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Monday 17th of June 2019
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Stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims in the Western Mass Media: An Obstacle to the Movement of al-Imam al-Mahdi that Must be Confronted

  

Stereotyping of the "other" is still alive and well in America. The portrayal of Arabs and Muslims in both movies as well as the news is highly influenced by pro-Israeli interests. The portrayal is meant to shock at times and other times to subtly manipulate the masses into supporting Israeli and American policy and taking a stand against its opponents. The bias has been seen many times in American coverage of the Middle East but was clearly seen in the Israeli-Hizbullah Conflict during the summer of 2006. Muslims globally have an uphill battle in promoting the movement of al-Imam al-Mahdi because of the mainstream western media\'s biases. A discourse analysis of two Detroit newspapers shows how this is the case.

Arabs and Muslims as the "Other"

The portrayal of Arabs and Muslims in the popular press is highly inflammatory and stereotypical. It is highly contemporary in that it is driven by current political situations. At the same time, such stereotyping is based on old archetypes created in the past to demonize. To understand what it happening and how it is will be an obstacle to Imam al-Mahdi\'s movement, it is beneficial to begin with a review of Jack G. Shaheen\'s book, Reel Bad Arabs.
Shaheen\'s book is a review of racist images of Arabs in the media collected over a span of 20 years. An encyclopedic attempt, the book covers more than 900 movies, most of which depict Arabs and Muslims as inhuman. By the end of the book, one can clearly see that Arabs and Muslims are the last ethnic groups who are still negatively portrayed by Hollywood without consequences. The Arabs are almost always part of five different plot schemes: villains, sheikhs, maidens, Egyptians, and Palestinians. Shaheen ranks the movies in several appendices including a "best" and "worst" list.
"Other" groups have long been caricatured by Hollywood. These groups include African-Americans, Jews, Latinos and East-Asians. Generally they were depicted devoid of individual character and even when the subject of the movie was shown as an individual it was almost always within the context of a stereotype. Shaheen points out that much has happened in the last century—women\'s suffrage, the civil rights\' movement, the collapse of the U.S.S.R, numerous wars—to change how minorities are represented, Arabs are still portrayed in much the same stereotypical way that they have been in the past.
While the stereotypes against other groups are today widely rejected in the media, Arabs are still fair game. Shaheen notes:
Pause and visualize the reel Arab. What do you see? Black beard,
head dress, dark sunglasses. In the background—a limousine, harem
maidens, oil wells, camels. Or perhaps he is brandishing an automatic
weapon, crazy hate in his eyes and Allah on his lips. Can you see him?

As was the case with other ethnic groups in the past, Arabs are often depicted as oversexed and desiring pure, beautiful, white women. If Arab or Muslim women are portrayed, they are almost always either sexually inviting or faceless. In the case that they are sexually inviting, their seduction is almost always rejected by the "pure" white men as being below their dignity. Arabs are also depicted as being hook-nosed and devious. In many ways these caricatures mirror past western stereotyping of the Jews: thick lips, crooked nose, scruffy beard, angry faces, different dress. The Arab is made to look ugly and thus evil. Even Arabs who may seem peaceful on the surface should be suspected of being violent. Shaheen notes that the same imagery which was used by Nazi propagandists to dehumanize the Jews is used today by Hollywood to dehumanize Arabs.
Shaheen notes that Islam is also an unfair target for Hollywood. Although most Arabs are Muslims, most Muslims are not Arabs, a fact that Hollywood seems to ignore. Throughout Reel Bad Arabs, "Arab" and "Muslim" are shown as being interchangeable.

