is Aquil), I can never understand what it’s like to experience being someone with dark skin. I don’t know what it’s like, and therefore, I am categorically excluded from that knowledge. As a result, I can never be privy to a certain kind of knowledge that is extremely relevant to making decisions about people of colour. My job, then, is to listen first to these struggles and advocate accordingly.

“In the same vein, I get frustrated by people who do not understand my experiences. That frustration is natural. But it’s especially painful when the people who aren’t listening to my experiences are part of a group that has historically exerted power over my community.

“Because I grew up as a Muslim, I get frustrated when I hear Christians or Atheists making misguided claims about Islam as if they somehow understand Islam better than me. I also feel exhausted when I have to constantly correct these claims and defend Islam.

“I don’t condone violence or rudeness in discussions. But I also understand where it comes from because I know what it’s like to run low on patience when you have to defend the essence of who you are to someone who has not shared the same struggles as you.

“There is an important distinction to be made about power structures here. You will say, ‘If men cannot know what it’s like to be a woman, then conversely, a woman cannot know what it’s like to be a man. And so it’s all equal.’ Firstly, this is why diverse representation is important at all levels of government – diversity in all aspects of identity whether ‘race,’ sex, religion, sexual orientation, ability, and so on. Furthermore, it is not ‘equal.’ We live in a society dominated by men and governed often by men. Men are paid more and treated better. We live in a society dominated by Christianity and governed often by Christians. We live in a society dominated by heterosexual people and governed often by heterosexual people. These are the power structures of our society.

“Understanding racism and sexism on a societal level, on a systemic level, is so critical. Racism is not just an explicitly racist individual, it is the often unintentional structures that keep non-white people to various degrees from positions of social, financial and political power.”

“For now, we leave you with this: As-Salaamu alaykum, meaning, may peace be upon you
Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of Paul Smith’s College.”
–Aquil Virani

Click here for Part II


Annie Rochon is an Assistant Professor of Classical and Modern Languages at Paul Smith’s College. She grew up speaking French in Montreal, Quebec, and, coming from a multicultural background, she is a strong advocate for diversity. She has a passion for language and for sharing it. She has a background in ethnolinguistics, translations, interpretation and terminology. She ardently believes that languages, travels, cultures and the beauty of cuisine will forever be intertwined. Rochon recently became a proud American citizen.

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