Who are the Arabs?
The majority of Canadians of Arab origin are Lebanese (41%), 12% are Egyptian whilst the proportions of Syrians, Moroccans, Iraqis, Algerians and Palestinians range from 4% to 6%. The largest Arab community in Canada lives in Montreal. Only 18% of Canadians are foreign-born, but this percentage climbs to 58% (2001 statistics) for Canadians who reported an Arab origin. In Canada, almost half of Arabs live in either Montreal or Toronto, but it is in Quebec that they make up the largest percentage of the provincial population.
When we talk about Arabs, it is similar to talking about Asians, we tend to put them all in the “same basket”, ignoring the multiple and real historical, cultural, religious and other differences. Their reality is diverse, Arabic cultures are a “mosaic” like Canada is. The Arabic language unites them, like Spanish unites Hispanics, but the cultural differences between a Lebanese and an Iraqi for instance, can be as noticeable as those between a Spaniard and a Salvadorian. Many Canadians of Arab origin are also francophone, in particular the Lebanese, Egyptians (although not all) and Maghrebi (North Africans) for historical reasons.
These Arabic communities are culturally vibrant, very far from any obscure fanaticism. To be convinced, one need only to listen to Radio Middle-East, broadcast 24/7 on 1450AM in Arabic (with intermittent words in French and English), that addresses the Arab community (Middle-East and Maghrebi), or go to the Arab World Festival of Montreal, that has been around for 10 years and enjoys the support of numerous private sector backers as well as various governmental support. On the web, Montreal Arabic (French website) also reflects the community’s diversity presenting a wide variety of subjects from advice for new immigrants, to the price of petrol and recipes; furthermore, it offers a selection of videos, articles, topics and debates that concern the host country, but also the Arab world and international scene. Arab restaurants are everywhere and are frequented by many Quebecois, Arab students form associations, entrepreneurs publish company newsletters for which they offer trilingual services in Arabic, French and English and there are exuberant Oriental evenings held in Laval’s flashy restaurants. Canadians of Arab origin are also very present in cultural domains, among others the political scientist Sami Aoun, the intellectual Rachad Antonius, Wajdi Mouawad (theatre), Rawi Haje (literature) and Rachid Badouri (comedy), or the winners of the “Arab Women of Quebec” trophy. To connect with Arabs, there are also numerous “ethnic” newspapers such as Al-Akhbar, El-Ressala, Al Magrheb-Al Machreq, Al-Mustakbal, Atlas, El-Masri, to name only those that have over 10,000 readers. In brief, the Arabs are among us!
This clearly doesn’t happen without paradoxes and incidentally an inquiry by Leger Marketing underlined this in 2007: in spite of popular opinion, the Arab community is one of the most integrated in Quebec society!