Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Obama names new communications team -- no Arabs

President Obama names new communications team – no Arabs included
By Ray Hanania

It's hard to fight anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bias in the mainstream news media, let alone in mainstream society, if no one wants to help.

Being Arab is a double-edged scimitar. Everyone knows you are a problem from all the media coverage given to the Middle East, terrorism, narrow and usually racist stereotypes, but few Americans turn to you to ask for help. So the problems never get resolved. They only are exacerbated by the continuing ignorance and lack of education.

President Barack Obama apparently is no different. This week, he announced a slew of communications appointments to strengthen his outreach to the minority and "new media" community. Most of the appointments were rewards for battles fought during the election. None of them are American Arab or Middle Eastern in heritage.

Click here to read the list.

Well. At least they included us in the press release for distribution.

There are African Americans, Hispanics, Asians. All kinds of folks and backgrounds. I couldn't find one American Arab in the list. That's too bad. There are more than 90 American Arab publications in the United States, according to monitoring we do at the National Arab American Journalists Association (www.NAAJA-US.com). It has been growing since many papers shutdown immediately after the racist backlash that began after Sept. 11, 2001 when crime took on a chiseled-in-rock face.

I think it contradicts the President's claimed message that he made when he appeared on al-Arabiyya Satellite television in the Middle East. The station is one of several Arab and English language news broadcasts that reach not only Arabs in the Middle East but Arabs in America. So we saw and heard his effort to "reach out" to the Middle East and tell them how much he cares. Cares, but not enough to give American Arabs appointments or roles in his government yet. not enough to respect veteran American Arab journalist Helen Thomas at a recent news conference when she asked a very pointed question and he dodged it somewhat embarrassingly for Thomas.

Thomas rightly pushed Obama during his first press conference, after he pulled the wool over al-Arabiyya's eyes and the Arab World, was about the hypocrisy regarding nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Everyone, including Obama, denounces countries like Iran that are working towards nuclear weapons, but mumble and avoid discussing the 200-plus nuclear weapons Israel has which are outside of International scrutiny and monitoring.

She asked Obama about the "so-called" terrorists in Pakistan, making the point that the claim of terrorism is often thrown own recklessly for political reasons rather than reality. And he avoided any reference to her question that raised reporter's eyebrows "Do you know of any countries in the region that have nuclear weapons?"

She may be 80 years old but she is not stupid.

Obama responded with a lot of blah, blah, blah that began "With respect to nuclear weapons, I don't want to speculate ... " But he avoided noting that Israel has nuclear bombs. And when she tried to follow up, he just ignored her, looked at his card which listed "approved" journalists to select at the press conference and moved on back to the mainstream fantasy world understanding of the Middle East.

But that's unusual for Thomas. During the Bush regime, Thomas was often snubbed and openly insulted by the late Tony Snow, who many said carried hateful views of American Arabs and Muslims. When Thomas asked about the the Israel-Lebanon ‘Summer War,’ Snow ignored her questions that focused on hypocrisy in the Bush policies, and once thanked her for her “Hezbollah view.” He then accused her of "hectoring," which I think was more of a slam against the mainstream media that sat there and kissed Bush's ass during many press conference involving the important and ignored Middle East issues than it was of Thomas, who is a true journalist in the spirit of the Watergate Era that drove many like myself into this unfulfilling profession that continues to fail to live up to its great promises of fairness, objectivity and "just the news."

Maybe the Arab World will wise up. Or more likely, maybe it won't.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host. He can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com and by email at rayhanania@comcast.net.)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Noble mission of Bridges Muslim TV collapses in wake of founder's tragic circumstances

When Bridges TV first launched in 2004, there was great hope that it would do two things: First, open the door to Arab and Muslims to portray themselves accurately through engaging and professional journalism. And, more importantly, address the stereotypes that weigh down objective reporting in the mainstream American media which includes not only the news media but the entertainment media of Hollywood and TV and the communications media which includes organizational PR. But over the years, Bridges TV became a kind of challenge to itself.