Because mentioning every single review is not possible for this short paper, this reviewer is looking at examples of four different Arab/Muslim archetypes: villains, sheikhs, maidens, and Palestinians. All the examples mentioned below are taken from the "worst" film list—it\'s striking that many of the films to be mentioned in this paper were shot in Israel and even use Israeli actors to portray Arabs and Muslims.
This is surely no accident; such a portrayal is a part of winning hearts and minds to support the Israeli cause. Pro-Israelis achieve a number of objectives through negative portrayals of Arabs. Through repeatedly viewing images of Arabs and Muslims as angry, over-sexed, lazy, incoherent and strange, audiences come to give essential meaning to concepts which should only be viewed as incidental. In this way, a concerted effort is being made to shape the subconscious image that the Western world has of the Muslim world, especially vis-à-vis the Palestinian question. By promoting the image of Arabs as incapable of peace, the pro-Israeli lobby is constructing a rationale for not bringing Arabs and Muslims to the same table as the Israelis. Shaheen also points out that many of the most virulent images of Arabs as militant have come about after the creation of Israel. That Hollywood\'s movies are spread around the world and gross millions every week enforces these stereotypes not only on a national level but on an international one.
Shaheen doesn\'t say in Reel Bad Arabs that Arabs should never be portrayed as "bad guys" or that there are no movies which portray Arabs positively. The author makes it clear in introducing his book that Arabs can be bad guys like individuals from any other ethnic group. Furthermore, he compiles a list of movies in which Arabs are portrayed sensitively. However, Shaheen makes it clear that Arabs are too often exclusively portrayed as evil, backwards, sexual, and incompetent. It is seemingly acceptable for Arabs and Muslims to be painted with a stereotypical broad brush. One may refer to Shaheen\'s book for hundreds of examples.
Toleration of Stereotyping Breeds Discrimination
The consequences of stereotyping minorities are manifold. In the case of Arabs and Muslims, the problems are compounded because approaches to the groups in the international arena can be seriously flawed, as mentioned earlier in the case of Iraq. Widespread informal racism—racism which is not institutionalized—helps shape attitudes that can support legalized discrimination. Examples of attitudes like this abound in American history. The city of Detroit is a great example of how prejudicial attitudes can result in institutionalized discrimination, discrimination that contributes to more prejudice with potentially long lasting effects.
In the past, Metro-Detroit residential areas were ranked on a scale of green (good) to red (bad). Areas that had African Americans living in them were automatically given a red ranking. The reasoning was that if African-Americans moved into white neighborhoods, they would be sure to bring in crime, driving down property values and increasing taxes on residents in the area.
The fact was that for African-Americans to move to the neighborhoods in the first place required significant capital, money almost always procured through hard work and years of saving. This was ignored. White Americans labeled African-Americans as having a tendency to commit criminal activity, violence and prostitution.
African Americans were shuttered out of opportunities—even if they were the most qualified—which included moving into prime real estate areas. If African-Americans dared move into white areas, they were often met with psychological pressure and violence so that they would move back where they came from. Such is the power of stereotypes.
In the end, whites could not openly stem the tide of African-Americans moving out of the city. Housing discrimination was declared illegal through passing of civil rights\' amendments. But today, Detroit is more segregated then any other metropolitan area in North America. What happened?
Danzinger, Holzer and Farley identify four reasons that people give for the persistence of the race divide in Detroit. These reasons are 1. Economic differences that lead blacks and whites to seek differently priced housing; 2. Blacks and whites may differ in their knowledge of the housing market so that blacks consider suburban areas outside their purchasing ability; 3. Each racial group just wants to stick to its own area; and 4. Discrimination from real estate agents keeps the groups separate. Although it is now illegal, even today, blacks have to worry that even if they manage to move into a white area that they would face hate including destruction of their property and psychological intimidation.
Discrimination, including stereotyping and racial segregation, clearly has negative long-term consequences that Arabs and Muslims should take note of. Arabs and Muslims are the latest in a long line of caricatured minorities to be at the mercy of policy-makers who benefit from bigotry. In this case, those policy-makers represent a wide range of personalities and interests but are united in tolerating the open denigration of people of Middle Eastern descent or those who practice Islam, as part of a larger agenda. Such rhetoric and images are valuable tools in shaping the hearts and minds of a public that is often times skeptical if politicians care for its best interests. The American coverage of the Israeli-Hizbullah Conflict of 2006 was one of the best examples of how this stereotyping contributed to a filtering of information available to the public.
Overall Coverage of the 2006 Israeli-Hizbullah Conflict
Coverage of the 2006 Israeli-Hizbullah Conflict was very heavily skewed in favor of the Israelis. This trend was seen across the country. However, bearing in mind that south-east Michigan has the highest concentration of people from the Middle East outside of the region, it was shocking to see that such negative images were presented on a daily basis by the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News, especially at the beginning of the conflict. One would think that having such large and vibrant Arab American and Jewish communities nearby, both newspapers would take seriously the issue of depicting the conflict sensitively. Editors and writers at both newspapers surely are aware of Metro-Detroit being the most ethnically segregated city in America.
Instead of being even-handed in local coverage of the conflict, Detroit\'s media invariably portrayed it as a struggle between good (Israel) and evil (anyone opposing Israel). The coverage of the month-long conflict covered a number of events, yet the tone through out the first half of the month was tremendously pro-Israeli. Stereotypes were also de rigueur.
Coverage of the conflict revolved around a number of themes: that the Israelis were attacked first, that the Shi\'i militia Hizbullah was a "state-within-a-state," that Israeli civilians were bravely facing their enemies (while the Lebanese remained largely faceless) and, contrary to all evidence, that the Israeli response to Hizbullah\'s capture of two Israeli soldiers was not disproportionate and that it was a natural extension of the "right to self-defense." In the case of the Detroit News, it seemed that editorial page Editor Nolan Finley put his pro-Israeli bias on display for all to see which spurned somewhat of a backlash, not only from Arab-Americans but from the public at large. Although the coverage in both papers improved as the conflict went on and afterwards as well, the damage had already been done.
Since the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News are different publications, they are separated for the ease of the reader and to see the different ways in which pro-Israeli bias was present in each.
The Detroit Free Press Coverage
As mentioned, coverage revolved around a number of themes: that the Israelis were attacked first, that the Shi\'i militia Hizbullah was a "state-within-a-state," that Israeli civilians were bravely facing their enemies while the Lebanese remained largely faceless and, contrary to all evidence, that the Israeli response to Hizbullah\'s capture of two Israeli soldiers was not disproportionate and that it was a natural extension of the "right to self-defense."
The Detroit Free Press\' Niraj Warikoo—singled out largely in this paper as he was at least partially responsible for most of his newspaper\'s articles on the conflict—wrote in a July 14 article:
The second day of fighting between Israel and Hizballah militants quickly escalated into all-out warfare as Israel bombed the Lebanese capital\'s suburbs and crippled the airport, and bombed roads early today leading from Beirut to Damascus, Syria. Hizballah - the militant group that kidnapped two Israeli soldiers Wednesday, setting off the fierce Israeli response - responded by firing more than 100 missiles into northern Israel.

