Professor Michael Petit takes questions from the audience during the 'Global Media & Innocence of Muslims' panel discussion at UTSC.

UTSC hosts academic discussion on ‘Innocence of Muslims’

Students of various races and religions gathered in one of the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) auditoriums on Tuesday; some appeared uncomfortable, others solemn and focused. Few were laughing while they waited for the panel to begin.

Michael Petit, professor of new media and media theory at UTSC, hosted the panel discussion “Global Media & Innocence of Muslims,” to discuss the significance of the now infamous anti-Islamic film and new media as a whole.

Petit began his introduction describing the anxiety and debate among his colleagues and administration in deciding whether or not to show even part of the film during the discussion. In the end, they decided not to.

To be insulted by this film is like being seriously insulted by a five-year-old

— Rick Salutin

“How do we report on things we’re not allowed to mention?” posed Jeffery Dvorkin, former managing editor and chief journalist for CBC Radio. He argued that it isn’t realistic to keep abreast of news and events while still shielding ourselves from being offended.

“If you were willing to ban this video or inhibit it from being shown, then you have to take the next logical step and say, ‘what else are you willing to ban?’ That’s a very dangerous place to go,” Dvorkin says.

The panel primarily agreed on one point: that the movie itself is not worth dignifying.

“It is so inept,” says Rick Salutin, journalist for both the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star. “It is an utter embarrassment in any sense as a piece of film or drama. To be insulted by this film is like being seriously insulted by a five-year-old.”

For the panelists, the discussion seemed to focus on topics regarding the spread of information in the era of the “global village,” about differentiating between free speech and hate speech and about the media’s misrepresentation of what Petit calls, “Muslim Rage.”

Raja Khouri, president of the Canadian-Arab Institute, asked the audience why they thought people in Arab nations were demonstrating; was it more likely that a bad movie offended their religion, or a combination of American occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan, the west’s one-sided policies with Israel over Palestinians, revolutions against dictatorial regimes and countless other more significant issues in that part of the world?

“Television is notoriously the worst in breaking down these layers because there’s a 30-second clip,” Khouri says.

After an hour the discussion was opened up to the floor. Students asked questions and shared opinions on the fairness of media, the power of the internet and Islamic stereotypes.

Soumia Allalou, Islamic Awareness Week coordinator at UTSC, was pleased with the outcome of the discussion.

“A lot of the concerns were given justice to [in the discussions],” Allalou said. “I think if people had a [negative] mindset going in, they might walk out with a different light today.”