By Ray Hanania
It is time for the Arab World and Arab people to rebrand themselves in the era of newly elected President Donald Trump if we expect to see our issues addressed fairly.
Arabs can sit back and let events overtake us the way they always do. Or, we can become active and do what needs to be done that we haven’t done so far.
What can we do? We need a new Arab Spring, one driven by people with a clear, unified and achievable goal. We need to replace emotion with reason, effective communications messaging, and goals that are more clearly defined to build bridges, not create obstacles with the West. Arabs need to stop allowing others to define us. We need to define ourselves. And we have to answer a very important question: Are we “Muslim,” or are we “Arab?”
It makes a difference to the West, which strongly believes in a separation of church and state. Too often in the Arab World, religion and Islam is politics. That has caused many Americans to view Islam as a threat.
Arabs have erred in embracing a religious identify. It has caused the West to fear us, rather than empathize with our rights. Our religious identity has caused consternation, resistance and opposition, not understanding.
As a consequence, the West has tried to control the Muslim World, rather than partnering with the Arab World as equals. Most Muslims are not Arab. Non-Arab Muslims share a love and respect for the religion, but they don’t share the same priorities of Arabs Muslims. The result is that Western governments have built alliances with non-Arab Muslims, while isolating Arabs, Muslims and Christians from nearly all aspects of society, government and politics. That doesn’t mean “Muslims” are not the focus of the animosity of many Americans. Americans are the most educated people in the world but the least educated about the world. They really see no differences between Arabs, Asians, Pakistanis, Christian Arabs and Muslims Arabs.
We can’t wait until Americans understand us. We have to help them understand us by redefining ourselves, and returning to the powerful movement of Arab nationalism. The Arab World has to be the “Arab World.” This can start with the Arab League, which needs to reorganize and embrace modern day PR strategies.
Saudi Arabia can play a key role in this transformation. Despite recent tensions with America, Saudi Arabia is America’s most effective ally. Saudi Arabia needs to remind Americans how much has been done for them in fighting terrorism, in holding down the costs of oil, and, most importantly, in standing up to the allies of terrorism like Iran, Assad’s Syria, and Hezbollah.
The Arab World needs to redirect its wealth to this one goal, defining a new, and effective communications strategy designed to combat the racist stereotypes of Arabs that dominate the West. Americans are not racist by nature. They are racist by design. Racism is a political instrument. It is fueled by the bias in the mainstream American news media. Media bias protects and justifies Western racist stereotypes of Arabs distorting issues like justice for Palestine and the protection of Islamic and Christian holy sites.
And when Americans come to respect Arabs, they will automatically come to respect Islam and Muslims. Most Americans, who are Christian by religion, don’t even recognize Christian Arabs as being a part of their religious heritage. They can’t see their affinity to Arab Christians when all they see is a fear of Muslims. After giving a speech defending the Arab and Muslim people in the weeks following the terrorism of Sept. 11, 2001, an American woman came up to me and declared, “I can’t believe you abandoned your Christian faith to become an Arab.”
One of the problems has been the Arab World’s media, too. Too many Arab media are more concerned about activism than about professional journalism. It’s one reason I came to the Arab News, one of the most respected journalism institutions in the Middle East. They are committed to presenting truth, not spin to make their audiences happy. When you know the accurate truth, you can then confront the lies, the racism, and the hatred in the world around us. But when the Arab media reflects biased activism, then all we are doing is feeding the stereotypes that exist, not changing them. We need an Arab World media Intifada that the West will turn to for understanding, coupled with an Arab World campaign of professional PR. We need to engage the West, and Americans especially with compelling narratives and truth that counters the stereotypes of Arabs that drives American foreign policies. Most importantly, we need to do all this as “Arabs.”
We can love and respect our religions of Christianity and Islam, and still rebrand ourselves as being Arabs. If we do that, in the post-Trump America, we can change how Americans view our just rights and force them to respect us.