Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What Arabs and Muslims hope for from President Obama's speech tonight

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American Arabs and Muslims on hopes for Obama
By Ray Hanania

President Barack Obama tonight delivers his State of the Union address, as he rounds the end of his first year in office.

I brought the topic up on my radio show “Radio Chicagoland”and also discussed it on NPR and a few other programs around the country.

What are Arab and Muslim Americans expecting from Obama? And what do they hope for?

Obama is from Chicago, so he is a familiar face to me where I have covered politics as a journalist for more than 33 years. We always knew he was inspirational as a speaker, but we also knew that his inspirational chatter doesn’t always deliver in legislation.

He was a so-so member of the Illinois Senate, close friend of several slippery Chicagoland Arab American activists and as a U.S. Senator, he was a celebrity more than an effective leader driving through important legislation to help his state, Illinois.

But everyone wants inspiration, especially after the tragedy of eight years under former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney – who I call “the anti-Christ” in my standup comedy routine, reflecting his vicious policies that have driven America into near economic ruin. Of course, to be honest, that is very unfair to the anti-Christ.

Obama delivered inspiration. Sometimes that’s all we need to restore confidence, hope and rejuvenate our efforts towards justice.

But there were problems and many Arab American especially recognized those problems right away.

No one pushed Obama to “get tough” with Israel, but Obama did it demanding that Israel’s rightwing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (who could change, maybe) that the expansion of illegal settlements must change.

Well, we all know how that car crash ended. Netanyahu snubbed his nose at Obama and he is still expanding illegal settlements, undermining Middle East peace and fueling continued conflict there.

But it was Obama’s speech to the “Muslim” World that set off many Arabs. The Middle East conflict is NOT a Muslim issue, although Muslims are a large part of the conflict. It is a secular problem involving Arabs who are only a small percentage of the World’s Muslim community. In fact, Arab Muslims are a minority in the Islamic World just as Christian Arabs are a minority in the Arab World.

So when Obama, who has experience in the Muslim World and a Muslim father, characterized his speech as being to the “Muslim World,” many secular Arabs were concerned that maybe Obama doesn’t even understand the fundamentals of the Middle East conflict. So, how can he resolve the problems there?

It’s not a unique problem for Obama. It is an American problem. When the nation’s first daily Islamic radio program launched several years back, it received national media coverage.

When the nation’s first daily Arab radio program launched two years later,  the media ignored it.

Worse in all this are Obama’s non-Middle East troubles.

How can you expect President Obama to resolve the Middle East conflict when he can’t even control his own party of Democrats? Nor can he get even a fundamental package through to give universal healthcare to all Americans, something most other world nations that don’t claim to be the “leader of the Free World” offer to their own citizens.

It is, after all, only Obama’s first year. But it is a good lesson in the damage one can cause by giving people expectations that are too high and maybe unreasonable. Unreasoned expectations, apparently, are the fruit of inspirational speeches.

What does he need to do? Listeners to my radio show, Arabs and mainstream Americans across the board seem agreed on this:

He can put his foot down and challenge Israel’s Netanyahu. Freezing settlements is a simple act that Israel could easily do if the government there genuinely supported peace.

Obama could also get tough on the rebels in the Democratic Party and among Republicans in districts with strong Democratic votes.

Why did Obama allow U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman to retain his perqs and committee chairmanships after Lieberman torpedoed Obama’s health care reform legislation? Lieberman opposes “government run healthcare” in the United States, but not in Israel a foreign country where Lieberman spends most of his Senatorial efforts to help.

Obama should get tough. Legislators who refuse to support his programs should be punished, not rewarded or allowed to retain their leadership positions.

But the bottom line is this. Despite all of his failings, Barack Obama is a far better president than Bush ever was.

And in American politics, it is not about “who is the best.” Politics is sadly only about “who is better.”

