PUBLIC FORUM ON: Marginalization & Islamophobia in the Press
The RSU (Ryerson Students Union) is hosting a panel to highlight the recent Human Rights case launched against Maclean’s magazine, specifically an article titled “The Future Belongs to Islam” written by Mark Steyn, and discuss media coverage of marginalized groups namely Muslims, racialized communities and women.
Female Speaker [Muneeza Sheikh]: Okay, so, like I was saying, their initially were four report complainants but now there are five actually working on this complaint. We all met [in August] [on this] and we decided in our third year, well for three of us its our third year – for two of the complainants it was in the first year and second year – that we wanted to look at publications in the media that we felt came and targeted minority groups. And we didn’t want to look at these sort of allegations just from a legal standpoint, we just wanted to see if there was an appropriate balance within the media.
So the article in question, as Ruth Todd [???] mentioned, is called “The Future Belongs to Islam,” published in October of 2006 in Macleans Magazine. The article is actually an excerpt from Mark Steyn’s book titled “America Alone,” I’m not sure how many of you here are familiar with that book.
So we read the article when it was published and we basically found, or our position was that he did in fact– it was very strong that the article did promote hatred. Just to tie this into some of these events, the article was the subject of a Western Standard blog, for which the owner of the Western Standard, Matthew Johnson, has apologized to the Muslim community and the story was covered by the Calgary Herald. So the comments – when I say promote hatred – some of the comments for instance were, and you know, I just got a couple of them, “There is no such thing as innocent Muslims,” and “They must all be killed.” So the article spoke about Muslims in general as a threat to Western Society and the constant theme of the article was that the West should be scared of Muslims because, you know, they’re growing in numbers. We decided very early on that this type of speech is very dangerous, if these sort of allegations are not rebutted, essentially.
Now, I won’t take – now you guys are all familiar – to go ahead and read the article, but I just want to draw your attention very quickly to one excerpt. It’s also in this report that we handed out, so for instance, he – Mark Steyn – states:
“Time for the obligatory ‘of courses.’ Of course not all Muslims are terrorists – although enough are hot for jihad to provide an impressive support network of mosques from Vienna to Stockholm to Toronto to Seattle. Of course, not all Muslims support terrorists – though enough of them share their basic objectives.”
So, as you can see, very problematic. No one is contesting the fact that Maclean’s has the right to publish what they want, and they can continue to publish these sort of provocative articles if they wish. But, the issue is about the right of communities to participate in our national dialogue on issues that relate to them especially. And, in light of the fact that Canada that – you know, Maclean’s is Canada’s leading national news magazine – it has a social responsibility – and Maclean’s and other magazines, for instance, claim that they published what they published in the public interest, but the public interest lies in hearing a debate on these sort of controversial issues. Umm… I’m sorry just give me one second here…
So, for instance, uh, like, it’s not just the fact that Maclean’s published this one specific article, the first thing we did – was – we did a case study. So it’s really important for me to fill you in on what happened from the time that we actually read the article from the time that the complaint was actually filed.
There has been a lot of attention in the media focused on well, you know, these law students sat around for five months and what did they do during these five months? So, first and foremost we did a detailed study of the articles that Maclean’s published between January of 2005 and July of 2007. So, that’s the report that was handed over earlier. And, we wanted get an idea of whether there were any rebuttal pieces or any pieces in general that challenged Steyn’s point of view from anyone inside or outside the Muslim community. Once we conducted our study, as you will see from our report, we found that there were at least nineteen other articles with similar content, and there was not a single counterview article published within that period.
So we decided as a group at that point that there’s something that should be done about this – and it’s something essentially that should be troubling to all minority groups – in short – a group is being targeted, serious allegations were being made and the Macleans’s readership wasn’t able to see the opposite side. They were saying that they were deprived from seeking a healthy debate on – again, as I mentioned – a very controversial issue. So at this point what we did was we circulated the article to as many people as we could to try to get them to get what they thought – the article went out to friends, family, students we met from our undergraduate studies, other law students, we posted the article on Facebook, read it to our law professors, our employers – and the general consensus was that the article definitely was problematic. I mean the comments ranged from “the article is alarmist” to “the article promotes hatred.”
So, after – our next step was to do some general research – just to – you know – to perceive what sort of avenues were available to us, like where we could go from here, and our next step was to meet with the Maclean’s. So, it took us about a month to set the meeting up with Maclean’s. And, we met with two editors – two of the their editors – their Senior Editor, their Junior Editor and their Counsel, and again, the – there’s been a lot of attention on what actually transpired – so I want to leave you guys with a good idea as to what exactly took place.
