It’s a hot, sticky, pollen-ridden day, and I am struggling to make the 3:13 eastbound GO train to Oshawa. I realize that if I miss it, an hour of boredom and thumb-twiddling will be my punishment. 3:06 and I’m still at BCE Place; better start running.
I arrive on the track at 3:10 (pretty impressive, considering I ran with a school bag in my right hand, and a bag filled with new textbooks and Kleenex for my dripping, allergic nose in my left). Huffing and puffing, I start looking around for a familiar face, someone who can keep me company for the next 45 minutes.
I find a former colleague from Staples waiting for the same train. We start talking about school, sports and work, and finally board the train. Rush hour trains tend to be packed, so there’s not much choice in seating. If you see a vacant seat, you sit down.
We spot two seats across from each other, so I try sitting down next to a middle-aged white man.
The man puts his arm on the empty seat and scoffs at me: “There’s no room here.” I sit down anyway, because there’s no way I’m standing for 45 minutes. Ray, my friend from Staples, pulls out an IT textbook and hands it to me: “Feel how heavy it is.” I hand it back and we talk about school some more.
As the train pulls out of Union, I can tell the man next to me is very uncomfortable. He keeps mumbling. He puts his elbow into my side and pushes. I figure he’s just readjusting. He’s not.
He leans forward, turns his head and stares directly into my face for about a minute. I glance at him and quickly look away, trying not to be confrontational. Five minutes pass and he looks at me again, this time shaking his head in disapproval while mumbling some more.
The train slows as it pulls into Danforth station. The man looks at me again, but now he says something directly to me. In a state of shock I ask him, “Sorry, what was that?” He replies, “You better put that plastic bag over your head, you Paki.”
While I collect my thoughts and look at Ray with disbelief, the man gets up and runs out the door.
I know these incidents don’t happen frequently. But I’ve also noticed that ever since I’ve grown a beard, it’s happened to me twice in one week, the other incident being when I was asked if I had a bomb on me (also on the GO train). I guess being brown and having a beard is a bad combination (on top of that, I am Muslim).
This attitude towards “Middle-Eastern”-looking people is a perfect example of Bush vigilantism, which has convinced many people in the West that all “freedom-loving” people should be “vigilant” at all times.
Now, I’m not saying you should leave someone trying to light a shoe on fire aboard a plane alone, but let law-abiding, “freedom-loving” people (regardless of race, religion, or appearance) go on with their lives without making them feel like outcasts.
Ignorance is the main catalyst of hatred and many Westerners fuel their ignorance by becoming “CNN drones”: mindlessly listening to fear-instilling U.S. government propaganda, without actually thinking the issues through. Every time CNN relates a new FBI terror alert, some Canadians get very nervous, very quickly.
The symptoms of this paranoia: shifty eyes, constant staring, and jumpiness. Relax. Osama is not coming after the Ajax Community Centre, nor is Al-Qaeda going to target GO trains headed to Oshawa.
If you see a brown man wearing a long, white robe, with a long, black beard, and a skull-cap, don’t panic.
He’s probably heading to a civil engineering class to do what everyone else is there to do. And no, he’s not in engineering to learn the easiest way to make a bridge collapse.