I’m Pakistani-Canadian, and I Forgive Justin Trudeau | Opinion

The following article was published by News Week on Sept. 27, 2019.

I am a Pakistani—Canadian, and I am part of a visible minority. My ancestry is from a place where skin colors are darker and more brown in tone; a place where turbans are worn, exactly like the one that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is wearing in the now-infamous photo from 2001. By all accounts, I should be offended by the photos, as much as anybody. At least that’s what I’m hearing from everybody.

But, I am not. Here’s why.

It all centers on the question: Is Justin Trudeau racist? Is the Prime Minister of the land I live in—and the land that I love—a bigot?

If yes, then I would not only be offended, but more than that, I would be deeply hurt, even disillusioned.

But my answer to that question, in my heart of hearts, is: no.

I really don’t think Justin Trudeau is racist. And that’s why I am not offended.

Because I can recognize this for what it is: Justin Trudeau has always been a rowdy, immature, over-the-top party-boy.

So when those photos emerged Justin Trudeau wearing brown and black paint on his face, as part of an over-the-top costume, we just caught a glimpse of one of those moments in which he was over-eager to stand out in a party full of costumes, and be the center of attention – and went, by his own admission, an an extra mile too far to get it. The sudden release of those photos last week did not change him from what he was the day before when nobody could even dream of calling him a racist; when he was considered one of the voices of the global movement of progressives. No, the release of the photos did not erase the man we liked; the man we elected; one of the most popular figures we’ve ever had in the country—a true “People’s Prime Minister”.

The truth is, our Prime Minister is a jock-type, frat boy with a filter that – up until he became Prime Minister – was permanently turned off. This is the same Justin Trudeau who yelled a profanity across the Chamber of Parliament in what was one of his first headline-dominating episodes a few years ago while serving as an MP; the same Trudeau who uber-enthusiastically engaged in a much-hyped boxing match with another fellow MP (and proceeded to out-jock him); the same Trudeau who, just last year, basically did an all-too-similar dress-up-as-an-Indian outfit-routine (sans the face paint) during the also now-infamous “India Trip.”

But he’s also the same Justin Trudeau who, in the words of Global TV’s David Akin, “was standing and welcoming Syrian Refugees when nobody else in the world was.” He’s also the same Justin Trudeau who appointed a Sikh man—who wears a turban, by the way—as the country’s Minister of Defense (something no western leader has even come close to doing before.) And of course, don’t forget, he is the Member of Parliament from Papineau (in Montreal, Quebec, one of the most multicultural ridings in all of Canada, filled with immigrants and people of all backgrounds.

Just last month, Trudeauwas being attacked for his undying dedication to and evangelizm for multiculturalism in Canadian society. One of his rivals in the upcoming Federal election, Maxime Bernier, Leader of the People’s Party of Canada, warned that “Trudeau’s extreme multiculturalism” was somehow threatening to”divide us”, and that Canada under his leadership was becoming “something infinitely diverse,” which he appears to think is a bad thing. I don’t think someone being accused of making his society “infinitely diverse” can ever truly be thought of as a racist.

There is absolutely no doubt that this was an utterly foolish and unbecoming thing to do, especially for someone who should have known better, having traveled the world, seen such a wide perspective of humanity, and experienced as much as he had, being the son of a Prime Minister. But there is something to be said for the process of growing up—which takes longer and occurs later in life for some. And there is also something to be said about the effect that society has on you. If you look at those pictures from 2001 (when he was in his late twenties,) you’ll notice that everybody is as jovial, happy and undisturbed, as if it was something totally normal at that time—even the two Indian men wearing turbans that he is pictured with. Maybe that’s because it was more acceptable, or at least at costume parties, like the one he was pictured at.

People make mistakes. And in this case, for a Prime Minister, who is in the middle of an election campaign, those mistakes can be irrecoverably damaging, especially given how powerful and pervasive racist tropes can be, which have been known to infect even otherwise well-meaning people and taint their legacies.

Who has not said or done something in the past that that they regretted; something that did not represent who they really were? Who has not done wrong and sought forgiveness, hoping to be pardoned—by family, by friends, by people…in some cases by God? I think we all have in some way or form. And has nobody ever done something in the past they look back upon now with shock or shame? I think most have.

The truth is, that Justin Trudeau is still the same person we have known over the last many years. The only thing that changed this week, is that some of his poor choices from the past have come to light.

A few pictures of yesteryear do not reflect the man of today.

As Omar Alghabra, a Liberal MP of Saudi Arabian descent, said when asked about the controversy.

“For me, when a person apologizes, it’s the start of an evolution. But what I can say about Mr. Trudeau, his evolution started way before these images have come out.”

Mr. Trudeau is not a racist. He’s just been an extremely immature, over-the-top, attention-seeking, jock of a guy in his younger years, a time when the world was also a bit of a different place. Bad choices in a different time, but never with the intent of being racist. I can forgive that.

Ahmed Sahi is a Toronto-based writer and journalist.



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