On Bully-Pulpits, Journalistic Fundamentalism, and Maclean's Magazine

Yahya Abdul Rahman

Montreal- December 8, 2007:  The four Osgoode Hall law students' recent complaint against Maclean's Magazine  should be yet another eye- opener for Muslims in this country regarding the state of Canada's journalism. Kenneth Whyte - Maclean's Editor-in-Chief - is reported to have stated that he would rather allow the magazine to go bankrupt before publishing a response to Mark Steyn's Islamophobic and hysterical article "The future belongs to Islam," which was published by Maclean's Magazine on October 20, 2006.

Fair enough. Maclean's magazine is a privately owned publication and they have the right to accept or reject any article they so wish. But by allowing one type of article to be published - while at the same time disallowing a rebuttal - the magazine has exposed itself to the criticism that it no longer pretends to be fair and balanced in presenting news and information to the general public from a variety of perspectives. Instead it has chosen to toss aside all journalistic objectivity and integrity by barring any voices of dissent from its pages. One side of an issue is permitted to be heard while another side is effectively silenced. This is not journalism, this is an example of a publication using its position as a bully-pulpit in order to present an opinion in such a way that it is irrefutable. In essence, it is journalistic fundamentalism.

Muslims in this country are subjected to a daily barrage of intemperate articles in the mainstream media which are nothing short of demonizing Islam and Muslims and making them appear to be a fifth column which should be closely monitored. The law students have stated that their research indicates Maclean's has itself published 18 articles with Islamophobic content between January of 2005 and July of 2007. Furthermore, there exist numerous online righ-wing Islamaophobic blogs which journalists can and do visit on a regular basis in order to obtain information and talking points for their columns. It is as if the Muslim's entire existence is centered on destroying the society in which they live and that they have nothing else on their minds to think about. Muslims instinctively know where such thinking leads to - in fact in many cases they have fled from it in their mother countries - and they are justifiably afraid.

So, what should be the next step for the Muslim community given the fact it is becoming increasingly difficult to publish their points of view in the mainstream press? Shall they just throw up their hands in defeat and proclaim they have lost and allow the voices of hysteria to win the battle of words? The answer to this question must be a resounding NO!!!

The best antidote to an objectionable opinion is a carefully crafted counter-opinion. It is time that Muslims begin to support existing media efforts in its own community at a much more substantial level. There are many fine publications out there which have really talented writers on board. But sadly, funding is always an issue and most of the current journalistic efforts within the community are voluntary. Such a model is bound to fail as these volunteers have to earn a living in order to survive. If Muslims want their voices to be heard then they need to start supporting these efforts so that there can be a continuity in the work.

On his very informative website,Communications Professor Michael Strangelove of the University of Ottawa states that: "Where many critics see the Internet as an instrument of corporate hegemony," he contends the Internet is  "an alternative space inhabited by communities dedicated to anarchic freedom, culture jamming, alternative journalism, and resistance to authoritarian forms of consumer capitalism and globalization."

In his book "The Empire of Mind: Digital Piracy and the Anti-Capitalist Movement",  Professor Strangelove argues that "the Internet and new digital communication technology actually undermine the power of capital, producing an alternative symbolic economy." He further argues that   "Internet audiences are more active, creative, and subversive. Writers, activists, and artists on the Internet undermine commercial media and its management of consumer behavior, a behavior that is challenged by the Web’s tendency toward the disintegration of intellectual property rights." 

In otherwords, there is a space already in existence for individuals and groups to voice their concerns and undermine the existing journalistic hegemony and the profit driven economy which supports it. Given this reality, the Muslim community must capitalize on this opportunity and use this resource to create serious forums which offer alternative narratives to the dominant journalistic discourse regarding Islam and Muslims.

The mainstream media is not going to change to the liking of the Muslim community in this country no matter how loud Muslims object to what is being published. It is time Muslims start creating their own spaces for discussion and make it a priority to support those efforts.


Yahya Abdul Rahman is the Editor of the online Montreal Muslim News (MMN): www.montrealmuslimnews.net. He regularly posts articles on MMN which he does not personally agree with so as to inform others regarding what opinions are out there. He can be reached at: montrealnews@gmail.com