Warikoo went on to add, "Hizballah\'s audacious raid Tuesday into Israel to capture soldiers - which followed another operation in Gaza by Palestinian militants that accomplished the same goal - set up this round of violence."
The problem with the way Warikoo frames the conflict here is that it begins with Hizbullah\'s capture of the two Israeli soldiers. Hizbullah and Israel were sworn enemies since the creation of the Shi\'i militia in the 80s as the Lebanese Civil War raged. The Shi\'i militia was organized to fight Israel after the state occupied Lebanon. The conflict by no means began with the altercation repeated so often by the American media as the cause for the fighting.
Israel itself crosses Palestinian and Lebanese borders with impunity and has captured thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese it deems as being enemies. Not to ignore what Israel\'s enemies have done, but Israel has itself committed numerous atrocities throughout the course of its history. None of these were mentioned in the above article to give any sense of the longer term struggle taking place between the two forces.
At the very beginning, Warikoo\'s articles indicated an attempt to mention both Israeli and opposing positions. He noted that Hizbullah is seen as heroic by many Lebanese for fighting the Israelis. However, Warikoo wrote about Hizbullah in such a way that one might think it was exclusively supported by the Shi\'a when in fact the movement has often been supported by factions of other religious communities also. This was especially true by the end of the conflict when many Christians who had initially criticized the Hizbullah for starting a war without consulting outsiders to the organization had their hometowns leveled and saw the Hizbullah\'s continued stand as either a source of hope, a vindication of the group\'s capture of the Israeli soldiers or both. Christians, Druze and Sunnis Muslims throughout the conflict provided shelter to fellow Lebanese and sought to protect them from Israel\'s onslaught. This rapprochement was also largely absent from the discourse.
The question of who should be quoted during the conflict also showed considerable bias. When showing the Lebanese side of the conflict, almost invariably it was Lebanese residing in America who were asked their opinions, not citizens of Lebanon proper. Lebanese people living in Lebanon were almost entirely absent from the discourse analyzed for this project. Israeli citizens on the other hand were constantly being interviewed. This is problematic in that all Israelis regardless of their political or religious affiliation were portrayed as victims united by a common enemy but Lebanese were reported as divided into factions, not helping one another. Here is a typical example of how Israelis were portrayed:
Israeli leaders have warned that the battle could be a long one. They
say that Israel will not accept a return to the conditions that existed
before the fighting broke out, with Hizballah, not the Lebanese army,
controlling Lebanon\'s southern border with Israel. … Most northern Israeli
cities are now ghost towns. Residents have fled south, taking refuge in
bomb shelters or remaining inside their homes. \'We never dreamed the
terror would arrive here\', Kamisa said as he inspected the damaged home.
One Israeli man, Rafi Cohen, traveled north to show solidarity with people
in the coastal town of Nahariya, which has been hit hard. But when he
showed up at the beach, which is usually crowded on Saturdays in the
summer, he was alone and a bit surprised. \'We should show Hizballah
how strong we are and live our lives as normal\', Cohen said.

