Wednesday, 09 December 2015 12:16

It’s Islamic Terrorism. So What?

Commentary by Mohamad Ozeir

My name is Mohamad Ali Ozeir. My father’s name is Ali. My mother’s name is Khadija. My children’s names are Zena, Hassan, Jenan, Nadine and Sahar. I look like a typical Arab man: dark, Middle Eastern.

However, I don’t feel I owe anyone an apology for the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California. Most of all, I don’t feel the need to condemn this carnage as an Arab American of Islamic heritage.

As a matter of fact, as a journalist and an activist, I don’t understand the whole enterprise of apologizing and publicly denouncing any crime based on ethnic or religious consideration.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]I don’t understand the whole enterprise of apologizing and publicly denouncing any crime based on ethnic or religious consideration.[/quote]

Because I felt as outraged by the San Bernardino attack, as I did by the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in New Town, Connecticut in 2012, by the church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina last June, and by the attack on the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, just a few days ago.

And I felt equally related to these assaults as to what happened in San Bernardino.

I wonder why we do have a debate about naming the terrorist attacks committed by people of Islamic background. While I can understand the sensitivity shown by the Obama administration toward this point, it is difficult to comprehend the right wing Republican insistence on calling it Islamic Terrorism.

What purpose does it serve, other than to slap a wide label on more than a billion people, most of whom don’t even subscribe to the religion, let alone to the politics of its fanatics?

Not the majority

I have some news for those eager to issue the label.

Yes, some Muslims are planning and striving to target Americans. Even more would be happy to see such an attack take place on American soil. And many more not only wish to see it happen, but are ready to justify it – in this category, being Muslim is not a requirement.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][I]t is worthwhile to note that Arab and Muslim victims of their violence outnumber all others combined, many thousand times over.[/quote]

But these are not ALL Muslims, and they’re NOT the majority. They’re not even in the mainstream, and some would argue that they have more to do with American and Western support, training, and alliance throughout the years, than with Arabic or Islamic political influence or agendas.

And it is worthwhile to note that Arab and Muslim victims of their violence outnumber all others combined, many thousand times over.

Having said that, what does it matter? For the hate speech peddlers, especially on radio talk shows, and for the participants in the “Silly Season” called the Republican Primary, it is a ploy. It is a tool for energizing the base and motivating the supporters.

It is an old political tradition, going back as far as 1798 when the Federalist Congress passed the Naturalization Act. Back then the subject of hate was the French, and since then this country has gone down the same road more than a few times. Arabs and Muslims are the latest arrivals to the labeling circle. So what?

History repeating itself

The U.S. has proven itself capable of taking care of its own history.

Maybe David Bowers, the Democratic mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, who cited President F. D. Roosevelt in touting the idea of internment camps, didn’t learn his history well enough to know that this country considers the decision to confine Japanese Americans during World War II to be one of America's most shameful acts.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]As an Arab American of Islamic heritage, I can buy as many guns, military gear, and ammunitions as I please. Isn’t it strange?[/quote]

I know this, I am not afraid for my well-being, and I refuse to be boxed in fear or artificial guilt.

The one thing that I do fear is becoming a victim of a shooting, either in a mass incident or single attack.

Because with all that’s going on, the stares in public places, the never-missed “random” checks in airports, the “smart” comments and camouflaged jokes, the endless profiling - with all this heavy, discriminatory scrutiny, I find it profoundly disturbing that one right of mine remains untouched, with ironclad protection.

As an Arab American of Islamic heritage, I can buy as many guns, military gear, and ammunitions as I please. Isn’t it strange?

Re-published with permission from New America Media.

Published in Commentary

by Susan Korah in Ottawa

The spark of revolution that was ignited in Tunisia in January 2011 quickly spread to other Arab countries, but exploded into conflagrations of violence and instability, notably in Syria and Egypt. As such, for most countries of the Middle East, hopes of democratic reform in the near future faded. 

In stark contrast, in Tunisia itself, the birthplace of the ‘Arab Spring’ – as the new movement was dubbed – the candle flame of a pluralistic democracy burns steadily, even four years later, although it flickers sometimes in the winds of economic, social and security challenges. 

This was the outline of a portrait of Tunisia that three experts presented to an audience of about 200, at the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa Thursday night. 

A lone success story

“Tunisia is the only success story of the Arab Spring,” said John McNee, Secretary General of the Global Centre for Pluralism as he introduced the two guest speakers – Mehdi Jomaa, interim Prime Minister of Tunisia during the country’s time of transition from dictatorship to democracy (2014-2015) and Dr. Marwan Muasher, former Foreign Minister of Jordan and currently vice president of studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 

Moderating the panel was Dr. Bessma Momani, senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont. 

“The key to our success was our willingness to generate dialogue and consensus,” said Jomaa, emphasizing that negotiations between secular and religious elements resulted in a secular constitution that even acknowledges the right of people to hold no religious beliefs if they choose to do so. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"Tunisia is a start-up democracy. We need the collaboration of the international community.”[/quote]

“We should be proud of what we have achieved, but we should also be vigilant,” he cautioned, referring to the economic and social challenges including high unemployment that still plague the country. He added that recent terrorist attacks in his country are a hindrance to creating new opportunities for employment.

“The movement towards democracy takes time,” he said. “It can’t be achieved in a short time, and Tunisia is a start-up democracy. We need the collaboration of the international community.” 

Nonetheless, the nation’s remarkable achievements must be noted, Muasher said. 

