A Great Talk with the Journalist Tazeen Hasan on Writing, Culture and Languages
by Qiaochu Dai
As an international student living in Edmonton for three years, I’ve gained the real feeling that Canada is a multicultural country that is very inclusive. In order to more deeply understand the Canadian culture and learn how Canadian writers, whose first languages are not English, can publish their work, I interviewed Tazeen Hasan. Tazeen regularly contributes to various media outlets hard news, investigative pieces, and editorials on topics ranging from science and technology, to geopolitics and entertainment. With a focus on exploring history and culture in different areas, Tazeen has traveled extensively in the Middle East, Western Europe, South Asia, Africa, and North America. As an experienced journalist, she worked on history pieces for Asharq-al-Awsat newspapers in the Middle East, and other groups in Pakistan for several years. She has great fluency in both written and spoken English and Urdu, as well as knowledge of Arabic, Punjabi, and Hindi. For herself, writing is a life style that gives her an opportunity to dig into lives and cultures around the world, which is one of the most interesting features of being a journalist.
We started our conversation on the impressive procedure and memory required when contributing history pieces to Asharq-al-Awsat newspapers.
Before moving to the Middle East, she was so engaged in her professional education and career that she seldom got time to fully concentrate on history, which she describes as a “life-long passion”. However, after moving to Saudi Arabia in the end of 2006, she became interested in finding out about the civilizations overlooking the Red Sea coast that includes the northern end of Arabia, bordering Jordan, Palestine and Sinai Peninsula. This made her explore the history of the greater region, from which she felt herself “sitting on the pivot of the world”. I couldn’t agree more with her argument that “history is never isolated,” because it is linked with a great range of sociopolitical and cultural phenomena. Going from this view, her articles were not only a reflection of the historical research, but also reflected the bigger picture of the current situation of the region. What’s more, presenting them as travel pieces attracts interest from common individuals.
Tazeen told me her overall experience with the reader was very good, and the magazine staff were excited to read the pieces; nevertheless, there was one unpleasant memory about a copyright issue for a picture that was used. In her article on an ancient archeological site called Madain Saleh, about 400 kilometers north of Medina, a Pakistani photographer on Facebook thought she used one of his photographs without permission. However, Tazeen had no role in this copyright violation because she sent the magazine staff some creative commons pictures (which are legal to publish crediting the owner) but the final pictures used were the staff’s choice. Fortunately, she had the emails associated with that article saved, and they proved that she was not responsible for any copyright violation.
There’s an idea that Canada is a multicultural country but its own culture is not significant, so I wanted to know Tazeen’s opinion about it and how she represented Canadian culture in her writings.
According to our conversation, Tazeen believes it is an incorrect perception, because she has written some articles on Aboriginal communities and has also attended their festivals, visiting at least one First Nations reserve. She has realized that their culture and traditions are very rich, and later she wrote an article on the Rubaboo festival in Edmonton. Furthermore, she did one 2000-word and one 4000-word feature on the Aboriginal dilemma for Pakistani mainstream media last year. “In Canada,” said Tazeen, “we have lots of opportunities to learn about Aboriginal culture, and I believe we should promote awareness about them in our own communities to prevent the stereotypes attached.” The Canadian government and media is doing a lot to redress their grievances, but it is a collective responsibility. In July this year, Tazeen and her colleagues are going to produce a video talk show focusing on the Urdu/Hindi speaking community in North America so that they can understand the Aboriginal dilemma.
As far as cultural inclusiveness of Canada is concerned, Tazeen believes the government encourages and promotes diversity. Just like our Prime Minister says: “We are strong not in spite of our differences but because of them.” It is a collective responsibility to break walls, and she thinks we all should be a part of this effort.
Since I would like to publish my own work in the future, I was wondering if she thought it was difficult to publish her first article, and what her feelings were when her first work was published.
Tazeen told me it was not difficult as her first article was published in Pakistan’s largest circulation newspaper when she was still a student in her final year of Engineering University. Tazeen was very excited when her work had been published because it was a not an ordinary achievement: it grabbed a quarter of the editorial page. But she always regrets that due to her career in Electronics and Information Technology, she stopped writing for a long time. Now she is running into problems writing for the same newspapers.
Tazeen realized it very late in her life that she was born a journalist, she has always been curious—since childhood—to know about people, their lives, culture, history, etc. Even now, whenever she gets a chance to travel on public transportation, she always tries to talk to the passenger beside her to get to know about him or her.
It was a successful interview that gave me a deeper understanding of the writings about culture and history from different civilizations, as well as the full viewpoints on the career of a journalist. I really appreciate that Tazeen made time for this interview and responded to each question patiently. I also appreciate that Dr. Leilei Chen provided me the opportunity to finish this work for my CSL project. From this interview, I learned more ideas about the culture of inclusiveness in Canada, and the diversity of the civilizations from all over the world. Just like Tazeen said, “I am in love with every culture of the world because it is God who created these individuals. It is God who designed this world diverse in so many ways. If you love God, you love creations.” From the landscape of a country, the languages people speak, and their special cultural traits, we can always find pleasure learning about these valuable heritages.