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2007 04 24
Toronto Culture and Multiculture 6: How to Make Canadian News

Gets hilarious, the way bigger media blames it all on smaller media. Blames it on tabloids, on a radio talk-show host, on rappers and now, in that big way, on small blogs. So misleading But nevermind more general examples. Not particularly the point.

The particular point is Canadian democracy, Toronto multiculture and how we –Canadians and indeed Torontonians – may begin tutoring far and worldwide re tolerance. Except that our own media denies it. Denies Canadian tolerance. So, most particularly right now, the point is how and why our media misleads us when it comes to our own tolerance.

Pretty obvious why. Canadian media shares shock values with its larger cousins – despite acting relatively bashful about it. Also, Canadian media has rather fewer juicy gossiping opportunities. Has to scramble more when it comes to news making – while acting like it never scrambled a day in its life. But wait. Opportunity does come knocking. Tolerant as Canadians are, not much else can so reliably be counted on shocking us as accusations we aren’t. So, since tolerance denying reliably provides high-rating shock values, our media goes scrambling after tolerance denying opportunities. That’s pretty good news making – for Canadian media. Simultaneously covering both tales and trails.

How does our media mislead when it comes to tolerance? Not too hard to uncover. Harder scrambling trails than tales. Here’s one scenic trail. During the final weekend of February, 2007, a referee ejected 11 year-old Asmahan Mansour from an indoor Quebec soccer match because she refused to remove her hijab – religious headscarf. The story of Asmahan’s ejection was seized upon in brazen – i.e., scarcely at all muted – glee by Canadian media. The story was inflated at such meteoric pace that, by early March, it had expanded from local – through provincial and national – to international proportions. This story of Canadian intolerance.

This misleading story. How misleading? Plenty. Of the dozen checked, most articles never disclosed how the ejecting referee was Muslim. Muslim as the ejected player. Most articles never disclosed how not only Quebec but FIFA’s International Football Association Board – that’s right: international – upheld the referee’s decision. And not one – single – mainstream Canadian media article divulged how Google-searching headscarf and soccer reveals the issue arising repeatedly and, yes, internationally. Like in Morocco, even. Like, the first hit on Google-searching headscarf and soccer? An April 27th article titled Soccer game called off over headscarf. Not April 27th next week in Quebec’s future. April 27th, 2004. In Australia.

That’s how misleading. Not remotely legitimate as a story of Canadian intolerance. Not particularly Canadian – whatever international soccer refereeing issues with headscarves may or may not be. Only our media’s scrambling – scarcely muted – seizure at Asmahan’s ejection was particularly Canadian. And it didn’t stop there, our media seizure. The trail goes on.

For instance. On March 8th, 2007, the Globe & Mail published an article titled Soccer headscarf incident sign of intolerance: Egypt. The article began thus:
Egypt warned against racism and intolerance in Canada after a young Ottawa-area girl was expelled from a soccer tournament in Quebec for insisting on wearing an Islamic headscarf, the foreign ministry in Cairo said… Ihab Fawzi, a senior official at the ministry.. express[ed] concern over "mounting signs of racism and intolerance in Canada"…
Egypt? Well, maybe it’s not quite entirely absurd as it sounds. Conceivably, Egypt has sincere legitimate concerns for democracy and multiculture – for Canadian tolerance, even – despite experiencing setbacks practicing the principles. Setbacks walking its talk. At least since the fundamentalist Islamic assassination of Sadat. Since Mr. Mubarak might understandably prefer not getting similarly assassinated. Since Mr. Mubarak likely does some service to tolerance by not tolerating fundamentalist intolerance. Since his intolerance is in self-defence. To which – self-defence – he’s entitled. Obliged, even. Especially if he’d actually prefer tolerance. If he’s one of the good guys. Absolutely. Conceivably, anyway. But still. Egypt?

Just conceivably Egypt’s concerns with Canada’s alleged intolerance are legitimate. Legitimate and, however ignorant, arising through no fault of Egypt’s. Arising entirely from scrambling Canadian media. Scrambling to deny Canadian tolerance. Egypt’s concerns might conceivably be legitimate. But Toronto Canadian media seizing at factual incompleteness – incompleteness however far and poorly fetched – scrambling to deny our tolerance? And then seizing upon yet farther fetched, genuinely ignorant – if even at all legitimate – international reaction? Reaction fomented by Canadian media misleading in the first place? Might as well have titled this article How intolerant are we – even Egypt rebukes Canada. No. Not legitimate. Not even conceivably. Except by archingly grasping shock values. Or from ideologically definitive – fundamentalist – perspective. The sort of perspective so readily flouting at Globe & Mail’s Comment section. Like the perspective of 'Democratic Dictatorship' from United States:
yes i support the fact that the egyptians one of the main human rights abusers have actually told canada that they are abusing their citizens. How blind are we , that a country which regularly abuses human rights has to tell us...
Do testify, 'Democratic Dictatorship'. The press is free. But can we say amen to that? Should we shout no justice – no peace? Ought we shriek silence is violence? Perhaps not. Time is money. And liquor is quicker.

