Media Solutions for Muslims and Arabs in this Time of Crisis

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This is but a short overview of how we may work with media, politicians and opinion leaders in our communities, regionally and nationally. This crisis brought about by the bombings of Sept. 11 is a tragedy for so many; we give our condolences to those who lost relatives and loved ones in these attacks.

As Muslims and Arabs, though many have faced discrimination and threats, we must see this as an opportunity to teach people about Islamic and Arab cultures. Up to this point in history, no one wanted to know much about Islam or the Arabs. But now, books on Islam and the Arabs are flying off the shelves. We must now step into this opening of interest in a variety of ways.

The following ideas and solutions apply to both Muslims and Christians among us:

It is time that Muslims and Christians reached out to the media and to churches to explain Islam and early Christianity. We must make clear that we condemn the bombings in NYC and DC; Islam and Christianity expressly forbids attacks on civilians and also forbids suicide.

This is also a time to get on as many radio and television shows as is possible. You do this by contacting the news directors of the various stations and explain who you or your group represents and that you would like an opportunity to speak to the situation at hand. You may or may not get on the air; if not, you may also tell the station management that you’d be happy to come in and explain Islam to them so that they are better informed (this is important also because so many have misconceptions about Islam by lack of knowledge, dysinformation and by the orientalists in the zionist camp) and the mixing up of Islam with Arabs and that not Arabs are Muslims and that not all Muslims are Arabs. For the Christians, it is important that you explain the first Christians were Arabs, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is cared for and guarded by Palestinian (Arab) Christians, etc. Too often these facts about both Islam and Christianity are not known to the bulk of Americans.

Muslims and Christians must also reach out to churches; you will find these people receptive and willing to learn. Here in the San Diego area, we have had great success explaining Islam and how close Islam is to Christianity in so many ways. Multiply all those you speak to by the number of persons they speak to and you will find that a group of even 50 will reach out to thousands by network and through friendships etc. You will also find a reservoir of good-will among these people. When I went out to speak to a group of 600 people who had come together enmasse from a group of Protestant churches, I received a standing ovation when I finished speaking; the same will happen to you I’m sure. BUT REMEMBER ONE THING, YOU ARE NOT THERE TO CONVERT THEM TO ISLAM; you are but there to inform them about Islam so that they can aid us and we can become friends for the long run (not just in this crisis). For too long the Muslim community has stayed by itself and not reached out, or felt they were superior to the Christian community and some in the Christian community felt this way about the Muslims; this is not the way, and was never the right way. We are brothers and sisters of the BOOKs from Allah (God). As Muslims and Christians, we must both reach out in this way; you will find that God will assist you if your message is true.

You may also write letters to the local, regional and national newspapers; op-ed pieces are also good. Don’t be upset if your letters are not often published; these editors get thousands of letters everyday and they choose according to the number coming in, from whom they come in, etc. Often, the more that come in from a certain position, the more of those that are published–so, by all means, send letters or emails as often as you can so that they see you have a strong and active community.

Op Ed pieces are harder to get published. There are some excellent pieces written by Hussein Ibish from the ADC; I recommend you read some of these, as well as pieces by Edward Said and Hanan Ashrawi. You will see their clarity, their succinctness and their ability to marshall good, strong arguments for their positions. They always keep their composure and do not go off the deep-end with their statements and their arguments; and, they do cry about our condition but try to deal with it. Crying will do us no good, either on television, radio or in print; stand strong and firm, make your points and conclude. But remember, for every assertion you make, after your brief introduction, give at least 1 or 2 proofs; go on to the next assertion and then again give proofs; most good letters make only 1 or 2 points, most good op-ed pieces make only 2 or 3 good points and then conclude.

It would also be good if you send a distinguished delegation out to meet with some of the local politicians, newspaper and other opinion makers and media leaders in your community so as to established a line of communication with them. Conversation breeds respect and friendship–and we need and want all of this that we can get. This has happened here in San Diego; Majeed Khoury of the ADC has developed good relations with the Mayor as has Imam Fardan because they understood he didn’t want to get caught up in partisan or international politics; I’m sure others of you have also set up good relations in your communities. You must understand, these mayors and politicians will help us as citizens, but they do not want to get into international disputes (something out of their areas of power and expertise) ethnic or religious disputes because for them it is ultimately a lose/lose situation. In these meetings, simply set up a sense of mutual respect and lines of communications. In these meetings, you should always ask the mayor, congressman or senator who they would like you to contact when trying to get through to them so that you know the structure they want you to work through; they will appreciate this and you will be more successful in your future relations with these people; the same goes for media and other opinion leaders.

