Name: Yacub Adam
Roles/Titles: Board Member at FOAJ, Professor of Political Science, Vice Chair of the Human Rights Commission in Yellowknife and currently a political consultant.
There are so many to pick from. There are of course the usual serious, profound, uplifting and well trodden ones. So, I tend to like the less known and perhaps slightly irreverent ones. The slightly off the wall ones if you like. There Winston Churchill clearly had the edge. As a political scientist this is one of my favourites, for its directness and perhaps some underlying truth:
“Diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way they ask for directions.”
On a more serious note, one of my favourite quotes is from Tariq ibn Ziyad, a Muslim General who led the conquest of Spain. It comes from the Quran. He says:
“I shall not worship what you worship, you do not worship what I worship. I am not a worshipper of what you have worshipped, and you are not a worshipper or what I have worshipped. To you, your religion, to me, my religion.”
It underlines tolerance and it says – Look, I am not here to interfere in your life, in your beliefs, in your work, and I don’t expect you to do that in mine. There’s a sense of ‘we can live together’. I consider the period of Islamic Spain at that time as one of the first multicultural societies.
When did you start working with FOAJ?
I’ve just been appointed in the last 4-5 months. In fact, I haven’t been to my first meeting yet! Can you tell me a little but about your story getting to where you are now? I grew up in Malawi in Central Africa. I went to boarding school there at a very young age, and then I went on to the UK for school and then university. I lived there, and my first teaching appointment at university was there, at the University of Edinburgh. Then, I went to West Africa for almost 15 years and taught politics there. My specialization is in African politics but I taught many other fields of politics. Then I went back to Britain and taught at the University of Glasgow before coming to Canada.
Coming to Canada in some sense is a bit of serendipity. I’ve always wanted to live a decade of my life on each continent. For a while I assumed I might be able to do that, but I’d forgotten that when you have children it’s much harder to do. I ended up thinking I might be in Yellowknife for a couple of years and ended up being here a good part of 20 now.
How did you get involved with the administrative justice field?
Quite honestly, I didn’t even know about FOAJ. When I was appointed as a member and then Vice Chair of the Human Rights Commission we started doing some courses through FOAJ. I found them extremely enlightening and it underlined many of the things I believed and cared about. Then, I was appointed to sit on the board.
What are some common misconceptions about the industry?
I’m not an expert on all of this, but I assume that like all over the world, I think when something is to do with the legal or quasi-legal side of something, people often assume the processes are complicated, bureaucratic and too legalistic to navigate simply. People tend to be intimidated by that, so they assume that it’s not something they can deal with easily, and often refrain from dealing with it entirely so public education and training like FOAJ does is of enormous value.
How could you combat that misconception?
I suppose, general education. But I also think partnerships with organizations, like Human Rights, etc, that help people to be educated about their rights and educated about how they can achieve those rights when those rights are trampled. Basically, opening doors in terms of information. Education is one of the greatest avenues in terms of enlightening and training people. Education is one of the biggest means by which this kind of outreach can be accomplished.
What’s been your favourite part so far, working with FOAJ?
I haven’t done anything with them yet, but they’ve been exceptionally sweet and kind and generous in terms of helping me out and setting up my first meeting. So I’m not sure yet! So I would argue that so far perhaps this my favourite part, talking to you!
What are the values that drive you?
I’ve always believed in fairness and justice for all, so my interest in FOAJ and human rights is based on that. I do care about how people are treated in all aspects of life. I tend to stand up for the underdog. In some senses it’s fighting for something that’s just, fair, that makes a better world, that makes people generally happier in some senses, and not trodden down, not bullied, not intimidated, not pushed into the back alley as it were. So, I would argue that it’s fighting for all of those things in an honest and open way.
Your top three favourite books/movies?