Not to suggest all perspective at Globe & Mail’s Comment section is tin-foiled. Lucid visions do glimmer there. Some. Rarely equal to Stephen McIntosh’s from Winnipeg:
My father's father's father immigrated from Scotland, and my mother's mother's mother moved here from Russia. I am not Scottish, I am not Russian, I am Canadian. And I will welcome anyone who would like to share in the great life we have here. Because in three generations the refugees from abroad will be as Canadian as you and me, but they will remember their ethnic origin and they will honour it. You must be tolerant of others because that is what being Canadian is all about.
Wonderful perspective. Can’t stop to admire, though. Not yet. The trail goes on.

Very same Thursday, also on March 8th, 2007, an article by Haroon Siddiqui – editorial page editor emeritus – appeared in the Toronto Star. Don't give in to prevailing prejudices. Seemed a relatively thoughtful article on first reading. Relative to most other media seizures at Asmahan’s ejection. Siddiqui wrote,
… in Australia and across Europe, several nations have decided that their failure to integrate Muslims because of widespread racism is, in fact, the fault of multiculturalism, a policy they never had, in the sense you and I understand it, namely, extending equality and the dignity of citizenship to all people, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity.
An interested reader, after having read the Globe’s contribution that Thursday morning, might well have thought, “Yeah, right. Who’re we supposed to take our cues from when it comes to tolerance, then? Egypt? Sure. Why not go all the way – for our cues – to Saudi Arabia or Iran?”

But Siddiqui wasn’t saying where to go for our cues. He was saying that even the world’s most tolerant nations are kind’a cueless – and need to be taking cues from us. That when it comes to the principle, our practice of tolerance stands exemplary even among those countries all flee to instead of from. He was saying it’s our job now, schooling not only Egypt but even Australia, Germany, Britain, Sweden or the United States. Sure sounded he was saying so when he wrote,
The world looks up to Canada for its multicultural achievements. Here in Brussels, the headquarters of the European Commission, people routinely invoke Canada to counsel member-states to learn how to achieve integration the Canadian way.
Right on. Stand up for your principles, Toronto Canada. Stand tall and take a bow.

Like Stephen McIntosh from Winnipeg, Siddiqui gets the big picture. The principle. Tolerance. What being Canadian is all about. Which makes it far more difficult comprehending what Siddiqui was talking about when it came to Asmahan’s headscarf case. When he wrote,
In the soccer case.. it has been pointed out by some that the referee in question was a Muslim. That fact alone is supposed to have legitimized his decision… We would not adopt such a tribal assumption about referees of other faiths. We would not presume that their decisions were motivated by their religion.
What a kicker. Siddiqui’s not troubled with so few mentioning the referee was Muslim. Siddiqui’s troubled that anyone mentioned it at all. But why so troubled? This general media seizure wasn’t about any random player ejection. It wasn’t about any random headscarf. It was about a Muslim player. It was about a Muslim headscarf. The media seized at how Asmahan was ejected for being Muslim and wearing a Muslim headscarf. Putative Muslim ejecting was the whole, entire and only issue. Nothing but. Muslim ejecting. So why ought the media seize at the ejected person being Muslim, at her headscarf being Muslim – and utterly avoid all mentioning that the ejecting person too was Muslim?

Why not mention it? Because, according to Siddiqui, it would be intolerant to presume the referee’s decision was motivated by religion. It would be a tribal assumption – inconsistent with Canadian tolerance. Inconsistent with what being Canadian is all about.

Indeed. It would be. Nobody remotely tolerant would assume any such thing. On finding out the ejecting referee was Muslim too, those tolerant in slightest principle would conclude the ref was simply doing his or her job. Entirely and only exercising proper discretion as a referee. Properly and totally regardless to whether any particular player was Muslim – like the ref – or Falun Gong or even atheist – unlike the ref. That’s the tolerant concluding. Like, the ref was Muslim too? Well then, obviously only had soccer issues with the headscarf. No way the ref took issue with Asmahan being Muslim. Or the headscarf being Muslim. No more than the ref would take issue with being Muslim him or herself.

