The ONLY active voice for American Arab Journalists.

Friday, October 30, 2009

In the offices of the New York Times of the American Arab community

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I'm in the offices of the Arab American News newspaper in Dearborn Michigan, the capitol of America's Arab American community.

There are about 100 Arab newspapers in this country but the Arab American news is one of the few and maybe the only one that has its own building and a fulltime staff that churns out a newspaper not once a month, not once every two weeks but every week.

Tonight is the deadline and Osama Siblani is working with a full staff of reporters to finish the layout for the latest edition which goes to the press tonight and will be distributed throughout Michigan, the Midwest and other cities across the United States.

The big news today is the killing of an African American Imam at a mosque in nearby Detroit by the FBI. Six of the imam's followers were arrested. The incident involved a shootout between the members of the mosque and the FBI agents who charged the Imam was planning to organize violent attacks against American targets.

The American press is all over it but the Arab American news, which publishes in Arabic and English, better understands the issues of Islam and the differences between Sunni's, Shi'ites and the African American Islamic sects.

The Arab American News is located on Chase off Ford Avenue in the heart of Dearborn's 30,000 Arabs and Muslims. The newspaper is celebrating its 25th year and is distinguished by publishing one fresh edition every week that is never under 48 pages.

"This issue is 52 pages but the largest we have published is 72 pages," Siblani says between directing the editing of a story and its placement and my queries from a nearby desk.

Siblani is also the president of the Arab American Political Action Committee, which celebrates its 12th Anniversary tonight with a banquet where I will be performing standup comedy and satire on American politics, Arab American life and culture.

The typewriter keys on five computers are buzzing. It reminds me of my days working as the City Hall reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times back in the 1980s and 1990s. It's all done electronically these days. In the old days, we'd call our stories in and dictate the sentences over the telephone. Now, the stories are typed and typeset all in one motion using complex software.

Dearborn is unique for many reasons. It is the one place where all the different Arab sub-groups at least pretend to get along. In Chicago, they stay apart. In Los Angeles, they separate themselves by country clubs. But in Dearborn, they all come together because they recognize that the simple formula for empowerment that power starts at the grass roots level, not at the top offices of the President or the U.S. Congress.

As a result, dozens of candidates, including many of Arab heritage, Muslim and Christian, are running for election in Michigan's general election Tuesday, November 3.

I get this amazing sense of cultural Arab pride when I drive through Dearborn and see the billboards with Arab names and Arabic writing. Every corner has an Arab restaurant, shop or retail establishment.

The names of the candidates vary and represent what every other community continues to try to achieve, complete diversity.

John Bennett. Rose Mary Robinson. Mohamed Okdie. John O'Reilly. Hussein Berry. Abdul Algazali and Abdalla Awwad. One of the candidates creating a buzz is Ali Sayed, a life-long Dearborn resident and only 28 years old who is seeking a position on the Dearborn City council. The list of candidates names running for the Dearborn City Council are all Arab except one, Brian O'Donnell.

The candidates will be feted at the AAPAC dinner and their slogan this year is one that only Dearborn has been able to achieve: "Strength in Unity."

Down the street from the newspaper's offices is the country's only Arab Museum.

Every Arab living in America should make one trip to this city at least to see with their own eyes what true Arab involvement in American society could be like someday in their cities.

It's inspirational. And I'll leave with a sense of where Chicago's divided and distraught American Arab community might one day reach. I hope other cities will also do the same.

-- Ray Hanania

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Community media Workshop focuses on ethnic media needs Oct. 28

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Community Media Workshop's ethnic news media workshop.

The Community Media Workshop is holding a workshop for journalism students in the Chicago area to learn about  the ethnic news media and the possibilities for internships, freelancing, or, hopefully, jobs.  The meeting is from 3 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday Oct. 28th at the eighth floor at 1104 S. Wabash, on the campus of Columbia College.

At the session, you'll meet college graduates who have found jobs with the ethnic news media, editors or news directors who are looking for interns or freelancers, and offer some advice about how the ethnic news media might be a stepping stone in this incredibly fast changing world of journalism.

