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Trudeau’s a ‘truck art icon’ in Pakistan, PM’s image painted onto trucks, lauded for pro-diversity stance

By Abbas Rana      

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears to be the first leader of a Western country to be the subject of truck art in Pakistan, with his inclusive stance contrasting sharply with trends elsewhere in the world.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is the subject of truck art in Pakistan, an honour usually reserved for homegrown war heroes, respected politicians, religious figures, poets, athletes, movie stars, and other celebrities. Photographs courtesy of Twitter
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may be losing some of his edge in public opinion polls at home, but in Pakistan he’s so popular that some freight truckers have painted his picture on their vehicles, an honour usually reserved for Pakistani or Muslim war heroes, respected politicians, religious figures, poets, athletes, some royalty, and movie stars.

Social media websites like Twitter and Facebook were buzzing last week with positive comments accompanied by a picture of Mr. Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) hand-painted on commercial freight trucks in Pakistan, for supporting the Muslim community after the Québec City mosque shooting, tweeting a “welcome to Canada” message after U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travellers from the seven Muslim countries to the U.S., and for helping 40,000 Syrian refugees come to Canada.

“Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears in Pakistani truck art. This is our way of telling him ‘We respect you because you respect us,’ ” tweeted Pakistani Aadil Omar on Feb. 2.

Declan Walsh, The New York Times bureau chief in Cairo, who in the past was based in Pakistan as a reporter for Britain’s Guardian newspaper and later for his current newspaper, tweeted on Feb. 3: “Ultimate accolade for Canadian PM Justin Trudeau in Pakistan—he’s become a truck art icon.”

On Facebook, thousands of Pakistanis and people around the world have commented on Mr. Trudeau’s picture being the subject of truck art in Pakistan.

“Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister in Pakistani Truck Art. Now, that’s gold! Justin Trudeau,” wrote Shayan Shaikh from Edmonton.

Truck art is a popular indigenous art form in South Asian countries, especially in northern-areas of Pakistan, where commercial truck and bus owners decorate their vehicles with paintings of their favourite personalities, as well as things such as colourful floral patterns, poetic calligraphy, drawings of pigeons, hawks, peacocks, humorous phrases, and folksy quotes.

Prime Minister Trudeau appears to be the first leader of a Western country to be painted on trucks in Pakistan. Prior to him, some non-Pakistanis who were featured in truck art included the late Princess Diana, South American revolutionary Che Guevara, and martial arts expert and movie star Bruce Lee.

Since becoming federal Liberal leader in 2013, Mr. Trudeau has become a national and international celebrity. In media coverage, he’s also been described as “Selfie King.”

“Trudeau has become well-known for his willingness to pose for pictures with Canadians over the course of his various campaigns,” wrote Huffington Post Canada after he was sworn in as prime minister in Nov. 2015. “He has probably posed for more selfies than most movie stars do on any given red carpet. And they’re all over the Internet.”

Prior to the 2015 election, his party was in third place, but achieved something unheard of in recent Canadian political history, by jumping from third place to a majority government in one election.

His popularity internationally comes largely from his progressive messaging promoting tolerance and coexistence of different religions and cultures. His good looks and famous last name are also factors. And he contrasts well against the divisive rhetoric coming from President Trump and other right-wing parties around the world, including in the U.K., France, Germany, and other European countries.

“President Trump’s harsh travel ban reflects a global pattern. All around the world, countries are slamming the doors shut,” wrote New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, with the headline “Canada, Leading the Free World” on Feb. 4. “One great exception: Canada. It may now be the finest example of the values of the Statue of Liberty.”

Former U.S. vice president Joe Biden, in his last state visit to Canada in December, said: “The world is going to spend a lot of time looking to you, Mr. Prime Minister. … Vive le Canada because we need you very, very badly.”

During international travel, it’s not uncommon for Mr. Trudeau to be covered in newspaper stories with headlines about his party policies and good looks.

“The sexiest, hippest world leader ever,” read a headline in a Manila, Philippines newspaper about Mr. Trudeau, reported Sun Media’s David Akin in 2015 while covering the APEC Summit.

“Will Justin Trudeau, the youngest head of state attending this year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in the Philippines, bare his six-pack abs?” the article asked its readers.

According to Statistics Canada, about 156,000 Pakistani-Canadians and a million Muslims live in Canada. In the 2015 federal election, Canadians elected the most ethnically diverse House of Commons ever. The Trudeau Liberals won a majority government and elected a record 47 visibility minority MPs, 10 indigenous MPs, and 88 female MPs. Visible minorities constitute about 19 per cent of Canada’s population and the 47 visible minority MPs account for 14 per cent of all 338 MPs.

The Liberals won a landslide majority government with 184 seats, the Conservatives won 99, the NDP 44, the Bloc 10, and the Green Party won one seat.

In the 2015 election, 17 Sikh MPs, 10 Muslim MPs, six Jewish MPs and three Hindu MPs were elected to the House of Commons. Two of the 10 Muslim MPs—Salma Zahid (Scarborough Centre, Ont.) and Iqra Khalid (Mississauga-Erin Mills, Ont.)—are Pakistani-Canadians.

In Mr. Trudeau’s 30-member cabinet, two ministers—Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen (York South-Weston, Ont.) and Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef (Peterborough-Kawartha, Ont.)—are Muslim Canadians.

Prior to the election, Mr. Trudeau, his caucus colleagues and candidates regularly attended cultural community events, and visited gurdwaras, synagogues, temples, mosques, and churches. He and his caucus colleagues also sent out messages on important cultural and religious days to all communities.