-          - Ray Hanania hosts America’s only morning daily Arab American radio show, This column first appeared at

Friday, January 22, 2010

More free speech in Israeli and Palestinian than US media

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More free speech in Israeli and Palestinian than US media

By Ray Hanania
Published in the Jerusalem Post Jan. 20, 2010

The United States may be the world's most powerful nation, but I think Americans might be afraid of Israel. I know many of the politicians are.

Take the recent case of Jared Malsin, a Jew with US citizenship who covers the Palestinian territories from Bethlehem at the Palestinian news agency, Maan. Malsin took a trip to Prague last week and upon his return, was arrested and taken into custody by Israeli authorities at Ben-Gurion Airport. He was deported to New York yesterday.

During his interrogation and week-long detention, Israeli police took time to look him up on the Internet and read through his writings, which were largely critical of Israel. It's a fascinating story whenever a journalist is detained and jailed by any government. But did anyone in the US care or come to his defense?

Why would they, you might ask?

Well, last year, freelance American journalist Roxana Saberi was arrested by Iranian officials and charged with espionage. There wasn't one politician, candidate or elected official in the US who didn't come to her defense and demand her release.

Months later in March, two Asian-American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, were arrested and charged with espionage by the North Korean government. The response from the US was powerful and loud. Everyone, including President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, issued statements denouncing the arrests and demanding the release of the journalists.

SO WHY the near-total silence from American leaders and muted coverage in the American press now over the arrest and detention of Malsin?In both cases, the mainstream American news media reported on their status almost daily, sometimes as their lead stories.

It is a testament to the confidence of Israel's media that they, more than anyone else, have written and followed the Malsin story. In fact, if it wasn't for the Israeli media and the Maan News Agency, few others would be covering the story.

The Palestinian press is much like any media, including Israel's. Some, like the Maan News Agency, are professional journalists. Others, who I will leave unnamed, are not. The issue isn't Malsin's arrest as a journalist by a government, but rather that issues like these are frequently turned into political tools to bash Israel.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Israeli government was wrong in detaining Malsin, keeping him in custody for a week and then deporting him. His rights were seriously restricted.

Malsin is the victim of bad government policy. His arrest undermines principles of freedom and justice Israel claims it represents, though most Israeli media uphold journalistic principles by reporting on the incident.

It's the American mainstream media and its government officials who disappoint me the most, however. While the Israeli media sees this as a story about a government agency violating free speech, the American media and the elected officials in the US view it as a reason to bash Israel.

In a way, that puts the mainstream American press and American politicians in the same boat with those Palestinian and Arab media which see the issue not as one of principle but as an opportunity to attack Israel.

Malsin's arrest and deportation is not about whether Israel is a good or bad country. It's not about whether or not the Israeli government is fair or unjust when it comes to Palestinian rights. It is, though, about a government agency that has violated a journalist's rights and in so doing, compromised Israel's image as a free nation.

One of Malsin's colleagues told me that while there are restrictions that keep most Israeli journalists from entering and covering the West Bank, and most Palestinian journalists from entering and covering Israel, for the most part, Malsin was allowed to travel almost everywhere to get his story, until this incident.

You may not agree with his views, or maybe you do. That isn't nor should it be the issue.

But there is one thing for sure. Most of the Israeli and Palestinian media did a better job of covering his case than the mainstream news media in America, the country that claims to set the bar for the rest of the world when it comes to free speech.

Have the mainstream American media and American officials failed in doing their jobs, or are they just afraid to get on Israel's bad side?

Whatever the reason, many in the Israeli and Palestinian press are keeping the story on the front burner in a way that helps guarantee that Malsin's journalistic rights will eventually be protected, while putting the "free media" in America to shame.

The writer is a Palestinian American columnist, Chicago radio talk show host and coordinator of the National Arab American Journalists Association.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

American Journalist Jared Malsin detained one week and deported

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20 January 2010
For immediate release

For the first time in a week, journalist Jared Malsin was allowed to use his mobile phone on Wednesday morning to inform Ma'an that he was being placed onto an El Al flight to New York.

He sounded shaken and confused. He said he did not know why he was not being flown to Prague, where he was expected to be sent, saying only that flying there "would create problems." He said he was in an armored vehicle that was transporting him to the airport gate.