“Tunisians are far too modest about what they have been able to achieve in three years,” Muasher stated. “Within that time, they have been able to agree to a constitution in which all people, including women, have rights. 

In fact, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, a group of four organizations including unionists, employers, lawyers and human rights activists that played a key role in the country’s efforts to build a pluralistic democracy. 

Lessons for the world 

Highlighting some lessons that Tunisia has taught the world, Muasher explained that Tunisians have shown early on that the battle for the future can’t be fought between religious and secular parties. It has to be fought for an accommodation of all views. 

Also, in order to keep power, governments have to share power, Muasher said. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“To get people to accept diversity will take generations.”[/quote]

Muasher contended that these lessons were lost on both Islamist and non-Islamist parties in Egypt; also on ISIS in Syria whose “barbaric, exclusionist model” has kept the country in turmoil. 

He concurred with Jomaa that the process of democratization in Tunisia would take time. “To get people to accept diversity will take generations,” he said. “No transformation process took only four years.” 

He argued that the battle must be for pluralism in all its dimensions including political, religious, cultural and gender. 

Need for education reform 

“The Arab world needs to reshape its education system, which is so extremely exclusionist and omits pluralistic values,” Muasher said. “There is an unwritten understanding between religious and secular forces that nobody can question authority, and this needs to change.” 

Muasher added that it might take two generations for the education system to accomplish this. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“One positive aspect of the revolution is that the era of fear is over.”[/quote]

Though Muasher emphasized that the process of Tunisia’s nascent democracy must be “homegrown and not imposed from outside,” he pointed out that the country is not on the radar of the international community to the extent that it should be. 

One area in which the country could use more support is in reforming the education system, he said, adding that it is not so much a question of building more schools, but of retraining teachers and giving them the skills to promote critical thinking.

“One positive aspect of the revolution is that the era of fear is over,” he concluded. “People are now less afraid to question authority.” 

Reinforcing Muasher’s statement on promoting critical thinking skills, moderator Momani said: “The Arab Spring is not yet over. Those young people who took to the streets are fundamentally different from previous generations. They are questioning authority and religion. We have to support their transition to critical thinking.”

Momani spoke of the important role of social media and communications technology in the movement that’s happening in Tunisia, where as Jomaa pointed out to New Canadian Media, there is no government control of the press. 

“The genie is out of the bottle and won’t go back into it. Arab youth are talking online and in chat rooms. A social and cultural revolution is happening.”

{module NCM Blurb} 

Published in Top Stories
Thursday, 24 September 2015 14:02

#Refugeecrisis Galvanizes Arab Community

by Imad Al-Sukkari in Ottawa

This year’s election campaign has been one of the longest in our country’s political history, characterized by the usual kinds of political messaging, policy debates and ethical questions on governance.

The campaign seemed a typical one until four weeks ago, when the devastating, powerful image of a dead three-year-old Syrian refugee lying on a beach in Turkey made international headlines and arguably pushed the Syrian refugee crisis to the forefront of the federal election.

The crisis has also propelled Canadian Arabs, a generally silent and politically inactive minority, to become more engaged and visible in the Canadian political scene.

Indeed, members of the community have taken action to make their voices heard, such as publishing opinion articles critiquing the government's inaction on the crisis (see the Arab Pulse article published by New Canadian Media reporter Jacky Habib), appearing on news shows such as CBC's "Power and Politics", and sponsoring local election panels to ask candidates why their party is best suited to serve the interests of the Arab community.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“There is a disproportionate emphasis on the security risks, and not enough on humanitarian aid.”[/quote]

Thirty days remain for Canadian voters to decide which party they would like to see lead the country into the future.

Refugee crisis sparks reactions

Dr. Bessma Momani, senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance and Innovation (CIGI) and associate professor at the University of Waterloo, comments on how the crisis has affected the relationship between Arab Canadians and the Harper government.

“The Harper government has demonstrated a lack of urgency in dealing with this issue,” she says, arguing that this has made the Conservative government appear unsympathetic in the eyes of many Canadians and, more specifically, members of the Arab community.

Omar Alghabra, a former MP and a Liberal candidate of Syrian descent running in the Mississauga Centre riding, states his dissatisfaction with the way the current government has handled the refugee crisis.

He points to its delinquency in carrying out the proposed plan to resettle 10,000 refugees over three years, inefficiencies at the bureaucratic levels, and the shifting paradigm of what is supposed to be a humanitarian issue.

“There is a disproportionate emphasis on the security risks, and not enough on humanitarian aid,” Alghabra says.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We usually end our discussions by trying to encourage people to convert frustration into action by voting in the upcoming federal elections.”[/quote]

Alghabra also adds, “During the campaign I have engaged with many people [in the riding] on this issue, and I would say the majority of them are embarrassed by this government’s response and feel we could have been more generous in allowing Syrian refugees in.”

Encouraging voter participation

The Canadian Arab Institute (CAI), an organization whose vision is to empower and engage the Arab community in Canada, started a campaign called Sowtek, or “Your Voice,” to encourage Arab Canadians to vote in the upcoming election.

Your Voice has utilized many mediums to provide educational resources to its members, such as webinars, the Canadian national anthem in Arabic (“Ya Canada”), a short animated video explaining the importance of voting and panel discussions across major Canadian cities with a sizeable Arab population such as Ottawa, Toronto, London, Windsor and Montreal.

[youtube height="315" width="560”][/youtube]

Raja Khouri, president of CAI, states that the refugee crisis has led members of the Arab community to share their frustrations about the Canadian government, but it is by far not the only issue the community is concerned about.