Wrote Warikoo on July 14: "Some Christian Lebanese-Americans in metro Detroit also blamed Hizballah for the latest conflict. \'Lebanon is being held hostage by an armed militia that has not listened to the world\' nor to Lebanese peace agreements, said Milad Zohrob, 53, of Redford Township. \'They are leading the people into a really horrible situation. And the people paying the price are the Lebanese civilians, not the militias\'. Zohrob and others also said that Iran and Syria are supporting Hizballah and fomenting the current trouble."
It is often mentioned in the American media that one of the reasons Hizbullah is considered a terrorist organization is that it bombed U.S. military barracks in Lebanon, killing over 200 soldiers. The issue of what the U.S. military was doing in Lebanon is not given the attention it deserves and it is often accorded the nebulous yet charitable title of "peace- keeping." Warikoo did not make mention of that assertion in his July 14 article but he noted that the local Jewish population opposes Hizbullah and considers the militia a "terrorist organization." Yet this treatment of the issue did not go into the issue of Israel\'s presence in Lebanon being illegitimate and Hizbullah being created to drive out the Zionist state. Hizbullah to its credit had evolved since its creation into a political party and held a number of seats in the Lebanese parliament. Despite that, its important role in providing valuable social services, especially in the south of the country, was not highlighted and often received passing mention. Affinity to Hizbullah was portrayed more often than not because of unreasonable hatred for Israel and not out of respect and affinity towards the organization\'s efforts to relieve poverty.
In this light, Hizbullah\'s "kidnapping"—and which was pointedly never referred to as a "capture"—of the Israeli soldiers is seen by unaware readers as a completely unprovoked attack, a fight by terrorists supported by Iran on one side against Israel, a peaceful and threatened democracy on the other. The fact that the U.S. forks over one-third of its foreign aid budget to Israel and that the two countries enjoy a "special relationship" was not questioned in the media. How the news was framed with Iran\'s support of the Hizbullah being "ominous" while the mantra that "Israel had the right to defend itself" and that the U.S. would support Israel\'s right showed that Detroit newspapers had a serious agenda. Wrote Warikoo, "In [an] … ominous sign that the struggle could spread, Israel accused Iran of helping fire a missile that damaged an Israeli warship, a charge Hizballah and Iran both denied."
Warikoo, Suzzette Hackney and David Crumm wrote an article on one of the first gatherings of Lebanese in Dearborn. To see such a small article—Warikoo\'s next article ran over 1,000 words—on what was such an emotionally charged event, written in such sterile form, was shocking. The article about the Arab American event is in its entirety below.
Muslims attending a memorial service at a Dearborn mosque Sunday evening
called upon businesses along Warren Avenue in Dearborn to shut down at 5
p.m. Tuesday to protest Israeli action in Lebanon and the Gaza
Strip. About 1,500 people attended the service at the Islamic Center of
America in memory of 12 family members of a Dearborn family who died
after a building in Lebanon was struck last week by an Israeli warplane.
Speakers at the service criticized Israel and asked the U.S. government
to help U.S. citizens trapped in Lebanon.
With picture slides behind him showing the attacks in Lebanon, Ned
Fawaz, chairman of the board of the Islamic Center, urged the crowd to
"call Washington, call all your senators ... send e-mails" voicing
opposition to Israel\'s actions.
Mohammad Bazzi of Dearborn Heights said that business owners are
planning to shut down at the start of a march scheduled for Tuesday
along Warren Avenue - the main commercial strip in east Dearborn.

