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September 27, 2001 International students face dramatic headlines


by Barbara Black

Immediately after news of the attack on Sept. 11, International Students Office coordinator Claudette Fortier sent an e-mail message to the listserv for her constituency, telling the students that her office would stay open until 8 p.m.

However, it was the emotional message she sent out the following Monday that got the most reponse from students In it, she said, in part:

“I have, like you, been shocked and horrified by the monstrous events that happened in the United States last Tuesday. Now that a few days have passed, I find myself concerned by the discourse on revenge, retaliation, war, and the absence of the word ‘peace.’

“I am encouraging you as an ambassador of your country to Canada to keep an open mind, to take the time to explore the issues at stake in this major event in history and to seek the truth for yourself, to be tolerant and most importantly, to refrain from making judgments.

“Some facts seem to point in the direction of a dangerous group of Mislim terrorists, but please remember that this marginal group does not represent the Muslim and/or the Arab communities.

“Let’s fight terrorism in our own way. . . . We may not be in a strategic position to influence the big powers of this world, but we do have the power to influence in a positive way our own life and the lives of those around us.”

Particularly vulnerable, Fortier said, are the incoming students from other countries who don’t yet realize how safe and welcoming Montreal and Concordia are.

One student from Oman, aged 17, had no sooner arrived than he turned around and went home, partly at the urging of his alarmed parents. Another foreign student, a Sikh who wears a turban, was so nervous that he didn’t go to class for several days after the disaster, and only returned after a talk with Fortier.

What was particularly disheartening, Fortier said, was that scant days after the event, she saw expelled Student Union activists Laith Marouf and Tom Keefer standing outside the Hall Building with a big sign that said “Stop arabophobia at Concordia.”

“I saw it with new eyes, the eyes of a new student,” Fortier said, exasperated. “Concordia is not ‘arabophobic.’ If we were, why would we be recruiting so actively and so successfully in the Middle East?” This year, the university has 245 international students from 16 Mid-East countries.

Concordia also has 149 American students, and they have been brought somewhat closer by the calamitous event in their own country. They hope to organize a U.S. students association on campus.

Even for U.S. students, studying in Canada is an eye-opener. One student had responded to Claudette Fortier’s e-mail with thanks, and a plea that violence not be added to violence.

She added that the outpouring of grief made her uncomfortable. “It is such sad and blind folly to believe that American lives are worth more than other human lives. . . . My heart goes out to [them, but it also] goes out to those being blasted by violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Angola, in Palestine, in Israel and in my own violence-wracked motherland, South Africa.”

Fortier said that this kind of opinion was a jolt for some students. One, who had never been outside the United States before, was deeply shocked by her first encounter with sharp criticism on the part of some Canadians toward the U.S., especially American foreign policy.


Two students and an ICAO official

A representative from the International Civil Aviation Organization mingles with new students at the International Students Reception.

New international students

Some of the 400 international students who attended the annual reception, held this year on Sept. 14.

Dancing student

Three dancing students

Two dancing students

A live band kept new international students jiving on the makeshift dance floor.

Photos by Andrew Dobrowolskyj

A magnificent turnout from around the world

About 400 international students attended the annual welcome reception held in their honour in the Hall Building on Sept. 14.

Although it was only three days after the multiple hijacking and large-scale destruction in the U.S., there was a magnificent turnout of consular officials, including the consul-generals or their representatives from the United States, Colombia, France, Brazil, Venezuela, Libya, Greece, the Netherlands, China, Egypt, Argentina, Korea, Germany and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

A number of our students also attended the reception held on Mount Royal several days later by the City of Montreal, at which the emcees were Claudette Fortier, coordinator of Concordia’s International Students Office, and Ali Mohammadi, of Concordia’s International Students Association.