Instead of promoting a positive image of the Arabs and Muslims, the Cable TV station fell into the community habit of playing to the divisions in the community, siding with those who fit into its religious perspective and pushing out those who did not fit.
In other words, Bridges TV became just like the mainstream media it hoped to change, discriminating against Arabs and Muslims who were too secular, weighing down the issues facing secular Muslims and secular Arabs, pushing out those whose views challenged the rising religious zealotry and political extremism that continues to plague the community.
And audiences started to see this as programming tended toward political spheres and away from the Cable TV's stated mission, which was (with their emphasis):
"Bridges TV aims to foster a greater understanding among many cultures and
diverse populations. Through our high-quality, informative, 24-7 programming in
English; we seek to become a unifying force that can help people understand our
diverse world through education and entertainment."
On Friday Feb. 13, 2009, their web site was brought down. Not by computer Internet hackers, but by the conflict that apparently not only consumed the cable TV's mission, but by internal conflicts involving the personal life of the owner and the individual who championed its creation, Muzzammil Hassan.
Muzzammil Hassan, 44, was charged with Second Degree Murder in the grusome the beheading of his wife, Aasiya Hassan, 37, at the Cable TV studios of Bridges TV in a suburb of Buffalo New York on Friday night. (Read story?) Orchard Park is just south of Buffalo New York which also dominated the headlines on Friday when a Continental plane carrying 49 people crashed just outside of the city's airport (Read story?) on its way from Newark Liberty Airport.
Hassan was such a nice person. I spoke with him often about the challenges he faces. He understood that he was fighting two battles. The first against stereotypes in the mainstream American news media and public that oppress Arabs and Muslims. The second in our own community which is divided by an internal war of political extremism versus moderation, rivalries nurtured by years of a community that has been pushed down to the furthest depths of victimization, and rising religious activism which often dictates what is and is not acceptable these days in the Arab and Muslims community.
No one can navigate through those turbulent community waters -- a common denominator across the board in the Arab and Muslim community from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles -- while also having to face up to the persistent challenges of righting the notions of America towards Arabs and Muslims which is drawn with stereotypes of hatred, suspicion, fear, lack of education, ignorance and politics is impossible.
You can't but help to acknowledge the irony that Muzzammil Hassan's tragedy involves one of the most heinous stereotypes that is constantly used to demean Arabs and Muslims. We don't know all the circumstances outside of the charges filed and the victim's remains. We do know that the stereotype runs even deeper, as his wife, who was listed on the now removed Bridges TV web site as "General Manager," was filing for a divorce.
Over the next few days and weeks, we will see the chatter in the mainstream media shift as it always does when it involves Arabs and Muslims from the facts of the issue and crime to the more prevalent stereotypes fueling the racism and ignorance in this country.
Mr. Hassan is innocent until proven guilty. But the circumstance of the events in this tragedy will reach far beyond logic and the damage this will inflict on Arabs and Muslims in America will not yet be fully felt immediately.
Tragically, it will set back and derail the forward movement of Arab American journalism. And it will separate even more the American public from the understanding of the Arab and Muslim community in this country, serving only to reinforce the extremists in the internal battle with the besieged and abandoned moderates that are the majority but who also have come to accept that the challenge of righting the keel is insurmountable and futile.
This is one of the most disturbing setbacks I think I have seen in years in the battle to change the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim stereotypes in this country. Instead of achieving the noble goals stated in the Bridges TV Mission, this event has served to make that road far longer and more difficult.
-- Ray Hanania