We wanted discussion. We wanted to sit down and share their concerns – share our concerns with them. We wanted to talk about a resolution. We wanted to propose that they publish another article rebutting some of Steyn’s factual assertions by an author that would be mutually agreed upon by both parties, from either inside or outside the Muslim community. So – there was very little dialogue from Maclean’s and – and – we want them to care about our concerns – we expected them to come to – attempt to come to – some sort of resolution with us. But, the Senior Editor stated, word for word, at the meeting that he “would rather Maclean’s go bankrupt than publish a response.” So the meeting was pretty much over after that….
[to be continued]
[Muneeza Sheikh]: There’s been a lot of accura-– inaccuracies in the media about what transpired. For instance, the Editor has gone on the record – it was on the Maclean’s website that we had asked that the article be published by an author of our choice – or, sorry – that we ‘demanded’ that the article be published by an author of our choice – the article had to be five pages in length and we wanted [blank in recording] complete and utter fabrications: none of this took place.
We then decided to file the Human Rights Complaint because our position was that our minority community had been shut out by the plaintiff and we have the right to bring the conduct – to bring Maclean’s conduct essentially to Canadians in general.
We also chose to file the complaints because there wasn’t any other route for us – I mean – ahh – we would have preferred to take the matter to some sort of self-regulatory body of the media such as the press council, but Maclean’s doesn’t subscribe to one, or doesn’t provide alternative venues for complainants like an ombudsman person or anything of that nature. So we filed with the commissions – not – also because of legislation – sorry – excuse me for one second – sorry – the human rights complaint – so, essentially our complaint was prompted by two things: the defamatory content of the article, plus Maclean’s stifling debate on the issue.
MAN SPEAKING: [Khurrum Awan]
Sorry I’m just used to standing and talking, so, um….
… you’ve just been – I want to point out – Muneeza has talked to some degree…
Neeza has talked to some degree about you know like the content – like the report itself – and I really want to direct you – because its not just that they published this one article – there is actually a trend here – and you know, like – this report that we’ve given out – there’s one article here – which it’s titled – it’s by Mark Steyn – and – I’m just looking for – well, let me just talk about this first one, because we’re all familiar with it – this is the Little Mosque – that’s written on page 42 – it’s about the CBC sitcom, Little Mosque on the Prairie, and the theme of this article is that this CBC sitcom is part of a Muslim conspiracy to make Islam acceptable in Western societies just like homosexuality. And – these aren’t my words – these are Mark Steyn’s words, okay?
And, in there what he basically says is that there is really nothing such as funny Muslims – in fact funny Muslim’s are so non-existent that they have to find non-Muslim’s to play the roles of funny Muslims in this sitcom. And, further he goes on to say that real Muslim’s crack jokes about 9/11, about drinking the blood of non-Muslim’s, etcetera, etcetera – there’s actually, you know, like – a part in their – and the extract that he takes is off some British comic – okay – who most Muslim’s and Canadian’s have never heard of – Merv Brooks — to convey the impression that all muslims at large engage in insensitive jokes about 9/11 because apparently this guy said that, uh – you know – the house really came down on the people who were inside the World Trade Center on those unfortunate days. So that’s one example about how apparently this sitcom is part of the Muslim conspiracy.
There’s also another one on page 32 – and this one really sticks out in my mind for some reason. It’s called, “Celebrate Tolerance or You’re Dead. Oriana Fallaci Appeals to Europe to Save Itself. Good Luck.” The theme of this article – he basically focuses on this woman – Oriana Fallaci – I don’t know how many of you know about her – but, according to Mr. Steyn, himself, she’s had to leave Europe because she’s wanted on warrants for promoting hatred against European Muslims and Arabs in those countries – and she’s now in New York – so he reviews her work, and he describes it – uh– and she says that she’s casting what he calls “magnificent screeds” on how Europe can save itself from the Muslim and Arab takeover.
And then he reviews her work, and there’s a representation in here and I’m going to take you into there in a minute – which basically says that Muslims commonly engage in sex with minors and animals. Okay. And, um – and you know what – it’s all in here – it’s – that’s page 40 – 32 – of our report, and that in fact when the Muslim takeover of Europe occurs they will sodomize European men, you know.
You know, this kind of material is being published– so my point is that I think that it’s important for you to know that so that you are able to contextualize this issue, you know. So, this is a pattern – these are nineteen articles that have been published in a two and a half year period without a single contra view. So, I hope that the class’s contextualizes some of our concerns for you really, because it’s not just like really minor allegations being made.
