Wednesday, March 25, 2009

PROFILE: Ray Hanania, Arab World needs American Arab journalists to help

Palestinian radio talk show host takes on mainstream and Middle East issues

(Arab American Writers Group Syndicate) – Ray Hanania has always been a fighter. He has no choice. He is American Arab, and he refuses to put his ethnicity in the back of the bus where many Americans today demand Middle Eastern people sit.

Hanania, who has written seven books, authors a syndicated column, and hosts both a radio and TV Show in Chicago, Illinois, believes that the answer to the challenges facing the Arab World is to empower American Arab journalists to help change the false stereotypes and perceptions that undermine justice and feed anti-Arab bias in the West.

“The Arab World is making a critical error by believing that they can change the Western mindset by simply writing about world events and doing so mainly in the Arabic language,” argues Hanania, who is managing editor of and whose columns often appear in the mainstream American and Arab world media.

“They have failed to take advantage of the one single asset that can empower the Arab voice in the West and especially in America, the American Arab professional journalists.”

Hanania, who is a co-founded of the National Arab American Journalists Association, reports that the voice of American Arabs are shifting from partisan activism to professional journalism.

“We have more than 90 independent American Arab ethnic newspapers and magazines, a dozen radio and cable TV programs hosted by American Arabs, and we have more than 250 journalists in this country, half of whom work full or parttime in mainstream American journalism positions,” Hanania says.

“The failure of the Arab World to support that growing movement has handicapped efforts to correct inaccurate stereotypes among Americans of the Arab World, and has undermined efforts to correct injustices often times driven by misguided American foreign policy. With the new sense of justice of the administration of Barack Obama, the Arab World is poised to change all that. But they must empower American Arab journalists to help lead that change in America.”

The American-born Palestinian quickly rose through the ranks of the Palestinian American community in the early 1970s under the guidance of then Northwestern Political Science Professor Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, who helped Hanania become spokesman for the Arab American Congress for Palestine in 1975.

That year, Hanania also launched an English language newspaper that immediately put him in the sights of the Midwest Office of the FBI – resulting in a two-year long investigation and secret FBI report – and a head-to-head debate on national Public TV with Israel’s Foreign Minister, Abba Eban.

Since then, Hanania entered journalism believing that Arab cultural tradition of directing young children into white collar professions like medicine, engineering, law and even corporate and retail business had to be changed. American Arabs had to enter the field of journalism.

“Communications is the most powerful profession in America and in the world,’ says Hanania, who has since won three Society of Professional Journalism awards for his columns and was named Best Ethnic Columnist in America by the New America Media.

“In America, perception is reality. Americans oftentimes do not care about the facts or the truth. They care more about who is saying the facts and the truth. And if you do not look and sound exactly like them, oftentimes justice falters and injustice rises to a national clamor.”

The view has pushed him into frequent clashes with the leadership of the American Arab community, especially with those who have relied on emotion and tragedy to keep the community in line.

Hanania, whose father is from Jerusalem and mother from Bethlehem, also advocates that Palestinians must reject violence and even resistance, and embrace a compromise with Israel arguing that failing to do so has resulted in giving the Israelis carte blanche not only in the PR field but in the reality of everyday life for Palestinians in Palestine.

“Every day, Israel is erasing the rights and existence of the Palestinian people. They have played a cunning, deceptive and clever game of advocating for peace while increasing illegal settlements, stealing Palestinian owned lands, expelling Palestinians from their homes, and engaging in terrorism themselves through the military and through the terrorist settler movement,” Hanania explains.

“What has been our response as Palestinians and Arabs? To help Israel by responding not with our brains but with our emotions. With our anger. Instead of being strategic, as the Israelis have been, we have been reckless in our leadership. When you argue reason, community leaders who have based their leadership not on skills but manipulating and exploiting the tragedy and emotions of our people have responded by calling you a traitor and worse. We have to stop letting our emotions control our destiny because so far it has not worked.”

Hanania believes that the problem is compounded by the absence of American Arabs in Western mainstream journalism.

“It’s not enough to have Arab journalists in the Middle East covering these events because they are writing primarily in Arabic and they are writing under a system of repression that is oftentimes more harsh for them in Arab countries than under Israeli occupation,” Hanania asserts.

“Arab World journalists are faltering by failing to speak to the Western audiences in the English language. And in those few instances where they try to write and broadcast in English, the Western audiences have resisted and rejected those programs. The answer is to build a new Arab Media not in the Middle East but in the heartland of America. Strengthen the voices of professional American Arab journalists and empower them to engage the American and Western publics in a natural form of English and in a professional form of Journalism.”

Hanania was one of the first Palestinians to enter professional journalism full time in 1976, covering Chicago City Hall and politics for 16 years. He currently is the only American Arab to host a weekday Monday through Friday morning radio show in Chicago (WJJG 1530 AM) which speaks to mainstream American issues with an “Arab flare.”

“We are American like anyone else in this country. We served in the military and are often more patriotic than the so-called patriots who disparage and attack and defame the Arab people in this country,” Hanania says.

“No one can more effectively speak for the Arab cause in America and the West than American Arabs who have integrated themselves into American life while still clinging to their Arab heritage with pride.”

Hanania’s morning show, which covers the Chicagoland region with a more than 6 million audience reach, aggressively asserts its Arab heritage in almost every topic discussion.

“Americans need to know that we Arabs are just like them. We are no different. We can do that better than anyone else,’ Hanania argues.

(For more information on Ray Hanania, visit or his radio web site at He can be reached at