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December 2001

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ETHNO-CULTURAL PERSPECTIVES


Manpreet Grewal

Absence of Ethno-cultural Perspectives on September 11 aftermath and the War

 

By Manpreet Grewal

 

Manpreet Grewal is a Vancouver-based freelance  writer/ broadcaster, and has done columns for The Vancouver Sun, and features with CBC Early Edition and Shaw TV. She won the Canadian Ethnic Journalists’ and Writers’ Club (CEJWC) award.

 

At no time has there been a greater need for diverse ideas to contribute to the present debate of domestic and international events than now.   As extensive coverage of September 11th events and the subsequent war on terrorism continues, a majority of mainstream media continues to chide and ignore perspectives, which do not fit into a larger cultural consensus.    The reality that many of the western nations are home to a large number of ethno-cultural minorities and transnationals who might have unique world views based on experiences in different nation states still goes largely invalidated in the media.  The obsessive excitement in the media can only be seen when there are matters of criminality and negativity attached to this group of people. 

 

I describe transnationals as people who have adopted one country as their home but continue to have connections and links to their homelands and others with the same background in other nations.  There are also distinct nuances if they are visibly different and originate from countries other than the industrially developed.  Their loyalties and fears stretch further beyond these borders and they bring to our doors a much-needed third world perspective.

 

I see very little reflection in the media of the passionate discussions, which I hear from many of these people at friendly social gatherings, and other informal discussions.   On the one hand, because some of the terrorists involved in the September 11th attacks were transnationals, they feel pressed to prove their loyalty and sense of belonging to their new homeland.  On the other hand, they do not feel safe in expressing concerns for the safety and security of people far beyond these borders.   They are torn under the pressure to expand on their genuine concerns for safety and security in North America and downplay their genuine fears and loathing of a war, which is creating instability in already impoverished parts of the world.

 

They are concerned about another terror attack and anthrax but they are also concerned about protest demonstrations going on in various parts of the world.  They are worried about governments pitted against their people and cracking down on them in support of their support of the US bombing on Afghanistan.  They mourn the loss of civilians in those regions 

 

“There has been a noticeable lack in the media of the deep soul searching of the dynamics of how the Canadian mosaic plays out in the context of September 11th events”, says Almas-Zaki-Uddin, a freelance journalist who lives in Vancouver and writes for Delhi based India Today. “There has been only a superficial coverage of back-lash against Muslims and Sikhs or their condemnation of the September 11th attacks. Most commentary has been through a white Caucasian lens”. She says. Zaki-Uddin would have liked to see more coverage of how South Asians and Arabs are impacted and what the internal dialogue in those communities is? She would have also liked to see more people from those communities more fully engaged in the media commentary. “What we see from the community leaders is a response to superficial questions from reporters about faith. There is an absence of philosophical and intellectual responses from these groups in the media”. Says Zaki-Uddin.

 

Dr. Sonya Bathla, a media researcher from New Delhi who came to Canada a few weeks ago said she was shocked to see the difference in the coverage of events by the media in the two different countries.  The first thing she picked up on her arrival in Vancouver was the emotional rage in the media against Sunera Thobani, a UBC assistant professor who criticized America’s foreign policy at a Women’s conference in Ottawa.  “ Thobani’s opinion is not isolated.  It is a very commonly held opinion by various intellectuals in all parts of the world especially in the third world countries”.  Says Bathla.

 

She also noticed that in the print media, a lot more space was given to the negative emotions of the readers than the ones endorsing her opinion.   “ I am disillusioned.  If the media in the world’s best liberal democracies stifles free flowing debate in critical times, what will happen to others around the world?” She says.   She also questions what role Thobani being a woman of colour with origins in another country played in attracting the wrath of the media?   Bathla feels that the Indian media actually did a very effective job of making healthy distinctions between all aspects of the present debate.  “ For e.g. the media overwhelmingly accepted the enormity of the tragedy of September 11th and mourned the loss of life.  They acknowledge the need to fight terrorism.  But even though the Indian Government officially supports the US war on terrorism, the media has actively allowed the critique of US foreign policy without linking it to a condonement of the terrorist attacks ”.  She says.

 

This new war on terrorism has a global reach.  The enemy is invisible and elusive but the casualties are visible and tangible.  In a new world order, we need as many voices as possible to inform our discussions.  Just when our need for international information is so great, we are fortunate that we have people right here who could speak to the moods in other capitals around the world.  It is absolutely essential that the media engage our domestic diversity to stimulate a healthy vibrant debate.  In the words of Bathla “ Democracies just cannot afford to hang on only to the dominant voices”.