অটোয়া, মঙ্গলবার ২০ অক্টোবর, ২০২০
“Quest for a just society” through the Mirror of 2020 Canada Day

Dr. Monjur Chowdhury:  My colleague and friend Richard Fransham, a retired teacher and the Co-founder of Uniting for Children and Youth in Ottawa (https://www.ucyottawa.com/) has been inspiring me to play a proactive role in the “Quest for a just society” movement. What a wonderful endeavour to get involved with! Not only did I join, but I encouraged my friends and networks to get involve with this movement.  I, however, took a pause to contemplate and reflect on this movement and the special Canada Day 2020. The celebration of this year’s Canada Day came with many challenges because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that every Canadian continues to endure along with the entire humanity. This is certainly a unique situation – for the first time in recent memory. In my reflection, over and over I found myself asking where are we in our search for a better society in a time when it seems to many that everything is amazing while so many of us are so unhappy and dreaming for lasting and meaningful changes to take place. The 21st century has entered at its adulthood, but are we making any meaningful progress towards creating a just society? Can we find the relationship between “Quest for a Just Society” and the Canada Day celebration? What lesson are we learning from this year’s special Canada Day; are we up to with the “Black lives Matter” movement? In a bid to search for the answers to these questions, we are going to give a deep dive into our collaborative works that we have been delivering to the members of Ottawa’s multicultural communities but few of us are happy.

I have no doubt in my mind that a just society has a deep relationship with the Canada Day celebration. Because of this relationship millions of people throughout the world are dreaming to become Canadians. I am convinced that this is because of the Canadian core values that were laid as the foundation stone of Canadian Federation: sustainability, multiculturalism, and human rights. As the first generation Canadian, my enthusiasm is endless to see the Canadian model as a role model for the rest of the world. As a matter of fact, Canada is a land of diverse communities with multiple languages and cultures, including those of 634 First Nations, which is why it is possible that we can be serious about creating a just society. This can be supported by the fact that human rights have been a cornerstone of Canadian identity since former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson won the 1957 Nobel Peace Prize for creating the United Nations Emergency Force. 

Canada is recognized in modern times for the Multiculturalism which is an essential element in building a prosperous society. Canada is the world’s first country to adopt multiculturalism as an official policy (Canadian Multiculturalism Act). Taking advantage of this valuable asset, we as a diverse group of various communities including the mainstream Canadians organized ourselves to deliver something meaningful that would be an added value to Canadian Multicultural Mosaic. Because the survival of new Canadian languages and their intergenerational transmission can play an important role in amplifying multiculturalism, we first designed a unique initiative under the name “International Mother Language Day Project” and our short term goal was to get the proclamation done by the City of Ottawa. November 17, 2017 was the day when we marked a milestone in the history of Ottawa’s Multiculturalism when Mayor Jim Watson declared the Proclamation of the International Mother Language Day confirming that the 21st February would be celebrated every year as the International Mother Language Day. To make an assessment of our on-going work especially in the context with the latest disturbing incidents related to racial discrimination at home and in our neighbouring country USA, it is my pleasure to share my brief presentation that I delivered at the City Hall during the proclamation ceremony.  This will allow us to ask your feedback to the action plan that I plan to offer at the end of this article.   

The presentation at the City Hall:
I would start my presentation by sharing a personal experience that had transcended a sense of magnificent enthusiasm in me. On a nice summer evening in 2013, I arrived in Atlanta to visit my friend Dr. Aziz, a Cardiologist and Professor at Emory University. The next morning after breakfast, the first thing he did was to drive me to the Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLKJ) Center. While I was overwhelmed by the treasure offered by the Centre, at the same time I could see tears in Aziz’s eyes. By this time, the tears were rolling through my eyes, too. Aziz then looked at me and said with a soft voice that every time he visits this inspiring place, he cries. While all this was happening, through my ears I could hear the echo of the speech delivered by MLKJ: 

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skins but by the content of their characters”. 

With the “Stone of Hope” that I generated from my visit at that center, with a group of my very inspiring and committed friends we started a similar journey in 2015. The objective of our journey was to offer our contribution in creating a harmonious society for Ottawa’s multicultural communities. To make a meaningful journey, we had to have a vehicle. We created an organization and named it as Bangla Caravan.

