Nazim Baksh: A Path Less Travelled

As a young aspiring journalist nearly two and a half decades ago, Nazim Baksh was being interviewed by an executive team with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) for a possible entry level job. The year was 1990 and Nazim was in his final semester of a Master’s degree program in journalism at the University of Western Ontario (UWO). That first encounter marks the beginning of a remarkable career in journalism for Nazim.

In the years since, he has distinguished himself as an experienced television and radio producer, a community activist, and an advisor and mentor to many while juggling his responsibilities as a father and now a grandfather.

Even with his hectic schedule, Nazim took the time to speak to Lanterns about highlights of his professional career and the things that are of interest to him.

Born in Guyana, Nazim migrated to Canada as a teenager in 1980. The infant Muslim community was closely knit at the time and “the Jami mosque became a hub for me. It was a fascinating place to be on the weekends and to learn and make friends,” says Nazim.  After graduating high school, Nazim attended York University where he obtained his B.A. Hons. in Political Science and History.

His undergraduate studies paved the way for Nazim to get accepted into the UWO journalism program and both degrees prepared him for the challenges he would soon experience at the CBC.

Three months after joining ‘The National’ hosted by Peter Mansbridge, Nazim recalls the evening in late July 1990 when Yasin Abubakr and a rag tag army of armed Muslim men staged a coup d’état in Trinidad and Tobago. The Prime Minister was shot in the leg. The members of the so-called Jamaat Al-Muslimeen seized the television and police station cutting off all outside communication to the twin-island Caribbean nation. Because he was familiar with the conflict between Abubakr and the government of Trinidad, Nazim says he “negotiated on behalf of CBC the purchase of raw footage never aired before including an interview with the leader of the coup. After the footage aired, CBC was soon the envy of CNN and the BBC among other newsrooms around the world.”

The following month, in August 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Once again, Nazim’s understanding of Arabic and Middle Eastern politics proved valuable. Recognizing his ability to navigate the complex issues, his executive producer allowed him to play a dynamic role in the CBC newsroom.

By early 1991, Nazim was confidently influencing change as a public broadcaster by insisting on the inclusion of a diverse cross-section of experts and opinion makers. He was assigned to produce a “fact book” on the Gulf War to be used by writers, reporters, and on-air hosts.

“That first year with the CBC was quite remarkable and it became clear to me what my calling was. I knew I did not want to be a voice on radio or a face on television but I wanted to be a producer.” Even to this day, Nazim says the CBC is a producer driven news network.

His first major 5th Estate CBC documentary was titled “Seeds of Terror” which took him and a team consisting of a director, a reporter, a camera and sound technician to Sudan, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The hour-long documentary aired in Feb. 1994 and won the Canadian Association of Journalist (CAJ) award for best investigative journalism the same year.

Nazim would go on to produce many more documentaries and chalk up a list of major awards. In 2007 he was awarded the prestigious Journalism Fellowship at Massey College, University of Toronto.

In 2008, Nazim visited the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on numerous occasions and along with correspondent Terence McKenna, he produced a documentary on Omar Khadr. “The Khadr family is despised by a vast number of Canadians and there was fierce backlash from them especially when we highlighted the plight of this young man at the hands of his captors,” says Nazim. “On the other hand, I was criticized by members of my own community who felt I was unduly critical of the Khadr family.” Even so, Nazim says he was pleased to be invited to speak on the case of Omar Khadr at several universities in Ontario.

Nazim says he has always been bothered by the kinds of extreme violence and bloodletting he has witnessed in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sudan. Today, his focus is more local since he was assigned as the lead investigative producer with CBC-TV Toronto.

His first major story with CBC Toronto was to tackle a series of unsolved homicides in Alberta of young Canadian Somali men from the Greater Toronto Area. By 2011, there were approximately 40 murders in Edmonton and Fort McMurry of men with names that sounded a whole lot like the names of young men you would meet at any mosque. Nazim did what no other journalist was able to do; he convinced the grieving parents of these young men to tell their stories to the CBC even though many in their own community perceived these murdered men as drug dealers and criminals who deserved what they got.

Nazim was the consultant on the hour-long award-winning 5th Estate documentary “The Life and Death of Abdinasir Dirie.” Shortly after the documentary was aired things began to change. The RCMP began to investigate the crimes more aggressively and soon the number of murders began to decrease and would eventually subside completely.

Over the last two decades, Nazim has become a point of reference for his community’s engagement with the media. He recently wrote an essay for the Tabah Foundation on the need for a new Muslim engagement with the mass media. From 1995 to 2006, Nazim travelled extensively with Shaykh Hamza Yusuf organizing Deen Intensives and Rihlah programs in the United States, Canada, Morocco, Spain, and Mecca and Madina. He credits Shaykh Hamza for having a profound intellectual and spiritual influence on his life.

By producing stories on children fasting in the month of Ramadan, the celebration of Eid-ul-Adha and other religio-cultural events, Nazim says his aim is to “showcase  Muslim culture in a way that normalizes – take the zing of foreign-ness out of everyday Muslim life – for the majority of Canadians. I wish Muslims would have a positive engagement with the media and that means being honest and to some extent, transparent as well.” In 2012, he was recognized for his exceptional achievements when the Islamic Foundation of Toronto presented him with an award at its annual appreciation banquet.

After the Mayor Rob Ford scandal broke last year Nazim was assigned to the story and after an intense six-months of investigation he produced, along with others, “The Rob Ford Story” which aired on November 8, 2013 on the CBC’s 5th Estate. It pulled in an astonishing 1.1 million viewers in the first night it aired. Nazim continues to track the Ford saga and produce stories for CBC Toronto more often than not. He intends to write a book that could help aspiring journalists navigate the murky world of religious extremism among Muslims. He wishes to strengthen his knowledge of the Arabic language and hopes to live for some time in an Arabic speaking environment.

 

Lanterns appreciates and thanks Nazim Baksh for his contribution to Canadian journalism and our community.

 

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