“Arabs and Muslims in the Media” New class at University of Michigan, Dearborn

“Arabs and Muslims in the Media” New class at University of Michigan, Dearborn
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“Arabs and Muslims in the Media” New class at University of Michigan, Dearborn

Arab American professor Dr. Hani Bawadi blames the U.S. Media for the false images of Arabs and Muslims that are projected in Western countries like America. He’ll be teaching a new class at the University of Michigan on the media, Arabs and Muslims.

By Saba Ibraheem

Dr. Hani Bawardi, a professor at the University of Michigan, Dearborn. Photo courtesy of Palestine Book Awards site.

“Images of Arabs and Muslims in the U.S. media historically are to blame for false perceptions of Arabs and Muslims. This is why I am developing this course,” Dr. Bawadi stated. Dr. Hani Bawardi is an Associate Professor of History in the Department of Social Sciences, and a member of the Center of Arab American Studies at the University of Michigan in Dearborn.

A native of the Levant, he initially came to the US in search of a college education. He received his BA in Political Science and masters in American Culture from the University of Michigan and his Ph.D. in the history of the US, Middle East Studies from Wayne State University.

“Initially, I came to understand the prominence of entrepreneurship among the Arab immigrants in Flint, Michigan,” Dr. Bawardi said. His master’s thesis was based on an extensive survey of business ownership by Arab immigrants over a century. The process of his research, he was entrusted with a large archival collection by a member of the Farha family, a pioneering immigrant family from Nazareth in northern Palestine. The collection included manuscripts, documents, books, pamphlets including the most extensive records on formal advocacy by Arabic speaking immigrants in the country. “This is what prompted me to start a career as a historian,” he said.

Listed as history or Arab American Studies (HIST or AAST 3673), “Arabs and Muslims in the Media” is the new class that Dr. Bawardi is trying to run for the winter semester, 2019. The course is in part about the pervasive negative image of Arab and Muslims that was adopted by Hollywood, but these images are pervasive in, Bawardi said, “works of fiction like novels, travel genre literature of the late nineteenth century, documentaries, textbooks, TV news and entertainment, even children’s books.” The class will answer questions such as who invents images of Arabs and Muslims in the Media? What ends do these images serve? How most shape false perceptions of cultures of Arabs and Muslims and their religions?

News media, reporters, microphones, Journalists at the UN School in Beit Lahi, Gaza Strip wait for the press briefing by António Guterres, the ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations. Guterres visited Palestine August 29 and 30, 2017. Photo courtesy of Mohammed Asad.

Working journalists. Photo courtesy of Mohammed Asad.

Even before Afghanistan and the Iraq war, media has been portraying the Arab and Muslim in the movies. “I remember on my first week in the U.S feeling shocked when I watched a movie on TV about Palestinians hijacking the Goodyear Blimp to bomb a football game,” he said. During his undergraduate studies, one professor showed Palestinian embroidery and dance (called Dabke) as Israeli folklore. “Another professor,” Bawardli recalls, “insisted that Arab children and punished harshly and never shown warmth.” The same professor claimed, Bawardi said, that “an entire people may have turned barbaric because of the lack of a hug.”

“I found out that anti-Arabs and anti-Muslims propaganda are pervasive and cannot be avoided by most Americans over generations.” Dr. Bawardi said.

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“When volunteered to tell youngsters about Arabs and Spanish cultures in Flint’s inner city,” Bawardi recalls, “students would often ask why do Arabs hate us so much?” This question surprised Bawardi. He attributes this question to the fact that the students were “acculturated, systematically and meticulously by the media in all its forms to view Arabs with suspicion.” Dr. Bawardi said.

“I hope we can correct these perceptions by providing accurate information. It’s an uphill battle, and we have to keep trying. My job is to teach about the facts explain them in context,” he said.

The class will show the students a vast number of stereotypes examples to inform them that the information they receive from the media is not always reliable about Arabs. But Professor Bawardi is planning to also show films by rising filmmakers among many women who are making headway in challenging these stereotypes.

Dr. Bawardi explained that sometimes there is a political message behind media portraying certain groups. The political message can serve a local or international purpose. For international use, the message is to generate support for one side only, like Arabs are the enemy and we have to support our friends who are non-Arabs. While the local message reinforces racist attitude and Arab baiting during elections, ” If you speak against Arabs in general, you may be able to appeal to a large constituency who believe that Arabs are the enemies of the United States,” he added.

In the U.S, we see media going with the flow, and not telling the truth. Media is sensitive to mass consumers and serve corporate priorities. An excellent example that Dr. Bawardi provided was about the program called “All American Muslims.” It showed the daily lives of five American Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan. It presented them as ordinary people. However, the founder of the Florida Family Association, David Caton, sent an email to various companies claiming that the show played propaganda for Muslims and that these Muslims are “too normal.” As a result of his campaign, Lowe’s, the primary sponsor of the program, pulled out its sponsorship and the program was canceled.

“This is a very special class to me because I saw many anti-Arab examples while attending college. And this a chance to challenge these ugly stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims based on facts,” Dr. Bawardi said. The class will allow students to see and critique these perceptions.

The class will also have some good examples of how Arab see themselves in the movies they produced. “I made the flyers myself to promote for the class, and rely on word-of-mouth for the most part,” he said. His classes usually have diverse students as do the three courses he teaches about Arabs and Muslims.

After teaching for 11 years at the University of Michigan in Dearborn, Dr. Bawardi feels that academic freedom is under threat, especially if you assume progressive positions on issues relating to Arabs or Muslims.” We have to guard that freedom all the time,” he said. I asked him if he faced discrimination himself, he declined to give a detailed answer at this time.

The class can run only if there are 10 to 15 students enrolled in it.

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Saba Ibraheem

Saba Ibraheem is a freelance journalist. She graduated with a bachelor degree in Media Studies and Journalism from Eastern Michigan University. During her study, she worked as a Design Chief and published several articles for the Eastern Echo newspaper. Also, she did a study abroad in London and an internship with NBC25 and FOX66 in Flint, Michigan. Currently, she lives in Ann Arbor and doing freelancing for the US Arab Radio.Reach her atsabaibraheem1@gmail.com
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