In actuality, the event had been tremendously emotional with anger among attendees at a fever pitch. None of that came out in the Detroit Free Press article quoted above.
Sayyid Ibrahim Saleh, a Shi\'i religious scholar, noted that Lebanon is not Shi\'i, Sunni, or Christian, but an Arab country encompassing all of these religious communities. Saleh spoke passionately, noting that Imam Hussain—the grandson of Muhammad whose stand against the Ummayad caliph Yazid is commemorated by the Shi\'a—gave his blood, but is remembered for his principled stand against injustice even today. Christians and Muslims on the panel alike applauded him. In fact, it seemed almost everyone present in the audience, Christians and Muslims alike, applauded Saleh\'s remarks.
Saleh called for unity between Muslims and Christians to stand together and put an end to petty fighting and said that we are a people with "one position." Shouting, "Oh God, remove from us our horrible situation and make our feet firm to stand up for the truth," he received a standing ovation from the over 2,000 people present. Reverend Rani Abdel Masseih of the Church of the Magnificent Life spoke next: "The truth that we are united behind has to do with truth and standing up for justice in the face of injustice. This is not just a Muslim or a Christian problem, it is affecting all of us Arabs," said Masseih.
Abed Hammoud, President of the Congress of Arab American Organizations and a Wayne County assistant prosecutor, gave the most impassioned speech of the evening. He said, "Those who are fighting us have no heart, and they have no mind, but we have a heart and a mind." Hammoud—who had two children trapped in Lebanon as he spoke—said, "Every kid deserves to be protected, not just American children. … Israel is going to hell!" As the crowd cheered, he added, "I don\'t want to hear any more about Hizbullah, you\'ve got a problem with them, go get them, don\'t go bombing the bridges and kids."
Although coverage also began to be more focused on whether the Israeli position during the conflict was worthy of defense, perhaps in part because of critical letters from readers. The Arab-American community, principally those of Lebanese descent, was quite vocal about what it saw as Israel\'s "disproportional response" to what was supposed to be a "kidnapping." The local media coverage still was tremendously skewed in favor of the Israelis but in the Detroit Free Press at least there appeared to be more of an attempt to portray the events fairly.
The day after the above event, another article by Warikoo, Hackney and Crumm came out. Although the previous day\'s event was not mentioned, there was a recognition that the Lebanese were suffering greatly. However, the focus was still mostly upon Lebanese who were American citizens, not human beings suffering as how Israeli citizens were portrayed. Lebanese citizens were largely absent from the reports.
Warikoo and Ben Schmitt finally followed up their story about what happened at the Islamic Center with a much more intense article regarding a rally in which a mostly Lebanese crowd of over 10,000 protestors took to Dearborn\'s streets. The article, titled "Crisis in the Mideast – In Metro Detroit: 10,000 Rally in Dearborn in Support of Lebanon," was much more accurate in its portrayal of Arab-Americans feelings regarding the conflict. The article noted that over 220 Lebanese and about 25 Israelis had been killed. It began by saying,
Carrying banners saying \'Stop Israeli Terrorism\' and chanting antiwar
slogans, some 10,000 people rallied in the center of metro Detroit\'s
Arab-American community in Dearborn on Tuesday, demanding that
the U.S. government put pressure on Israel to halt attacks in Lebanon.
Although the protesters were peaceful, their message was strong,
representing a profound difference of opinion between two of metro
Detroit\'s most vital communities.

