Posted on December 02, 1996 in Washington Watch
One of the most extraordinary opportunities I have been given to be of service to the Arab American community has been provided by my affiliation with the Arab Network of America (ANA), both television and radio.
ANA is the Arab American community’s largest nationwide television and radio network. Owned by Middle East Broadcasting Centre, ANA is headquartered in Washington, DC. ANA television reaches tens of thousands of Arab American households via cable and satellite while ANA radio is carried in major U.S. cities and reaches over 850,000 Arab Americans. In addition to successful and longstanding local Arab American television programs, other Arab networks have entered the American market including Arab Radio and Television (ART) and Dubai television.
Later this month ANA television celebrates its fifth anniversary. For the past four years I have hosted “A Capital View,” a weekly call-in television and radio program for ANA.
“A Capital View” has brought Arab Americans into direct interaction with U.S. and world leaders and policy makers. As a result, the show not only informs its viewers, but allows our viewing audience to educate leaders about our community’s needs and concerns. It has become a valuable political tool.
During the past four years, “A Capital View” has hosted a wide-range of guests including over a dozen members of Congress. We have had officials from the White House and State Department, major U.S. political personalities including Reverend Jesse Jackson, and media figures like CNN’s Frank Sesno and Bill Press, as well as UPI’s venerable Helen Thomas.
“A Capital View” has been host to international leaders as well. Most recently, United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali was featured live on our radio program. During the past several years PNA President Yasir Arafat, Jordan’s Queen Noor, and a number of other government leaders from the PNA, Lebanon, Kuwait, Egypt and even Bosnia have spoken directly to our community through the vehicle afforded by ANA.
There are times when the show has not educated, but rather has provided the needed comfort when our community was hurting.
Our very first program came within a week of the bombing of the World Trade Center. There was wide-spread fear within the community that Muslims living in the U.S. would experience a backlash. Our guest on “A Capital View” was Congressman Craig Washington, a member of the Judiciary Committee. Taking phone calls on the air and speaking directly to Arab American fears, the Congressman helped to create calm and some assurance that our community had allies who would defend our rights.
On the night of the Oklahoma City bombing we were on air speaking live to Arab American families in Oklahoma City. They had the opportunity to reach out to the rest of the community—to describe their fears and to tell of real anti-Arab incidents that had occurred.
In the weeks that followed, we kept in touch with our community in Oklahoma City. They were strengthened by the support that received from the rest of the community and we became a stronger community by an increased ability to reach out and bring so many Arab American homes together every evening.
ANA Television has been a powerful tool in helping us educate the Administration about Arab American concerns as well. For months we tried to convince the State Department of the impact that genocide in Bosnia was having on Arab attitudes toward U.S. policy. They continued to see Bosnia in a European context only until one State Department official appeared as a guest on “A Capital View.” Since his area of specialty was the Middle East, he expected to receive calls about the peace process, however, fully two-thirds of the callers that night spoke of their outrage over genocide and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. As he left the studio that night, my guest acknowledged that he now understood the depth of feeling and the impact that Bosnia was having on our community.
Similarly, the show provided Arab Americans with an opportunity to provide U.S. officials with feed-back regarding the ups and downs of the peace process.
We have also used the show to discuss a wide-range of domestic issues that affect our community. We have debated health care reform and the budget crisis with White House officials, we have discussed affirmative action and abortion with Congressmen. And, of course, we have talked about electoral politics.
One of my proudest moments on the show came the week after the November elections. Arab Americans from across the U.S. called in to report on the political activity of our community in their area. One ANA reporter from Michigan said that he interviewed fifty Arab American voters, and discovered that twenty-eight had voted for the first time. Many of them said they had been encouraged to vote by watching ANA.
This is television at its best. ANA is serving Arab Americans as a tool to strengthen the community and to provide it with real opportunities for citizen education and participation.
When our Arab American organizations were first formed in Washington over twenty years ago, we oftentimes had difficulties in securing meetings with very low level White House officials. Now, weekly on ANA Arab Americans across the country have the opportunity to speak directly to policy makers—to become informed and to inform them.
This is not only a reflection of the progress our community has made, it is also a direct result of the contribution that ANA has made to our work.
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