On Tuesday, Tel Aviv District Judge Kobi Vardi ordered that a hearing be scheduled to consider the Israeli Ministry of the Interior's decision to deport the journalist. Following the call, lawyer Castro Daoud went to the airport detention facility where Malsin has been kept for the past week to deliver the news.

At about 2:30 pm, Daoud left the detention center and filed a motion requesting that Jared be permitted to leave the country while the hearing and case proceed in his absence. As the Attorney General's Office insisted that Malsin not be permitted to attend his hearing, Daoud argued that it was no longer necessary to keep him confined to his cell in the detention center.

At about 4:30pm, staff from the US Embassy in Tel Aviv notified Malsin’s parents in the US state of New Hampshire that he would be on the next flight to Prague, even though Justice Vardi had not ruled on Daoud’s motion to let Malsin travel and still pursue the case.

At about 7:30pm, Daoud expressed shock after he received notification that a motion was signed by Malsin requesting his deportation challenge be annulled. Justice Vardi has closed the case on Malsin’s deportation order one week after it was filed.

Ma’an is deeply concerned that there was no lawyer present when Malsin apparently filed this independent motion, which was sent from the Ministry of the Interior and not his legal representative, who had just left. It is inexplicable that Malsin would knowingly drop the legal challenge after his first major success.

Without jumping to conclusions, Ma’an wants to be sure these events did not take place under duress, and is consequently concerned that Malsin’s lawyer and parents were prevented from reaching him during the 24 hours before the deportation to clarify what happened between 2:30 and 4:30pm on Tuesday afternoon.

See the following for more information:

On the reaction of international press associations:
On Jared’s fight to overturn the deportation order:
On the timeline of Jared’s detention and questioning:

For further inquiries, please contact:

George Hale (English)
              +972(0)52.785-4907         +972(0)52.785-4907
Raed Othman (Arabic)
              +972(0)59.925-8705         +972(0)59.925-8705
Nasser Lahham (Hebrew)
              +972(0)59.925-8704         +972(0)59.925-8704

For the most updated version of this news release, click here:

Friday, January 15, 2010

Arab journalists suffer oppression because Arab Journalism groups fail to work together

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Arab journalists suffer oppression because Arab Journalism groups fail to work together

By Ray Hanania

Jared Malsin, an English editor at the Maan News Agency in Bethlehem, was arrested and jailed by Israeli border police this week for the high crime of "criticizing Israel." The journalist is sitting in a jail cell awaiting a kangaroo court hearing before an Israeli judge. And there is nothing Arab Journalists can do about it, mainly because they spend more time fighting among themselves than they do networking and creating one, single, strong voice.

Maan, which is constantly under siege from israeli authorities and operating under Israel's brutal repression of palestinian voices in the occupied West Bank town of Bethlehem, is fighting to spread the word and get support.

But the challenge they face is not of their own doing. The problem has to do with the fact that most journalism associations, especially those organized by Arabs, do not work together. Maybe it's rivalry. Maybe it's politics. Maybe it's about jealousy. Maybe it's just that the presidents-for-life at the various groups just don't like each other.

And who suffers? Journalists like Jared Malsin.

In the United States, Arabs have 10 journalism associations. None of them will work together. Almost all of them insist on being "the" organization, when in fact none of them are really anything of significance.

Working together or networking doesn't mean an organization has to lose its identity nor lose it's influence. It CAN mean just linking together the way we link pages on the Internet. But that means showcasing another organization and American Arab organizations -- not just the Arab journalism groups -- don't like to do that.

Maybe it is a cultural thing?

Because the same thing happens in the Middle East.

Arab World Journalists are arrogant and look down on American Arab journalists, even though journalism in the United States, despite the political bias towards Israel, is more professional and more powerful than anything written in the Middle East. In fact, much of the arrogance has to do with a cultural flaw in the world of Arab journalists. If you don't speak and write in Arabic, you are NOT an Arab! That's the corrupted attitude of how Arab World journalism operates.

