Watching Arabic Television in Europe: From Diaspora to Hybrid Citizens, by Christina Slade

An examination of viewing habits illuminates the lives of Arabic people who have made their home in Europe, finds Zahera Harb

August 21, 2014

At the same time as this book explores TV viewership patterns among Arabic speakers in six European countries, it also considers ideas of identity, citizenship and belonging in these communities. Where and what is home? Where do you belong? What does being European mean to this study’s participants? These are issues at the heart of debates taking place throughout the region in a time when, as Christina Slade notes, “multiculturalism is losing favour as a concept in Europe”. Recent remarks by European leaders point to a fear of “non-native” cultures, and, she adds, “this fear focuses on Arabic speakers”.

Slade’s study is valuable in helping to counter prevalent stereotypes of Arabic-speaking migrants in Europe and their national affiliations. They “long to belong but feel that as Arabs and Muslims they are excluded”; they “understood the differences between formal and cultural citizenships, but were searching for a sense of identity and belonging to Europe over and above their formal possession of a passport”. As has been shown by many previous studies, Arabic-speaking Europeans are not a homogeneous cohort, and Slade identifies four groups: cosmopolitan, bicultural, transnational and hybrid transnational. Identity, she rightly argues, is problematised by immigration; many of us have hybrid identities and can contribute to society “because, and not in spite, of difference”.

Arguing in favour of communication across differences, Slade presents clear evidence of highly critical news consumers within the groups targeted in this study. As has been indicated in previous UK studies, including one I conducted in southeast Wales in 2008, Arabic speakers (mainly among bicultural groups) were “particularly sensitive to the lack of representation of their cultures as part of the European public sphere”. Across the entire cohort there was concern that issues from their region were not fairly portrayed by mainstream European media, and the sense of belonging of these Arabic-speaking citizens has been “undermined by the lack of sympathy for the Arab world in the national European media”.

Arabic speakers in Europe navigate through different sources of news, including both national European and Arabic satellite channels. What is remarkable, in the age of the internet, is that they still depend largely on television as a principal source of news. Slade’s research offers no evidence that satellite-delivered content is a cause of cultural or national alienation; instead, Europe’s Arabic speakers are “proud of their ability to draw on different sources of news and cultures” while being based firmly in Europe. The dominant pattern of viewing in all countries (90 per cent of participants) was a mix of national and Arabic-language television, showing that there has been no retreat into ethnic media worlds.

The first study to investigate the relationship between media consumption and notions of belonging among Arabic speakers across European borders, this is a timely and comprehensive work that should be consulted by European policymakers and multiculturalism sceptics alike.

Watching Arabic Television in Europe: From Diaspora to Hybrid Citizens

By Christina Slade
Palgrave Macmillan, 160pp, £45.00
ISBN 9781137352422 and 2439 (e-book)
Published 25 March 2014

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