Friday, April 13, 2007

The truth about the "Don Imus" Affair: It's not about race but about the unfair of "free speech"

The truth about the "Don Imus Affair"
By Ray Hanania

The Don Imus controversy is not really about the limits of free speech as some are contending, but rather about the discrepancies in how "freedoms" such as free speech are tolerated for some in America but not for others.

These discrepancies are based not on merit but solely on the basis of race, stereotypes and a mainstream society of plagued by the ugliness of America’s unbalanced racial realities.

I enjoyed seeing the Don Imus empire collapse in such utter humiliation. Why? Well, I am Arab American who is most often mistaken for a Muslim.

I disliked Don Imus passionately and am celebrating in his demise. I’d like to see a handful of other American media bigots tumble down along the same ugly path including anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigots like Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and others like them.

But is the issue curtailing free speech? No. Because free speech is more free for some than it is for others in America.

Those who have enjoyed free speech as unrestrained and as viciously as Imus has, deserve to be judged by a tougher standard of morality.

Those who come from communities who are excluded from the mainstream media, denied equal rights of expression not just in principle but more because of the practice of media exclusion have more flexibility in how they may express themselves.

The freer you have been to disparage people who do not have the same ability to respond to the attacks, the less your right of free speech, in my opinion.

The more you have been a victim of hate speech, the more you have the right of flexibility in what you can say.

Imus and others like him have made sport of Arabs and Muslims, blaming an entire race and religion for the actions of a few fanatics. The horrors of today’s terrorism has been used to rip away the Constitutional protections from a race of people, I believe because they were never popular in this country to begin with.

Most Americans hated Arabs and Muslims long before 19 Saudi Arabian hijackers commandeered four airplanes and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.

Should Imus have been fired for the three words he uttered. As an Arab American who watched and listened helplessly as Imus ranted, slandered, insulted and defamed Arabs and Muslims relentlessly, never giving us the opportunity to respond.

Am I glad he is fired? Absolutely. Was it fair? No.

But fairness has nothing to do with this not because I say so, but because Imus rose to fame on the basis of an unfair system anyway.

In other words Imus rose in popularity to host one of the nation’s premier syndicated radio shows that was also broadcast on an important and high profile Cable Network because 2.5 million people cheered on his rants against Arabs and a select few others in America, mostly Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Arabs, Muslims and even some Jews.

He rose not because of talent, but because his message of hatred, disguised as "satire," defended wrongly as humor, was popular among a growing class of Americans who look down on other ethnic groups. Imus was not popular because minorities loved him. Imus was popular because Whites in mainstream America loved him.

Therefore, his fall from the pinnacle of that mountain of discrimination is justified to be brought down not on the merits of whether what he said was right or wrong, but because just as 2.5 million people can elevate him to popular radio and TV host status, 10 million mostly minorities, Blacks, Asians and Hispanics, and Arabs, have the right to bring him down.

Defenders of Don Imus offer the ridiculous contention that he is the victim of free speech hypocrisy.

Imus merely said in one moment what some African American hip-hop artists, comedians and other entertainers say all the time, endlessly.

But the difference is that Imus directed his comments against individuals of another race. The African American members of a basketball team.

The Black rappers and hip-hop artists are saying things are that considered distasteful to many Americans, but they are almost always speaking about their own experiences of the environments in which they have lived.

There are whores in this world and the fact is they come in all colors and races and religions. If rap artists of one race, African American or even White, want to write lyrics that address that reality of their lives and experience, they have every right to do so even if someone, a majority of Americans, find their comments distasteful.

They can use the term "hos" because it is about what they see around them. Don Imus was not talking about himself, his experience or even trying to make a social statement about the relevance of "whores" in American society when he described 8 African American basketball players as "nappy haired hos."

He made the comments because that is how White Don Imus viewed eight Black women playing basketball who had tattoos and looked "tough."

There is a difference when you laugh at some one, as racist do, or laugh with someone, as true comedians and satirists do all the time. Black comedians joke about their stereotypes and they have every right to do so.

Don Imus, a White man, has no right to lampoon the stereotypes of Black people.

White people are not under the foot of a new more sophisticated form of racism. Blacks and other minorities are.

At the very bottom of the hatred that is the foundation of some in American, sit Arabs and Muslims. As heavy as the burden is upon our heads, we can find the room to celebrate in the demise of Don Imus, and we will do so with gusto!

(Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian American columnist, author and standup comedian. He can be reached at

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