In order for our vehicle to run efficiently we partnered with an Organization named Pro-active Education for All Children’s Enrichment (PEACE:www.peace-ca.com). Both Bangla Caravan and PEACE are very closely aligned in terms of their mission. One of the PEACE mandates is to educate the residents of Ottawa the importance of living in an inclusive society where each member can learn and enjoy the beauty of multiculturalism and diversity. Bangla Caravan on the other hand is a voluntary organization and works as a platform for Bangla speaking people living in Ottawa. It advocates for diversity, multiculturalism and multilingualism. One of the main activities of Bangla Caravan is to promote and preserve the rich history, culture and heritage of Bangla speaking people and share them with the members of the Canadian multicultural mosaic. Our dream is deeply rooted in our love for all human being that cannot be segregated by the mere religious prejudice, race, color, dogma, and any sort of superiority. 

Therefore, our dream is to write one differential equation that will contain diverse terms but with the goal of having the best solution for each member of our society. The solution of the equation will allow us to pray, laugh and cry together while the gift that we receive can share with each other. We believe that the true beauty of diversity is to take the best that we receive from the differences   and put them into our diversity model to make it even better with the combination of others. 

Ottawa being the Capital City of Canada will continue to play a role in promoting multiculturalism to other parts of Canada and globally. We are very proud that our Mayor Jim Watson tops the list of Canada’s most popular Mayors. Because of his courageous stand in multiculturalism and diversity and the kind of values that he is carrying, the City is standing out to the world. 

We all present here and everyone else has a role to play in making Ottawa a champion of multiculturalism. I see this multiculturalism, similar to a garden that has different flowers of varied colors but the ultimate purpose of each flower is to contribute to the beauty of the society.

We propose all citizens of Ottawa to join us in designing a society where all of us have an opportunity to give something meaningful to others and get something valuable from others through sharing, integrating, and living together as a strong multicultural community. The proclamation of IMLD is a meaningful success for all of us to stand together and acknowledge the sacrifices that were made for creating an inclusive society where cultural diversity and freedom of expression would prevail.

Let me conclude my presentation with Nobel Laureate Bengali Poet and Philosopher Rabindra Nath Tagore’s reminder for whole humanity: “Let us unite, not in spite of our differences, but through them. For, differences can never be wiped away, and life would be so much poorer without them. Let all human races keep their own personalities, and yet come together, not in a uniformity that is dead, but in a unity that is living”.

With all this in mind, it is clear to us that we need to do more because it is not enough at all to solve the problem with “Enough is Enough” as declared Tamika Mallory, an activist of Black Lives Matter movement. It is not enough to visit MLKJ’s center and to become emotional as we did with my friend Dr. Aziz but we have to be way more organized in order to find out the root cause of the problem. We need to begin with us as we aren’t serious enough to make the change within ourselves. We must make the decision on what kind of future we want to create for our next generation because the outcome will solely depend on our decision. We should be aware of the fact that Western Society has already successfully developed new “fractures: between an economically active elite and a marginalized remainder” (Neil Turok). 

In spite of the terrible sufferings of many Canadians along with greater human race, “One silver lining of the pandemic is that we have the opportunity to pause, take stock of our existing systems and reassess how we want to show up on the world’s stage”, says Anita Li, Professor at the City University of New York and Centennial College in Toronto (Maclean’s June 29,   2020). I agree with Prof. Li that in order to modernize Canada’s national identity for the future, we should look to our past for enduring values that transcended time and politics.

It is definitely a rare opportunity for us as Canadians to lead in a post-Covid19 refreshed world if and only if we are ready to get out from our comfort zone. The unhappiness of human being in this time of civilization is originated from multiple causes, however, one can draw a definitive conclusion that the selfish, individualistic behaviours are often the root cause of our financial and environmental crises. World’s leading Theoretical Physicist Neil Turok believes that all of these crises will ultimately be helpful if they force us, to remake our world in more holistic and far-sighted ways. Let us hope that Covid-19 crisis will force us to make sustainable progress in the “Quest for a Just Society”. 

Monjur Chowdhury, M.Eng., B.Ed., Ph.D., OCT
Principal, AlivEducation (www.aliveducation.com)
Teacher, Ottawa Catholic School Board, Ottawa, Canada.