I am sitting here watching the news of 6 men in Quebec who were murdered in cold blood as they prayed in their mosque. This horrific story was followed by a report of Donald Trump rejecting refugees from Australia because “the next San Bernardino killer” could be amongst them.

Watching the news and this divisive bullshit that’s the dialogue we are now faced with every day, made me think back fondly to when I was in high school.

I had a best guy friend and his name was Aly. He had the nickname “Brown”.

Why you ask?

Because he had brown skin.

We were very politically correct in those days and he may have even named himself. I can’t remember. But the point was, everyone’s parents were from other countries and no one really cared. It sounds like some utopian dreamland now, but I promise, it was real life and it was how we grew up in North Vancouver, Canada in the 90’s.

My friend Mina and I had dinner last night, and she was a part of the same group of friends from high school and we got on the topic of our experience growing up- she’s half Chinese and half Iranian. She said that it wasn’t until she was 16 or 17 and looked in a mirror and realized that she was “different” ethnically in any way. We just truly didn’t care. Everyone’s parents were from somewhere else and different was normal.

But back to Aly. Because I think this truly illustrates the beauty of how it was for us.

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Me and Aly and our other good friend Mike, circa 2002.

Aly gave me a ride to school in his red Jeep Cherokee every day. We called it the Chief and we would die laughing everyday driving to school because the Chief had a malfunctioning back window washing fluid holder and so we’d spray unsuspecting cars behind us who wondered what the hell was going on.

I’d also try and throw the car into neutral when Aly wasn’t looking and was trying to drive, giving a clear picture why 16 year olds in British Columbia now need an adult in the car for a few years after they get their license (sorry youngsters!).

Aly was hilarious, so much fun to be around and was always one of my favourite people to hang out with. Fun facts of Aly included, he went to Church every Friday night and so I always had to wait til 8:30pm to go out every Friday since we usually drove together, and he went to Hawaii every Christmas with his family because they didn’t celebrate Christmas.

Fast forward to my freshman year of college at Yale when I was learning about Islam. As a side note, it always struck me from my first moment on campus how everything about race and religion was so highlighted and divided coming from my experience growing up. But that’s a blog for another day.

I was learning about Islam and they talked about how Muslims went to Church on a Friday night and how they didn’t celebrate Christmas. And then of all a sudden, I thought to myself…..HOLD ON A SECOND….

Which led me to race home from class, pick up a phone (otherwise known as the dorm room land line … hey there 1997) and l called Aly who was in his freshman year at McGill, in Montreal.

“Aly, can I ask you a question??”

“Yes …Ciara.” (said in hilariously skeptical Aly voice)

“Um, this may be a dumb question, but…. are you a Muslim?”

To which he replied in a voice that I can still hear full of “Ciara-you-are-such-a dumbass/a-big-smile-on-his-face/incredulous.”

“Ciara, my name is Aly Sidi, you don’t get much more Muslim than that. How the hell did you not know that before now…”

And I laughed and said how was it possible that I did not know that, and we laughed together for a while… But that’s the point, and it something that makes me so sad for the kids of today and so damn sad for the world we are now living in. A world where the leaders are trying to divide us and fear each other.

I tweeted it the other day and I believe it with my whole heart. “I am so grateful that I grew up surrounded by Iranians and Muslims. It’s difficult to hate and fear what you know and love.”

I look at the decisions getting made in the US, and that its a bunch of old white men. Have they ever had friends of different races and religions? Have they ever gotten to know people from the countries that they are singling out and attacking?

Are we as people aware that the statistics do not for a second back up what they are telling us to fear and focus on?

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I see my friends, friends that have been in Canada for 30 years but came in 1987 from Iran during the Revolution. They are one of us, and yet they are affected with this bullshit and are now scared of crossing the border, which they used to do with no thought. And if they are brave enough to cross the border, they have now accepted that they are going to be treated like a criminal.

An Iranian friend I coached with today, showed me a photo making the rounds in the Iranian news, of a 5 year old in the Dallas Airport in handcuffs that were around his upper arms behind his back.

I see how hard the rhetoric is to escape and every day we are told to fear what is different instead of embracing and getting to know it. Because once we know people personally, there lies love and acceptance instead of the fear and hate that is now enveloping us and the daily conversations that we are now faced with.

And it makes me angry to my core.

I’m not a person that normally wants to have a political conversation or action, but this bullshit that is going on I am starting to take personally. These are my friends that they are talking about, that they are trying to marginalize. And you can be damn sure that in my small sphere of the world that I am not going to stand for it.

I hope and I pray that we stay strong, we stay educated and that instead of tearing us apart, this is a time that we come together and we truly fight for those that for whatever reason have been singled out and marginalized. That we push back to the nonsense getting shoved down our throats and we say no. That every time we are told to fear something that we instead invite someone over for dinner and get to know them and what it is like where they are from.

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I want my world back where religion, skin color, sexual preference, anything that is now shaped as a difference, didn’t matter.

Most of all, I want back the days when my best friend was a Muslim, and I had absolutely no idea.

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Me and Aly still laughing our faces off, circa 2017

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