Sunday, September 27, 2009
American Arabs need a more sophisticated approach to Hollywood racism that recognizes the bad with the good
A recent online post discussed the continued smearing of Arabs and Muslims by Hollywood, quoting one of the most authoritative analysts of the topic, Jack Shaheen.
The discussion was on New University by writer Daniel Johnson.
We are seeing an unusual trend of change taking place in Hollywood, one where Arabs and Muslims post-Sept. 11, 2001, are being portrayed with more sensitivity and at least more accuracy. But at the same time, the hate-wing of the Hollywood and TV industry that has slandered Arabs and Muslims since the big screen and TV first appeared, seem to be overcompensating to off-set the positive portrayals by digging deeper into their own hatred to portray Arabs and Muslims even worse.
The New University article discussed one aspect of this, but offered two examples that I think symbolize this change that are not being properly accessed. One is the TV series 24 with Kiefer Sutherland, a despicable production that is fueleed not by talent and creativity but rather by pure hatred, playing on the fears and emotions of the TV public audience. It's portrayals of Arabs and Muslims are so outrageous it is pure fantasy based not so much on reality but rather on stereotypes, hatred, and racism.
On the otherhand, many Arabs and Muslims have bashed The Kingdom. But the truth is The Kingdom, which portrays Muslims and Arabs in a negative light, also balances off that portrayal with positives of Arabs and Muslims.
Click here to read the New University post.
Here is what I wrote in response to the argument that was being discussed:
I disagree on the issue of the film The Kingdom. I think the American Arab community is too critical of this film, a criticism driven by years of anti-Arab hatred in Hollywood. Sometimes, we are pummeled so often in Hollywood movies we respond with a heightened sensitivity and anger.
The Kingdom was a phenomenal movie. And I think what is needed is a discussion about the new trend in movies to offer some balance. Clearly, "24" is driven by a hate of Arabs and Muslims that is racist. That racist and hateful theme is embraced by many of the actors in the TV series including by Kiefer Sutherland, who is very rightwing and who seems to embrace extremists NeoCon views in this country.
But The Kingdom was a very balanced protrayal of a reality that there are some Islamicists, not really Arabs -- the competing identity of Arabs and Muslims is growing in intensity. Although any terrorists today happen to be Arab, they are driven by bastardized distortions of Islam to fuel their fanaticism. The Kingdom did a great job of reflecting that reality pitting the religious fanatics against the more moderate religious Arabs who fought side by side to capture and kill the terrorists.
The Kingdom reflects a reality in today's world. The TV Series 24 reflects a fanaticized expression of hatred in Hollywood that lingers from the early days of the silent screen when Arabs were portrayed as rapists of beautiful White Women -- who by the way were far from beautiful : )
The point is this. The reality is that the Arab and Muslim World have a share of evil terrorists who dominate the conflicts in today's world. It doesn't mean they are the only ones, but in today's day and age, they dominate the horizon. There are some terrorists out there -- many in fact -- who are Muslim and who are Arab and what makes them worse is that they commit their acts of terrorism by wrapping themselves tightly in their Arab and Islamic identity.
Although there are many terrorists and evil criminals out there who are not Arab or Muslim, they often do not wrap themselves in their identity or religion and that is a distinction worth debating and discussing.
But, we do not have a debate in the Arab and Muslim community today at all.
We remain victims of an era when Arabs and Muslims were turned in to victims by a society that used Hollywood and TV to portray us in the most obscene manner. As victims, we are over sensitive. We respond with knee-jerk reaction to every film that includes a negative stereotype. The Kingdom is a phenomenal film that accurately depicts the reality and sophisticated reality of Arabs and Muslims. There are some very bad Muslims who use terrorism and violence against civilians to advance their religious agenda.
They happen to be Arab but the fact that they are Arab is insignificant to them and to the challenges they pose.
If we Arabs and Muslims want to overcome the hatred, the racism, the bigotry and the stereotypes in society and change the misconduct and abuse by Hollywood and the TV industry, we need to first deal with our own problems. We need to recognize the reality and stop defending the indefensible by not speaking out against the extremists, fanatics and crazy activists who seem to dominate our Arab and Muslim communities in places like this country, the United States.