Nobody tolerant in slightest principle would assume the ref was motivated by religion. But Siddiqui believes we’d all think just that. That since religion must necessarily have been the motive for ejecting Asmahan, the ref must have been some sort of self-hating Muslim. That’s what Siddiqui believes and was spelling out when he wrote:
While we dare not cite, say, dissident Catholics or Jews to rationalize discrimination against practising Catholics and Jews, many people routinely invoke contrarian Muslim voices to lecture Muslims on how they should practise their religion.
So we’d better not mention the ref was Muslim too. Because that would be amplifying the ref’s contrarian Muslim voice. That would be rationalizing discrimination. That would be promoting Muslim self-hatred. Egads. How can Siddiqui understand that being Canadian is all about tolerance – while simultaneously believing we’re all out promoting Muslim self-hatred? It makes no sense at all, Siddiqui not understanding we’d conclude the ref was just doing his or her job. Knowing the ref was Muslim, doesn’t Siddiqui conclude the ref was properly job performing?

Maybe not. Maybe it’s Siddiqui himself making the tribal assumptions he deplores as inconsistent with Canadian tolerance. Maybe Siddiqui himself believes Asmahan must necessarily have been ejected for religious motives. That if the ref was Muslim then no way was the ref properly job performing – and hence that the ref must have been some sort of self-hating Muslim. Out to punish Asmahan for being a Muslim. For daring to wear an Islamic headscarf.

Couldn’t be. Could it? Siddiqui is the Star’s editorial page editor emeritus. Says so right under his article. No way he’s projecting tribal assumptions – precisely those assumptions he deplores – onto his readers. No way.

Way – and no maybe about it. Siddiqui really is out to stop us from giving in to prevailing prejudices. Except, those prejudices he’s out to stop us from giving into? Yeah. Those are prejudices prevailing for him. Not even for the marginally tolerant among us – his Canadian audience. And he doesn’t just want to stop us in the audience, either. He’s out to stop the entire media from giving in to his own prejudiced tribal assumptions. Since he projects his tribal assumptions as liberally onto the media as onto the audience:
The media are an unwitting partner in this dirty game [of making prejudiced tribal assumptions about Muslims]. The quickest way for a Muslim to be quoted these days is to attack fellow Muslims or, better still, Islam.
So there it is. Siddiqui gets some things right on. Like what being Canadian is all about. But otherwise, he comes across almost pathologically unwitting. As if he regards himself doing public service partaking, co-leading this headline grasping media seizure. This misleading story. Misleading and slandering Canadian tolerance both at home and abroad.

Just unwitting. Siddiqui’s not out to deny our tolerance. He affirms it. But Siddiqui does declare that Muslim ref – and the rest of us and the media – guilty of making prejudiced tribal assumptions about Muslims. Not likely he’ll change his mind, either. Sounds like he’ll make sure not to discover those prejudiced tribal assumptions are his. Won’t be talking to that ref anytime soon. Doesn’t want any of us talking to that ref. Far as Siddiqui’s concerned, that ref’s a rotten bad apple. A self-hating Muslim. Came across loud, clear and definitive – how that ref’s contrarian Muslim voice couldn’t conceivably have only been making a soccer call. Definitive how that ref was attacking fellow Muslims or, better still, Islam. Could be that ref was a witch. Ayuh. Could be. Even if Siddiqui’s too polite to say so himself. Someone’s got to.

Why no single report to be found of anyone even attempting talking to the ref? Perhaps because it would interfere with misleading news making to do so. Perhaps because Siddiqui is right about Canadian media playing a dirty game. Except the game isn’t about making prejudiced tribal assumptions. That’s Siddiqui’s – hopefully unwitting – dirty game. The media plays professionally and all too wittingly. Tolerance denying makes the news. And making the news is just good - show - business as usual.

Our job in the audience is nothing but clarity. To see through the news making once in a while. To not entirely forget who we are. To not forget what we stand for. To remember what being Canadian is all about. Tolerance.

[Peter Fruchter is a part-time faculty member in the Division of Humanities at York University. He writes about the nature of truth (and truths of nature). North America is his third continent. Toronto Culture and Multiculture is an ongoing series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5]

[Soccer image by Ari Bronstein and used here under via Creative Commons license.]
[email this story] Posted by Peter Fruchter on 04/24 at 01:55 PM

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