Arabs have the power to change how world views us
It is easy for activists to blame all of the turmoil in the Arab community on US President Donald Trump, Israel or on the American public’s absolute lack of knowledge — I might even say “ignorance.”
All have brought some form of pain to the Arab world: Trump through his narrowly focused policies and undelivered promises, Israel through its brutal war crimes, and the American public through support of discriminatory laws like the anti-BDS legislation that restricts criticism of Israel’s human rights violations.
Sadly, the truth might be even more painful.
I have always wondered why the Arab League doesn’t, for example, spend money to launch a strategic communications campaign to counter the propaganda lies emanating from Israel. Why doesn’t the Arab world buy an American newspaper and force it to become objective, publishing accurate information about the Arab world, its people and also the Middle East’s Muslims and Christians?
What is stopping the Palestinians from hiring a major American author to write a novel that counters the lies spread by “Exodus,” the classic American work of fiction on Israel’s creation? Fiction, by definition, means made-up, creatively fabricated, and an entertaining lie. What stops Arab-Americans from pooling their talent to produce Hollywood movies that convey the truth about the beauty of Arab heritage, culture and history?
These simple ideas could change how the world views Arabs, and yet we don’t take them seriously at all.
What is stopping all this and preventing Arabs from using the powerful tools of communication to reverse the negative stereotypes that plague our people? A lack of money? No. What is stopping it is the Arab tendency to divide itself. What is stopping all this is the fact that Arab-Americans are like the Arab world — they are divided. They are divided religiously, nationally, ethnically, and politically.
In fact, the word “Arab” is vanishing from the world’s lexicon and is being replaced by the word “Muslim.” It’s not our choice, of course. It is the choice of our foes in the West, in much of the mainstream news media and in countries like Israel, where the word “Muslim” is used to demonize our righteous Arab history, culture and causes.
The problem in America is easy to diagnose. Arabs live in America physically, but mentally their focus is back home. When we focus on businesses, we are very successful. But when we focus on ourselves, we find ourselves divided and contentious. Arab-Americans are more critical of each other than they are of Israel, something that is apparent among Arabs in the Middle East too.
I have always wondered why the Arab League doesn’t, for example, spend money to launch a strategic communications campaign to counter the propaganda lies emanating from Israel
All you have to do is read the vitriolic rhetoric from Arab-American activists who attack besieged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas is no Yasser Arafat, but he also is not the tyrant he is made out to be. Why do we often criticize each other more than we criticize the oppressor, the Israelis? Because it is easier to do so. It is easier to fight among ourselves and feel a false sense of success, while we continue to be pushed down by Israel’s government. But that just undermines our ability to overcome our challenges.
Americans can easily be influenced, but we don’t try. They are among the most educated people in the world and yet they are, amazingly, the least-educated about the world, especially the Arab world. Where Arabs see differences — Palestinians, Jordanians, Saudis, Egyptians, Lebanese, etc. — Americans only see one image of one negative stereotype: Arab and, lately, Muslim.
It’s not just that way in America. The Arab world is divided and the Palestinians who live in Israel are divided too. Last month, Ahmad Tibi, one of the leading Palestinian voices in the Israeli Knesset, broke from the Arab Joint List, which had consolidated Arab voting power for the first time in Arab-Israeli history.
The Palestinian population of Israel is slightly more than 20 percent, but the Arab Joint List, even as successful as it was in the 2015 elections, only managed to elect 13 members to the Knesset. That means 20 percent of the population only managed to capture just under 11 percent of the Knesset’s seats. That shows how the Palestinians in Israel are not only divided, but they are also not actively engaged in changing their situation.
With the Arab Joint List collapsing, the Israeli elections in April could be the worst ever for Palestinian representation in Israel.
Arabs — be they Palestinian, Jordanian, Saudi, Lebanese, Syrian or any of the 22 national groups — can change things themselves. We don’t have to rely on others.
The first step is to refocus on the real challenges. The second step is to stop speaking as individuals from different Arab countries and religions. The final step is to use our wealth and resources to creatively reconstruct the Arab image for the rest of the world.
If we can’t respect ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to respect us?
- Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist Twitter: @RayHanania