TedxUTulsa cut my speech

Censorship is contributing to harmful stereotypes.

On March 29, TedxUTulsa had its annual speaker event wherein people share their personal experiences or discuss topics that matter to them. I was supposed to speak this year about the effects of colonization and colonialism in the Middle East and North Africa. I planned to talk about the current racist view of Middle Eastern North African people in both the media and pop culture, the origins of this widespread current view of MENA people as savages and how these perspectives dubbing us uncivilized are completely inaccurate. I wished to end by discussing why this perspective exists, or at least what it allows the West to get away with.

Yet, the day before spring break, the time we had agreed that I would work heavily on my speech, the TedxUTulsa team decided to cut my discussion. Their primary excuse was that I conveyed a divisive and hostile tone that would cause TED to censor my speech, so they instead decided to prevent me from saying a single word.

With the ongoing genocide against the Palestinian people, discussing the effects of colonization and colonialism in the MENA region is crucial, especially with all the censorship happening against Palestinians and their allies. My speech was about a crucial topic: the dehumanization and villainization of an entire race, one that has two million of its people on the brink of famine with their infrastructure destroyed and lacking any semblance of a proper medical industry due to Israel’s blockade and six-month siege over Gaza. However, I was unable to speak on this topic because the team viewed my words as “hostile” and “divisive.”

This is the same rhetoric that has been used to silence minorities for centuries. Any time we attempt to speak about our oppression, we are called hostile, irrational and dangerous. A prime example of this is the trope of the hostile “angry black woman” who, in actuality, is not truly dangerous or irrational but only speaks out against her oppression and the status quo. She is then called this term to discredit her and make her seem as though she is overreacting or that she is attacking her oppressors and making them feel unsafe when all she is doing is speaking the truth of the matter. Similarly, my tone was dubbed hostile. Specifically, the phrase the team thought might convey a hostile tone was my saying, in reference to Middle Eastern North African people, “Christianity is thanks to us.”

Is bringing attention to the fact that Christianity has its origins in the Middle East and North Africa hostile? Jesus and the authors of the New Testament mention Jerusalem, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Syria, Gaza and other Middle Eastern North African places in the Bible. Why is it hostile when I bring attention to it?

Another reason that I am disappointed in TedxUTulsa is that they knew the contents of my speech, meaning they knew of the origins of the pervasive, modern racism against MENA people and its roots in the French occupation of Algeria. The TedxUTulsa team knew that to gain liberation from their French oppressors, the Algerians were forced to bomb their own lands because that is what the French made it take for the Algerians to have authority over Algeria. They knew of the effects this had on the French perception of the Algerian people, primarily how the French viewed the Algerians as uncivilized, filthy, terroristic barbarians who needed white people to save them from their own savagery. This then gave the supposed reason for the French to ban Algerians from France and, along with other colonizers like the British, further oppress the people of MENA and create a perception of us that remains to this day.

Yet, the TedxUTulsa team still decided to call my rhetoric hostile and cut my speech.

I wanted to shed light on my people’s oppression and express the fact that the perception of MENA people from the perspective of Western media and popular culture is contrary to reality.
For instance, we gave the West gauze, an indispensable medical innovation coming out of Gaza; algorithms, which have been used to advance technology as that is what programs run on; gliders, the predecessors of the airplane; and religion, including Christianity. These are only a short list of the innovations MENA provided to the West, yet they have completely altered the way in which Westerners live.

But according to TedxUTulsa, my speech on the necessity of the MENA region for the advancement of the West is “hostile” and “conveys a divisive tone.”

The TedxUTulsa team should have known what this rhetoric does. They must have known what it means to call a person of color — an Arab — hostile while speaking out against the oppression of her people in a society wherein people already view those like me through a xenophobic lens because of my Muslim and MENA origins. Yet, the team chose to use those words anyway. They chose to censor me using those words, knowing how such censorship and wording further the negative perception of MENA people as hostile and prevent us from speaking about the conditions that allow a nation to face active genocide and continual colonialism.

Discussions about oppression must always be about the oppressed, yet, because I gave credit where credit was due and talked about why MENA people are dubbed as hostile, my tone was called hostile and my speech was cut.

Post Author: Heba Saleh