“Members of the community have expressed frustrations with a number of government policies, from economic policy to Bill C-24 (a new law giving government more power to revoke Canadian citizenship from a dual citizen) and the Mideast policy,” Khouri says.

“We usually end our discussions by trying to encourage people to convert frustration into action by voting in the upcoming federal elections,” he adds.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"I think Arab Canadians will be making a greater effort to make their voice heard in this election."[/quote]

An increase in community engagement

It has not been all frustration and no action for the Arab community, as 23 candidates of Arab descent are currently seeking election or re-election in various ridings across Quebec, Alberta and Ontario, with nine running for the Liberal party, seven for the Conservatives, five for the NDP and one for the Bloc Québécois.

“It is fantastic and refreshing to see an increased level of engagement from members of the community; it demonstrates that Canadian Arabs have come a long way in the last decade,” Alghabra says.

As to how Canadian Arabs will vote in this election, Sherif Rizk – an Ottawa lawyer and host of the Rizk Assessment, a political show broadcast on the Christian Youth Channel (CYC), also known as the Coptic Youth Channel – offers his analysis as to which federal party Arab Canadians may be leaning towards.

“Domestically speaking, Arab Canadians will mostly focus on the changes that the Conservative government have made to Canadian citizenship (creating the right to revoke citizenship for dual-nationality Canadians), Bill C-51 and the government's ban on niqabs in citizenship ceremonies,” Rizk says.

“I think these issues have largely pushed a lot of younger Arab Canadians away from the Conservative Party, but not necessarily to the arms of the Liberal Party. I think Arab Canadians will be making a greater effort to make their voice heard in this election." 

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Politics
Friday, 18 September 2015 02:22

Pulse: Arab Media Tack Conservative

By Jacky Habib in Toronto

Arab media publications across Canada are providing extensive coverage of the Syrian crisis, often publishing editorials in support of the Conservative Partys approach to fighting ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), also called ISIL (ISI and Levant), and the millions of refugees fleeing that country.

Anti-government demonstrations in Syria began as part of the Arab Spring in March 2011. With the governments violent crackdown against Syrians and rebel forces fighting back, it has escalated to an all-out civil war.

Medhat Oweida, Chief Editor of Al Ahram, a bi-weekly Arabic newspaper that is distributed across Canada said the paper has been covering the crisis since it began. The Syrian conflict is one of the issues that has captured Arabsattention,Oweida said. 

In a piece titled “How Canada can Fight ISIS”, Oweida suggests the fight against terrorism will not be successful with air strikes alone, but that Canadian forces should be on the ground as well.

Western countries would have to support and cooperate with Egyptian, Syrian, Libyan Iraqs and Kurdish armies. The armies would lead the war on the ground with the help of international alliances who would help with air strikes and information like what happened in Kobani. Western countries need to learn the lesson and stop assisting the opposition in Syria,the editorial explains.

His paper also carried a poll asking Arab Canadians if they are willing to open their homes to Syrian refugees: 85 per cent of respondents said yes. 

Military solution

The reliance on a military solution was echoed in Good News, an Arabic Christian publication distributed in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. The bi-weekly paper chose to highlight Prime Minister Stephen Harpers August visit to St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in Markham as its cover story. During the visit, Harper emphasized the need to continue providing military support and air strikes to fight ISIL.

The scale of the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Syria cannot be solved, cannot even come close to being solved, by refugee policy alone. We must stop ISIS,Harper said during the campaign visit.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]His paper also carried a poll asking Arab Canadians if they are willing to open their homes to Syrian refugees: 85 per cent of respondents said yes.[/quote]

Both the NDP and Liberals have expressed concern that Canadian bombings in Syria are helping target attacks. The NDP say they would focus on aid and diplomacy in order to fight ISIS. The Liberals say they would increase the number of Canadian soldiers training local forces who are fighting ISIS militants.

Stop the war

Ebram Maqar, Chief Editor of Good News is cautious about speaking for all Arab Canadians, but notes that Harpers stance on Syria has been well received. We support the Conservatives who want to take military action in addition to humanitarian aid. You cant just treat the victim, you have to stop the war from the source.

Majid Aziza, the Editor-in-Chief of Ninewa Media, an Arabic publication in the GTA and Southwestern Ontario with majority Syrian and Iraqi readership, shares these views. With regards to the elections in October, from what we see in the conversation, the Conservatives are the ones helping in Iraq and Syria,he said.

Trudeau and Mulcair say the Canadian military isnt needed in the Middle East. Of course, this isnt right,Aziza said.

Arab media in Canada has a track record of promoting the Conservative Party through favourable coverage. Conservative MP Costas Menegakis (Richmond Hill) has a regular column in Good News; an opportunity that MPs of other political parties do not have.

A contrary view

Al Bilad, a London-based newspaper presents a different perspective from other Arab publications with regards to Canadas involvement in tackling ISIS in a column titled “Taking Back the Country”.

Columnist Mohamed Amery writes: We are long past being frightened by Harpers ridiculous and unsubstantiated charge that the Canadian society is being threatened by ISIS.

Harpers decision to involve Canada in international wars has negatively impacted the countrys image, according to Amery.

Our involvement in these conflicts gained us new enemies from Russia and Iran to Libya and other countries elsewhere in the Middle East.He urges readers to vote against Harper and his minions and put a merciful end to the ongoing agony this country has been suffering under Stephen Harpers watch– offering a stark contrast with the pro-Conservative messages common in Arab publications.

