Overwhelming criticism of Maryam Monsef reveals Canada’s cultural insensitivity

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On Aug. 25, Gender Equality Minister Maryam Monsef issued a direct plea to the Taliban, urging for the safe release of people from Afghanistan. For addressing members of the Taliban as “our brothers,” she’s faced an onslaught of misdirected criticism.

News outlets and social media users mercilessly demanded Monsef’s resignation, with some even questioning if the Trudeau government is “softening” in its regard of the terrorist organization.

This misinterpretation of Monsef’s words isn’t surprising. As much as Canada prides itself onmulticulturalism, our society frequently fails to demonstrate an understanding of different cultural contexts.

Monsef has patiently explained that her words were simply a “cultural reference.” “Brother” is a term used in some communities to address older male figures, particularly those in a position of power or higher societal rank—and isn’t inherently a term of endearment.

It’s easy to read Monsef’s statement and realize she never acknowledged herself to be pro-Taliban. Many critics may have responded poorly because of their own ignorance and lack of context.

Canada expects colourful assimilation instead of multiculturalism—our intolerance for other cultures is apparent in the way many Canadians have responded to Monsef.

White politicians have been forgiven, time and time again, for issuing wildly incorrect and inappropriate statements. Since Monsef is an Afghan-Canadian refugee, however, it seems we hold her to a higher standard than her white colleagues.

Meanwhile, Monsef’s words have also become a perfect opportunity for others to push their own agenda.

Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole has branded Monsef’s words as "completely unacceptable," claiming his solidarity with the Afghan girls and women who must live under the reinstated Taliban rule. Yet O’Toole hasn’t shared how he intends to help the Afghan women.

Comments like these are linked to white saviourism—a complex wherein white people feel entitled to “save” people of colour without fully understanding their historical background or needs.

In this case, the crisis in Afghanistan is propagated by decades-long Western interventionism. Those claiming Monsef—who has sought refuge from the Taliban’s violence herself—is pro-Taliban to justify their own white saviourism are demonstrating a complete misunderstanding of what is needed of Canadians right now.

Instead of aiming a barrage of media coverage at Monsef, we should focus on helping Afghan refugees.

No doubt, politicians are responsible for the language they use in public statements. Monsef holds responsibility for choosing the words many Canadians have misinterpreted.

Yet it’s also the responsibility of the Canadian public and media to avoid abusing these mistakes to overshadow more pressing issues.

Monsef’s treatment has made clear that Canadians have our priorities skewed. We must be informed and accepting of cultural differences—not use them as fodder for waves of criticism.

Most importantly, we must focus our attention on the people of Afghanistan and away from this so-called scandal.

—Journal Editorial Board

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