And, you know, Muneeza drew your attention to the fact that this guy says that Muslims share the basic objectives of terrorists. Let’s just focus on this one statement, because the fact of the matter is that terrorism– and, you know, we’ve heard the statement that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom-fighter– OK, whatever the merits of that view are, we can all agree– I think– that terrorism is usually about the means you adopt to obtain political goals, OK?
So– terrorism actually has nothing to do with objectives– so, because it.. if I was to apply Mark Steyn’s logic, I could say that the 20% of the Canadian population that votes for the NDP at the next election because they want to bring our troops home from Afghanistan, share the same basic objectives as the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. No one in their right mind would say that, you know? So that’s– that’s just my point about, you know– like, I mean, what our concerns are.
Now, getting– moving on, you know, Muneeza talked about the fact that we filed the complaints. What has happened since we filed these complaints?
We’ve seen a media-campaign by Macleans and what I refer to as it’s supporters or fellow ideologues, because– you know what? Mark Steyn is hardly the only guy who’s engaged in this kind of journalism about the Muslim community.
We’ve seen a distortion of the facts, you know, as Muneeza pointed out, we never asked them for money– to give us money– we never asked for a 5-page article– none of that. The Dude said, point-blank, our magazine would rather go bankrupt than publish a response. But for some reason, he doesn’t have the courage to say it to the Canadian public: say it as it is, you know– but for some reason they don’t want to do that.
Um. There’s been a distortion of the basis of our complaints, that we’re trying to shut up– you know, like, that we’re trying to stifle free speech. Actually, this should be really liberating because we said “We’re not going to file a hate-speech complaint against you. Write that we’re all terrorists, write that we’re all extremists and we want to have sex with animals and minors– but we want to be able to respond. Not on every occasion, but on some of them, OK? And if you’re not, then in our view you’re motivated by an anti-Muslim agenda, and we reserve the right to inform the Canadian public about that.” Presumably, the Canadian public wants to know why you’re publishing this, and why you’re refusing to let the community in question that you’re writing about actually publish a response one in a while.
So, that’s the point– there’s been personal attacks on us, there’s been personal attacks on Dr. Elmasry, who’s the president of the Canadian Islamic Congress— you know, trying to make this an event about a particular individual’s political baggage from the past, when in fact it is clear from the media coverage, OK and it will, you know, soon become clearer, hopefully, when we announce our coalition around this issue, that this isn’t an issue that just affects the Muslim community.
No, there are plenty of communities that are affected by this. One thing that sticks in my mind: where I worked as a, articling law student I remember that a couple of couple of months ago, The Toronto Star wrote a story about “Where Are The Men?” or something like that– this was about single mothers in Toronto,OK. And one of my colleagues who I work with who happens to be, you know, African-Canadian– a black man– he said to me: “Look at how on the front page of The Toronto Star, when they were talking about single mothers, the person that they had plugged was a black mom, as if– I mean, it’s hard if the problem is reserved to the black community, single mothers, and, you know, the fact that.. and the hardships that life as a single parent creates for them.
My point is that this is an issue that affects the aboriginal community, the Chinese community, the African-Canadian community, and, in fact, all Canadians– because, in our view, all Canadians lose when they don’t get to hear from the community that has a direct stake in the issue. So– the point is that this is an issue that’s broader than just the Muslim community, in our view.
Now, despite all these attacks, we’ve been able to get our point of view out there;we’ve had our opinion publish in the National Post, the Calgary Herald, and the London Free Press. We’ve had Letters to the Editor published in the Ottawa Citizen, an there’ve been articles even written in the Washington Times about these complaints, right?
And– the issue really is– as Muneeza pointed out– is about the right of communities to participate in our national dialogue on issues that relate directly to them. That’s what the issue is. The issue isn’t necessarily about the balance between free speech and hate speech and where does free speech and hate speech begin. OK, um.
So that’s all the things that I wanted to point out to you. What we have started doing is– and I really want to thank, you know, two organizations in particular who are represented here today: The Canadian Arab Federation, and the Canadian Federation of Students, uh, you know, helped us make this event possible, and, of course, the Ryerson Student’s Union— we are going to build a coalition around this issue, and they have really helped us, you know, people just came to us on their own because they felt that there was an equ– an issue in basic equity here that needed to be addressed. So we’re going to form a coalition around three issues:
[First] the right of communities to respond to defamatory publications, OK?
Two is the right to pursue remedies under the Human Rights Codes themselves, and
– and Three, to protect the Human Rights Commissions.
Why these last two items? It’s incredible that when the Muslim community– and this just shows the kind of climate that has been built up by this kind of media representation of Muslims– you know, we’re hardly the first community that has taken a media organization to the Human Rights Commission, believe it or not– but I’m sure this is the first time that most of you have heard about it.