And we need to be smart about recognizing racism and hatred and stereotyping. Criticism is not always racism or hatred. What has been condemned as "stereotyping" in the film The Kingdom, for example, is in fact legitimate criticism. It reflects a reality in the Arab and Muslim World. We need to recognize that reality as well as be activists to confront the real hatred, racism and stereotypes we face.
Otherwise, we will not see a substantive change in either Hollywood or on Television which remain powerful forces of education for people in the Western World and especially in America where the two industries reside.
-- Ray Hanania
Sunday, September 20, 2009
By Ray Hanania --Renown South African Jurist Richard Goldstone has completed a comprehensive report on the war crimes committed during the Israeli war started against Hamas in the Gaza Strip on Nov. 4, 2008 and the Israeli response has been to call Goldstone, a Jew who prosecuted war crimes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia an "anti-Semite" with no basis in international law. While the war crimes in Gaza are a real crime, the outrageous slander that marks Israel's government response to any form of criticism is an even bigger crime. They argue Israel did not start the war, Hamas did. But the facts prove Israel wrong. But does truth matter in today's world? Not when it comes to Israel's government.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Anisa Mehdi, a journalist and PBS documentarian, talks about her latest production on Islam in the World and the menaing of Ramadan as it comes to a close this week on Radio Chicagoland's "Mornings with Ray Hanania" On WJJG AM 1520 Radio, Tuesday Sept. 15, 2009, www.RadioChicagoland.com with radio host and America's only Arab American morning radio talk show host Ray Hanania. Mehdi has a new 5-part series online (on YouTube) called American Ramadan.
Click to listen to the podcast?
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Americans turn from hatred to education 8 years since Sept. 11
We are finally seeing some real light through the black fog of American anger and hatred that erupted following the terrorist attacks eight years ago this week on Sept. 11.
American anger against Arabs and Muslims is fast turning into education and enlightenment, in part because of a president who is resetting the nation’s moral character by washing away the demagoguery that symbolized the response of his predecessor.
American Arabs can see the changes take place at almost every level.
Minutes after President Obama finished his speech on health-care reform to a joint session of the Congress, his opposition in the Republican Party selected an American Arab to present their response, Republican Congressman Charles Boustany of Louisiana.
The Obama speech was historic in many ways. It was only the 15th time since 1952 that an American president has brought together both the House and the Senate in one room to address a major problem, usually addressing wartime concerns. But it was the first time that the two speakers at a joint session had Arab names: Boustany and Hussein.
Yet beyond that subtle event below the American radar screen are many more substantive changes taking place in America.
After Sept. 11, 2001, when 19 hijackers, all Arabs, crashed their planes destroying the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, damaging the Pentagon and crashing into a field in Pennsylvania during a battle with heroic passengers, Arabs and Muslims in America found themselves under violent physical and emotional siege.
Nearly 14 people who “looked” Middle Eastern were murdered by suspects who, either directly or indirectly cited the 9/11 as a cause for their actions. The victims included not only Arabs but non-Arab Muslims, Sikhs, Pakistanis, Indians and other people with dark hair and skin.
The number of American Arab newspapers and magazines dramatically dropped from 135 to 75 as a result of anti-Arab backlash. Today, there are 103 American Arab newspapers and publications, according to a recent study by the National Arab American Journalists Association.
More and more American Arabs are returning to high-profile public positions in society, including in the news media. Among them is journalist Hoda Kotb, the Oklahoma journalism student whose first name means “guidance” in Arabic. An Egyptian-American who speaks fluent Arabic and can recite the Qur’an, Kotb is a high-profile anchor and reporter at NBC.
Anthony Shadid, once an intern from a prominent American Arab activism organization, won the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Iraq War and has published several books. He’s a correspondent for the Washington Post. The nation’s first full-time morning radio show hosted by an American Arab has been launched in Chicago. It addresses mainstream and Middle East-focused topics.