There are also several newspapers that have not published articles on Canada’s involvement in the Syrian crisis; much of the news has been sourced from wires in the Middle East.

In interviews with New Canadian Media, Mohamad El-Cheikh, editor of Al Forqan and Elie Moujaes, Editor in Chief of Al-Akhbar, both said their focus has been on news, rather than editorials. Neither publication plans to make any endorsements in the upcoming election. 

Party promises

The Conservatives have been criticized for not doing enough to support Syrian refugees or accelerate their entry into Canada. In response, MP and Minister for Multiculturalism Jason Kenney announced the Conservatives will soon release details on its plan to accelerate 20,000 Iraqi and Syrian refugees into Canada over the next four years. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Arab media in Canada has a track record of promoting the Conservative Party through favourable coverage.[/quote]

Both the Liberals and NDP plan to accept a higher numbers of refugees, with the Liberals vowing to resettle 25,000 refugees and the NDP to 10,000 by the end of this year alone. "People are picking numbers out of a hat," Kenney said in response to these commitments.  

Over eight million Syrians are internally displaced according to UNHCR figures, and an additional four million are registered refugees, making this the worst refugee crisis in a quarter-century, according to the UNHCR. Most refugees have fled to surrounding countries including Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. Death toll estimates range from 140,000 to 330,000.

Editor's Note: This report has been updated to include the comments of editors from Al Forgan and Al-Akhbarnewspapers.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Top Stories

by Hadani Ditmars (@HadaniDitmars) in Vancouver

In this season of sad anniversaries, as the 12-year-old ghosts of the invasion of Iraq enjoy a violent adolescence, the consequences of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)’s armed intervention in Libya born five years ago last month run amok like dangerous offspring and Syria’s descent into madness endures its fourth year, my thoughts turn to Yemen. 

It is yet another Arab land, rich in history and culture and ancient sites, fraught with corruption, civil war and now foreign bombardment.

As Saudi Arabia continues its bombing campaign and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels carry out their own agenda, and possibly that of former Yemeni leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh, the United Nations (UN) reminds us that the majority of Yemen’s 600-plus war victims are civilians and lays blame firmly on both sides

Transgressing in a Foreign Land

It was 20 years ago this month that I first went to Sana’a, the ancient city that was bombed again this past week, oddly enough for a symposium on peace in Somalia.

A United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) culture of peace program had flown in dozens of Somali intellectuals, clan leaders and other assorted characters in an effort to help galvanize the rebuilding of a failed state’s civil society, in a neighbouring “safe haven”.

Unfortunately, UN protocol dictated a maximum of three minutes per speaker. This was just about as much time as everyone needed to introduce themselves and their clan, acknowledge everyone else in the room and their clan and then their time would be up. 

A French journalist and I decided to escape the well-intentioned bureaucratic madness taking place at the Sana’a Sheraton for a brief foray into the old city.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]I felt an instant connection to the place – perhaps partly because my Lebanese ancestors descended from Ghassanid tribes that originated in Yemen.[/quote]

We wandered into the market and before long were surrounded by a group of Yemeni men dressed in traditional garb, complete with jambiyya – tribal daggers.

One of them stepped forward and gestured to my dress that went only to mid-calf. “Please,” he said, and then placing his hand on his heart, “We are Muslim.”

I immediately made for an adjacent textile stall and bought the first long piece of knee covering cloth I could see, as well as an antique silver necklace inscribed with Koranic verses.

Hoping to appear more pious, I put on the necklace and wrapped the embroidered cloth around my waist covering my offending limbs.

Within seconds I was followed again – this time by a group of giggling schoolboys. What is it now, I asked one of the merchants? Am I not sufficiently covered?

With a smile he told me, “Well, yes, but now you are dressed like a man.” I had unwittingly donned a Yemeni futah – a kind of sarong worn by men.

In spite of my transgressive transvestism, my French friend and I were soon invited to the home of one of the boys for tea.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]I remember a place full of history and hospitality, world heritage sites and sung poetry; a place that then had just survived another civil war, but was riding high on post unification oil prices.[/quote]

In an amazing old city “tower house” from the 11th century, his mother served us sweets and his father spoke of Yemen’s great poet, Abdullah Al-Baradouni.

I felt an instant connection to the place – perhaps partly because my Lebanese ancestors descended from Ghassanid tribes that originated in Yemen.

I wore the antique Koranic amulet I bought that day in the market, designed to ward off evil, close to my heart for years. A few months ago, its slender silver chain snapped in two.

Remembering the Past

I remember that time now, 20 years later, as Yemen itself is on the brink of failed state status. 

Two unkind decades later, as Iraq, Syria and Libya burn, I remember a place full of history and hospitality, world heritage sites and sung poetry; a place that then had just survived another civil war, but was riding high on post unification oil prices. 

It was a place with a history of foreign occupation and fierce resistance. A place where in 1932 a group of Hejazi liberals fled Saudi and planned to mount an insurrection against the Wahhabists before the British sent warplanes to foil the attack.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]What if, in the Middle East’s most impoverished nation, there were no water shortages, no falling oil prices, no drone attacks, no al Qaeda turned ISIS, no proxy wars being fought by the powerful at the expense of the weak?[/quote]

I remember a place before digital culture and the Arab Spring brought horror to our awareness in such a casual way.

I wonder now at the past two decades and ponder what ifs.

