Understatement of the moment: it must be tough being a Muslim youth in Toronto these days.
You've got the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) visiting you, your parents prohibiting you from hanging out with your friends at the mall because of fears you could be picked up under Canada's Anti-terrorism Act if you're seen with other Muslims.
And you're constantly on the defensive, your Canadianness called into question.
You even think twice about going camping, and can forget about paintball altogether. You also can't be sure if the guy you're praying next to at the mosque is a spy, which only deepens feelings of mistrust and animosity within a community already under siege.
These are just some of the grievances aired at a forum for Muslim youth dubbed On Our Own Terms: Muslim Youth Speak Out, held recently at U of T, where 500 people show up on the rainy Thursday evening of June 29.
One of the first orders of business is a call for donations to support the besieged families of some of the 17 young Muslim men arrested recently over an alleged terrorist plot.
I find myself automatically reaching into my pocket and pulling out a toonie as the plastic bag is passed around.
As I do this, two simultaneous thoughts occur. One: I wonder if a CSIS agent is watching me. Two: why am I doing this? These guys allegedly ordered 3 tonnes of fertilizer and they ain't no farmers.
Despite my own internal mantra that anyone arrested is innocent until proven guilty, have I unconsciously bought into the court of public opinion's guilty verdict? I let the toonie drop into the bag. My own reservations underscore one of the themes of the evening: that the media is dishing up Islamophobia big time.
"How are you going to find an untainted jury to hear the trial [of the 17 suspects]?" Muhammad Ali Jabbar, an engineering student and president of the Ryerson Student Union asks me later. "The media plays on this image that your next-door neighbour could be a terrorist. It has put the whole community on the defensive."
Jabbar, one of 12 speakers at the event, is particularly concerned about the lack of information on the evidence against those arrested since a justice of the peace issued a publication ban last month.
"First there is all this media coverage, and now we can't get any information about what evidence they have against these men."
He says that whether they are found guilty or innocent, their lives and their families' are ruined.
Another audience member says to me in the lobby, "People say we have to live with restrictions on our freedom because these are extraordinary times. The only problem is that the people who usually say this aren't the ones who are going to have to lose their freedom."
The meeting, equal parts venting and brainstorming, has been organized by U of T SAC and Students Against Islamophobia.
SAC executive member and forum chair Ausma Malik sees it as a watershed moment for Muslim youth.
"We have few avenues to discuss the pressure we are under, so this is really important," she says.
Many in the audience express their dismay over the media spotlight accorded iconoclast Muslims author Irshad Manji and Muslim Canadian Congress member Tarek Fatah are mentioned.
I see parallels to other religious communities. My own father, for example, railed against progressives in the Catholic Church getting all the media attention. He was also initially against the decision to allow Mass to be said in languages other than Latin.
But when some of the speakers, often surprisingly the youngest, insist on using Koranic text to underline the "true path" Muslims should take, I cringe a little.
I know from my own experience that every sacred text has a diversity of theological opinion attached to it, so in the public square it's best to stick to the Charter Of Rights And Freedoms. At least then we've got a Supreme Court to settle disputes. But arguments over religion who's a good Jew, Hindu, Muslim or Christian, etc just seem never-ending.
It left me wondering if some of these youth see themselves as Muslims who happen to also be Canadian or Canadians who happen to be Muslim.
"We don't see a contradiction between our Canadian identity and our Muslim identity. We are both," says Malik. "But it is jarring when that identity is called into question. You know, like: Which are you more, Muslim or Canadian? People don't think about it. This is home."
When I ask Malik who should speak for the Muslim community in the media, the soft-spoken poli-sci student chooses her words carefully.
"Well, we are a community with a diversity of voices, and maybe it's about time we accept and deal with that," she says. "There's no way that one voice can represent the whole community."
And while a parade of articulate speakers who take the mic for the Q&A express their Canadian identity in the terms Malik describes, there is also a clear sense of a global connection.
"Youth are part of a global pan-Islamic community," says Wilfred Laurier University prof Jasmin Zine, one of the few non-youth panellists at the event. "They see how bad things are for Muslims around the world and they are angry. Most express this dissent appropriately."
This connection to a wider community outside Canada strikes me as, well, very Canadian. I'm thinking here of the many Irish Catholic Canadians with deep familial connections to Northern Ireland during the Troubles, or how Jewish Canadians feel any time some bozo says the Holocaust never happened. And lately, Italian Canadians hitting the streets when the old country wins the World Cup.
But Zine insists that "9/11 was particularly traumatic for Muslim youth. It situated them outside the Canadian narrative, and it is an ongoing struggle for them to get back in and stay there."