That’s not to say that acts of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim discrimination have stopped. They haven’t. In communities across the country, Arabs and Muslims continue to face harassment and are the victims of racism. Part of the reason for the turnaround is the increasing American pressure against the demagogues who have led the outcries of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hysteria in America. Media hosts like Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, Anne Coulter and others are now being confronted more and more by mainstream Americans for their outlandish claims and racist views which have broadened from anti-Arab and anti-Muslim tirade to include the popular President Obama.
It doesn’t mean the battle is over, but it is easier eight years later for American Arabs to raise such sensitive topics, challenging the stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims, silencing the extremists in American society who blame all Arabs and Muslims for terrorism, and questioning in a serious way the failures of the war in Iraq, once touted by President George W. Bush as the frontline against terrorism.
Many Americans today recognize that the Bush war in Iraq was misguided, based on lies and instead of stopping terrorism opened the door in Iraq to increased terrorist activities and violence. American public concern is steadily shifting and rightly with increasing calls for an end to the Iraq War and stepped up focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan, non-Arab countries where Al-Qaeda is based.
And American Arabs can openly and publicly explore the important question regarding the relationship between misguided American foreign policies such as in Israel and the West Bank, and angry responses from the Arab and Muslim world. Are Americans also partly responsible for the terrorism this nation faces today?
With attitudes changing and the American public replacing animosity with education and common sense, eight years after the Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks, the United States may be starting to win the war on terrorism. Finally.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist, author and Chicago radio talk show host. This column first appeared in the Arab News Newspaper in Saudi Arabia.)
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
You would think Arabs and Israelis hate each other. They must have some kind of issue or something between them. I know. if it were really a big story, the mainstream news media would be writing on it.
I'm going to try AGAIN to organize an Arab-Israeli comedy festival in Jerusalem. When I launched my comedy for peace drive in January 2002, the purpose wasn't to be a professional standup comedian. I'm not. It was to use comedy and humor to break through the animosity between Arabs and Jews, Palestinians and Israelis and get them to see each other as people.
The Comedy for Peace gig did not last long. We tried hard. I worked with a great TV producer and creative mind, David Lewis, who formalized the whole effort as "Comedy for Peace." We traveled to the West Bank and did a lot of interviews. David's mind never stopped working. genius and good guy. But the odds were so far against us. And everyone we encountered wanted to do it their way. By the end of 2006, we were on a difficult slope and it wasn't moving, unfortunately.
Then in November, 2006, I got an email from Charley Warady. Warady, who is Jewish, lived on Chicago's Southeast Side, where I lived. He was a few years younger than me and his friends were the younger brothers and sisters of my friends. He since moved to Israel and is doing standup comedy -- although there were no standup comedy clubs in Israel except one that didn't seem to have many shows in Tel Aviv (The Camel Comedy Club). Warady read an online book I wrote (Midnight Flight: The Story of White Flight from Chicago in the 1960s) which was about our old neighborhood in Chicago. He emailed me and he said he was a comedian. I asked him if he would be interested in doing comedy together and he was the first Israeli standup comedian to say yes.
We decided to bring in more comics. I reached out to Aaron Freeman and he reached out to Yisrael Campbell. I wanted to morph it all into Comedy for Peace but none of these guys new David and they all had their own ideas about how to do things. They ended up pushing to create a new comedy troupe called The Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour.
We didn't waste a lot of time planning and we set out to organize as many shows as we could in Israel, first, and then in Palestine. Our first show was in a place called the Syndrome in downtown West Jerusalem at the end of January 2007. We ended up doing a few shows at other locations too. In June, we came back and did more shows and included the Ambassador Hotel in East Jerusalem where we did a sold out crowd of mostly Palestinians. We did even more shows and cities in Israel then too. And we came back in December (this time with comedian Sherif Hedayat replacing Aaron Freeman who could not make the tour) and we did two shows at the Ambassador East and several in Israel.
