Entertainment can change American views of Arabs

Entertainment can change American views of Arabs

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Entertainment can change American views of Arabs

Arabs have wealth that ranks them financially among the most powerful on earth. If they wanted, they could invest pennies of their wealth and produce some of the most compelling movies, television dramas and news programmes in English that could dramatically change how Americans view the Middle East.

By Ray Hanania

Arabs don’t get the power of American entertainment in terms of how it can impact American views of Arabs, yet Arabs spend a lot of time enjoying things like Hollywood films.

Arabs have wealth that ranks them financially among the most powerful on earth. If they wanted, they could invest pennies of their wealth and produce some of the most compelling movies, television dramas and news programmes in English that could dramatically change how Americans view the Middle East.

But while Americans view entertainment as a fundamental necessity to understanding the world’s reality and as a force that educates, Arabs see entertainment as something that does little more than entertain.

Americans take their entertainment seriously. They often rely on fiction and drama to supplement their formal education, or lack of it. Often, Americans turn to entertainment as an alternative to realities they prefer not to see.

This week, Hollywood re-scripted the Middle East conflict yet again, this time in the season premiere of The West Wing, a popular award-winning TV drama that takes real events from the headlines that most Americans can’t seem to understand, and re-engineers them into fictionalized dramas they can understand and accept.

The show is cast in a mock White House with a president, staff and political conflict that is often more compelling than real life. Americans like their enemies cast in simple terms. They like the world painted in terms of either good or evil.

Mohammed Asad at 'home' in rubble filled Gaza Strip. Aug. 1 2014. His home was targeted by the Israeli military in 2014 because he is a journalist

Mohammed Asad at ‘home’ in rubble filled Gaza Strip. Aug. 1 2014. His home was targeted by the Israeli military in 2014 because he is a journalist

That’s one reason why a real-life president like George W. Bush who has no formal experience or training in foreign policy can destroy Middle East peace, create conflicts out of complacency and still win the support of a majority of Americans using a policy that is defined in childlike terms of “you are either with us or against us.”

There is definitely no “gray matter” in the president’s thinking, especially when it comes to the Middle East. The reality is, of course, that the Middle East is a very complicated mess of black and white and mostly gray in-between.

The premiere of the West Wing exploits that crisis, and scripts a situation where Palestinian terrorists murder two US Congressmen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and another high level American administrator while conducting a fictional tour of the Gaza Strip.

In real life, it would never happen for many reasons too complicated to explain.

But in TV entertainment, anything can happen and does. The West Wing plot follows almost word-for-word Israel’s official propaganda about the Palestinians, which falsely blames all violence and terrorism on the Palestinians while disguising Israeli government terrorism as peace.

In reality, Israel’s policies of confiscating Palestinian lands and expelling its inhabitants is the cause of the violence. But carefully managed by the Israeli lobby, most Americans don’t understand that reality.

In the TV version of the White House drama, “everyone” clamors for the US to immediately retaliate and attack Palestinian targets in the Gaza Strip, something the US has never done in real life, at least directly.

The fictional West Wing “President,” played by Martin Sheen, fights hard to resist the emotional mob-like clamor for vengeance and he insists on fighting to protect any chance for peace.

In real life, Sheen, the actor, is an outspoken advocate for peace and justice for the Palestinians and security for the State of Israel.

It is all fiction based on some small facts but it reinforces what Americans have been brainwashed for years by pro-Israel propaganda to accept for the past 56 years.

When “President” Sheen asks his staff to give him ideas on how to avoid war and bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the peace table, the staff rebels and refuse to make suggestions.

In the end, the Palestinians and Israelis are brought back to the peace table, the Palestinians are made to look like terrorists reluctant to support peace, and the TV programme has all of the drama that wins big audience ratings and Academy Awards.

But that is exactly what American entertainment is all about. Americans are fundamentally racist and arrogant.

They scream for vengeance when Americans are killed, but seem uncaring when their policies cause the murder and death of innocent civilians in a host of Third World countries they exploit for resources, slave labor and, of course, cheap oil.

Americans do not want TV programmes that challenge the lies they accept and that serve as the basis of their fundamental ignorance of complex wars like the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The meaning of entertainment is fiction. And the meaning of fiction is an acceptable lie.

One day, Arabs might understand that investing in a strategy based on clever fiction can have more impact in achieving their desire for peace and justice than relying on a poorly proffered strategy based on truth.

Give me one talented Arab Hollywood filmmaker with a large enough budget the Arab World is the wealthiest region in the world and have that person make a compelling fiction movie in English that recasts the Palestinians in a fairer light.

And with the hearts and minds of the American people on our side, Palestinians could achieve a just and fair peace that results in a Palestinian State that would be more generous than the so-called generous peace offer made by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak that Palestinian President Yasser Arafat rejected as insufficient.

A good movie in English would achieve more for Palestinian justice than all of the pathetically inadequate policies and strategies devised by all of the Arab World’s armies, kings and mullahs.

(Ray Hanania is an author, satirist and syndicated columnist. Email him at rghanania@gmal.com. This column appeared in the Gulf News Newspaper on Oct. 26, 2004.)

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Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award winning political and humor columnist who analyzes American and Middle East politics, and life in general. He is an author of several books.

"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."

Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).

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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Ray Hanania