Media exploitation of discrimination and human rights
The news media is often harsh when addressing issues of civil and human rights in the Arab and Muslim Worlds, but they always seem to come up with excuses in their failure to address civil and human rights violations right here in America and in the West. Clearly, the news media hypocrisy will champion the rights of political oppression in the Arab World, but only when it is politically expedient to do so in America
By Ray Hanania
For many Western journalists and activists, human rights isn’t really about discrimination. It is about the politics of nation’s they oppose, like Saudi Arabia.
These critics, mainly political activists and Western journalists with anti-Arab biases, are willing to single out countries like Saudi Arabia while remaining silent on similar practices in other countries, like Israel, South America and even in Europe.
The truth is there is a difference between discrimination based on human rights, such as those against women, and discrimination based on religious custom and practices, which involve “restrictions.”
For many years, America was just like that discriminating not just against African Americans, but also against women, Asians and Arabs. In fact, despite the adoption of civil rights legislation in America, American society continues to discriminate while many local American governments also discriminate against Arabs, Muslims and even women, too.
But the news media’s reporting on discrimination isn’t really about civil rights. It is about politics. The media highlights discrimination in some countries while ignoring them in others.
This Western media and Western political bias was center stage when President Donald Trump decided to break ranks with his predecessors and make his very first foreign trip not to Israel, Europe or other Western nations, but to Saudi Arabia where he signed a deal to sell nearly $110 billion in military equipment.
The deal will bring thousands of new jobs to America and strengthen the America economy, but that’s not what the racist mainstream American news media focused on.
Instead, they looked between the cracks to showcase negative stories demeaning Arab culture and life in Saudi Arabia, things they don’t showcase in other countries.
When the media talks about Saudi Arabia, the restrictions become a civil rights issue. When the media talks about discrimination in Israel and even in the United States, the discrimination become “restrictions” imposed by “religious choice.”
ABC TV News White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega demonstrated this bias during her coverage of the Trump visit to Saudi Arabia.
Standing in Riyadh in front of a McDonalds restaurant, an American fast food enterprise, Vega pointed out how women are required to enter the restaurant through a front door designated as “family” and separate from a front door for men. The eating rooms for the two are separate.
Although that is driven by religious values and customs in Saudi Arabia, Vega touted it on her national news coverage as an example of a civil rights abuse.
Vega, who was appointed White House correspondent in January, has a history of turning her back on discrimination when it involves “friendly” politicians and countries. She has failed to note similar restrictions that exist against Jewish women in Israel’s Haredi and Hassidic communities, and worse has ignored outright racism practiced by the state of Israel against non-Jews (Christians and Muslims).
During a visit to the United States that ABC TV News and other western media ignored, Israeli Knesset member Ahmad Tibi denounced what he said were nearly 50 laws by Israel that impose discriminatory policies against non-Jews in Israel. And, Tibi denounced Israel’s policies in the occupied West Bank and Occupied Jerusalem as reflecting “Apartheid” racism.
Vega was celebrated by major news outlets in the United States when she confronted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who accompanied Trump during the seven-day foreign policy trip that started in Saudi Arabia and will swing through Israel, the Palestinian territories, the Vatican and Belgium, and asked if he would speak out against human rights abuses while in Saudi Arabia.
The shout out by Vega got her huge coverage, but it reminded me of how the same White House correspondents were silent when another woman journalist, Helen Thomas, frequently challenged American presidents and government officials about racism and discrimination against Christians and Muslims in Israel.
Thomas was hounded out of journalism in 2010 and 2011, probably causing her death in July 2013.
There is a significant distinction between discrimination and racism in societies, and restrictions in religious beliefs.
When I debated this point recently with several political activists and media representatives, they all insisted there was a difference because “Saudi Arabia is a government and the human rights violations are by a government.”
I asked them about Israel’s discrimination. And when they didn’t answer, I asked them about America. They claimed that discrimination does exist in America but it is not “government sanction” discrimination. It’s by “individuals.”
Really? Like when 22 American States adopt laws that punish Americans who criticize and urge boycotts of Israel, a foreign country. That “punishment” directed by American law is not a civil rights violation?
It’s all media hypocrisy. A good example of how the news media in this country lies, twists and distorts any circumstance to align with their political agenda.
And believe me, the rights of Arabs, Palestinians and Muslims are not among their political agenda priorities!
The United States protects many of this “restrictions.” The very first line of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution makes that abundantly clear: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Saudi Arabia is much like one large religious institution, a different kind of government compared to the United States, meaning that comparisons are inaccurate and unfair. Each has to be looked at in their own context and their own history.
The media also took issue with the First Lady, Melanie Trump who walked behind her husband after disembarking from Air Force One in Riyadh.
Mrs. Trump, who did not cover her head, did walk behind her husband and Saudi King Salman. But she was walking with several male Saudi leaders who also walked behind the two leaders.
There are differences between life in Saudi Arabia and in America. But to analyze those differences outside of the reality of the rest of the world, and to refuse to apply the same standard on Israel and other countries that are applied to Saudi Arabia is a disservice to the cause of fighting discrimination.
The media is turning civil rights into an issue of politics, to be used to influence politics when it suits the media’s agenda and to be ignored when it involves “friendly” countries.
That does more to undermine civil rights, human rights and the war against racism in the world than one nation that is struggling steadily to change how it addresses women.
(Ray Hanania is an award wining Palestinian American columnist, author, and editor of The Arab Daily News in Chicago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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Ray Hanania is an award winning political and humor columnist who analyzes American and Middle East politics, and life in general. He is an author of several books.
"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."
Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at www.TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website www.SuburbanChicagoland.com, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.
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