By then, a comedy club opened in West Jerusalem at the top of Ben Yehuda Street and Sherif and I did some guest shows there too. We went on to do shows around the world including in Dublin and also Toronto where we did our biggest show at Roy Thomson Hall for some 1,800 people in the audience. We did tours of college campuses through MASA and even did Limmud in Los Angeles in 2008. This year, 2009, we did more shows including two in Upstate New York and Long Island, and also recently for an audience in upstate Pennsylvania. Houston was our favorite, although a Palestinian activist in the audience hammered us because she didn't like my two-state solution is the best ideas and because I happen to criticize not only Israelis but Palestinians, too, which is a non-no in the extremist Palestinian circles which dominate American Palestinian activism.
2010, though, will be the year we formalize a series of shows in Jerusalem. Campbell is off preparing to launch his one-man show in New York this November, but Charley and I hope to galvanize a new drive in Jerusalem for all of us and for more comedians who have courage and vision and who believe that humor is the best medicine to help the people -- not the politics -- in the Middle East.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it. I'll make it happen.
I mean, it's not like peace is going to break out any time soon and undermine the whole premise.
-- Ray Hanania
Monday, September 07, 2009
Published in the Wednesday Sept. 7, 2009 edition of the Jerusalem Post Newspaper
In spite of all the news Palestinians and Israelis produce each day, we really are pretty boring people. I mean, we have nothing on the Japanese.
The big news in Japan last week is that Miyuki Hatoyama, wife of incoming Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, says she traveled to Venus in the 1970s in a UFO. She's talking about the planet, not a 'happy place' or the local beauty spa.
Mrs. Hatoyama detailed the unusual trip in her book called Most Bizarre Things I've Encountered.
I have racked my brain to think of anything that even comes close to that in the many stories about Palestinians and Israelis.
There was a rumor once that during the peace process (remember that?), Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin wagered at the roulette table at the Jericho casino. Arafat offered Rabin double or nothing on "returning" the West Bank.
IN TRUTH, most of the stories about Palestinians and Israelis are about tragedies, missed opportunities, name-calling, the blame game and, sadly, continued violence.
I did read an Israeli press release reporting that a Palestinian prisoner in one of the country's many prisons had been killed by a "nonlethal weapon." I could only imagine what might have happened had the weapon been lethal.
On another occasion, Hamas leaders tried to explain that Martyr Mouse was merely an orphaned cartoon character whose family had been blown up by Israeli cartoon characters during a siege at a cartoon checkpoint near a cartoon settlement. And the mouse suffered from a slight lisp that distorted everything it said.I did read an Israeli press release reporting that a Palestinian prisoner in one of the country's many prisons had been killed by a "nonlethal weapon." I could only imagine what might have happened had the weapon been lethal.
When Martyr Mouse urged kiddies to "do their best to kill the Jews," all it was trying to tell young Palestinians who watch Hamas television was to "do their best to fill the news." It must work, because Hamas does "fill the news."
Still, it would be kind of cool if we could get Prime Minister Binyamin
I can see Netanyahu, cold and calculating as only a prime minister could be, playing a wildly romantic character in a Hollywood movie. For all his hard-lining, some Palestinian women have compared him to the late Paul Newman.
The same Palestinian women have told me they think Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud
Still, neither has ever taken a trip to another planet. Nor have they been kidnapped by aliens.
Although come to think of it, I wonder how Palestinians and Israelis might react if a UFO landed atop the wall (fence, barricade, whatever) and declared that the Holy Land belonged to them and they wanted it back.
DO YOU think that might be enough to push Palestinians and Israelis to join together against someone besides each other? Everyone says that if Palestinians and Israelis could just resolve their conflict, they could become the most powerful combined force in the Middle East.
Sadly, Palestinians and Israelis are not as lucky. All we have is run-of-the-mill conflict. Anger. Hatred. Violence.
Nothing unusual, strange or hard to believe, like visiting Venus in a spaceship.
We can only hope, though.
The writer is a columnist, stand-up comedian and Chicago radio talk show host. You can hear his program every afternoon at 16:00pm Israel time on-line at www.RadioChicagoland.com.