Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Yalla Peace: Racism is in the eye of the beholder

Bookmark and Share

Yalla Peace: Racism is in the eye of the beholder
(Creators Syndicate)

Juan Williams and the fear of flying 
with those dressed in Muslim garb.

Juan Williams, the well-known NPR radio and TV commentator, recently told Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly that he gets nervous boarding planes when he sees people in “Muslim garb.” Williams said the fear stems from the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 when 19 Muslim Arabs hijacked four planes and crashed three of them into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

But there is much wrong with what Williams said, beyond his prejudiced fears.

I’ve been to many clothing stores, including many at the world’s largest mall, the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai. When I ask for the Muslim garb section, they look at me strangely. They don’t have a Muslim garb section.

I was more disappointed in Williams because he is African-American, although his first name is Hispanic.

When I was growing up in America in the 1960s, most white people used to say that they feared going into black neighborhoods because, well, you know, blacks spend all their time murdering people to pay for their drug habits.

It was this kind of racist stereotype that roused fear in the minds of most Americans and resulted in racial clashes and conflict for years, forcing the government to adopt civil rights legislation. That legislation which protects black Americans today helped Williams make millions as a media superstar.

Williams knew he was walking into bad territory when he said it, and tried to soften the blow, adding that of course everyone in America has rights, including those Arabs and Muslims in their Muslim garb.

But it doesn’t cut it.

Williams was fired by NPR, although it appears that his racist comment wasn’t the main reason. NPR, a liberal media institution, is upset because Williams appeared on a competing network.

Many Americans are upset that Williams was fired for making these comments. They were not upset when allegations of racism, prejudice and inappropriateness were directed against people like Helen Thomas, Octavia Nasr and Rick Sanchez. All three were fired because they made comments critical of Israel, or that Israelis and American Jews were not happy with.

There is a campaign in the US now to boycott NPR for firing Williams, because, well, most Americans don’t care when you are racist against Arabs or Muslims.

I GUESS racism in America is a lot like beauty; it’s all in the eye of the beholder. It’s racist to criticize Israel or express sadness at the death of a Muslim leader, but not racist to criticize Arabs and Muslims who terrorize America in Muslim garb.

The only problem in all this is that I saw the pictures of the 19 hijackers – crazed fanatics who claimed their actions were done in the name of Islam. Who appointed them as spokespeople for Islam? I don’t know, but that doesn’t seem to matter.

Yet I don’t think they were dressed in Muslim garb at all. In fact, if I remember correctly, most were wearing blue jeans. One had a cardigan college sweater. Another few had two-piece pinstripe suits, the kind you find on the nefarious characters in the banking industry who rip Americans off by charging excessive interest rates on credit cards, or their robber baron cousins in the insurance industry, who do the same.

I’ll remember to shiver the next time I am boarding a plane and see someone next to me wearing a college cheerleader’s outfit.

Oh, those people in their Western garb. They can be so frightening sometimes.

The writer is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host. www.YallaPeace.com

Friday, October 22, 2010

Juan Williams and the slew of fired journalists

Bookmark and Share

Juan Williams and the slew of fired journalists
By Ray Hanania

Should Juan Williams have been fired for expressing an opinion tinged with racism?

I don’t think so. Not that I support racist views. But I do believe strongly in freedom of speech and the tolerance of even the most ugly of comments.

Juan Williams, a conservative commentator who had the distinction of working for the liberal NPR Radio and the conservative FOX Network, said that he would feel uncomfortable if he were to board an airplane and see other passengers were dressed like Muslims or Arabs.

The comment reminds me of the racism that was common during most of the last century in America, when Whites would express fears of Blacks on buses, in their neighborhoods and in their stores.

It is racism. But how do you respond to racism?

Williams is not a journalist so the issue of violating journalist ethics does not apply. He is a commentator, someone who is paid specifically for expressing his opinion.

Although his opinion reflected an ugliness that is common against Muslims and Arabs that was once commonplace bigotry against African Americans, I don’t believe he should have been fired. Just as I don’t believe Helen Thomas, Octavia Nasr and Rick Sanchez should have been fired, either.

Thomas was more of a journalist than a commentator, but her comments were made off-the-cuff after she was ambushed by a virulently anti-Arab Rabbi who then twisted her words from criticism of Israel into anti-Semitism. She was fired by her newspaper chain, the Hearts Publications.

