Applause for diversity

What we can all learn from Jagmeet Singh’s heckler

Leah Scheitel // New NDP Fan

Imagine you’re in the middle of a big presentation, one that you have worked for most of the term, and mid-sentence, with a dry mouth and sweaty palms, someone from the back of the room parades to the podium to purposefully interrupt you. It’s not a pleasant interruption, not a positive reinforcement that you’re doing well and your nerves aren’t showing. It’s the ultimate heckler, hurling false accusations at you, while you’re doing your best to impress colleagues.

For Jagmeet Singh, this hypothetical became the worst reality. On Sept. 6, a woman – in an extremely rude manner – interrupted his campaign rally, Jagmeet and Greet (props to his PR team, catchy name), his last in hopes of replacing Thomas Mulcair as leader of the federal NDP. Jennifer Bush stormed into his rally in Bramtford, ON, demanding to know when the Muslim Brotherhood was going to end Sharia Law – a set of beliefs that have been known to oppress women and be barbaric in practice.

There is one alarming problem with Bush’s accusations, Singh is not Muslim, but Sikh. These are two very different religions and belief systems.

To the white eye, Muslim and Sikh share similarities – they are both prominent with brown populations. Okay, so that’s the only similarity. But it was enough to inspire Bush to disturb Singh’s event.

Many people think of racism as a binary idea – you’re either racist or you’re not, you either do something racist or you don’t – but in today’s world, it’s a bit more complex than that. You can be racist without saying the N-word (even in rap songs). You can be racist for trying to see “both sides” of a largely one-sided issue (re: Charlottesville riots). And you are racist for demanding one religion answer for the ideals of another, simply because they share a skin colour.

Bush, who is a proud supporter of an anti-Islamic group Rise Canada and the infamous Ford family, was showcasing just that. While she later claimed in a YouTube video that she is “not a racist,” her outburst demonstrated not only a misunderstanding of religion and its diversity, but ignorance for what racism is.

Bush was forceful in her approach, demanding that no one from Singh’s team touch her during her outburst and to let her finish. Singh, who maintained control of both his composure and the mic during the entire episode, used it to preach a lesson of “love and courage.”

“We believe in love and courage. We believe in an inclusive Canada where no one is left behind. We believe in building a Canada that ensures economic justice for everybody,” said Singh while Bush was mid-tirade against him. “Do we believe in diversity? Give it a round of applause for diversity.”

What Singh showcased that night was more than his political beliefs in his run for the NDP leadership. He demonstrated how understanding and compassionate he is. He later described it as “chardi kala”, a Sikhism principle that he credits his mother for teaching him. “It’s the idea of maintaining optimism in the face of adversity,” he said during the final NDP leadership debate on Sept. 10.

The video of the interaction went viral, with many prominent commentators speaking out about the issue including CNN anchor Jake Trapper.

This only highlights the overall significance of it, and one that Singh, smartly and rightfully, turned into a political tool for his campaign. During the outburst, Singh was able to not only send a message of acceptance but to repeat it, reiterating the message after the fact. “Everyone in the room loves you, we all support you and believe in your rights,” he said during the altercation.

If this is his motto, he not only deserves to lead a political party in Canada, he deserves to dominate one.

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