The truth is that the Arab World media that writes only in Arabic is doing the Arab people, and especially the Palestinian people, a huge disservice. In fact, it might be a moral crime. The Western audience doesn't read, hear or understand anything published in the Arab World media in Arabic and therefore the Arab World media in Arabic is not influential and marginalized.

But they are legends in their own minds, of course.

How do we change that?

1 - All Arab journalism organizations in the Middle East and in the West such as the United States, should network together. Put aside their differences -- Journalism is NOT about politics or activism, but about professional journalism principles of objectivity.

2 - The Arab World media should expand their operations to include mirror English web sites and even sections in their all-Arabic pages with English translations.

3 - Arab American and Western Arab groups should insure they also provide both English and Arabic sections.

Setting aside politics is going to be tough because Arab World journalism did not arise out of the need for free speech, but rather out of the long term activism to fight political oppression in places like Israel and also in other Arab countries like Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

In the meantime, everyday an Arab journalist like Jared Malsin is detained, harassed and intimidated by Israel or another government agency including in the Arab World.

And until Arab Journalists decide to set aside their political rivalries and focus first and foremost on professional journalism reporting in both Arabic and English, Jared Malsin won't be the last.

Click to Read the National Arab American Journalism Association release on Maslin.

Click to read the recent update by Maan (Ma'an) News Agency's update on Maslin.

-- Ray Hanania

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The challenges and experiences of Arabs in American, radio discussion

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Producer and filmmaker Usama alShaibi joins Ray Hanania in discussing with guests on "Mornings with Ray Hanania" radio the challenges facing American Arabs and their experience in America with guests Laila alHussini, the morning radio talk show host in Dearborn, Michigan. Also, Victor Ghannam, a musician with singer sensayion Safa Dahan, discusses Middle Eastern music and their performances in Chicago.

The show was broadcast live on WJJG 1530 AM Radio Monday January 11, 2009 and is podcast on iTunes and on

Laila alHussini hosta "Good Morning Michigan" radio in Dearborn and is occasionally a co-host with Hanania as the simulcast a syndicated show broadcasting live to both the Chicagoland and Dearborn areas. The show is also broadcast in Windsor, Canada, and Ohio.
MP3 Audio ... Listen to the Podcast

Musician and producer Victor Ghannem discusses his new music CD and American Arab music during the final 15 minutes of the 60 minute interview segment. Ghannem performs Wednesday January 13 at the theatre of Old Town School of Music in Chicago, with the well known American musician, Jacco Muller and Middle East singer sensation Safa Dahan.Call 1-773-728-6000 for reservations. Tickets are free, but donations are accepted (Ghannam interview is last 15 minutes of podcast) 

Radio Chicagoland is one of the few programs hosted by an American Arab that also discusses in its show schedules each morning issues related to American Arabs, Muslims and the Middle East. Hanania and al-Hussini also are the only two American Arabs who broadcast a Monday thru Friday morning radio program in the country. Radio Chicagoland is broadcast Monday thru Friday on WJJG 1530 AM Radio from 8 am until 9:30.

The show format takes calls from listeners.

-- Ray Hanania

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Pro-Hamas media bias and Gaza activists block peace

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Pro-Hamas media bias and Gaza activists block peace
By Ray Hanania

When Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas complained recently in Qatar that the media there was pro-Hamas, and that tis bias was threatening the ability to achieve peace, he struck a chord that many Palestinians know is true.

It isn't just the mainstream Arab media that is pro-Hamas, branded a "terrorist organization" by many nations, but it's also the groups that support Hamas that slowly dominate the Middle East landscape unchallenged that are threatening peace.

A good example of this is the issue of the Gaza Strip, where Palestinians complain they are under an oppressive military and economic Israeli siege and where Israelis counter that radical elements there continue to target their civilians with Katyushas and Kassam missiles.

Gaza is a very complicated issue, but not that hard to really understand.