In portraying the above event, Warikoo and Schmitt did a much better job of showing that Israeli policies were causing pain, even if it was mostly a portrayal of pained Lebanese-Americans, and that there were many locals who supported Hizbullah in principle if not in practice. If the title of the article did not show much condemnation of the Israeli response, it might have been because editors, not writers, generally come up with the headlines. Even if the writers of the Detroit Free Press began seeing the conflict differently and addressing it in a way sensitive to both the pro-Israeli camp and its opponents, that would not affect whether the editors at the paper had changed their stance in any way.
As is usually the case in American media reports about attacks on Israel, an attempt to link the Holocaust with support for Israel was made in the above article. That the Jews suffered greatly as a result of the Holocaust is without question, but that the Holocaust can be brought up to dominate whatever policy decision is made in support of Israel is problematic on a number of levels. It is an act of reductionism to present Zionist Jews as bravely carrying on in the face of horrors that they are all too familiar with while the Israeli government\'s aggression against Arabs, both within the state and outside, is given token representation or not even mentioned.
The Detroit Free Press duly presented the line of thinking that the Holocaust had something to do with the Israeli-Hizbullah conflict as seen in a quote made by a local whose relatives were in Israel.
… [In] Farmington Hills, Hannan Lis called his parents, aunts,
uncles and cousins in Haifa several times a day. \'We talk a few times a
day\', Lis said. \'My parents are concerned by these constant threats of
missiles, but my parents also survived the Holocaust and lived through
all the major wars Israel has faced, plus the wave of suicide bombings
in the last five or six years that have been so dangerous. \'So far, they\'ve
decided to stay in Haifa even though there is a threat of missiles\'.

An event taking place—a pro-Israeli rally at Southfield\'s Congregation Shaarey Zedek—garnered a notice that was larger than the story on the event at the Islamic Center (233 words). That was before the pro-Israeli event even took place. The event at the synagogue was covered in a longer article (690 words) with the headline, "Mid East Crisis Comes Home in Support of Israel: Southfield Crowd Says Fight\'s Right – 4,000 Gather, Urge Israelis Not to Yield to Terrorists." The article presented the pro-Israeli Jews who attended the event as believing that they were under an attack similar to that made against Jews by the Nazis. The article mentioned that "many members of the Jewish community–and the U.S. government—consider Hizballah a terrorist group. And at the rally, a host of speakers, including Michigan Attorney General Michael Cox, said Israel\'s fight is America\'s fight." Not only that but "[the speakers] repeatedly compared the threat of Islamic extremism with the Nazis. The speakers also promised to keep fighting against what some called \'Islamo-fascism\'. \'When our backs are against the wall, we are going to fight\', declared Rabbi Martin Peled-Flax, an Israeli official, to loud cheers."
The Detroit News Coverage
Many in the business and political community view support of Israel as important. But what happens when news editors get in on the act? You end up with people like editorial page editor for the Detroit News Nolan Finley, who made many an incendiary comment against those who protested Israel\'s actions.
The Detroit News\' coverage of the Israeli-Hizbullah conflict was similar to that of the Detroit Free Press although it seemed that the Detroit News was more sensitive to the feelings of the Lebanese early in the conflict. One July 13 Detroit News article was titled, "Local families fear for loved ones\' safety - Metro Detroit Jews say Israel is doing what it has to do; Lebanese-Americans call actions aggressive."
The major difference in the coverage between the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News was how Finley showed his colors in several editorials. Rather than seeing the conflict for what it was, a highly controversial event affecting many locals, Finley used his pen to make a series of highly alarmist and extreme articles in support of Israel. Editors in most American newspapers do not generally sign their names to such articles out of fear of losing credibility—but not Finley. He was single-handedly responsible for virulently pro-Israel material while also presenting stereotypical views of Arabs and Muslims.
Finley didn\'t develop his aggressiveness as a result of the Israel-Hizbullah conflict—he was already far to the right even before the conflict began. In a June 25 Detroit News editorial, titled, "Use nukes to keep the bad boys in line," Finley grossly simplified America\'s relations with "rogue states." He did not give any room for those states to note their grievances with the U.S. and reduced nations of millions to a few bogeymen that needed to be wiped out. Finley did not mention what the fallout from the use of such nuclear weapons could do to civilian populations and seemed to think that such ideas are a sign of weakness. He wrote:
Witness the fact that we\'re wringing our hands while Iran\'s insane
mullah posse, all hopped up on jihad, push defiantly ahead with a
nuclear program they boast will \'wipe Israel off the map\'. … Or that
our soldiers -- our sons and daughters -- are dying everyday in Iraq
at the hands of an enemy that fights in sandals and makes bombs
in the back of somebody\'s garage. Am I the only one who wonders:
Why don\'t we just nuke \'em? What good is all that shock and awe
hardware if we aren\'t willing to use it to spare our own children from
murderous butchers like the ones who mutilated two American soldiers
in Iraq last week? Why do we waste our breath bargaining with nut
balls like Kim Jong Il when in a blink of an eye we could make him
disappear? The answer: Because we know as well as our enemies do
that we\'ll never push the button. And so our amazingly potent
hardware does us no good in deterring threats from rogue regimes.
America will never launch the Big One, unless someone drops a big
one on us first.