Wow. Hard! I read a lot, and a lot of academic stuff as well. There are so many! I’m currently re- reading a book by Erna Paris called The End of Days. It’s about the North African invasion of Spain. It deals with the flow of a new culture and religion coming in. The conflict and the contest that took place. It’s a great book to read with a great deal of history and dynamics at play and many lessons for today’s world.
I’m also re-reading Arguably by Christopher Hitchens. He was a British author who was very provocative, but not in a senseless way. He took up important issues and analyzed them. He was very
critical, very honest, and often saw through all the triteness that one finds sometimes when you try to deal with current issues. His essays are always great fun to read, extremely provocative and make you think a great deal, above all he is honest and direct, traits I admire.
For movies, I like stupid movies or very serious movies. So why very stupid movies? Well, I don’t like being emotionally, or in any other way, manipulated. I don’t like movies that are not credible, so I don’t really enjoy movies that are scary or movies that create fiction that I find hard to believe. So I like really silly movies where you can sit back, blank your mind, just relax and enjoy your popcorn!
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Read, listen to music, catch up on what’s happening in the world. Physically, I like to play golf, I enjoy just being out on the golf course to blank my mind a little bit. I enjoy gardening, again, for the same reason. When that’s not possible, having long, lazy meals with my family and friends. It’s always fun to share food and beverage, break bread with family and friends. It’s a time when you commune, you talk, you discuss, you argue, do whatever you normally do as a family. That’s something I treasure and enjoy.
What three words describe you best?
A tricky one this, but I suppose I’m enthusiastic about things I care about. I give it my all. I can be serious sometimes – but I do believe I have a robust sense of humour, that doesn’t make me too difficult to spend time with. I like to laugh, joke, poke fun! Above all, I am curious about everything: people, where they come from, what they eat, what they do, what’s their history, what’s their life about? I learn a great deal from that. If you’re not curious, you don’t learn.
Is this a role you would have envisioned yourself in 10 years ago?
No, not really, to be honest. I didn’t even know FOAJ existed then. But, I have always served on boards and agencies for a very long, long time, so in some senses yes. This is something that caught my imagination. I felt they did things that I value and care about.
Who was your role model growing up?
I would argue, and this is something I’ve told my children, that perhaps the best role models I ever had were my parents. I went to boarding school very early on, so the lessons they had to teach me came very early in my life. They taught me strength: be strong, don’t be pushed around. Have self-respect: for what you value, what you care about, and who you are. And have dignity, behave with dignity. They taught me to fight for fairness, to fight for justice. In terms of general principles, these are the values I’ve lived by all my life. They came from my parents by and large, either through explicit instruction or through their own behaviour.
What skill would you love to learn, work-related or in general?
My wife would say, and perhaps I would agree with her, that I need to be better at new technology. I’m a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to doing this, that, and the other, on computers and phones, the apps, the various other things you do, so probably to be better at that. But, quite frankly, I don’t think I would enjoy the process. I know that’s a contradiction in some ways. I’m very curious, but when it comes to these things I’m not very curious. I just want them to work and that’s all I care about, so, perhaps in that sense, I may remain a dinosaur. But yes, I would probably benefit from better technological skills.
What’s the most fulfilling part of the work you do?
When you see that you are making a change in society, in people’s lives, and that those lives are for the better, not for the worse, and that you are actually filling a gap that exists. That gives one great personal satisfaction, that one is actually able to achieve that.
What’s your hidden talent?
I can’t be absolutely certain, but I think I have the ability to listen patiently. I am a good listener and will listen to people with whatever issues they have. Perhaps to learn, listen to people patiently, and help others when I can, to lift them and help them get out of whatever doldrums they are in. Above all, I care about people. I care about their lives, how they live them, and how one can make it
better. We always have a responsibility in that regard and I take that responsibility quite seriously. I’ve cared about human rights ever since I was very young, living in Malawi, and it’s been an uncomfortable companion for me. Uncomfortable, in the sense that it pricks my conscience, something I’ve got to live with, something that you know you need to make changes to make people’s lives better, fairer, more just.