The area has been controlled by Hamas and radical Muslims since the 1970s. Although Hamas's parent organization, the Islamic Association, did provide health and social care to its citizens, that care was only given to those who embraced its hard-line religious ideology.

Hamas opposes genuine peace with Israel, and used the most pernicious form of violence - suicide bombings - throughout the 1990s to destroy the peace process and prevent compromise. Its mission is not to achieve peace based on compromise, but to pursue the impossible dream - more a nightmare for everyday Palestinians - of destroying Israel and returning Palestine to what it was in 1917, before it came under British colonialism.

THAT HAMAS desire is not only shared by the religious extremists who continue to grow, but by those who are secular fanatics yet also oppose peace based on compromise. Most of those activists are based in Western countries, where it is easy to chant for the destruction of not only Israel but of Abbas's secular Palestinian government which does support compromise based on two-states.

These are strange bedfellows in the Palestinian extremist camps, religious fanatics shoulder-to-shoulder with secular extremists like the Popular Front and the rejectionists led by the activists and fawned on by the Arab media that mistakenly believe "freedom" means embracing the most extremist activists.

The Arab media, which glorify religious extremism and even violent attacks, don't realize, of course, that under a Hamas-run government, it wouldn't just be Jews, Christians and secular Muslims who would be oppressed. The media in a Hamastan would be among the primary targets, stripped of the "freedoms" they enjoy today - of criticizing Abbas, two states and peace based on compromise.

THE ISSUE for the Free Gaza protesters is not about bringing freedom to the 1.3 million Palestinians there or lifting Israel's "oppressive military and economic siege." It's about their long-term goals. By "freeing" Gaza, they mean declaring Hamas the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people." But that's not their goal.

The purpose of many of the protesters is to strengthen Hamas. They know that Israel is forced to deal first with the threats rather than the compelling cases for peace. And Hamas is a threat not only to Israel but also to the Palestinians, secular Arab countries like Egypt and Jordan, to Christian and Jewish religious independence and, more importantly, to the goal of achieving a peace based on nonviolent compromise.

The activists continue to cling to the false and irrelevant claims that Hamas won one election in 2006 and ignore the fact that Hamas was ousted from political leadership in the same way it was installed. It was a corrupt election that was poorly constructed, allowing the divisions of the majority of Palestinians to be merged with Hamas's faith-based reticence. In Western nations with elections, they separate the two processes, allowing individual parties to select their candidates from internal battles before putting them up against candidates from the other parties.

Hamas and the activists have allowed the Gaza Strip to fester in economic squalor because it suits their purpose. They can't rally support based on their ideals because they have no realistic ideals. They call for the destruction of Israel and the destruction of a secular two-state Palestine, and also for the destruction of Egypt and pretty much anyone who doesn't agree with their extremist agendas.

Rather than help the besieged people of the Gaza Strip achieve freedom and build the first steps of a secular Palestinian state that would lead to the creation of full Palestinian statehood in the West Bank, the protesters have helped to encase the Palestinians there in continued suffering.

THE PROTESTERS seeking to enter Gaza have closed their eyes to the oppression and brutality that is the true Hamas. They have limited their criticism to Egypt.

More importantly, this bizarre alliance between the religious fanatics and the secular extremists which today is focused on the Gaza Strip is silent on the campaign of terror that Hamas continues to wage against secular Palestinians.

Hamas has made it easy for some to oppose Palestinian statehood, and is the main obstacle standing in the way of peace.

The Arab media are going through an internal struggle no different than the one now dominating Arab and Palestinian politics. It's one between extremists who see the media as an instrument of activism and those of us who believe the media must remain objective witnesses to the truth.

Truth means that not all of today's tragic events can be blamed on Israel, Egypt, Abbas or on the failure, so far, to achieve peace.

The writer is a Palestinian American columnist, satirist and founder of Yalla Peace.

This column appeared in the Jerusalem Post Jan. 12, 2010

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Ray Hanania interviewed by satire web site criticizing fanatics

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Here's the link to Ray Hanania's interview on the satire site taking on extremists and fanatics in the American Arab community at "KabobFest."