There are over 300 ethnic news media outlets in the Chicago area and they range from giants like Univision to pioneers like the Chicago Defender to up and coming print, radio or television outlets that serve a growing number of Asian, Latino and African immigrants here.

The Community Media Workshop is a more than 20-year-old non-profit that has been helping Chicago communities and organizations make their voices heard.

For more information, contact Steve Franklin
 at 312 369 6400

Friday, October 02, 2009

Chicago's disregard for American Arabs in part cause of losing 2016 Olympic Bid

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The International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted Tuesday to reject Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympics. The committee consisted of over 100 members, including 12 from Arab countries. Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley may have set the city up for a "fall" when he falsely boasted to the Ruler of Dubai during a visit there that his administration has been very considerate of American Arab needs. There are more than 230,000 Arabs living in Chicago, Daley said, or 7.6 percent of the population. But, the tragedy is that American Arabs in Chicago have no real representation on the city's 50-member city council, less than 1 percent of the city's 36,000 jobs, and are marginalized at almost every level of City Government.

Mayor Daley and AON Corporation Chairman Patrick Ryan must bear the brunt of the responsibility for losing the bid. The city has been besieged by ongoing scandals that have undermined public support for the Olympic Games.

Daley, who vowed that taxpayers would not be responsible for any losses incurred by the Olympics if held in Chicago, quietly planned to put taxpayers on the hook for any losses -- losses that could not be projected this far in advance of the games. Only weeks ago, after denying taxpayers would be responsible, Daley forced the rubber stamp Chicago City Council to approve a guarantee that in fact taxpayers would be on the hook for any financial losses, a requirement demanded by the IOC.

That and the bloated and wasteful spending of the Chicago 2016 Olympic Committee, soured most Chicagoans on the game bid. The majority of Chicagoans opposed the Olympic bid, not because they do not believe the Olympics could be beneficial, but because they just don't trust the corruption-plagued Chicago Machine that Daley heads. Daley and the 2016 Olympic Committee were dishonest in their approach in dealing with the public.

Worse, though, is the abuse American Arabs continue to take under Daley's leadership. Mayor Daley patronizes American Arabs, but does not support the American Arab community.

The fact is that if American Arabs represent 7.6 percent of the city's 3 million citizens, then American Arabs should have 7.6 percent of the city's jobs, 7.6 percent of the teaching jobs, 7.6 percent of the firemen positions and policemen positions which are all above and beyond the basic city employment. American Arabs should also have 7.6 percent of the city's multi-million dollar contract awards. And American Arabs organizations should be receiving 7.6 percent of the millions of dollars in contract grants awarded for ethnic and heritage pride programs.

The reality is that despite Daley exaggerating the truth in his meeting with the Ruler of Dubai and also Arab members of the IOC's board, the truth prevailed. Arabs hold less than 1 percent of the city's jobs, have only 2 to 4 out of thousands teaching positions, get only crumbs from the city's multi-million dollar grants programs for culture, ethnic and heritage pride, and we get no real respect.

The 2016 Olympic Committee met with American Arab leaders several times. At one meeting, I complained that we want to support the Olympics but that Daley and his administration takes our community for granted. The spokespeople on the 2016 Committee insisted they could do nothing about the shortcomings toward or community but said they would make the point loud and clear to the mayor.

They did not.

In fact, out of the more than 360 members of the Chicago 2016 Olympic Committee, only two are Arab.
Later, as a result of my columns, several more were added.

All American Arabs in Chicago and throughout the United States are asking is that we be treated equally, fairly and just like everyone else, every other ethnic group, every other racial group, every other religious.

But because of the politicized nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict, American Arabs are not treated fairly. We are patronized, ignored, left out and even oppressed.

Nothing says that more than the apparent abandonment of Chicago's bid by the Arab World IOC delegates and the delegates from Africa. They were our chance. But the greed and politically selfishness of some of the top leadership of the Chicago 2016 Olympic Committee failed to put the focus where it should be.

Chicago should have been portrayed as a city of fairness, equality and diversity.

Clearly, most of the IOC's delegates, including the Arab delegates, saw through the Chicago 2016 Olympic Committee's ruse!

-- Ray Hanania