Finley\'s article is delusional on a number of levels, not least because the U.S. is the only country that has used nuclear weapons, not only once, but twice against Japan during WWII. This use of "shock and awe hardware" was started by the U.S.—America never was responding to a nuclear attack when it used its weapons of mass destruction on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Finley goes on to state that the solution to deterring "regimes like Iran and North Korea" is the design and use of "smaller nukes" on those countries.
With such an openly aggressive pro-Israel stance, it should have been no surprise that Finley would have supported Israel\'s assault on Lebanon. In an article titled, "Israel\'s Right to Defense," Finley wrote, "The cries that Israel is wreaking a humanitarian disaster in Lebanon, wantonly killing innocents and destroying homes and infrastructure, are reaching a hysterical pitch." In a superb example of double-talk, Finley said that Israel had to be allowed to destroy Hizbullah, otherwise the "Lebanese people [would be] as vulnerable as they were before the fighting began." Finely added:
When the smoke clears, Israel must have a wide buffer between
itself and Hezbollah\'s Iranian supplied rockets. If Lebanon can\'t
guarantee that safe space, then Israel must be free to do it itself.
… Compounding the hazard is Israel\'s tiny size. It\'s less than
one-sixth the area of Michigan, with roughly the same amount of
people. The enemy is always within shooting distance. If nothing
else, we have relearned during the past two weeks that as long as
there are Jews in the Middle East, someone will try to kill them.
Since when does a country being small mean that it is vulnerable? The American-backed Israel has the strongest military force in the Middle East. It is capable of easily crushing its neighbors whenever it sees fit. It would seem that Finley\'s notion of Israelis being beleaguered in relation to their neighbors is so lacking in evidence that he has to argue on the basis of the size of their country, an utterly clichéd and irrelevant point of debate.
Although there still were many letters to the Detroit News supporting Israel unconditionally, after Finley\'s "Support for Israel\'s defense" article, letters in opposition were seen more often. The Detroit News, to its credit, ran a number of letters criticizing Finley\'s position and also allowed guest editorials by Sheikh Mohammad Ali Elahi, the imam of Dearborn Heights\' Islamic House of Wisdom, and Imad Hamad, director of the Michigan Chapter of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Both Elahi and Hamad were highly critical of Israel\'s actions against Lebanon. Hamad was even able to say, "The disturbing fact is that people who are justifiably critical of Israel immediately become targets of harassment." However, this did not undo what Finley had said and he never apologized for his comments.

