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Arabs failed to get their story out first
By Ray Hanania
Jerusalem Post August 17, 2011 — Since 1948, the Arabs have lost more than five actual wars with Israel. But while those failures have fed the anger and hatred against Israel, the Arabs lost the real battle long ago. The battle for audience, something the Israelis recognized from the start.
Audience is the key to communications. It is not what you say but How you say it.The goal of a true successful debater is not simply to win the argument, but rather to win the audience first. Perception is reality and the Arabs have never bothered to understand the simple concept that if you control perception, you control destiny.
My father left his parents and siblings in 1926 out of frustration with the conflict that was already growing. It wasn’t like a surprise. With a British-issued Palestinian passport in hand, he immigrated to Chicago to join an older brother, Mousa. That year, another brother, Yusef, drowned in the Jerusalem quarry.
British Mandatory police reports told of how no one would help Yusef as he called for help struggling in the water. Muslims thought he was a Jew. Jews thought he was Muslim. Christians had turned the other cheek so many times they didn’t care he was one of their own.
My dad later married my mother, who was from Bethlehem, and did something that changed my life forever. Rather than making me learn Arabic as a first language, he made me speak English because he recognized that America was the future.
In fact, his instincts proved correct. The Middle East conflict has been driven by the wars won not in the Sinai or the streets of Jerusalem, but in the hearts and minds of the West, particularly the Americans.
While Israelis quickly learned that important lesson, Arabs did not. Instead, they preached their anger in the Arabic language, which I learned to speak acceptably but never learned to read.
So while the Arabs were screaming about injustice in a language few could understand, the Israelis were screaming injustice in a language the world understood all too well.
They didn’t just understand communications, they understood strategic communications and the power of subtlety. For example, in the late 1950s, Israel’s government hired a PR man who was commissioned with finding a writer to tell Israel’s story to the English-speaking world. They hired Leon Uris and he wrote the powerful novel, Exodus.
Exodus was not an academic dissertation, nor was it a historical documentary. It was a compelling story that took some truths and did what fiction writing does very well, tells a story so convincingly and powerfully that the reader is left with a submissive emotion and attachment to the story.
That book defined how the West, and the Americans, would always view the Arab-Israeli conflict. The story was one of a tiny nation, mainly of young children and farmers seeking to escape the world’s wrath, who were harassed and threatened by countries so powerful and sinister, mainly disdainful Arab sheiks and dictators. The little David overpowered the mighty Goliath.
In fact, it was just the opposite. The Arab countries geographically toward over the tiny area of Palestine that was soon to become Israel, but their leaders were corrupt and cruel, not just to the Israelis and Jews, but to their own people.
The Israelis told their story not in Hebrew, but in English. They didn’t need to convince Jews and Israelis about what needed to be done. They had to convince the English speaking world. The Arabs, on the other hand, put all their ineffective efforts into speaking to their own people, a process that instead of evolving strategy and success fed anger, animosity, hatred and raw violence.
That narrative process was powerful. And it was in English, the international language of understanding and comprehensive. There is something about the Arabic language that makes it a poor vehicle to convey understanding and sympathy in a calm and effective manner.
Arabic is a beautiful language. It’s perfect for telling love stories, or the cleverness of 1001 nights. It’s perfect for poetry, too, which has often been used by Arab activists to avoid punishment from their governments which ban free speech and political dialogue.
But Arabic has been worthless in fighting for Palestine.
Even today, the Arab World continues to act more out of arrogance in insisting that their story be told in Arabic. The Arab World media is pathetic when it comes to championing the Palestinian cause. Despite some English media, the majority (with the exception of the Arab News in Saudi Arabia) is driven by politics that thinks like an Arab but mimics the English language. Even in America, where the Arab and Muslim population has grown by leaps and bounds, the leadership still does a failed language two-step, rallying their people in Arabic while stumbling through awkward English translations. Instead of using the power of English, it is often used to reiterate the Arabic.
The Arab World is changing and slowly they are shifting to a global understanding of communications. We see that in the protests in the Arab World and in the oppression the pro-Democracy movements face from the dictators in Egypt, Libya, Syria and even Jordan where the targets of the hatred there has landed on the journalism community.
Journalism never evolved properly in the Middle East and neither did the true story of the rights of the Palestinians.
The only people to blame for that significant failure that helped undermine Palestinian nationalism is the arrogance of the Arabs themselves. Their leadership failed them. And the activists who have taken up the cause continued that failure even until today, placing the emphasis on speaking Arabic over sacrificing for the cause by communicating in the only way the West wants to be spoken to, in English.
Things have changed, but the Western understanding of the conflict is pretty much set in stone and cannot easily change. Of course, the Arabs still haven’t really tried.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and President and CEO of Urban Strategies Group.)
This post has already been read 48 times!
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