by Norma Greenaway | Vancouver Sun | 28/10/2004
OTTAWA -- The first Muslim woman elected to the House of Commons is the product of a British finishing school for girls where she says "the social graces were instilled in us." Three decades after graduating, Yasmin Ratansi is a polite, refined woman who has relied on that training to keep her anger in check when she bumps up against suspicious U. S. border guards.
The new Liberal MP shows no such inclination, however, to bite her tongue when speaking about the Bush administration's war to oust Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq as part of the so-called war on terror.
"There are no weapons of mass destruction," says Ratansi, struggling to keep her visible anger under control.
"You (the U. S. administration) have bombed a city, Baghdad, that used to be the centre of civilization in the Muslim world. And you have bombed it in to smithereens.
"I mean give me a break. And you expect people to respect you. I don't think so. You have destroyed the very lifestyle they have. You have destroyed everything."
She also accuses the U. S. government of fuelling the anti-Americanism that drives the terrorists.
"Who wrought this terrorism?" Ratansi asks during an interview on Parliament Hill. "Where did they come from? They are the result of the policies of the United States. They have been interfering in the world."
Ratansi, elected in the Toronto riding of Don Valley East, says she will not be silenced just because her remarks might be construed as being anti-American by some. "I'm not afraid to speak out," she says. "It's not anti-American."
She contends she would say the same thing about "any imperialistic power that tries to influence another country and creates chaos in that country."
Ratansi is a proud, observant Muslim. She prays daily. During the current Muslim holy month of Ramadan, she fasts from sunrise to sunset. She jokes
she learned to pour wine at finishing school in London, but that she has never tasted it.
If the Bush administration gets her dander up, so too does Osama bin Laden. She says she has zero tolerance for the accused mastermind of the 9/11 attacks and what she sees as his abuse of the teachings of Islam to justify murdering human beings.
"There is nothing in our scriptures that talks about killing anybody," she said. "Ninety-nine per cent of the Muslim population is peace loving. And like we don't call the IRA the Christian terrorists, we can't call the groups like Osama's (al-Qaida) Muslim terrorists because they are not Muslim. They are absolutely not Muslim because they do not adhere to the fundamental beliefs that are in the Qur'an -- tolerance, peace, diversity, pluralism, respect for life."
Ratansi immigrated to Canada from her native Tanzania in 1974.
Since arriving in Canada, Ratansi has pursued a career as a general accountant in both the private and public sector while volunteering huge chunks of time to helping immigrants and their children adjust to life in Canada and mentoring young professionals. The 53-year-old MP, who has never married, says the young people she met through her volunteer work have become her family.
Ratansi says she got hooked on politics soon after arriving in Canada. She worked in the trenches for municipal, provincial and federal candidates, and also worked hard to try to get other new Canadians involved in the political process.
Ratansi admits, however, her personal dream revolved around winning her own seat in the House of Commons. After losing a first bid in 1988, she scored a surprise victory in June over Conservative David Johnson, a former top minister in the Ontario cabinet of Mike Harris. Ratansi replaces former Chretien cabinet minister David Collenette, who didn't seek re-election.
She says the late Pierre Trudeau was her inspiration. She credits him with throwing Canada's doors open to immigrants from the Third World, and enhancing the country's international reputation as a tolerant, just society. As a federal MP, she says, she wants to try to expand Canada's international influence.
"I want to make a contribution and pay Canada back for the safety and security it has given me," she said.
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