You know, not only are we being attacked, but the Human Rights Commission itself is being attacked – the articles ‘Shut down The Human Rights Commissions‘, ‘Do This’, that they’re ‘kangaroo courts‘, like– a full and frontal attack on the Human Rights Commission, which– by the way– whether we realize it or not, protects the interests of about 90% of Canadians out there– as employees, as persons with disabilities, as visible minorities, as women– OK, so it’s not just the South Asian community, the Pakistani community, orvisible minorities, or a narrow group of people out there who rely on it– I work at Parkdale, and most of my clients there are women who haven’t been accommodated in the workplace with regards to pregnancy.
OK, so, I wanted to point that out to you, that it’s really, really important to speak on behalf of these commissions, because they can’t speak on themselves– on their own behalf. And we’re seeing a lot of equity-seeking [unintelligible], social justice [unintelligible] support us on this.
So– that’s the basis of our coalition, that’s what we want to accomplish– and again, before I leave, I just want to remind you that to us, this is what this issue is about: about the right of stakeholders and communities to participate, OK, in our national debate on the issues that relate directly to them.
[ Applause ]
[to be continued]
[Nora Loretto, president of the Ryerson Student Union] : Thank you very much. Our next speaker is Khaled Loutfi Mouammar, who has over thirty years of volunteer experience with organizations including the Arab Palestine Association, The Arab Community Centre of Toronto, the Urban Alliance of Race Relations, Canadian Ethno-Cultural Council, the Ontario Committee for Fairness and Policing, and the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid.
Khaled has received several awards and recognitions, including a Volunteer Service Award from the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Culture, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Award from the Governor General of Canada and a Certificate of Recognition from the Citizen’s Forum on Canada’s Future.
Khaled has several – has served as a board member for The Immigration and Refugee Board from 1994 to 2005 adjudicating on refugee claims. He currently serves as the National President of the Canadian Arab Federation and works as a consultant with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
Khaled holds a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Toronto, a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in mathematics, and a Diploma in Education form the American University in Beirut. He’s also fluent in Arabic, and Portuguese.
Khaled Loutfi Mouammar: I’d stand up too, but I have no _______ [inaudible].
I’d like first to thank the Ryerson Student Union for organizing this event and to applaud these young lawyers who started this complaint against Maclean’s Magazine.
Now, this is an issue, not again, of Muslim’s only, but what we should all realize is that Muslim’s are basically brown and dark people, so this is really an attacking – this is an attack against all racialized groups. Again, Muslim’s are the forefront of that. But, really, we cannot make a distinction between a Muslim and a non-Muslim, so they just look at it as a brown person or a black person and say, “these are the bad boys,” or “bad girls.” So, it’s not really an ivory tower, an ivory tower academic exercise when we discuss this issue, because it’s an issue that affects the well-being of all visualized groups, specifically those who are Muslim and Arab background and who want to live in dignity and who are living in this Country. That is why many have immigrated to this country to live in dignity and to earn a decent living.
And The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states it is true that everyone has the freedom of speech and expression but that should not impinge upon the freedoms and rights of others and it should not result in a public disorder affecting the welfare of these other groups.
Saith Binks: Not exactly: the full UNUDHR-Article 29 in question– “In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.” – Art. 29(2)
and furthermore, Article 19 says:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
The media in Canada has intentionally or unintentionally spread racism against Muslims and Arabs by stereotyping them – presenting them as a menace, as terrorists, as shadowy figures – who do not operate within the Canadian value system and therefore they should be feared and mistrusted. This, uh, pict – this depiction of Muslims and Arabs is not new, but it promotes the demonization of these groups, and at the same time it makes other Canadians view them as less than human.
And it is really a transference of the anti-Semitic hatred against Jews from Jews to Muslims. Basically this is the attempt that is being done by people like Mark Steyn, Ezra Levant, and others.
In Nazi Germany, Jews were associated with countless greed, they were promoting international anarchy and communism. And now, we have the Muslim and the Arab as retrogressive – he has no morals, greedy – and they are architects of international terrorism. So, there is a similarity in this approach used by the media in Nazi Germany and in Canada. In Nazi Germany – this depiction of the Jews started in the 20’s and it took fifteen to twenty years before it had its effect. So, this is why it is very important to stop these – the promotion of these stereotypes against Muslims and Arabs.
Ira Stone, who is an American Jew, states that “every war, every outburst of genocide is prepared by propaganda which paints the victim as less than human.” This is the ultimate lesson of Auschwitz. “He who treats his brother as less than equal prepares the path to the furnace.
