HANANIA: Noble mission of Bridges Muslim TV falters in wake of founders tragedy, FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, 02-14-09

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Noble mission of Bridges Muslim TV falters in wake of founders tragedy
By Ray Hanania —
When Bridges TV first launched in 2004, there was great hope that it would do two things: First, open the door to Arab and Muslims to portray themselves accurately through engaging and professional journalism. And, more importantly, address the stereotypes that weigh down objective reporting in the mainstream American media which includes not only the news media but the entertainment media of Hollywood and TV and the communications media which includes organizational PR. But over the years, Bridges TV became a kind of challenge to itself.

Instead of promoting a positive image of the Arabs and Muslims, the Cable TV station fell into the community habit of playing to the divisions in the community, siding with those who fit into its religious perspective and pushing out those who did not fit.

In other words, Bridges TV became just like the mainstream media it hoped to change, discriminating against Arabs and Muslims who were too secular, weighing down the issues facing secular Muslims and secular Arabs, pushing out those whose views challenged the rising religious zealotry and political extremism that continues to plague the community.

And audiences started to see this as programming tended toward political spheres and away from the Cable TV’s stated mission, which was (with their emphasis):

“Bridges TV aims to foster a greater understanding among many cultures and
diverse populations. Through our high-quality, informative, 24-7 programming in
English; we seek to become a unifying force that can help people understand our
diverse world through education and entertainment.”

On Friday Feb. 13, 2009, their web site was brought down. Not by computer Internet hackers, but by the conflict that apparently not only consumed the cable TV’s mission, but by internal conflicts involving the personal life of the owner and the individual who championed its creation, Muzzammil Hassan.

Muzzammil Hassan, 44, was charged with Second Degree Murder in the grusome the beheading of his wife, Aasiya Hassan, 37, at the Cable TV studios of Bridges TV in a suburb of Buffalo New York on Friday night. (Read story?) Orchard Park is just south of Buffalo New York which also dominated the headlines on Friday when a Continental plane carrying 49 people crashed just outside of the city’s airport (Read story?) on its way from Newark Liberty Airport.

Hassan was such a nice person. I spoke with him often about the challenges he faces. He understood that he was fighting two battles. The first against stereotypes in the mainstream American news media and public that oppress Arabs and Muslims. The second in our own community which is divided by an internal war of political extremism versus moderation, rivalries nurtured by years of a community that has been pushed down to the furthest depths of victimization, and rising religious activism which often dictates what is and is not acceptable these days in the Arab and Muslims community.

No one can navigate through those turbulent community waters — a common denominator across the board in the Arab and Muslim community from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles — while also having to face up to the persistent challenges of righting the notions of America towards Arabs and Muslims which is drawn with stereotypes of hatred, suspicion, fear, lack of education, ignorance and politics is impossible.

You can’t but help to acknowledge the irony that Muzzammil Hassan’s tragedy involves one of the most heinous stereotypes that is constantly used to demean Arabs and Muslims. We don’t know all the circumstances outside of the charges filed and the victim’s remains. We do know that the stereotype runs even deeper, as his wife, who was listed on the now removed Bridges TV web site as “General Manager,” was filing for a divorce.

Over the next few days and weeks, we will see the chatter in the mainstream media shift as it always does when it involves Arabs and Muslims from the facts of the issue and crime to the more prevalent stereotypes fueling the racism and ignorance in this country.

Mr. Hassan is innocent until proven guilty. But the circumstance of the events in this tragedy will reach far beyond logic and the damage this will inflict on Arabs and Muslims in America will not yet be fully felt immediately.

Tragically, it will set back and derail the forward movement of Arab American journalism. And it will separate even more the American public from the understanding of the Arab and Muslim community in this country, serving only to reinforce the extremists in the internal battle with the besieged and abandoned moderates that are the majority but who also have come to accept that the challenge of righting the keel is insurmountable and futile.

This is one of the most disturbing setbacks I think I have seen in years in the battle to change the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim stereotypes in this country. Instead of achieving the noble goals stated in the Bridges TV Mission, this event has served to make that road far longer and more difficult.

— Ray Hanania

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Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and Columnist who began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He covered Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992 (Mayor Daley to Mayor Daley) and has expanded to writing for newspapers around the world focussed on Middle East and American politics.

Hanania loves to write about American Arabs in politics, and focuses on Arab life in America.

Currently, he writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com. He writes on American politics for the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News newspaper and the Reporter Newspapers. He also writes for the online websites TheArabDailyNews.com and NewsAmericaNetwork.com (Illinois News Network at IllinoisNewsNetwork.com).

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Hanania began in journalism as an activist publishing Chicago’s first English-language American Arab Newspaper “The Middle Eastern Voice” from 1975 through 1977. In 1976, he was hired by the Chicago community newspaper The Southtown Economist (Daily Southtown) and in 1985 was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times and covered Chicago City Hall for both. In 1993, he launched the “The Villager” Newspapers which covered 12 Southwest Chicagoland suburban regions. In 2004, he published “The National Arab American Times” monthly newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East ethnic food stores in 48 American States.

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, he 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. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

Hanania’s writings have been published in newspapers around the world. Formerly syndicated by Creators Syndicate, Hanania also has written news, features and Opinion Columns for Al Jazeera English, the Jerusalem Post, YNetNews.com, Arab News, Saudi Gazette, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle, The Daily Star, the News of the World, the Daily Yomimuri in Tokyo, Chicago Magazine, the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, and Aramco Magazine. His political columns are published in the Southwest News-Herald and Des Plaines Valley News, Regional News and Palos Reporter newspapers in Chicagoland. Hanania is the President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media and public affairs consulting which has clients in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Washington D.C.

Hanania is Palestinian Christian from prominent Bethlehem and Jerusalem families. His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.

His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania

Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com