The ONLY active voice for American Arab Journalists.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Learning from the Imus controversy -- for Arab and Muslim American Journalists

Arab and Muslim American Journalists must unite
Learning from the Imus scandal

One of the reasons -- not the only reason -- why NBC pulled the plug on Imus last week was that African American journalists who worked at NBC and MSNBC spoke out publicly against the comments that Imus made deprecating African American women.

The National Black Journalists Association also spoke out urging its members to speak out against the comments that Imus and his sidekick Sid Rosenberg made about the African American members of the Rutgers Woman's basketball team. Imus has made racist comments in the past. But this time, he was challenged head-on by the powerful journalism lobby of the African American community.

As an Arab American, I wonder outloud, why has Imus been allowed to repeatedly slander Arab Americans and Muslims without even a reprimand? Part of the reason is that we, as Arab and Muslim American journalists, have not yet reached our professional clout. Arab American journalists are growing in numbers.

NAAJA -- the National Arab American Journalists Association, is only one of 12 Arab American journalism groups -- has more than 175 members, 60 of them listed on the web page, and still more on the listserv.

As journalists of Arab heritage, Christian and Muslim, we have a responsibility to recognize how professional journalists can change the injustices of the world simply by being professional journalists. Simply by networking together not on the basis of politics, regional ethnic and religious identity but on the basis of the shared fate. We are Arab and Muslim. We are targets of discrimination. Our story is rarely told. We are most often seen by the mainstream media and public when Arabs and Muslims are the key characters in stories of violence, terrorism and wrongdoing.

The positive side of our community is rarely portrayed, or not portrayed enough. We can make a difference.

This isn't about personality. This is not about individual clout. This is not about differences we all do share on issues of politics, the Middle East conflict and more.

The differences we see in each other, are NOT seen by the Americans around us. Mainstream America does not see these differences. They can oftentimes not tell the difference between Palestinians or Pakistanis, Arab Christians or Arab Muslims. I am most often mistaken for a Palestinian Muslim by Americans, even when my bio states outright my personal religion.

If the society in which we live cannot see our differences, why do we insist of seeing them ourselves?

Each one of us can take something different from the Imus affair.

African Americans are engaged in a community-wide sooul searching over the issues of free speech and the use of similar, disrespectful vernacular found in African American hip-hop and rap, and African American standup comedy.

We Arab Americans and Muslim Americans and people from the Middle East need to also take something out of this controversy that helps us become stronger, more professional and helps us educate the non-Arabs and non-Muslims among whom we live in this country. I urge you to do the following:

  • please support NAAJA ... there is no membership fee. Join the NAAJA listserv by emailing ... we charge no fees and we have no presidents-for-life. You can organize your own local chapter, efforts and events in your own cities. NAAJA is about networking so we can help each other.
  • Send news about your achievements to the NAAJA listserve because your successes serve as encouragement for others. Your successes create the paving for the road for those who follow us. That pride in ourselves can make the difference of success or failure for other young Arab and Muslim journalists.

  • write a column addressing the issue of Imus from the standpoint of an Arab or Muslim American and share what this controversy means to you. It's not about agreeing on issues but rather demonstrating to the larger mainstream community that as Arab Americans and Muslim Americans we have concerns about this, also, and our voices must be heard. If you cannot write a column, then share your views with your editors, staff or others in journalism.
  • Join the Society of Professional Journalists. Let them also know that Arab and Muslim Journalists count. They want to help us augment our voices, our presence and our participation as professional journalists but they must hear from us.

  • Finally, extend your hand in friendship to other young Arab and Muslim Americans who are interested in becoming journalists. When I started out in journalism in 1976, there were no such mentors to help navigate through the traumas that faced me and a hadful of others. Today, we have increased in numbers, but we must make sure not to ignore our responsibilities to help our own become a full member of our society, our profession and the world in which we work.

    Thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope to see all of you on the NAAJA list serve and hearing about all your great successes. Your achievements really do mean something not only to yourselves, but to the young people in our community starving for journalism role models and mentors, people with whom they can identify and reach out with their hands when they need help or guidance.

    Ray Hanania
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