Instead of promoting a positive image of the Arabs and Muslims, the Cable TV station fell into the community habit of playing to the divisions in the community, siding with those who fit into its religious perspective and pushing out those who did not fit.

In other words, Bridges TV became just like the mainstream media it hoped to change, discriminating against Arabs and Muslims who were too secular, weighing down the issues facing secular Muslims and secular Arabs, pushing out those whose views challenged the rising religious zealotry and political extremism that continues to plague the community.

And audiences started to see this as programming tended toward political spheres and away from the Cable TV's stated mission, which was (with their emphasis):
"Bridges TV aims to foster a greater understanding among many cultures and
diverse populations. Through our high-quality, informative, 24-7 programming in
English; we seek to become a unifying force that can help people understand our
diverse world through education and entertainment."

On Friday Feb. 13, 2009, their web site was brought down. Not by computer Internet hackers, but by the conflict that apparently not only consumed the bTV's mission, but by internal conflicts involving the personal life of the owner and the individual who championed its creation, Muzzammil Hassan.

Muzzammil Hassan, 44, was charged with Second Degree Murder in the grusome the beheading of his wife, Aasiya Hassan, 37, at the Cable TV studios of Bridges TV in a suburb of Buffalo New York on Friday night. (Read story?) Orchard Park is just south of Buffalo New York which also dominated the headlines on Friday when a Continental plane carrying 49 people crashed just outside of the city's airport (Read story?) on its way from Newark Liberty Airport.

Hassan was such a nice person. I spoke with him often about the challenges he faces. He understood that he was fighting two battles. The first against stereotypes in the mainstream American news media and public that oppress Arabs and Muslims. The second in our own community which is divided by an internal war of political extremism versus moderation, rivalries nurtured by years of a community that has been pushed down to the furthest depths of victimization, and rising religious activism which often dictates what is and is not acceptable these days in the Arab and Muslims community.

No one can navigate through those turbulent community waters -- a common denominator across the board in the Arab and Muslim community from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles -- while also having to face up to the persistent challenges of righting the notions of America towards Arabs and Muslims which is drawn with stereotypes of hatred, suspicion, fear, lack of education, ignorance and politics is impossible.

You can't but help to acknowledge the irony that Muzzammil Hassan's tragedy involves one of the most heinous stereotypes that is constantly used to demean Arabs and Muslims. We don't know all the circumstances outside of the charges filed and the victim's remains. We do know that the stereotype runs even deeper, as his wife, who was listed on the now removed Bridges TV web site as "General Manager," was filing for a divorce.

Over the next few days and weeks, we will see the chatter in the mainstream media shift as it always does when it involves Arabs and Muslims from the facts of the issue and crime to the more prevalent stereotypes fueling the racism and ignorance in this country.

Mr. Hassan is innocent until proven guilty. But the circumstance of the events in this tragedy will reach far beyond logic and the damage this will inflict on Arabs and Muslims in America will not yet be fully felt immediately.

Tragically, it will set back and derail the forward movement of Arab American journalism. And it will separate even more the American public from the understanding of the Arab and Muslim community in this country, serving only to reinforce the extremists in the internal battle with the besieged and abandoned moderates that are the majority but who also have come to accept that the challenge of righting the keel is insurmountable and futile.

This is one of the most disturbing setbacks I think I have seen in years in the battle to change the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim stereotypes in this country. Instead of achieving the noble goals stated in the Bridges TV Mission, this event has served to make that road far longer and more difficult.

-- Ray Hanania

Thursday, February 12, 2009

As Israelis fight to claim victory, the peace process takes its final gasps

As Israelis fight to claim victory, the peace process takes its final gasps
By Ray Hanania

Why am I not surprised that both the leader on the left and the leader on the right have claimed victory in Israel’s elections this week?

Tzipi Livni Israeli Foreign Minister and head of the Kadima Party, a more conservative version of the old Labor Party, claimed a mandate from Israeli voters, while her chief rival Benjamin Netanyahu, a frightening extremist, claimed victory, too.