What if Yemen’s agricultural sector had not been co-opted by qat cash crops? What if, in the Middle East’s most impoverished nation, there were no water shortages, no falling oil prices, no drone attacks, no al Qaeda turned ISIS, no proxy wars being fought by the powerful at the expense of the weak?

What if we who love the region did not have to bear the heartbreak of watching another nation ripped apart at the seams? The horror of refugee camps being bombed by America's regional ally, of the complete vulnerability of Yemeni civilians trapped between militias and foreign bombardment, in dire need of aid.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]... [T]here is a new nation emerging: the country of the dispossessed – an army of the displaced, of widows, of orphans, of refugees.[/quote]

It's not just a question of having seen this movie before, but of so many familiar narratives spinning at once. I watch what is unfolding in Yemen – a regional crucible in so many ways – and I remember decades of turmoil.

Oh Sana’a – the Sharif city so rich in Judeo-Christian-Islamic history – you bring to mind Beirut and Baghdad and Damascus and Tripoli. There is one heart and I cannot bear to watch it smashed to pieces again.

The Rise of the Dispossessed

From all these failed and failing states, invaded, occupied, bombed and “liberated” since my first visit to Sana’a, there is a new nation emerging: the country of the dispossessed – an army of the displaced, of widows, of orphans, of refugees. Of people like the giggling schoolboy who 20 years ago took us to tea with his family in a UNESCO world heritage site neighbourhood – perhaps a family man himself now, holding his children close as the bombs fall. 

Oh Yemen, once a centre of learning governed by the Caliph al-Muzaffar Yusuf (who, after Baghdad fell to the Mongols, chose the Yemeni city of Taiz as his capital and of whom it was written “His pens used to break our lances and swords to pieces”), I invoke your poets at this time of crisis, with a multitude of new Mongols at your gates.

And I pray for the healing of your heart, and of all our hearts. Inshallah el Salam.

As Al-Baradouni once wrote in a poem that now bears regional resonance:

From Exile to Exile

My country is handed over from one tyrant to the next, 

a worse tyrant; from one prison to another,

from one exile to another.

It is colonized by the observed

invader and the hidden one;

handed over by one beast to two

like an emaciated camel.

…It digs

in the muted graves looking

for its pure origins

for its springtime promise

that slept behind its eyes

for the dream that will come…

Hadani Ditmars is the author of Dancing in the No-Fly Zone: a Woman's Journey Through Iraq, a past editor at New Internationalist, and has been reporting from the Middle East for two decades. A fifth generation Canadian of mixed ancestry, she first reported from Yemen for African Business in 1995. Her next book is a political travelogue of ancient sites in Iraq. 

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Commentary

by Mourad Haroutunian (@MHaroutunianTO) in Toronto

From the anti-terrorism bill, Charlie Hebdo and William Schabas’ resignation to Ontario’s new sex education curriculum, ethnic media covering the Arab world has had its hands full. Here’s a look at the top five headlines that have made the most waves in January and February from Arab media.

Anti-terror Bill: Be Careful

In a Feb. 11 editorial, Salah Allam (pictured to right), editor in chief of the biweekly newspaper Arab News, calls for more caution and more parliamentary supervision to be included in the new anti-terror bill that Parliament is about to enact. 

Allam says that although many political analysts agree to the new bill, which aims to serve the country’s national interests and hunt international terrorists at large, his request is important. “We have to be very careful while accepting the bill in its current shape,” he writes.

Allam admits that the new legislation boosts the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the RCMP’s powers, but warns that, in the meantime, it affects civil rights protection.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“A bird’s-eye view on the new bill shows that it will be considered an illegal act when a person incites terrorism or slams Canada’s policies, even if it is merely haphazard talk.” - Arab News[/quote]

He cites the absence of effective mechanisms for the Canadian parliament to oversee the way security agencies perform their duties in this regard.

“A bird’s-eye view on the new bill shows that it will be considered an illegal act when a person incites terrorism or slams Canada’s policies, even if it is merely haphazard talk,” he writes.

The bill will forbid “propagating for terrorism” via any audio-visual medium, website or social networking platform. It will also simplify legal procedures required to detain suspected terrorists and restrict their movement.

“Thus, it is not yet clear,” Allam continues, “how such impact on existing freedom might secure more protection for Canadian citizens.”

Charlie Hebdo: All Guilty

Only Canada survived criticism over the Charlie Hebdo incident in a Jan. 22 editorial by Jamal Alqaryouti (pictured to the left), editor in chief of the biweekly newspaper Al Wattan. All are deplorable, from his perspective: the criminals, the victims, the host country and the mobs across the Muslim world, as well as the Israeli prime minister, who attended the Jan. 11 Paris march in solidarity with France.

Alqaryouti writes that the event might have repercussions in Europe, but not in Canada: “Canadian society is fortified against racism and stereotypes as evident through the common reaction to the dual crimes of Ottawa and Quebec a few months ago— and their reaction to heinous attacks on some mosques and Islamic centres.”

He says that in Europe, “the crime, even before proving Muslims are behind it, will give European right-wing [populists] a justification to act against Muslims, in particular, and immigrants in general, and will further justify the ‘Islamizing the West’ myth.”

Furthermore, he adds: “Even with Charlie Hebdo being a leftist magazine that used to ridicule religious or political figures without discrimination, I categorically reject making fun of any beliefs. I deplore reactions to the magazine’s behaviour, noting that the Prophet Mohammed helped treat patients of some people who had offended him by throwing their garbage on his house and himself.”

Schabas, Israel

Nazih Khatatba (pictured to the right), editor in chief of the biweekly newspaper Meshwar, declares via a Feb. 6 editorial, “William Schabas’ resignation will not hide Israeli crimes.”

