Frank Rich on the 'Indiscriminate Demonization of Arabs in America'
Al Jazeera English, run by a 35-year veteran of the Canadian Broadcasting Company, is routinely available in Israel and Canada. It provided coverage of the 2009 Gaza war and this year's Tunisian revolt when no other television networks would or could. Yet in America, it can be found only in Washington, D.C., and on small cable systems in Ohio and Vermont. None of the biggest American cable and satellite companies - Comcast, DirecTV and Time Warner - offer it.The noxious domestic political atmosphere fostering this near-blackout is obvious to all. It was made vivid last week when Bill O'Reilly of Fox News went on a tear about how Al Jazeera English is "anti-American." This is the same "We report, you decide" Fox News that last week broke away from Cairo just as the confrontations turned violent so that viewers could watch Rupert Murdoch promote his new tablet news product at a publicity event at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
So what are we ignorant Americans missing from Al Jazeera? Besides its knee-jerk anti-Americanism, there was a 2008 program, when the Beirut bureau chief of Al Jazeera, Ghassan bin Jiddo, threw a birthday party for the released terrorist and child-killer Samir Kuntar, calling him a "pan-Arab hero." Kuntar served 28 years for the killing of four Israelis, including two young children, before being released in a prisoner swap in 2008.
Rich branched out his attack, though whether he's claiming American demonization of Arabs worldwide, or American demonization of those Arabs living in America, isn't clear). In any case, it appeared to have started at 9-11, though Rich doesn't say it directly.
The consequence of a decade's worth of indiscriminate demonization of Arabs in America - and of the low quotient of comprehensive adult news coverage that might have helped counter it - is the steady rise in Islamophobia. The "Ground Zero" mosque melee has given way to battles over mosques as far removed from Lower Manhattan as California. Soon to come is a national witch hunt - Congressional hearings called by Representative Peter King of New York - into the "radicalization of the American Muslim community." Given the disconnect between America and the Arab world, it's no wonder that Americans are invested in the fights for freedom in Egypt and its neighboring dictatorships only up to a point. We've been inculcated to assume that whoever comes out on top is ipso facto a jihadist.