Lack of Fraternity among American Arab journalists: The incomplete Arab journalist
By Ray Hanania
Journalists from the Arab World are a rare breed. So rare that they are an endangered species, though on recovery. They originate in a world that places no value on communications as a force of change, but recognize it as an adversary that distorts their image of Arab culture, society and its religions.
When an Arab becomes a journalist in the professional sense of the word, rather than as a mere activist using the utensils of journalism communications to advocate for a cause, they become an ostracized breed. Strangers among their own kind. They are ridiculed for doing what Arabs as a culture reject, self-criticism. Because self-criticism one oneself in one’s environment is the substance of professional journalism. When you can criticize yourself honestly and accurately and without inhibition or fear, you can criticize others effectively and with constructive results.
The pen is mightier than the sword, but only when the pen is used in this context of honest and accurate journalistic endeavor. The pen becomes little more than a bludgeon, or a weapon of brutality when clutched in the hands of partisan activists whose sole agenda is to advocate ideals regardless of a worldly sense of morality and ethics.
When I first entered professional journalism in 1976, there were no other Palestinians in the mainstream American journalism world. There were pioneers struggling in the world of Arab journalism, in America. They were Arabs writing in Arabic about Arab issues, who happened to live in America. They only had a peripheral sense of interest in the existence of Arabs in America, with the exception of the Middle East conflict and its relationship to Western powers and influencers.
Today, the number of American Arabs who have entered journalism as a profession has increased. But the growth has been isolated, not in a “team” or “fraternal” spirit. American Arab journalists exist almost as isolated explorers who roam through a hostile Western world dodging racism and discrimination and fighting not only against the stereotypes of them imposed by non-Arabs in the non-Arab environment, but also the Arab World society which still, despite gains in journalism, continue to resist the embrace of journalism as an accepted profession.
What results is the presence of American Arab journalists in a limit success with limited benefit to their societies and culture. Rather than aggregate to create power they remain aloof of collaboration with other American Arab journalists, oppressed by many factors. Those factors include the fear of being ostracized by the profession. The Society of Professional Journalists which is the national fraternity of professional journalism in America, has taken a hostile stance towards American Arabs because of the politics of Arab-Israeli conflicts and political hostilities between Arabs and Jews.
Mainstream news media in America excludes American Arabs, unless they disrobe from their cultural pride. Only Arabs are encouraged to abandon a full embrace of their heritage , while all other ethnic and racial minorities and groups are encouraged to fertilize their interests in exploring the relations between their societies and culture in the context of the American world environment. American Arab journalists are often punished when they seek to fully portray the truth of their communities because that truth often conflicts with stereotypes of the Arabs that have been set in stone in America.
Mainstream journalists often shatter the barriers of oppression and censorship in almost every context, yet they seem to fear or avoid shattering the myths that imprison the truth of the Arab World and Arab culture and especially the politics of the Arab World. It’s far to easy to portray Arabs as terrorists and as threats than to explore their culture in the context of their relationship to their existence in American society. That they are victims of racism and discrimination is a fact yet that fact can only be explored in the limited and narrow context of post-Sept. 11, 2001 backlashes against Muslims. Most Muslims are non-Arabs and the focus of the backlash against Muslims usually focuses on non-Arab Muslim victims of American hatred.
It’s almost as if defining an Arab as a “victim” in American society might undermine the myths that have been falsely imposed on the image of the Arab. In the context of Israel, you cannot have an Arab that is right and just against an unjust Israel oppression or Israeli injustice. Israel is the sacred cow of America and now amount of facts can or will be accepted by the mainstream media to challenge what is already believed and accepted.
Israel is right and the Arabs is wrong is the yardstick that measures what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. To even hint at a desire to challenge that lie would forever ban one into a professional purgatory. You could easily be fired, transferred and punished by the editors or publishers for daring to cross the red line that encircles American Arab journalists.
That creates a circumstance where there are only two ways to be successful as American Arab journalists. The first is the submission to the powers that control mainstream American journalism and accept the boundaries imposed on what is acceptable and unacceptable reporting or journalism conduct. If you stay within that boundary and not challenge the accepted myths in the sanctuary of protecting all that is Israel, you can excel as a journalist with an Arab pedigree.
But, if you dare to challenge the red lines or seek to tear down the boundaries of the censorship, you will be dealt with in one of many ways that cast you out of the journalism fraternity.
The result is that we see the faces and names of successful American Arabs in journalism, many of them Christian and Muslim. But they live and work within the confines of the narrowed red lines of existence. They succeed and do great things and achieve greatness. As long as they do not dare to challenges the lies that have built the Mythical House of Israel in the brainwashed minds of Americans who remain in a headlock of restriction.
It’s sad to watch American Arabs succeed in this netherworld of what really is an existence of self-denial. To succeed, you must be willing to compromise your own ethics and reject your avocation of honest reporting. You intentionally avoid reporting on the sensitive topics that are cancerous to your career, and enjoy the celebrity of acceptance that remains only as long as you dance in the circle of censorship. You pretend that your dignity is whole when in fact it is corrupted and flawed. And you close your eyes to stories that otherwise would shock and awe readers with truth, and break news in outrageous exposes, involving the taboo topics defined by the minders of the mainstream American journalism profession.
you’re not allowed to be a real Arab. You can only exist in professional American journalism as an incomplete, half-man. Partial human being. Incomplete Arab.
Maybe it’s just that there are not enough of us yet. Maybe we continue to be burdened as a group by the immense struggle of catching up, lagging behind from societies with no real history of free speech, openness and a profession called journalism that in theory is supposed to encourage the journalist to challenge the injustices and wrongs of government, the society and the world as a whole.
We’re supposed to challenge the accepted norms to continually push to test the electrified dangerous boundaries that surround us to constantly change what we believe. To find the truth among the accept lies. To open the eyes of the blind masses conditioned and brainwashed by years of one-sided propaganda.
That’s a goal I aspire to continue to embrace.