|Ottawa MD makes case for amateur journalism, political activism, and cultural understanding
October 18, 2007
Anyone interested in finding out the facts about Palestine, the crumbling U.S. economy, the destruction of the U.S. military or the treasonous activity of the Israel Lobby knows better than to rely on daily newspapers or TV newscasts. As our "mainstream" journalism degenerates further and further into disinformation, censorship, fearmongering and infotainment, amateurs and Internet writers have become increasingly vital sources of uncensored news and commentary.
Personal blogs and on-line publications like informationclearinghouse.com, whatreallyhappened.com, counterpunch.org and truthout.org report news deemed too subversive [read: "accurate"] by our corporate, pro-Israel gatekeepers.
One such gifted amateur is Qais ["Case"] Ghanem, a Yemeni-born neurophysiologist and professor at the University of Ottawa. As host of a weekly cultural radio show at CHIN FM and creator of the website dialoguewithdiversity.com he has made a name for himself as a voice of both courage and conciliation:
Greg Felton: How did you come to start dialoguewithdiversity?
Qais Ghanem: I did it to support my radio show, which began two months earlier. At first the website was a page or two about the radio show. And then I gradually increased it by adding the pictures of people I interviewed. The first group was the Irish. Every one of my guests in on the website.
Why did you start the radio show?
Ottawa has been my home for 37, 38 years. I came to Canada during the Trudeau era when diversity was something to be proud of, and since then I’ve seen many negative changes, especially since George Bush became president of the U.S.
The whole idea is to build bridges between ethnic groups, so that, for example, the Irish will listen to the Sudanese, the Sudanese will listen to what the Croats have to say about themselves, and they in turn would hear about Ugandans and how they get married, and Ugandans will hear about food in Bangladesh. Ethnic minorities get to know the mainstream whites, the Anglo-Saxons, but they don’t really get to know each other.
What are the Russians like? What is it like to grow up in Russia? What are the relationships among members of the family? What about the extended family Do grandparents live under the same roof? Do you look after your own grandparents or do you farm them out to a nursing home? Do they have a say in how things are done? I find that this is the case in the Far East—Viet Nam, China and Thailand—this is very much the thing, and in the Middle East— but not no much in South America, and definitely not in Europe.
How would you describe the website for someone who has never seen it?
It’s quite comprehensive. I have about 16 different pages. The most popular is “Pictures.”
They’re all pictures of events in Ottawa. It’s all my photography. Because I am a political activist, I went to the Vietnamese annual dinner, and a demonstration on Parliament Hill for human rights in Burma. I went to a dinner for the Lebanese singer Marcel Khalife. The second most popular page is “Coming events.” I get people from so many different ethnic groups wanting to promote their events. I get things from Cubans, Vietnamese, Croats, Scots, Irish…. My motto is: “We listen to people from Berlin to Baghdad. We silence the racists and never let them win.”
Qais Ghanem (left) talks with Igor Sharovar (centre) and Oleg Veselskiy (right) about Ukraine and Ukrainian culture. Not pictured, Nadia Senyk.
photo credit: Greg Felton
What has been the reaction to dialoguewthdiversity in Ottawa?
The few comments I have had have been positive. In my backyard I had all the people who were on the show to a BBQ about a month ago. It was so multi-ethic. It was such a wonderful opportunity because to them it was a novel idea. I’m not a fool, though. If there were negative feedback about the show I would not pay attention to it. I would not be surprised, but people are not usually critical.
Although hits don’t mean visitors, as you very well know, hits to dialoguewithdiversity have gone up from 20,000 in January to 105,000 in September. I couldn’t believe it—I’m just an amateur. I just started this year. [Update: Hits for October exceeded 121,000]
How much time do you put into your website and show?
The show is one hour, but I need to do homework. Because of my age and upbringing I am already familiar with so many aspects of life in different countries. I don’t start form scratch. I just need to catch up a little bit and get stats, like the education level of the country, GDP, poverty, infant mortality rate. For example, Yemen, which is my own country and which I recently featured, has an infant mortality rate of 50 per 1,000 live births, compared to 4.7 in Canada, but it’s the half the rate in Somalia. I don't emphasize tourist things, and I don’t talk about politics, except in a historical context.
Speaking of politics, you have a lot of commentary on the website. Could your site be called a political resource centre, since it is a form of journalism?
I hope so. I think people get fed up getting 10 e-mails a week from one source from people, so I put articles on the website there and people know they’re there.
“Ottawa has been my home for 37, 38 years. I came to Canada during the Trudeau era when diversity was something to be proud of, and since then I’ve seen many negative changes, especially since George Bush became president of the U.S”—Qais Ghanem
I have a page called “Letters not published by the mainstream media.” People spend a lot of time writing letters, so I put them on my website—published letters are in blue. At least some of them will be read by somebody. At least the letters won’t go into oblivion. If I did that, then perhaps the editorial board of the Ottawa Citizen would be aware of them.
I also have a page on human rights. From human rights, you talk about health care and so on, so I have a whole webpage for human rights and a page on health issue, I’m a member of Ontario health coalition. I also have a page on Parliament and elections, and now that I am a candidate, I’ll start a new page called “Candidates Commentary.”
Since the site has grown from two to 16 pages, are you making any changes ?
I’ve been revamping and reorganizing the website. I’ve been increasing the capacity considerably. In fact, I have had to increase my capacity by 800 percent! I'm getting hits from as far away as Thailand. But more rewarding than the amount of hits is that my web analytics program tells me 38 percent of those who log on to dialoguewithdiversity bookmark it as a favourite.
In addition, the added capacity has allowed me to post a lot of Yemeni songs with my own lyrics, which is something I couldn’t do before. I already have a music page that has English songs like A Mother’s Lament, my tribute to Cindy Sheehan and the fight against the war in Iraq.
Is there any danger of blurring the lines between the ethical bridge-builder and the politician?
No. People know I can wear two hats very easily without mixing the two. I’m also the candidate in my riding for the Green Party in the next federal election.