Schabas, a Canadian academic, was heading a three-member commission appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Commission to investigate all alleged violations of international humanitarian laws carried out by Israel during the Israel–Gaza conflict last summer.

Schabas resigned in February in response to Israeli accusations of bias because he had billed the Palestine Liberation Organization for $1,300 in 2012 for legal advice he gave the organization at its request. Israel said the precedent constituted evidence of a conflict of interest with his position.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Schabas is not the first person who has been exposed to Israeli rudeness, pressure and threats.” - Meshwar newspaper[/quote]

“Has Israel achieved a political victory by pushing Schabas to step down by posing pressures on him or even by threatening his life?” asks Khatatba.

“Schabas is not the first person who has been exposed to Israeli rudeness, pressure and threats,” says Khatatba, pointing to a former Israeli critic, Richard Goldstone.

“From the Israeli point of view, everyone who criticizes it is anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli, greedy or even manipulated by external directives.

“Schabas refused to be like many people who disregard practices being carried out by Israeli leaders and the Israeli army. He said he wanted to see Netanyahu and Liebermann in the dock, and asked, ‘Why are we going after the President of Sudan for Darfur and not the President of Israel for Gaza?’

“Schabas has to pride himself on his humanitarianism and bias to the victim and the truth, and to standing by the Palestinian people against war crimes executed by the leaders of the occupation state, which lauds itself as the only democracy in the Middle East.

“It’s the Israeli terror that imposes its will on the international community with force,” Khatatba writes.

Sex-ed Curricula: Oral, Anal

Abram Makar (pictured to the left), editor in chief of the biweekly newspaper Good News, earmarks its Feb. 14 editorial to lamenting Ontario’s new sex ed curriculum.

“The fear of sex approaching our kids has become a reality for us, the residents of the Canadian province of Ontario. This reality was imposed by the Liberal government of the province via minister of education, Liz Sandals, who resubmitted the sex education curricula project for primary school students in Ontario to be effective as of the coming fall. It’s the same project that Kathleen Wynne submitted in 2010 when she was minister of education and was aborted, thanks to opposition spearheaded by Canadian Christian advocate Charles McVety.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Minister Sandals says these ages are suitable to study those topics, but the minister has failed to tell us where she obtained this information.” - Good News[/quote]

The article reports that under this new curriculum, Grade 3 students will be taught about homosexuality and same-sex marriages, Grade 6 students will study maturity and masturbation, while Grade 7 students are going to learn about anal and oral sex in the context of how to prevent the transfer of sexual diseases.

“Minister Sandals says these ages are suitable to study those topics, but the minister has failed to tell us where she obtained this information,” Makar writes. “Did she conduct research and learn that children at these ages are capable of understanding these matters?

“The project advocates claim they want to teach kids such sex-related topics lest they learn this information from unreliable sources.

“My question is: who guarantees that [teachers] who instruct such topics are reliable sources?”

The writer, at the end of his editorial, calls on all who reject teaching such topics to their children and grandchildren at these early ages to join in opposition of the new sex-ed curricula before the start of the coming school year and take part in a protest, organized by Parents as First Educators, to be held before Ontario Parliament on Feb. 24.

‘Copy-paste’ Media

The monthly newspaper Sakher Sabeel conducted an interview with Yilmaz Jawid, a Canadian–Iraqi social activist.

Jawid (pictured to the right), who immigrated to Canada in 1994, served as the president of the Iraqi Canadian Association for two terms. He also founded the Jawid Seniors Services Foundation, which offers free services for newcomers and free taxation services for low-income senior citizens.

To Jawid, culturally based media activity in Canada is swinging between for-profit activity, with some newspapers relying on advertising and publishing materials “copy-pasted” from other newspapers and online outlets, and not-for-profit political activity, with some newspapers depending on publishing controversial news stories.

“Successful cultural activity should focus on social life to solve problems that face immigrants. These should not be the job of newspapers only, but also of all organizations and associations,” he explains.

As such, Jawid says he has posted more than 270 articles on the Al Hewar Al Motamaden website, a leftist online platform.

Mourad Haroutunian is a Toronto-based journalist. Born and raised in Cairo, Haroutunian has worked in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, for Bloomberg News, CNBC Arabiya and Nile TV International. He holds an M.A. in journalism and mass communication from the American University in Cairo. Visit his Facebook page.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Arab World
Tuesday, 05 November 2013 00:46

Pulse: Arab and Middle East

by Mourad Haroutunian

The following were the top stories in the Canadian-Arab media during October:             

Canadian Copts join forces to influence Canadian Members of Parliament (MPs) to support Egypt's current secular government - Egyptian-Canadians eyeing their first seat in the Canadian parliament - Palestinian-Canadian activist to discuss how the Canadian-Arab identity affects the Palestinian cause - Omani-Canadian scientist appointed to UN advisory board - Calgary’s first Muslim mayor re-elected - Saudi Arabia's national airline begins direct flights to Toronto.



Three Canadian-Coptic organizations are combining their efforts to persuade the legislative branch of the federal government to increase support for Egypt, at a conference scheduled to be held on Nov. 19 under the auspices of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Al-Ahram Elgdeed reported on Nov. 3.

The Canadian Coptic Association, the Canadian Coptic Activists Federation and Al-Ahram Elgdeed non-profit organization are expected to urge Canada to recognize what happened in the summer in Egypt as a revolution, not a military coup.