Octavia Nasr was a popular anchor and reporter at CNN. Her Middle Eastern background added a knowledge that was not available from others at CNN or elsewhere, since there are so very few American Arabs working in the mainstream American news media.

She expressed empathy on the death of Sheikh Sayyed Mohammad Fadlallah, a man who was considered the founder of Hezbollah, even though he had distanced himself from Hezbollah which has changed dramatically from a grassroots resistance movement to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon to a powerful militant organization and political group that is believed to be behind much of the Islamic extremism in the Middle East.

Rick Sanchez seemed to have been making a joke made by others, saying that the idea that Jews are an oppressed minority is ridiculous, responding to comments made by television commentator and entertainer Jon Stewart, who is Jewish.

There is a difference between journalism and commentary. I’m a columnist, not a journalist any more, though I was a journalist winning many awards for more than two decades.

But there is also a difference between responsible commentary and opinion, and irresponsible racism and bigotry.

Should a columnist be fired for expressing an unpopular view that many might consider racist? If he should be, then where do we draw a line so that it applies equally to everyone.

Because Juan Williams isn’t the only commentator or journalist to express anti-Muslim and anti-Arab views in the mainstream American news media. If we fired all those that crossed this line, we might not have many commentators left.

Of course, that circumstance might make this a better world. But then, that is just my opinion.

(Ray Hanania can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com. Please contact Creators Syndicate to publish any columns)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Yalla Peace: Israel - Lonely, oh so (increasingly) lonely

Bookmark and Share

Yalla Peace: Israel - Lonely, oh so (increasingly) lonely

Israel’s standing in int'l community continues to falter
as country becomes more isolated. But things could easily change
with help of its only real reliable ally, the US.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s refusal to freeze settlement expansion during the direct peace talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has reinforced a reversal of Israel’s relations with many countries in the Middle East.

As long as it insists on placing its desire to hold onto lands that would become part of a future Palestinian state above reaching a permanent peace accord, that reversal will grow.

This week, Moroccan King Muhammad VI reportedly declined to meet with President Shimon Peres, writing in his letter to him that such a meeting was “impossible at the moment.”

The Arab League is backing Abbas’s refusal to sit down with Netanyahu as long as he continues to authorize settlement construction on lands that would presumably be exchanged for a secure Israeli future.

Relations between the Arab world and Israel are getting chillier by the moment and Turkey, once a close ally, continues to distance itself. Britain and Spain recently announced that they will not send representatives to the OECD conference in Jerusalem later this week, though the UK denied that this was a boycott. Norway last month divested from Elbit because of its reported ties to the security barrier in the West Bank. Singers and artists are canceling their scheduled performances and trips, the most recent incident involving British director Mike Leigh.

When Arab states boycotted Israel after the Six Day War, it had far many more friends in the world. Today, Israel’s standing in the international community continues to falter and the country is becoming increasingly isolated.

But things could easily change with its only real reliable ally, the US.

PRESIDENT BARACK Obama is a weak president these days, not because of his insistence on pushing for compromise in the Middle East, but because of continued economic challenges in the US.

Obama’s Democratic Party is expected to lose control of Congress in the November 2 general elections, but traditionally a president’s party almost always loses control of the Congress in midterm elections. It has happened to his predecessors, including George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Losing that control doesn’t mean that Obama will not be reelected in November 2012. The man is different from his predecessors in many ways, including his insistence on tackling the Middle East conflict as soon as he came into office. His predecessors usually took on this task toward the end of their terms, never giving themselves enough time.

If Obama is elected a second time, he would be in a far different position politically and not subject to the pressures of Israel’s political climate. He will have another four years to reposition the Palestinian question in a new way that could change how Americans view the conflict.

Americans today generally support Israel but more and more are seeing the imbalance for what it really is and are showing sympathies to the Palestinians. The only thing stopping Americans from making a full conversion are the Arab fanatics and extremist activists.

These extremist activists’ policies make it easy for Americans to support Israel. Their street protests and their virulent anti-Semitism have strengthened Israel’s standing, and their failure to achieve any swing in American votes only pushes them to bully their community and to target moderate voices.

They won’t change the political dynamics in the US, but Israel’s obstinate refusal to give up lands designated for a future Palestinian state alongside it is becoming increasingly clear to many Americans. It’s not significant now, but it will be if Obama is sworn in for a second term.

