Although local television stations abound in the residential areas where Arabs and Muslim communities reside in the United States, most remain scattered and inaccessible to the small towns and neighborhoods where the Arab and Muslim population is dense. Some of these channels are aired in Arabic, targeting native speakers, while others are broadcast in English so as to address non-Arab and non-Muslim audiences.
Anticipating official launch within the next few months; the latest addition is Al Bashir channel, a bilingual channel that is expected to air locally and on satellite in both English and Arabic. The channel is set to cover all of the United States, Canada and Central America via the Telstar 5 satellite, with future expansion plans to include Europe countries and the Middle East.
Although its name might suggest a religious bent, Al Bashir is one of the Prophet’s (pbuh) epithets, managing director Refaat Mohamed prefers to use the term ‘committed’ rather than ‘religious’. He added that it will be a variety channel within an Islamic framework, emphasizing that it is primarily an American channel that is concerned with preserving American national security and protecting the country from religious fanaticism inasmuch as depicting a true and realistic image of Islam in North America – considering that Muslims are American citizens who have rights and duties like everyone else. Upholding their right as immigrants who participated in the making of America, a country “that has positive aspects of which we are proud; the right to criticism, civil liberties, and defending our native land regardless of our different affiliations and origins, within a rational and legitimate framework,” he said.
Refaat added, “Our message is directed at the American Muslim community, our target audiences are the children and youth who are the future foundation for peacemaking worldwide.” He added that in terms of financing the channel, there is an agreement with the sponsoring party and partner; the Imam Institute in California (Shia affiliated). The Imam Institute’s Mohammad Baqir al-Kashmiri and the mother company Bashir Media both contribute substantial efforts to the success of the project, he said.
In response to a question posed by Asharq Al Awsat regarding the influence of the sponsoring company, and whether this meant that the channel will be of a Shia orientation, Refaat explained that the employees are affiliated to a variety of Islamic sects and that the channel does not take heed of sectarianism; its programs seek to focus on Islam as an inclusive religion, as he put it. He elaborated, “Our discourse will be an independent one where everyone is respected through the spirit of tolerance. We are open to all religions and Islamic schools of thought without discrimination or intolerance. We welcome all forms of sponsoring and support and as long as we keep our title Al Bashir.”
In relation to the technical aspects and the nature of the programs, Asharq Al Awsat spoke with Al Bashir channel’s executive director, Jamal al Hamadi, who said: “Our studios and headquarters are based in the city of Dearborn in the state of Michigan. We already have branches ready to operate in major American cities, including Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Washington. Focusing on local American news related to the Arab and Muslim communities, our work credo is ‘credibility, neutrality and independence’. The channel will also feature other programs with the objective of establishing universal principles and values of tolerance away from extremism, fanaticism and hatred. This will be achieved through material of which the purpose is to enlighten and guide viewers, mainly addressing the various age groups and different intellectual levels of the members of the Muslim community through researched and organized continuous footage with the aim of deepening the viewers’ interaction with the channel.”
He also added that, “Programs, some of which will be Islamic in a special segment, are diverse and dedicated to advocating direct dialogue and voicing different views within a framework that adheres to international, ethical and legitimate standards.” Al Hamadi concluded, “One of our goals is to create solidarity among Muslims using different languages to strengthen and extend the common religion that they share, which will enable them to become better equipped to serve their American community and the Islamic cause worldwide. Our objective is to initiate a media that belongs to Muslims which can influence and have an impact on society, in accordance to legal standards and values that offer equal opportunities for all, spreading Islam’s true message and tolerant values.”