Many Americans of Arab descent have complained about stereotyped portrayals of them in America's mass media. They say the actions of a violent few are often used to characterize the larger community as a whole.
One of America's largest Arab-American communities is in the Midwest U.S. city of Detroit, where a local newspaper decided to meet the complaints head-on, by compiling a "Journalist's Guide" to fair and accurate reporting about Arab-Americans. As VOA's George Dwyer reports, that document has now become a resource available to reporters and others all around the world.
Showing off the guide, Joe Grimm, newspaper editor and former reporter says, "The cool thing about these is that we print these and give them away to journalists that you can have."
"100 Questions and Answers About Arab-Americans" is a guidebook for journalists produced by Joe. "Our intention was to get this to every journalist, every journalism student, every journalism school -- print and broadcast -- that we could."
Joe works for the Detroit Free Press and decided to produce the guide as a result of his exposure to that city's large Arab-American community, and the people in it who have helped him over the years. "I really felt that I owed it to the people who had been so patient with me to help get some of these answers down in a simple form that people here could understand and that journalists in other cities, where they might not have the advantage of a large population, so that hey could understand these things too."
Included here are entries on Arab-American customs, clothing and food, family, language, religion, politics and culture, with explanations and clarifications about each. For example: Iran, contrary to what many in the U.S. may believe, is not an Arab country.
Rana Abbas, program director with the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) in Dearborn, Michigan, just outside Detroit says, "There definitely was a need for it. We have approximations of 400,000-plus Arab-Americans in the metro Detroit area. So in a community of this size, it's fairly important that you have a media base that understands this community and where it comes from."
The Free Press has worked hard to fairly represent that community by assigning a reporter full time to Arab-American issues, and by producing the guide.
Rana talks about the diversity of the guide. "Even beyond reporters it's been very helpful to ADC, for example, because we've been able to distribute it to other entities, corporations and companies and institutions who also want to learn more about the Arab-American community. It's very simple and easy to read and comprehensive."
Ever since September 12, 2001, the guide has been posted on the Internet, available all over the world. Readers will find that mistaken ideas about Arab-American take a surprising variety of forms.
About the misconceptions of Arabs and Muslims, Rana adds, "Well, a great misconception is that Arabs are Muslims and Muslims are Arabs, and people constantly make this mistake and feel that it's OK to interchange the two words when in fact they're not the same."
Correcting basic mistakes like that one fulfills that purpose Joe Grimm had when he set out. He believes that reliable information is of utmost importance, because, as he writes in the guide: "only with understanding can we practice fair and accurate journalism."