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Networking to promote our many great Arab American authors
By Ray Hanania — While everyone argues about whether or not America is consumed with racism in the debate over comments made by Barack Obama’s pastor Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., few have paid attention to the discrimination that constantly challenges Arab Americans. Everyday on television, in the mainstream news media, on radio, in Hollywood movies and in the powerful publishing industry in New York — a network that represents the most formidable communications system in the world, Arab Americans are discriminated. Arab Americans and Muslim Americans have the ability to confront that racism on their own.
Communication in America is the most important and most powerful industry in the world today. It defines reality, or, as some know, distorts reality. Knowing how to manage professional communications is an art that few in the Arab American community understand. And Arab Americans are just not a part of the communications profession, and we should be.
Not being a part of this important industry, Arab American interests are left out. We are excluded, partly because we are not at the “table” when communications, media and related decisions are made; but we are also victimized by those who do sit at the media “table.”
For years, Arab American voices were excluded from the mainstream American news media, partly because of racism, partly because of politics and partly because of our failure to engage and participate in the system in which we live.
But no place is this exclusion of Arab American voices more pronounced than in the book publishing industry.
Oh, there are many books published by Arab American authors. Most are relegated to the infrequently read Academic Press. I say infrequently read because while students and professors are important, the vast majority of Americans, more than 200 million, have never been exposed to these academic press writings.
The majority, almost all, actually, of the books written by Arabs abd Arab Americans address politics. They are burdened with footnotes, elitist rhetoric and theories, writing styles that are challenging for academics and professional activists who live the book contents, but impossible too comprehend for the vast majority of Americans who till this day do not understand Arab Americans, Arab culture, Islam as a religion or the fundamentals of the justice of Arab American causes, such as Palestine.
What we are missing are books that address our experience as Arab Americans, that cast us not as being “different” from other Americans but similar in our uniqueness. We all share the same ethnic experience in this country, Italians, Jews, Poles, Russians, Irish and Arabs, yet Arab Americans have not tried to engage in that circle of familiarity.
There are hundreds of books written on why Palestinians lost the war in 1948 — hundreds maybe even thousands — but there are only five books that share the personal experiences of Palestinian Americans living in this country.
We are not strangers in America, yet we act like we are. We have made major contributions to this country, yet we fail to communicate those contributions effectively.
In recent years, we have seen some significant challenges to the imbalance in this problem. The National Arab American Museum opened in Dearborn Michigan and it is attracting school children and visitors from throughout the world and the United States, offering a clear and effective message of Arab American involvement and contribution in America’s history.
And in recent years, we have also seen a surge in the number of books that are challenging the past practices of not showcasing our individual experiences. Arab pride often discourages other Arabs from boasting about their achievements as individuals. We are all educated to believe that we are just a part of the larger Arab World and Arab culture. But, we are also individuals and our experiences — tragic, humorous and those of great achievement must be shared with the rest of America.
It was so lonely in 1988 when Chicago Magazine agreed to publish my feature story with photographs called “Ya Habibi: An Arab Childhood” (in America). It was a trend-setting feature that prompted several other Arab Americans to also write their own feature memoirs sharing their individual experiences growing up Arab in America. On such essay that stands out from most is the one authored by award winning journalist Loraine Ali in Mademoiselle Magazine. Ali is now a highly respected feature writer at Newsweek Magazine, one of our nation’s best journalists.
In addition to documenting our individual, first-person stories of growing up Arab in America, we also need to write fiction that takes the best qualities of Arab culture and inserts them into the compelling fictional narratives that dominate what most Americans read.
Americans by the millions go on vacation to relax and read. They are not taking Edward Said’s “A Question of Palestine” to read during their 7-day vacation excurisons. They are laying back in the sun and absorbing fiction books, many of which cast Arabs as the evil villains, promoting hateful stereotypes and negative images that reinforce the current American perspectives against Arabs and Muslims. This not a criticism of Edward Said who was one of the most eloquent authors and speakers in the Palestinian community. But we, as Arab Americans, failed to support his writing by broadening the writing field with books that went beyond political dialetics.
We need to change that. We need to write more books about other topics that include Arabs and Muslims as characters in the book’s story cast. Fiction books. Novels that present compelling stories that don’t focus on Arab culture or Islam but that offer an accurate image of Arabs and Muslims in a subtle and more accurate positive light.
To help bring that effort up one notch in our national networking effort, we have launched a new project here at the National Arab American Times Newspaper. It is called the “iBookReviews” blog and we will begin to help promote the great writings of Arab Americans, Muslim Americans and non-Arabs and non-Muslims who address Arab and Islamic heritage in a fuller, more compelling and more accurate manner.
The best way to fight stereotypes of course is to challenge those stereotypes and make the media correct them. Another essential strategy is to counter the negative images with positive images in a manner that audiences will read, understand, educate and absorb.
If we do not offer our own story in a compelling manner, no one will. It’s our job. Just one of many challenges we face as proud Arab Americans and proud Muslim Americans.
As proud Americans.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist, author and radio talk show host based in Chicago. He can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com. Offered by the Arab American Writers Group Syndicate. www.ArabWritersGroup.com.)
This post has already been read 1777 times!
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at www.TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website www.SuburbanChicagoland.com, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.
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