Well these days in Israel, where spin means more than truth, two blurry election victories means one giant peace loss for the Middle East.

Although everyone hoped that Israeli voters would embrace the road to peace, the vote totals show that the road is unpaved, filled with potholes and probably not navigable for anyone hoping to end the violence any time soon.

Livni got what she wanted, proving once again that a woman can “win” but her election victory which gave her one more seat than Netanyahu’s extremist Likud Party in the Israeli Parliament makes her much like George Bush whose first election was marred by serious questions over whether or not he really won.

Netanyahu, whom Israelis insist till their faces turn red supports the two-state solution, is openly hostile to peace and especially to peace with the Palestinians. In fact, he is openly against the formation of a Palestinian State.

In his long bloodied track record in office, Netanyahu has reigned over the repeated failure of the peace process, helping to bring it down in 1996, following the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by one of his admirers, and in 2000 provoking with the help of ultra-extremist colleague Ariel Sharon.

And while Livni appears to have “won” the most votes – let’s just call them “chads” – it’s Netanyahu who has the best chance of taking over the government and providing a real reason for why peace will collapse, again.

If you analyze the elections based on individuals and their parties, Livni is the winner. But in Israel’s twisted Democracy, that’s not good enough to become the leader. The real balance rests between the moderates or the so-called “Left” and the extremists on the increasingly “far right.”

And Netanyahu isn’t even the worst of the worst on the far right that he now heads. In this past election, the far right parties, combined, won a majority of seats. Netanyahu can easily form a government by partnering with Israel’s fast rising star, Avigdor Lieberman, the new face of Israel’s ultra-fanatic populace. A former night club bouncer who could easily play the Hollywood role of a Soviet Mafia leader, has called for the killing of Arabs who sit in Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, and believes Arabs – Christians and Muslims -- should be forcibly removed from Israel to live someplace else. His political party is called Yisrael Beitenu, or “Israel My Home,” which could also mean in Arabic “Not Yours.”

Lieberman, typical of the Russian Jewish immigrants who are drowning Israel’s pluralistic society, is a hard line nut case. You could compare him to Iran’s Ahmadinejad, but not even Ahmadinejad is as bad as Lieberman.

So what happened to the super hero of the Peace Process, Rabin’s old “Labor Party?”

It has two problems. The first, of course, is the stupidity of the Palestinians in Israel who like their brethren in the brutally occupied West Bank and massacre-strewn Gaza Strip, can’t get a grip on escaping their own emotions, frustrations and hate.

Rather than try to swing the elections to the left, which they could do since they represent a sizable voting population, prefer to boycott the elections because they would prefer to have nothing than a compromise on something. It’s the cultural way of the Arab World. All or nothing. They end up always with nothing.

But then they are helped by their allies, the Israeli “Left.”

The left is led by the Labor Party and that is headed by Ehud Barak, the former assassin who dressed as a woman to murder Palestinian critics of Israel’s government in Lebanon. It was Barak who deserves the collar for destroying not only the peace process but for undermining Labor. Barak, no relation to American President Barack Obama, made a critical choice in 2000 that turned the hopes for peace on its head when he refused to meet face-to-face with Palestinian Leader Yasir Arafat during peace talks, and instead used his friend Dennis Ross, President Clinton’s openly Zionist “liaison” to try to corner Arafat and force the Palestinians to accept a weak agreement.

Barack torpedoed the Camp David peace negotiations and tried to use his intractable refusal to compromise with Arafat as a badge of courage, spinning the lies that provoked the 2nd Intidafa claiming it was Arafat who refused peace to gain Israeli voter sympathy when it fact it was him who refused compromise.

Barak lost the election to Netanyahu’s pal, Sharon, who is as stubborn in death as he was in peace. Netanyahu and Sharon used the victory to carve a head stone for the Palestinian-Israeli Peace Process that is still used as the forum from which Israeli candidates campaign.