Before and after the election, Mr. Trudeau went to mosques, and in one of those visits wore Pakistani national dress Shalwar Kameez and ate biryani, a popular spicy South Asian dish, with the congregation. The pictures taken at this event went viral and Muslims around the world learned about his outreach to the Muslim community.

After the election, a YouTube video went viral showing Mr. Trudeau performing Bhangra dance at an India-Canada Association event in Montreal. As of last week, this video had been viewed about 1.5-million times.

During his visit to the U.S. last March, Mr. Trudeau took questions from American University students in Washington D.C. and in answering a question quipped that he had more Sikh cabinet ministers than Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had in his cabinet. Mr. Trudeau has four Sikh ministers in his cabinet, including Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains (Mississauga-Malton, Ont.), National Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan (Vancouver South, B.C.), Small Business Minister and Government House Leader Bardish Chagger (Waterloo, Ont.), and Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi (Edmonton Mill Woods, Alta.). Mr. Modi has two Sikhs in his cabinet.

After the last election, some newly elected Muslim MPs told The Hill Times that they decided to run in the last election to fight a negative stereotype of Muslim Canadians communicated by the Stephen Harper government and vowed to contribute positive and valuable input as federal MPs.

The Harper government’s divisive election rhetoric and policies such as Anti-Terrorism Bill C-51, the so-called Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act (Bill C-24), the niqab debate, and the proposed barbaric cultural practices snitch line were perceived by Muslims in Canada and around the world as “anti-Muslim.”

In contrast, the Trudeau government’s inclusive messaging during the election and after is widely welcomed by Muslims and other visible minority groups in Canada and abroad.

Since winning the last election, the Liberal government has brought more than 40,000 Syrian refugees and about 18,000 refugee applications from Syrians are currently undergoing the screening and processing process, according to the Immigration department’s website.

And the Liberal government’s response to last month’s mosque shooting in Québec City that killed six Muslims also was widely appreciated by the Muslim community in Canada and around the world. Right after the incident, Mr. Trudeau called it an act of terrorism, attended the funeral of the Muslim-Canadians killed in the incident, and instructed his caucus members to reach out to Muslims in their respective ridings to offer the government’s support. Some TV networks in Pakistan ran a picture of Mr. Trudeau wiping his tears at the funeral of the Muslims killed in the Québec City shooting.

Liberal MP Omar Alghabra (Mississauga Centre, Ont.), parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ont.), said Mr. Trudeau is popular not only in Muslim countries, but also in others. He said since becoming parliamentary secretary, wherever he’s travelled, people are curious and want to know more about the prime minister. Mr. Alghabra said the main reason for Mr. Trudeau’s popularity is his message of openness and inclusiveness in contrast to the rise of nationalism, protectionism, and divisiveness in the U.S. and some European countries.

“Prime Minister [Trudeau] is talking about opening up trade, welcoming people from around the world, talking about diversity is our strength,” Mr. Alghabra said. “So, it seems to be going against some of the currents that are happening around the world, I think that’s a message of hope for most people who are just distraught or concerned about these trends in the world.”

Liberal MP Omar Alghabra, right, pictured with Canadian Press reporter Lee Berthiaume, says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is popular not only in Canada but around the world. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright 

Andrew Cardozo, president of Pearson Centre for Progressive Policy, said that when people around the world compare the policies of Mr. Trump and the last Harper government with Mr. Trudeau, the contrast is clear, and for people who like progressive policies, the current Canadian government stands out from the rest.

“[Mr. Trudeau] was seen as a welcome change in many places when he arrived on the scene after Harper,” said Mr. Cardozo, a Pakistani-Canadian who is also a columnist for The Hill Times. “But then after Trump comes on, his stature goes up further among progressive people.”

Ms. Zahid told The Hill Times that Pakistani-Canadians and Muslims around the world like Mr. Trudeau because he considers “diversity as a strength” and believes in outreach to all visible minorities. She pointed out that the prime minister’s show of support to the Muslim community after last month’s mosque shooting in Quebec has further boosted his image within and outside of Canada.

“People very much like him and the support that he has shown to the Muslim community. Last month, standing shoulder to shoulder, has increased his popularity even more in Pakistan,” said Ms. Zahid.

Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai, right, with former prime minister Stephen Harper. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

Seven-term Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai (Calgary Forest Lawn, Alta.), who is running for his party’s leadership, said Mr. Trudeau may be popular internationally, but his “shine is coming off” in Canada.

In interactions with Canadians across the country, Mr. Obhrai said people now consider Mr. Trudeau just like any other politician who doesn’t believe in keeping his campaign promises, referring to things such as the recent decision to abandon electoral reform, deficits that go well beyond $10-billion a year, and no plan for balancing the budget by 2019 as was promised in the 2015 Liberal platform. He added that questions about Liberal Party’s fundraising practices and possible ethical breaches with Mr. Trudeau staying at Aga Khan’s residence in Caribbean Islands are also affecting the prime minister’s domestic popularity.

“During the campaign, Mr. Trudeau made too many promises just to be different from the Conservatives that he cannot fulfill [now],” said Mr. Obhrai.

Mr. Obhrai disagreed that Liberals did a better job reaching out to the visible minorities in the last election campaign, but admitted that the Conservatives made some mistakes such as passing C-24 and proposing the barbaric cultural practices snitch line, which started a “bleeding process” that never stopped.

“I don’t think [the Liberals] did a good job; the Conservatives did a bad job,” said Mr. Obhrai, adding that he hopes his party will not repeat the same mistakes in the next election.

arana@hilltimes.com

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