And, how is this stereotyping and dehumanization of Muslims and Arabs affected, now? There are various studies that have appeared in the last three years – and I will quote them – which are basically stating that the media coverage and the international events which are happening are shaping the views of our neighbors – and we have a lot of neighbors in Canada.
The Ipsos-Reid poll which was conducted in March of 2005 shows that Canadians believe that the following groups are most targeted by racism: 38% think that Muslims and Arabs are the ones who are targeted the most, 31% think it’s the Aboriginals and First Nations, and 28% think it’s Blacks. And 17% of those who were interviewed for this study believe racism is on the rise – this is in 2005.
Sampling a poll of January 2007, says that 47% of Canadians harbour prejudice against Arab-Canadians.
A Canadian Labour of Congress study of February 2006 shows that Canadians born of visible minorities face the highest barriers to steady, well-paying jobs and that the unemployment rate is high, and I’ll give you for the following groups – for the Arabs and West Asians – which are basically Muslim countries – you know, look at Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan – the unemployment rate is 14%. The next group is Blacks – at 11.5% – which was surprising – in my case – I thought that – you know – Blacks were facing more problems in employment. And it states that this inequality of the workplace is not based on education or qualifications, because these group, the people, have good education. At the same time it shows that the earning-gap is widening over the last five years.
The Urban Risk study in March of 2006 states that poverty in Toronto is highly racialized and that the economic gap between European and non-European ethno-culture – ethno racial groups has been increased. It states that 40% of African ethno-racial group members live below the poverty line, 30% of Arab and West Asian group members live below the poverty level compared to 10% for European groups. So, this is effecting also poverty.
A study conducted by the Canadian Federation of Students in March 2007, found that Muslim students daily faced both overt and subtle forms of Islamophobic discrimination on Ontario campuses.
A Muslim Chaplain – I was told that the Muslim Chaplin who goes to the West Toronto Detention Center is ready to quit because of the harassment and discrimination that he faces and that he sees being faced by Muslim inmates. On Ramadan – when other religious inmates have their religious holidays – they are given one hour for meals and prayers. He was told he had only twenty minutes. So he went in there, with the food and he told the inmates, “Do you want to pray or to eat?” They were religious so they said, “We will pray first and then we will try to eat.” When they finished praying, they just had five minutes and when they were starting to eat the guard came and said, “That’s it,” and he took them all back – most of them did not eat. So, this is going on in all aspects.
A University of Toronto study of January, 2007, found that ethno racial immigrants are slower to integrate into Canadian society than their white counterparts and they feel less Canadian because of that. So children – which is – and the most stranger [sic] part of this is – that children of ethno-cultural migrants exhibited a more profound sense of exclusion than their parents. So the children who are born here, find more alienation than their parents.
Integration is impeded by perception of discrimination and vulnerability. 35% of ethno-racial immigrants experience discrimination compared to 19% for whites. 42% of the children of these ethno-racial immigrants experience discrimination. So the children experience more discrimination than their parents. I think they might – they have higher expectations than their parents – I’m sure – but I think they are – my daughter, who was born here, has a higher expectation – she thinks I am full Canadian – and then, in real life, she finds that that’s not in the – not happening, in practice and therefore their disenchanment is higher.
In conclusion, therefore, media coverage is responsible largely for the dehumanization and marginalization of ethno-racial groups, generally. And, specifically, Muslim and Arab groups, and this is important because – you know – multiculturalism is supposed to make people feel welcome in this country and to integrate them. But, when there is discrimination, this impedes this process because people know that they are not being respected and accepted into Canadian society. And this is why we have a rise in racism against groups – generally all ethno-racial groups – and specifically Muslims and Arabs. And this is why we have discrimination in employment, education. And, this is why we have a rise in unemployment and poverty.
Now, this does not have to affect racialized groups. A society cannot prosper and progress if you have tension within the society. If you have a substantial minority – in the GTA area – 50% of the population are now from racialized groups – if you have this substantial minority feeling that they are not wanted, they are alienated, they are marginalized – how can you expect them to be loyal to the country and participate and produce, for the betterment of the country?
Canada, therefore, is not immune from what happened in France, unless we stop this. We stop this maligning, discrimination, dehumanization of racialized groups – all racialized groups – specifically Muslims and Arabs – because if we don’t we will end up with a social division, we will end up with social problems, and we will have the riots that happened in France in June of 2005.
So, this is an issue for all Canadians – not only racialized groups – it’s for every Canadian who believes that this Country should be based on equality of all races and religions of all communities and that there is no room for discrimination – for bigots – while trying to implore them to this country ideas which are contrary to Canadian values, international law, and for human values.
Thank you very much.
Nora Loretto, president of the Ryerson Student Union: Thank you.
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