These organizations cancelled a protest originally scheduled for Nov. 3 outside Parliament in order to focus on the Nov. 19 event, the bi-weekly newspaper run by Egyptian Copts said.  They will call on Canada to help Egypt’s secular government in its war on terror and its route to democracy, it added.

Egyptian activists are expected to request that Members of Parliament designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group, like Palestinian hate-group Hamas, and to boost Canada's financial assistance to the North African country.

The event will be attended by the Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney; the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Chris Alexander; and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bob Dechert, the organizations said.

On July 3, Egypt’s military ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi after millions of Egyptians flooded the streets countrywide calling for his resignation. The Arab world's most populous country has been experiencing political and economic instability since President Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February 2011 following 18 days of massive protests. 


Al-Ahram Elgdeed's deputy editor-in-chief, Medhat Eweeda, urged readers to endorse Coptic activist Sheref Sabawy to become the first Egyptian-Canadian to be elected a member of the Canadian Parliament.

Mr. Sabawy is required first to win the nomination of the Liberal Party for the Mississauga-Streetsville federal electoral district in Ontario, before running for the House of Commons seat. The district is heavily populated by Egyptians and others of Arab descent, Mr. Eweeda wrote.

Mr. Eweeda, himself a Conservative, called on fellow Egyptian-Canadians to renounce their differences and back up Sabawy. "Successful communities consider their interests. They take from [political] parties whatever serves the interests of the community and their home countries," he said.

"Unlike [successful communities], we have not yet taken care of our common interests; rather, personal conflicts have ruled our behaviour."


Palestinian activist Issam Al-Yamani is slated to discuss how the Canadian-Arab identity affects the Palestinian struggle at a gathering on Nov. 8, at Palestine House in Mississauga, Ontario, according to Aljalia monthly newspaper.

Mr. Al-Yamani, who was born and raised in a refugee camp in Lebanon, will ask participants whether they have ever faced difficulties as an Arab in Canada, and what they can do, as  a minority, to ensure they are a positive force in Canadian society.

The event is co-hosted by Palestine House, a not-for-profit organization established in 1992, and the Canadian Arab Federation, formed in 1967 to represent the interests of Arab Canadians.


Al-Bilad monthly newspaper reported that an Omani-Canadian scientist was appointed to the newly-created United Nations Scientific Advisory Board.

Prof. Abdallah Daar, a professor of Public Health at the University of Toronto, is the only Canadian appointed in the 26-member board, the London, Ontario-based paper said in its November issue.

The board was formed to provide advice on science, technology and innovation for sustainable development to the UN Secretary-General and to executive heads of UN organizations.


On Oct. 28, Saudi Arabia's national carrier began direct flights to Toronto, Aljalia reported.

Saudia will have three direct flights to Toronto each week, the paper said, without citing sources. The Toronto flights will serve different groups of passengers, including Saudi students in Canada and Canadians who travel to the kingdom each year for Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages.

With the launch of the Toronto service, Saudia has become the fourth Gulf airline operating flights to Canada after Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways.


Arab News, a biweekly newspaper established in 1974, trumpeted the re-election of Calgary's first Muslim mayor Naheed Nenshi.

The 41-year-old Harvard graduate won 74 per cent of the vote against eight opponents, the Toronto-based paper reported, citing Reuters.

The left-leaning leader obtained a national profile for his response to the floods that swamped large parts of the city of 1.1 million in Canada's costliest natural disaster.


In an editorial, Arab News praised a free-trade deal clinched between Canada and the European Union as “one of the legacies of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.”  

"This is a big victory for Canadian exporters, who will see lucrative business in Europe," wrote Salah Allam, the newspaper's publisher-editor, "though farmers and cheese-makers will be hurt by the deal."

However, Mr. Allam called for lifting the secrecy surrounding the details of the pact as part of the right of Canadians for freedom of information and transparency.

"The Harper government should understand that Canadian citizens are key players, not just extras on the stage!" wrote Mr. Allam.

The agreement was announced by Mr. Harper and EU President Jose Manuel Barroso at a joint press conference in Brussels on Oct. 18.


Al-Bilad paper highlighted a statement delivered by the leader of the National Democratic Party Tom Mulcair, who greeted Muslim-Canadians on the occasion of Eid Al-Adha, or Greater Bairam.

"For over a century, Muslim-Canadians have been playing a vital role in building this country, in areas from business and science to politics and culture. We understand that it’s this diversity that helps make Canada strong," he said in the letter.

“So on this special occasion, I would like to renew our commitment to you to fight for the important Canadian values of diversity and multiculturalism,” he concluded.


Al-Bilad, which has been run by Iraqi journalists since 2002, published an article titled "Why are so many Jews leaving Israel?" by Uri Avnery, an Israeli writer and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement.

In the article, originally published on, Mr. Avnery suggests a Crusader connection. “Israel declares itself to be “the State of the Jewish People.” Jews all over the world are considered de facto Israeli nationals. But if there is no basic difference between a Jew in Haifa and a Jew in Hamburg, why stay in Haifa when life in Hamburg seems to be so much better?” Mr. Avnery wondered in the article.

Ninety-year-old Mr. Avnery is famous for crossing the lines during the siege of Beirut to meet Yasser Arafat on July 3, 1982, the first time the Palestinian leader ever met with an Israeli.

Mourad Haroutunian is an Egyptian media professional based in Toronto. He has worked in Egypt, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and the United States, for Bloomberg News, CNBC Arabiya, Alhurra TV, Forbes Arabia and Nile TV International. He holds an M.A. in journalism and mass communication from the American University in Cairo. He currently works a senior equities journalist at Proactive Investors, in Toronto. 

