THE ARAB IMAGE IN CANADIAN BROADCASTING MEDIA

Presentation to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)

By: Dr. Ismail Zayid, President of the Arab Canadian Association of the Atlantic Provinces

February 1, 1999

Arab Canadians, like myself, who immigrated to Canada, came to this country with pride and enthusiasm. Canada, to us, represented a vision of a liberal country where we could bring up our families free from oppression and discrimination.

Twenty years ago, I spoke before a CRTC gathering like this and documented a long factual catalogue of bias and discrimination in our media that was hurtful to our society and to Canadaís good name and reputation.

Today, twenty years later, I am happy to stand before you and say that the picture is brighter but, alas, not without failings and blemishes.

Before delving into that area, I want to say the Arab community in our country is significantly larger and happier and we are proud to continue to participate and contribute to Canadaís multicultural ethos. We are a proud people with a unique historic civilization based on accepting from and offering to others ideas and values. We would like to preserve this heritage in our children and hence we would like access to communicate elements of our culture, history and language through the broadcasting media.

The human being, in his relationship to others, is a composite picture of varied reactions. These reactions are usually integrated on the basis of images and associations. Such associations are often based on casually perceived impressions, which can be crystallized as pleasant or unpleasant with varying degrees of intensity depending on repetition and susceptibility. It is unquestionable that the young are the most susceptible and impressionable. It is also an established fact that the visual image has the greatest impact. The television, through the use of this visual medium and repetition, has the most telling effect on the audience, especially the children.

It is in the light of this that the image of the Arab in Canadian and U.S. media becomes significant and unfortunately sinister. Let me briefly outline only a few examples of this negative image.

1: Today, and for decades, the Arab people in the Middle East have become the victims of foreign occupation of their land, in Palestine and Lebanon. International Law and the U.N. Charter condemn this illegal occupation and entitle occupied people to resist their occupier as did the French and Dutch and others against Nazi occupation. Yet, so many times we hear on our media of Lebanese and Palestinian terrorists attacking and bombing Israelis. On the other hand Israelis who bomb Lebanese villages and Palestinian refugee camps murdering men, women, and children, demolish their homes or assassinate or kidnap Lebanese or Palestinian leaders are described as commandos, instead of terrorists. An Israeli settler of the kind of that criminal Baruch Goldstein who massacred 29 Palestinians during their prayer at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Al-Khalil (Hebron) was described as an ultranationalist. The English language clearly begs for forgiveness.

2: On 26 April 1998, the CBC held a "Cross Country Check-up" programme on the occasion of Israelís celebrating the 50th anniversary of its creation.

I called in and got through and I was asked my opinion and indicated that this celebration was at the cost of the massive injustice committed against the Palestinian people who were evicted from their homes and 418 of their towns and villages demolished and remain to this day as refugees, while Israel continues to defy international law.

I was told they will call me back, a call that never came.

I wrote on 27 April 1998 to Mr. Rex Murphy detailing this and asked why canít there be a "Cross Country Check-up" Programme on the 50th anniversary of the ethnic cleansing and dispossession of the Palestinian people? No reply was received.

3: There is currently in circulation a Hollywood movie "The Siege" depicting a "terrorist threat", waged by none other but Muslims.

4: The report of The Globe and Mail {Jan. 26,1999}, titled " Sitcom Stereotypes Nothing to Laugh at", sums up the offensive racist stereotyping of the Arabs and Muslims in the TV media. It quotes John Larroquette telling the CBS president: "The moment you tell me I canít slap the small brown guy, I have to go". In the Sitcom "Payne", Mo {short for Mohammad} features the inept bumbling waiter, the butt of the hotelkeeperís abuse. Thus, and in so many similar sitcoms, the Arab and Muslim is the object of ridicule and amusement.

5: On January 14, 1999, less than three weeks ago, on the CTV programme "Double Exposure", the Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was mimicked talking about making chemical weapons, when a screen-size intelligible page of The Quran (the Muslim Holy Book) was depicted as the manual for home-making of biological weapons.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is extremely offensive and repugnant and insults Islam, a religion of peace and tolerance for 1.2 billion Muslims throughout the world and hundreds of thousands of citizens of this country.

We reject this offensive stereotyping and call on all decent and self-respecting Canadians to stand with us against this offensive characterisation and stereotyping of our culture and our faith.

Thank you.