Arab-American media grapple with attacks

Newspapers, cable TV reflect struggle between politics and patriotism

BY JEFFREY GHANNAM
Detroit Free Press

As many Arab Americans turn to both Arabic- and English-language media for news and commentary, they are seeing and hearing very different versions on the story of the moment.

Technology now brings Al-Jazeera TV from Qatar, as well as CNN and MSNBC, directly into living rooms in metro Detroit. Local Arabic-language newspapers are intently focused on fallout from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"Before, we used to concentrate on what's going on overseas," said Nouhad El-Hajj, publisher of Arab American Journal, a twice-monthly dual-language newspaper based in Dearborn. "This has changed. People are focusing on their lives here. We concentrate on the reflection of the news and how the community is dealing with it."

Post-attack coverage has reflected the pull-and-tug among Arab Americans between patriotic support for the United States and their often strong disagreement with U.S. policies and actions in the Middle East.

Just days after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Arab American News, a weekly dual-language newspaper in Dearborn, carried two full pages of statements from 20 community leaders and organizations under the headline, "Arab & Muslim Americans Stand with America."

But its editorial page carried a lead column with a distinctly different slant: "This is not the world of democracy vs. terror that the world will be asked to believe in the coming days," guest columnist Robert Fisk wrote. "It is also about American missiles slamming into Palestinian homes and U.S. helicopters firing missiles into a Lebanese ambulance in 1996, and American shells crashing into a village called Qana, and about a Lebanese militia -- paid and uniformed by America's Israeli ally -- hacking and raping and murdering their way through refugee camps."

Fisk was identified as a Beirut-based correspondent for the London Independent newspaper. Amid worries about profiling and harassment of Arab Americans, Maysoon Khatib finds she has a duty to raise awareness of constitutional rights in the pages of the Arab American Journal.

"They're a little more fearful," Khatib said of her readers. "So they want to know more." Khatib is the English editor of the newspaper produced in a storefront on west Warren Avenue in Dearborn, the hub of a large Arab-American community. The newsroom sits next door to its founder's primary business, Golden Pointe Awning, which pays most of the $160,000 it costs to publish and pay a small staff.

Amir Denha, publisher of the Chaldean Detroit Times, said his twice-monthly newspaper has focused on how the attack has impacted its Catholic readership on Detroit's north side and in Oakland and Macomb counties. In a recent column, he spoke of how the Iraqi Chaldean-American experience has been affected by wars in Iraq and now in America.

Osama Siblani, publisher of the Arab American News, sees his 18-year-old weekly newspaper as a vehicle for informing Arab Americans and the general public.

"The attack is going to make it harder for second and third generations to identify as Arab Americans," Siblani said. "But we have a role to play, and our role is to educate the mainstream of our culture."

Casey Kasem, host of the "American Top 40" national radio show, recently wrote a column for the paper about Arab-American ethnic pride. Kasem's ancestry is Lebanese.

At the Southfield studios of TV Orient, which supplies Arab-oriented programming to local cable outlets, owner Wally Jadan said: "We cover the local community in detail . . . Almost all the politicians come here to be interviewed."

TV Orient also receives news programs from 22 nations in the Middle East and North Africa via satellite. The programs are edited for news shows broadcast on cable TV in 48 Michigan communities. Jadan also provides an Arabic radio broadcast from 5 to 8 p.m. daily . ( tel: 703 623 8421 )

Satellites, meanwhile, beam a nonstop variety of Middle Eastern news programs plus movies, religion, music videos and game shows. Al-Jazeera, the 24-hour news network based in the tiny oil-rich Persian Gulf nation of Qatar, has become familiar to those with or without satellites. It has news and has provided exclusive footage from the war front, including videotapes of terrorism suspect Osama bin Laden's pronouncements.

About 150,000 households with satellites in the United States receive Al-Jazeera, said the network's Washington bureau chief. He added that the network also boasts 45 million viewers in the Middle East and North Africa and 3 million in Europe, and its footage has been carried by CNN and other networks.
Fowler Sharma of Novi, who owns a Detroit restaurant equipment firm, said he watches Al-Jazeera, which he finds refreshing in its candor.

Al-Jazeera prides itself on its editorial independence and diversity of views, unlike most Arab TV outlets whose editorial slants are government- or party-controlled. Al-Jazeera has drawn fire from some Arab media for inviting Israeli politicians on its show. It has also reported news that its financial backer, the government of Qatar, is being used as a U.S. military hardware depot. U.S. military presence is a sensitive issue in the Persian Gulf. Al-Jazeera appears to thrive on the controversy.

U.S. officials have criticized it for airing bin Laden's videotaped rhetoric and for the anti-American remarks of guests on its shows.
In a recent editorial, the Arab American News criticized the U.S. attempts to pressure Qatar to rein in Al-Jazeera: "The U.S. government has said and done some fairly ridiculous things in attempts to influence events in the Middle East, but the latest shenanigan sets new standards for juvenility and hypocrisy."

 
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