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Top Stories
Friday, 08 February 2013 00:05

PULSE: Arab-Canadian media

By Mourad Haroutunian for New Canadian Media

The Canadian-Arab print and web media mostly earmarks less space to federal and provincial Canadian content and local Arab community news, providing more coverage of the Middle East  and  pan-Arab issues.

Canadian content here is mainly translations from English-language sources. This is why they seem to conform to Canadian mainstream norms rather than risk expressing an Arab viewpoint which might seem controversial due to cultural or political sensitivities. 

For example, Meshwar, a 40-page fortnightly newspaper based in Mississauga and owned by Palestinian journalist Nazih Khatatba, published two translated stories in its January 25th issue. One was a Canadian-specific news story and the other was a Canadian view of the Arab population. The headlines read: “Canada Seeks Evidence on Hostage Taker, Summons Algeria Envoy”, and “Canada: A Base for Islamist Militants.”

The paper refrained from rewriting, commenting or getting the feedback of the local Arab community on an Arab-Canadian possibly being labelled a terrorist in order to not look controversial.

Canadian content in some other cases is even presented from a neutral perspective. For instance, Al-Bilad, a 48-page monthly newspaper run by Iraqi journalists since 2002, downplayed the fact that Ontario’s premier-designate, Kathleen Wynne, would be  the first openly gay leader of a province in Canada despite mainstream Canadian media drawing attention to this facet of her personality. This London, Ontario-based paper headlined a story published in its February issue as “Kathleen Wynne First Female Premier to Govern Ontario.” 

Al Hayat Alarabiya provides yet another perspective. This 28-page weekly newspaper, also run by Iraqi journalists, uses terms such as “Zionist” and “entity” to describe citizens and the state of Israel in its January 24th issue. These terms are not used by mainstream Canadian media. The Scarborough-based paper’s story was titled “Punished, Yet Kept in Power by Zionist Voters: Netanyahu Starts Consultations to Form Government ‘of Delicate Balance.’” The introduction to the story read: “Results of the Zionist Knesset’s elections have shown that the ‘Israeli’ society punished outgoing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but kept him in power” and “Netanyahu, though weakened by the elections, is the front-running candidate to form the entity’s coming government.”  

Canadian-Arab media rarely conduct interviews or produce reports by their staff given their thin editorial budgets. In one rare occurrence, Medhat Eweeda, the managing editor of Al-Ahram Elgdeed, a 28-page fortnightly newspaper run by Egyptian Copts, conducted an interview with a local Canadian-Egyptian entrepreneur in its January 27th issue. The interviewee, Ben Shenouda, ran for office in the 2011 elections as a Progressive Conservative candidate for the Brampton-West riding.  He told the paper that he got engaged in politics “to serve the interests of his colleagues and those of the Egyptian community in Canada.” Shenouda leads a company that controls three percent of Canada’s pharmacies, the paper reported.

Local Arab community newspapers in Canada predominantly use the Arabic language with rare and often small English sections. They are printed monthly, fortnightly or weekly, and are mostly distributed free.  Advertisers are largely Arab real estate brokers, dentists, physicians, restaurants, food stores, community settlement services and Arabic television channel subscription companies. Large-size Canadian corporate advertisers are not clients of these newspapers.

In the online media world,, and come across as professional, publishing a large number of news and feature stories.

For instance, Assaha, run by Iraqi Arabs, allocates enough space for federal and provincial Canadian content as well as Iraqi community activities.  In this website’s most read section, local community news is showcased. Headlines such as “(Iraqi) Father Niaz Toma Delivers Lecture in Toronto,” “Iraqi Consular Mission Heads from Ottawa to Western Coast,” and “Ontario Has New Premier,” perhaps reflect reader interest in Arab community news and Canadian content, although the site, like other media sources that cater to the Arab-Canadian demographic, allocates a larger space for stories originating from the Middle East.

Arab News, originally a fortnightly newspaper established in 1974 with an Egyptian flavour, publishes the bulk of its stories focusing on the Arab Spring and its ongoing ripple effects. This Toronto-based online newspaper widely publishes Canadian content translated from English sources.

Similarly, non-Canadian content, particularly Egyptian news and views prevail, in Raai News, which is published by Canadian-Coptic activists. The website’s deputy editor is Prof. Sheref El Sabawy, who ran as a Liberal Party candidate for the Mississauga riding in the 2011 elections. That there is almost no Canadian content on this website is a stark reminder that Canadian-Arab print and online media have quite a ways to go before their content strikes a better balance between their new and old countries for their target audience – Canadians of Arab descent. - New Canadian Media

(Mourad Haroutunian is an Egyptian media professional based in Toronto, Canada. He has worked in Egypt, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and the United States for Bloomberg News, CNBC Arabiya, Alhurra TV, Forbes Arabia and Nile TV International. He holds an M.A. in journalism and mass communication from the American University in Cairo.)

Published in National

New Canadian Media provides nonpartisan news and views representing all Canadian immigrant communities. As part of this endeavour, we re-publish aggregated content from various ethnic media publishers in Canada in an effort to raise the profile of news and commentary from an immigrant perspective. New Canadian Media, however, does not guarantee the accuracy of or endorse the views and opinions contained in content from such other sites. The views expressed on this site are those of the individual writers and commentators, and not necessarily those of New Canadian Media. Copyright © 2019 All rights reserved