By Thomas Gallezot
Superheroes exist. I know, because I’ve met one.
His name is Haroun Bouazzi. By day, he’s a mild-mannered, suit and tie-wearing computer specialist, a business architect at a major financial institution. By night—or outside of office hours, to be more exact—he transforms into Mr. AMAL-QC, a high-profile Quebec activist who devotes the bulk of his time to fighting against any injustice he deems unworthy of his adopted home province, while inspiring others to do the same. As you may have guessed, Haroun is the co-president and co-founder—some would say the heart and soul—of AMAL-QC, the Association des musulmans et des Arabes pour la laïcité au Québec (“Association of Muslims and Arabs for Secularism in Quebec”). One of this organization’s stated goals is to influence public policy and ensure it respects human rights and democratic principles.
Haroun’s first notable heroic feat was the report he submitted in December 2013 on the proposed Bill 60—the controversial “Charter affirming the values of State secularism and religious neutrality and the equality between women and men, and providing a framework for accommodation requests” or, as it’s more commonly known, the Quebec Charter of Values.
He works tirelessly to organize conferences and round tables on a wide variety of topics, such as institutionalized racism, employment discrimination, freedom of expression and its limits, the fight against terrorism, the fight for human rights, secularism, democracy, gender equality, and nationalism and the state.
And that’s not all.
He also travels the length and breadth of Quebec giving one talk after another, especially to youth in schools, CEGEPs, universities and community centres. He drives home the importance of fighting against any kind of injustice—relating to religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity or any other personal characteristic—that represents a form of discrimination prohibited by the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, which he is passionately committed to defending.
The sheer extent of his activity boggles the mind. You wonder where he gets the energy for it all. Does he find motivation in the recognition and respect he has earned for his unwavering dedication and rigorous intellectual honesty?
But it has to be said that he is by no means universally admired.
Following a TV interview he gave on Radio-Canada after the tragic Brussels bombings, the president of AMAL-QC was the target of explicit threats from two people on Facebook. One went so far as to threaten shooting him: “Une balle entre les deux yeux mon criss de porc, va faire ta morale dans tes pays sous-développés rempli d’ignorant comme toi...” The other was no less chilling, saying he would be whipped to death: “Le fouet jusqu’a ce que mort s en suivre pour rout les adepte du coran.”
While Haroun is used to receiving an avalanche of hateful abuse on a daily basis, ranging from “terrorist” and “pedophile” to insults that cannot be repeated here, he was particularly affected by these death threats, given the current extreme social tensions, and decided to make an official complaint about them.
In an interview with journalist Sarah R. Champagne which appeared in the Le Devoir newspaper, Haroun, as a Canadian-Tunisian who has lived in Montreal for 16 years, had no hesitation in describing himself as a radical devoted to promoting Quebec citizenship. “I don’t believe that teens are interested in moderation,” he says. “To divert feelings of isolation, frustration and injustice away from radicalism, you need to replace it with an equally radical idea.” During three years of working in schools and mosques, volunteers from AMAL-QC have countered radicalism’s despair and self-imposed isolation by giving talks on civic activism.
Haroun’s latest bold gesture came when he caused a stir by announcing his resignation from the Ministère de l’Immigration du Québec‘s cross-sectoral working table on the prevention of radicalization leading to violence. He did so in order to protest a campaign on diversity launched by the ministry which shocked many anti-racism activists and experts on race relations. “The good little immigrant, as portrayed by the two advertisements, must not only learn French but also be able to quote Rock et Belles Oreilles by heart. The good visible minority must not be satisfied with playing soccer but must also know how to play hockey,” mocked Haroun in the letter/rant he sent to the minister. One can easily imagine how that went over with militant Quebec nationalists who were already less than enamoured with this sworn enemy of Islamophobia...
There are many who criticize Haroun’s style of activism, considering him too flamboyant and confrontational. What they fail to see is that when he voices his opinion, it’s not to shout down others or call attention to himself. Quite the opposite: it’s to rekindle the flame of a vital social debate that many would prefer to extinguish. Amal means “hope” in Arabic, and that reflects the positive approach behind this open-minded humanist’s activism. But if you want to keep hope alive, you have to be willing to fight for it. Having played a part in the 2010 Tunisian Revolution, Haroun knows what it takes to overcome injustice. And he has no intention of giving up on his quest.
Besides, he doesn’t have a choice. That’s the price you pay for being a superhero.
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