Things are changing and some Israelis either don’t see it or have buried their heads so deep in the sand, they can’t see it. They have allowed their own extremist voices to take over their country and reject a way for peace that the country’s founders had always claimed was their goal.

Israel is becoming a nation from which many of its international allies are finding it easier to walk away.

Ending settlement expansion is a simple choice, one that would lead to permanent peace. Israel must decide, once and for all, between building on more land and taking its place among the countries of the Middle East, countries that would include a sovereign and free Palestine.

It cannot have both.

The writer is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host. www.YallaPeace.com

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Yalla Peace: Illinois and the peace process

Bookmark and Share

Yalla Peace: Illinois and the peace process

Illinois could become the leading state in helping resolve the Middle East conflict.

Rahm Emanuel is the most famous of US political candidates with direct ties to Israel. The former chief of staff to President Barack Obama left the job and declared his candidacy for mayor of Chicago. His father, Benjamin, was a member of the pre-state Irgun.

But he’s not the only one.

Scott Lee Cohen is Jewish, but few know his father was born in Palestine during the British Mandate and immigrated to the US to escape the growing conflict. His son was born two years before the 1967 war. Cohen broke onto the American political scene last March with a huge splash when he surprised everyone and won the Democratic Party nomination for Illinois lieutenant governor.

But Cohen was already accomplished in business in Chicagoland. He is a self-made millionaire.

The mainstream media ignored Cohen during the election, focusing instead on the leading establishment candidates after the governor, Rod Blagojevich, had been removed from office and accused of corruption.

Blagojevich beat all 23 major corruption charges, but the former governor’s ties to high-profile American Arab businessmen made him a marked man to the media.

Cohen ran on a reform platform that promised to focus on job creation. When he won the election, the media turned ugly and began doing the job they failed to do when he ran, digging up dirt including details of his divorce and the antics of a former girlfriend whom the media charged had been arrested previously for prostitution.

Cohen stood up to the oftenunfair media and political onslaught, which in turn, ignored him when he talked about doing something for citizens of the state, and then pilloried him when his election put him in line to become the state’s number-two government official.

Under pressure and threats, Cohen withdrew from the lieutenant governor’s race, but returned and declared himself a an independent candidate.

“I am very proud of my family’s heritage and my father’s life in Palestine, and I am proud to be a Jew,” Cohen told me after appearing on my morning radio show in Chicago. Cohen said he opposes violence, supports negotiations and the creation of two states as a solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict.

If he is elected governor, Cohen could become a prominent force to help strengthen the moderate voices, and will be a contrast to Emanuel, who has been secretive about his own ties to Israel.

Service in Israel’s military is considered one of the highest honors and is respected among Israelis. It’s often used to help deflect some of the nasty vitriol that dominates the Middle East discussion. My journalism colleague, Bradley Burston, notes at the bottom of his columns in Haaretz that he served in the IDF to deflect attacks from those who question his patriotism.

But just as military service is important in Israel, it is also very important in the US. Like Burston, I often cite my active duty in the US Air Force during the Vietnam War to respond to those who question my patriotism.

It’s the main factor in the Illinois US Senate race with Democrat Alexi Giannoulis leading his Republican rival Mark Kirk, who has repeatedly exaggerated his own role as a “fighter pilot” in Iraq.

And it is important in the case of Rahm Emanuel.

Emanuel served as a “volunteer” in Israel’s military, repairing trucks, but he has refused to discuss the facts surrounding that role, or explain why he didn’t serve in the US military.

THE MEDIA that beat up Cohen is touting Emanuel as the leading candidate to become Chicago mayor. He is one of the smartest minds in American politics, and was the architect of the Democratic takeover of the US House.

Emanuel’s role as chief adviser to Obama shows he cares about supporting genuine peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

But it has caused him some problems with Chicago Jews, who feel Obama has been too supportive of Palestinians.

I think Emanuel would make a great mayor. His service in the Israeli military is not an issue to me. His role in the Obama administration, which is fair to Israelis and Palestinians, is more important.

I also think Cohen will make a great Illinois governor.

If they both win, Illinois could become the leading state in helping resolve the Middle East conflict. It’s a state with just as many Arabs and Muslims as Jews, who all care about achieving peace.

The writer is an award winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host. www.YallaPeace.com