Conclusion

Most editors who are part of the mainstream western media are much more subtle if they support Israel because readers do not like to feel they are perusing propaganda. Regarding reporters, they are sometimes biased but often times may be ignorant. The same may be said about film producers. However, in all cases, the negative portrayal of Arabs and Muslims can be seen as a direct attack on the interests of al-Imam al-Mahdi\'s movement, which must be addressed.
One may take hope in Warikoo. He visited Lebanon on behalf of the Detroit Free Press after the conflict and his reporting since the trip was of markedly better—in this case meaning more balanced—regarding incidents involving Arabs and Muslims. He wrote several stories that showed far more empathy for Arabs and Muslims, including a piece titled "Stares, whispers take toll on metro Muslims – They tire of defending religion, ethnicity."
Perhaps part of the solution to cutting through ignorance regarding the Arab and Muslim world is that the Shi\'a facilitate meetings and visits by dignitaries. Israel is far ahead of us in this regard and savvy when it comes to winning the hearts and minds of undecided policy makers. The Israelis have invested time and money into speaking English and French fluently which are the lingua franca of intellectualism today just as Arabic and Persian were in the past. To speak Persian and Arabic is good and to be commended, but there is a time and place for everything and we must be flexible to address the rapidly evolving world we live in today.
Without our having a strong, principled media that operates with efficient and logical systems, it is difficult for nonbiased but ignorant reporters to maintain balance and hear our grievances. Reporters can be influenced by the same propaganda that many in the pro-Israeli lobby have skillfully produced and even very experienced and good hearted writers, although careful not to offend sensibilities ordinarily, may write the same kind of clichéd journalism that fuels stereotyping in the public. The world must know the truth about what we are, what we believe in and what we want to see.
American support of Israel may generally seem extreme and incomprehensible to outsiders, but it is the product of years of gradually ratcheting up paranoia in the American public about Arabs and Muslims. Such paranoia does not make our cause any easier. In the days after 9/11, there was widespread support of the idea that Islam needed to be better understood and that by allowing terrorism to create splits in the public, the attackers/ terrorists would have achieved their goal of sowing chaos. There was sensitivity to the idea that perhaps Muslims and Islam would have to be addressed in more sophisticated terms than in the past. Sales of the Qur\'an and books about Islam were all the rage. However, today the bestsellers\' lists are filled with anti-Islam and anti-Arab books, many relying upon the same old clichéd stereotypes of the past. Rather than address the important topics and address the rights and wrongs of both sides of the clash between the West and Islam, it is discouraging to see that for the most part, popular literature and media on the issue of Arabs and Islam are tremendously emotional, lacking in depth and perpetuating the notion that Arabs and Muslims are predisposed to violence.
The war on Iraq might not have taken place if emotional arguments based on conjecture rather than evidence had been screened out by the media. What the American media did was to amplify whatever anti-Arab and anti-Islam biases existed in the population, reducing very the complex issues to a bogeyman—Saddam was a vicious dictator to be sure but hardly an ally of Al Qaeda—who was to be seen as the source of terrorism in America. With the fall of Saddam, the Iraqi people were to receive the Americans with open arms, throwing flowers and rose water. This did not happen. In fact, the opposite occurred.
Outside America there was almost universal opposition to the war, based on most of the concerns that Bush and his ilk ignored or ridiculed but now are known to be valid. For example, the French voiced the concern that the war in Iraq was doomed to failure with no plan for a civil war or the struggle spreading to other countries. Instead of taking the idea seriously, it popularly became a sign of patriotism to refer to criticism of the war effort as being "French-inspired," a stance that the American media did not oppose. But because the French were sophisticated in making their stance known, they have greater leverage today on the issues that matter. So to for that matter does Qatar because of Al Jazeera\'s active involvement, however biased that also maybe. The same cannot be said for the followers of al-Imam al-Mehdi. Many Americans, even at the highest levels of the government cannot tell the difference between a Shi\'i or a Sunni. We may laugh, but our lack of placing representatives across the western world, trained in the ways of the media, is part of the problem.
As followers of al-Imam al-Mahdi, our community must make a more concerted effort to reach out to the ordinary people of the western world and in their languages if we are to assist our Imam in creating a platform for action there. By merely perpetuating misinformation and emotional appeals rather than a plan for action in doing this ultimately everyone involved loses out—and that is not only the followers of al-Imam al-Mahdi but the people who might come to our side inside American and Israeli borders.

 

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