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Lebanon Rejects US Image Spots by Dalal Saoud

Lebanon rejects U.S.image spots
By Dalal Saoud, UPI
Published 12/18/2002 12:57 PM

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Lebanon's state television network refused to broadcast U.S.-supplied television spots aimed at repairing America's damaged image in the Arab world because they were inaccurate, Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said Wednesday in Beirut.

In the spots, four U.S. citizens of Arab origin talk about the freedom and opportunity of living in America, and the respect shown by Americans toward the Muslim faith.

But Aridi said he had rejected the spots because the reality for Arabs living in the United States after the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington was very different.

"This is a political issue and as minister of information, I cannot allow the ads at a time there are reports from inside the United States that refer to pressures being exerted on Arabs and Muslims, including students, after Sept. 11," he said.

He cited what he called "official (U.S.) comments against the interests of the Arabs and Muslims as part of the campaign to combat terrorism," and pointed out that Arab and Muslim visitors to the United States were now fingerprinted on entering the country.

However, observers pointed out that the fingerprinting was limited to newly arrived visitors, and did not extend to permanent residents in the United States.

Candace Putnam, public affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, described the Lebanese decision not to show the spots as "disappointing." She said, "We believe the TV spots are not political as they talk about Muslims' life in the U.S.," Putnam told United Press International.

But Aridi told UPI that the TV spots, produced by the Council of American Muslims for Understanding, said the spots reinforced an impression of "discrimination" against Arabs. "Polishing the image of the U.S. (in the Arab world) cannot be done with a tape or a visit but with measures that convince Arabs and Muslims of America's eagerness to establish peace in the region and remove all weapons of mass destruction."

Despite the ban, many Lebanese will see the spots anyway because a local satellite station has said that it will broadcast them. The station is owned by Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The spots made available to UPI showed Abdul Raouf Hamuda, a Lebanese who owns a bakery in Toledo, Ohio; Dr. E. Zerhouni, an Algerian-born man who heads the National Institute of Health in Washington; Rawia Ismail, a Palestinian woman born in Lebanon and is now a public schoolteacher in the United States; and Farouk Mohammed, a paramedic at the Fire Department in New York; and Mohammed Abdel Malak, a Muslim preacher attached to the New York police.

Hamuda, also the co-founder of the Toledo Islamic Academy, spoke of the "overwhelming sense of support among our customers" after Sept. 11 attacks. "No one ever bothered us," he said.

"America is the land of opportunity and equality. We are happy to live here as Muslims and to preserve our faith," he said as children around him sang chanting Islamic songs. "I believe American people in general respect the Islamic faith."

Zerhouni, who came to the United States in 1975, was President George W. Bush's nominee for the post of director of the National Institute of Health and one spot showed him being warmly welcomed by Bush during an official event.

He saw his appointment as an indication of "the openness of U.S. society to various religions and cultures," noting that "the best doctors in history had been Muslim doctors."

Ismail, who has been in the United States since in 1984, said she wears the "hijab" (Islamic headdress) in class, but never felt that her students found it "weird."

In the United States, she declared, "The Islamic religion can be practiced just as well as I could practice it where I was raised," she said. Her American neighbors have always been supportive, and she never sensed any prejudice after Sept. 11.

The TV spots showed her praying at home with her husband and her four children. There were also shots of a number of men praying in the open air near a mosque.

Hilmi Mousa, a political analyst at Lebanon's leftist As Safir newspaper who saw the spots privately, said the purpose of the spots was to build "virtual bridges between Americans and Arabs, but the reality today is that all Arabs and Muslims in the United States are potential suspects. These TV spots change nothing. What is required to change (Arab) people's attitudes is to change the reality of American hostility towards the Arab world."

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