Also, never attack these opinion leaders; you may defend yourself, but NEVER ATTACK them; if you do, you’re on the losing side immediately and it will take you a long time to recover from this. REMEMBER THIS, POLITICIANS AND OPINION LEADERS HAVE A LOT OF ACES IN THEIR HANDS, A LOT OF POWER AND THEY HAVE LONG MEMORIES. You don’t have to be afraid of them, but you do have to respect their power and remember, as you respect them, so too will they learn to respect you and your group.

Finally, set up a professional group as a media committee to coordinate media relations. In this group, you must have media savvy people who are committed to working in this area. Give responsibilities to each of them for various media and political outlets and positions and then monitor and respond accordingly in a fair, temperate and rational manner. You must always seek out those who are committed, but also those who will work within the group and not try to be a Lone Ranger–we’ve had too many of those types in the Arab and Muslim world in the past and they have done us no good in the end. In this group also, set up a hierarchy so that if you or anyone else drops out or cannot make an important meeting, the meeting will carry on without you. The same is true for your organizational structure; there must be a developed infrastructure within so that if and when this present leadership may leave or be out of commission, the infrastructure works and other leaders come forth. Too many of our groups have not developed infrastructures–this is a necessity.

Also, remember, many readers and listeners do not see the world from our point of view; in order to communicate, you must understand and empathize into your audience–if you don’t, then you’re wasting your time and you will not help our cause. Also, within your media group, before you isue major press releases or statements, have a consensus of your executive committe on the message; 5 heads are often better than one–none of us can see 360 degrees.

CHRISTIAN ARABS, many of whom are in the ADC and other organizations may follow the same ideas, but in addition they must also go out to the churches and explain to their Christian brethren that Palestinians (Arabs) were the first converts to Christianity as I said earlier. This is important because of the attacks against Arabs and Arab Americans by Jerry Falwell, Billy Graham, Jimmy Swaggert and Pat Robertson and various talk show people like Rush Limbaugh and Roger Hedgecock. You will find that many Christian ministers and even those men mentioned don’t know the history of Christianity and the role the Arabs played in the first church of Christ–in the Orthodox, Maronite and Catholic Churches–in addition to being among the first and largest number of converts to Christianity. At the same time, you may also inform them about Islam–that Islam believes in only ONE GOD, that JESUS was of Divine Birth, that Jesus brought miracles from God to show his righteous message, that Jesus sits beside God in heaven, that Jesus will return on the day of judgement, that we share the same moral beliefs for human behavior, that there is a heaven and hell that is the same, that we are all born from Adam and Eve, that Abraham is the father of our religions, and that Muslims believe in the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur’an (which is but an addition,not a contradiction, to those two earlier Holy Books from God), and that Allah means God (even Christian Arabs use the term Allah to mean God, as the Spanish use Dios etc.) so that we help one another in understanding and also so that we help others understand all the facets of our civilization.

You must also make clear, as I know many do, that not all Arabs are Muslims and not all Muslim are Arabs (the largest nation of Muslims is Indonesia, the second largest population of Muslims in the world is in India). It is important to explain also that many of the homes destroyed and people killed in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Hebron were Christian–therefore, they should sympathize with you and not with those who are killing all of our brethren, Christian and Muslim.

As to Bin Laden, no Muslim can accept his praise of those who attacked NYC or DC; he was wrong to do this, he was praising the work of the devil. However, it is true when he pointed out the unfair policy of the U.S. that favors Israel so heavily and does great damage to Iraqi children–but we must always separate him from our legitimate grievances with U.S. foreign policy.

All of us, Muslim and Christians must work together. We must also get over any racial divides we have had in the past. I have seen many Muslims look down upon American born Muslims and American born African American Muslims and upon converts to Islam; this must stop once and for all. ISLAM KNOWS NO COLOR; CHRISTIANITY KNOWS NO COLOR OR RACE.

The same is true among Muslim and Christians–we are one PEOPLE OF THE BOOK and only Allah (God) is to judge us, we are not to say our religion is better than yours etc. etc.–only Allah knows that and what is in our hearts and our hearts should be focused on God, not on earthly arguments that will avail us of naught.

Ironically, this is a time when the world can come together, but we have to work hard to achieve it, not only to protect our rights in the United States, but also to help America stay on the path of justice and not revenge or mistaken notions of the “enemy.”

As I said, this is but a brief overview of methods of dealing with media, politicians and opinion leaders; I’m sure there are more more ideas that some of you are using; if so, please share them with us.

Let us hope we avail ourselves of this opportunity in the midst of tragedy.