Hezbollah in Canadian press


    An interview with Ali Mallah of the Canadian Arab Federation.


Photo: Walking in south Lebanon 2006. Interview by Stefan Christoff for Tadamon!

In recent weeks, major media outlets in Canada have featured numerous news reports on Hezbollah, outlining that the armed Lebanese political party is planning military operations in North America. Media reports have been based on anonymous intelligence sources in the U.S. and Canada.

Major media coverage in Canada was ignited by a T.V. report from the U.S.-based ABC news network claiming that Hezbollah was planning operations in Canada in response to the assassination of Hezbollah’s military commander, Imad Mughniyeh, in Syria this past winter.

Hezbollah formed in southern Lebanon in the mid 1980’s as an armed resistance group to Israel’s military occupation. Given Hezbollah’s consistent focus on engaging Israel as a foreign occupier or invading military force in Lebanon, possibilities outlined in recent media reports on Hezbollah activities in North America are highly unlikely.

In response to recent media reports on Hezbollah, the Arab community, specifically Lebanese in Canada, fear a wave of unwelcome visits from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), similar to numerous unwelcome visits in 2006 during Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon.

Ali Mallah, an organizer with the Canadian Arab Federation, comments on the recent wave of media reports in Canada and provides an alternative context to mainstream media reports on Arabs and Muslims in Canada within the post 9/11 environment. Ali Mallah was interviewed for Tadamon! Montreal by Stefan Christoff.

Tadamon!: A number of media articles were published this last week in response to an ABC news report claiming that Hezbollah is activating cells in Canada. Wanted to first have your reaction to the claim put forward in this report arguing that Hezbollah was planning to strike in North America; can you comment on this possibility?

Ali Mallah: Based on mainstream information Hezbollah has never declared an intention to have military actions be undertaken in Europe or North America. In Lebanese terms Hezbollah is a political party and movement, with elected MPs operating within the Lebanese government, in coalition with numerous other political parties. After the resolution to the latest conflict in Lebanon, it is clear that Hezbollah as a political party will be playing a major role in the new Lebanese government.

Hezbollah as a political organization is part of the Lebanese social fabric.

Unfortunately in North America, in Canada, with a political shift to the right, also a shift towards Israel, there has been increased negative media coverage towards any groups or organizations both locally or internationally who take a position against Israel’s illegal occupation in Palestine or aggression towards Lebanon.

Tadamon!: Mainstream media in recent weeks has reasserted the official position on Hezbollah from the Canadian government, which considers Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. In many countries, also within the European Union, Hezbollah is not considered a terrorist organization. Wondering your thoughts on the recent wave of media coverage in Canada on Hezbollah, wondering if you think that media reports have influenced popular understanding towards Hezbollah in Canada?

Ali Mallah: Understanding the media reports in recent weeks is important. Remember there was no debate within the Canadian Parliament on adding Hezbollah to Canada’s terror list. Personally remember statements in a meeting with the former Liberal Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham, who explained that the government was coming under intense pressure to add Hezbollah to the terror list from pro-Israel organizations in the country.

Clearly it would be beneficial to have a debate on Hezbollah in the open. Today it’s clear that the current government isn’t interested in having a real debate on the issues. Canada’s current government is simply feeding into stereotypes surrounding the Middle East and the Arab and Muslim world.

Canada’s government is creating cases against Muslims in Canada that simply have no legal basis.

Let’s refer to the case of the Toronto 18, a group of arrested, accused of planning to commit terrorism in Canada. Until now none one from the Toronto 18 has been found guilty of any charge, while seven have already been released on bail. Mentioning this to illustrate that there are serious holes in the Canadian government’s current policies in this regard. Today it is hard to find truth in the government line.

Going back to the original point concerning Hezbollah, it should also be mentioned that in recent days the British government has placed Hezbollah’s entire military wing on the terrorist list. This is an unfortunate development. In France the current government didn’t comment on the change in British policy, while it should be mentioned that the French government has on a couple of occasions extended invitations to representatives of Hezbollah for talks.

Tadamon!: Can you describe you reaction the first time that you read the recent wave of media reports on Hezbollah in Canada?

Ali Mallah: Anxiety, worry and anger. These feelings came forward because many Lebanese people have been questioned and harassed by CSIS and other intelligence agencies in Canada, especially after the assassination of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh in Syria. Many visits happened after this event.

After seeing these recent media reports many now worry, as it’s highly possible that CSIS will now conduct numerous unwelcome visits within the Lebanese community as a result of these media reports.

The Canadian Arab Federation has written a very strongly worded letter to the Stockwell Day, Minister of Public Safety, who is responsible for CSIS, expressing our deep concern that these unfounded media reports on Hezbollah will result in the targeting of the Arab and Lebanese community.

Tadamon!: Could you explain the responses that you have received from within the Arab community, as the Canadian Arab Federation, in response to these media articles?

Ali Mallah: People feel frustrated, people feel singled out. People are wondering if these recent media reports are an attempt to create an opening for another round of questioning by government agencies within the Arab and Lebanese community, similar to 2006. It’s well known within the Lebanese community that there are no Hezbollah operations in Canada and that it is highly, highly unlikely that any action from Hezbollah would ever take place in Canada.

Multiple times it was stated by leaders in Hezbollah in Lebanon that their conflict isn’t with Jewish groups or organizations or people around the world, but that the conflict is with Israel as a colonial state and an occupying power.

These recent media reports aren’t sitting well within the Arab or Lebanese community in Canada. People are anxious and awaiting a response to these reports through unwelcome visits by CSIS.

Tadamon!: For one week now reports that Hezbollah plans to open operations in Canada has been bouncing between major media networks in Canada. Many within the Lebanese community have expressed fear that in the shadow of media reports the government now views the entire Lebanese Shiite community as directly connected to Hezbollah, can you speak about this fear?

Ali Mallah: Hezbollah as a political party, as a political group enjoys wide popular support in Lebanon and the Middle East. Many view Hezbollah in the Middle East as a symbol of integrity and dignity after the war in 2006 and after the failures of the Oslo Accords, which Hezbollah openly opposed.

It has to be made clear that although people are sympathetic to Hezbollah, you simply wont find people within the Lebanese community working as members of Hezbollah in Canada, it is critical to make this distinction. Although there is moral support there is no direct affiliation.

Tadamon!: Could you offer your thoughts on the way in which the media portrayed this particular story, the way that the Canadian media picked-up the ABC news report. Do you have any thoughts, reflections or critiques?

Ali Mallah. It’s an ongoing struggle with the media in Canada, especially after 9/11. As the Canadian Arab Federation we have expressed concern with every major media outlet in the country concerning unfair portrayal of Arabs and Muslims in the press.

Often the media produces such reports, such as these recent stories on Hezbollah, without the community having an opportunity to present another point of view. Concerning the Arab community and the Middle East in general the media is often bias against us.

As the Canadian Arab Federation we have met with the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, the CBC and even the National Post to express these concerns. It is clear that the media often portrays Arabs and Muslims in Canada as outsiders, as removed from society, the media portrays us often in unwelcoming ways. Clearly the Canadian Arab Federation has a major issue with the way that the mainstream media portrays us, to understand more on this people should read Casting Out: The Eviction of Muslims from Western Law and Politics, by Sherene Razack.

Despite this reality we will not sit back, we will continue to fight for our rights, while insisting on the values we believe in.

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