In fact, when you look at the history of Israel since Barak destroyed the peace process and started one of the most vicious and violent periods in Palestinian-Israeli relations that continues through today, it has been his Labor Party and the Israeli “Left” that have done the most to destroy peace.

It’s a strange but common belief among the “Left” that the best way to win peace is not through honest negotiations and fair compromise, but rather through intimidation, threats, pretending to be tough, occupation, violence and doubletalk on the confiscation of Palestinian lands and expansion of illegal settlements.

While Labor has been lying through its eroded teeth, Netanyahu and the fanatics have been the only honest ones left in Israel who are willing to say flat out, they reject real compromise with the Palestinians and believe conflict and violence are the only real paths for the future.

And there was nothing in Israel’s recent vote that says the Israeli public disagrees.

(Ray Hanania is a Palestinian American columnist and Chicago Radio Talk Show Host. He can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com and by email at rayhanania@comcast.net.)

Monday, February 09, 2009

Future of Middle East peace hangs in Israeli election balance

Violence drives politics in the Middle East, not just in the decisions by the dictators who control the Arab countries, but also in the election booth in Israel's quasi-Democratic parliamentary system.

Tuesday, Israelis go to the polls, and once again they share in this election what has been shared before. The elections follow a major wave of violence and conflict. And, most of the Arab Palestinian citizens in Israel will, once again, cut off the noses of their pride to spite their best interests. They will boycott the elections argiong that there is no difference between the Kadima and Labor Parties on the left, headed by Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak, and with the utltra-extremist parties led by Benjamin Netanyahu.

In the past, elections that have followed long periods of conflict and violence in Israel, have ended up causing israel's electorate to spin out of control to embrace the far right.

In happened in 1996, a year after Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli fanatic who opposed his support of peace with the Palestinians and a growing spat of suicide bombings by the Hamas terrorist organization. Benjamin Netanyahu ousted Shimon Peres as prime minister and drove the nation towards a harsher confrontation with the Palestinians and moved the region further away from peace.

In 2000, the peace process collapsed driven by a lot of factors. Those factors included the inept manipulation of the process by President Bill Clinton and his biased Middle East liaison Dennis Ross; the refusal of Barak, then Israel's prime minister to meet face-to-face with Palestinian President Yasir Arafat; and Arafat's inability to accept the elimination of the Palestinian Right of Return without a major quid pro quo from Israel. The collapse launched the 2nd Intifada, or Palestinian "rebellion" against the Israeli occupation, and another long wave of violence and suicide attacks by Hamas. That violence helped Ariel Sharon, one of Israel's most extreme leaders, to win the election.

Now, as the war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip has raised the level of condemnation of Israel's harsh military assault that included hundreds of civilian fatalities by nation's throughout the world, Netanyahu is perched to once again win. Many believe Netanyahu's rivals, Livni and Barak and Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister who has been accused of wide spread corruption and was forced to step down as a candidate for re-election and th ehead of his party, launched the Gaza War thinking they could undercut Netanyahu's extremism by showing the voters they could flex their muscles.

But the Gaza war failed to achieve any of Israel's goals. Hamas remains not only as a potent force but with growing popularity among frustrated Palestinians convinced Israel will never concede any land or remove core settlements in the West Bank. Israel withdrew after weeks of onslaught, but without destroying Hamas.

The real tragedy is that the Middle East has been leaderless for years. Everyone talks peace, but few leaders, Arab or Israeli, have the courage to fight for peace. it is easier to fight in wars.

Even more tragic is the fact that Arabs and Israelis both know what the final compromise will be: Land for peace. Israeli security. Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. A sharing of Arab East Jerusalem with Israel given control over the city's ancient Jewish areas. Compensation for the refugees, Palestinian and Jewish. And Israel keeps some settlements in the West Bank in exchange for an equal amount of land (inch-for-inch) from the pre-1967 Israel borders.

The peace agreement is out there. It's just waiting for people willing to make it work.

-- Ray Hanania