News / USA

New Book Busts Myths about Arabs

'Arab Voices' examines major US false perceptions about the Middle East

James Zogby's new book points out the diversity of Arabs across the Middle East and North Africa, but finds many are united on key issues such as Palestine.
James Zogby's new book points out the diversity of Arabs across the Middle East and North Africa, but finds many are united on key issues such as Palestine.

Multimedia

Audio
Mohamed Elshinnawi

The United States has committed more money, troops and resources to the Middle East than to any other part of the world since the Vietnam conflict of the 1960s. Yet Americans know very little about the Arab world, and much of what they know is wrong, according to James Zogby, author of the new book, Arab Voices.

Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute - a non-profit advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. -  challenges what he sees as five super myths which distort Americans’ perception of Arabs.

The first myth is that Arabs are all the same, while the second holds that there is no "Arab world."  His brother John’s polling organization, Zogby International, conducted surveys in six Arab countries from Morocco in the west to the United Arab Emirates in the east. The results reveal a rich and varied landscape, with diverse sub-cultures. However, James Zogby notes, they also show a sense of belonging to a greater Arab world.

James Zogby with a copy of his new book, 'Arab Voices.'
James Zogby with a copy of his new book, 'Arab Voices.'

"Culture in Morocco is different than culture in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia is different than Egypt," he says.  "We get a tremendous diversity of opinion about daily life and about uniqueness of one’s own country but at the same time there are these common threads that go throughout the region that are born of a common language and a common sensibility. Arabs can be as diverse as any people on earth but when Iraq was invaded they came together, when Palestine is hurting, they come together and they speak in one language and they feel and they resonate together with certain words that mean something powerful to them."

Zogby blames the American news media for the third myth, which is the false perception that Arabs despise the United States, its values and way of life.

"The notion we have is that they go to bed at night hating America, wake up in the morning hating Israel and during the day, they watch TV news fueling the hatred," he says. "In fact what we find in our polling that their number one concerns are their children, health care and education. They go to bed at night thinking about their jobs like everybody else all over the world and wake up in the morning thinking about their families. And during the day, they are watching TV to be sure, but the number-one rated shows are movies and soap operas and dramas."

According to public opinion surveys conducted across the Middle East over the past decade, mosque attendance rates are around the same as church attendance rates in the U.S.
According to public opinion surveys conducted across the Middle East over the past decade, mosque attendance rates are around the same as church attendance rates in the U.S.

Zogby also discounts the fourth myth - the idea that most Arabs are driven by religious fanaticism.  According to public opinion surveys conducted across the Middle East over the past decade, mosque attendance rates are around the same as church attendance rates in the U.S. The author suggests this misperception is due to Hollywood’s portrayal of Arabs as either terrorists or corrupt oil millionaires.

"Is it fair to have an Arab who is a terrorist? Of course, there are Arab terrorists. There are Arab oil Sheiks who do awful things with their money," he says. "What we are questioning is, if the only black person on TV were a street criminal or the only Jewish person were some shyster businessman, if the only characters in other words were these stereotypes, then that is the image that sticks. The problem is there needs to be at least as many characters or types of characters as there are real images in the Arab world to balance those negatives, so that people go away with the sense that they are really not all that way."

The fifth super myth challenged in Arab Voices is a fundamental one: that Arabs reject reform and will never change unless the West pushes them. Zogby uses polling data to show that people across the Arab world want social and political change, but resent having it imposed on them. They aspire to their own kind of reforms. Zogby recommends that American politicians learn from Americans doing business in the Arab world.

'Arab Voices' by James Zogby examines false perceptions many Americans have of Arabs.
'Arab Voices' by James Zogby examines false perceptions many Americans have of Arabs.

"Businessmen are open to making a deal. They listen to the other side, in order to understand what the other side wants. They know they can’t sell unless they know the market they are selling into," he notes. "If we did our politics the way we do our business we will succeed in making peace and having good friends all over the world. I think our best public diplomats are our businessmen in the region because they are selling America everyday and they actually doing a great job of it because people want a little piece of America. They love our values, they love our culture, they love our products. They like our way of life, they just want to be a part of us, but we keep pushing them politically."

These misperceptions seem poised to impact the next generation of Americans as well. Zogby points out that the U.S. education system teaches little about Arabs and the Middle East. He argues that this knowledge gap must be overcome - and false U.S. perceptions debunked - before the United States can truly hope to win the hearts and minds of the Arab people.

 

NEW: Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

New England Bears Brunt of US Blizzard

Boston, surrounding region grapple with as much as 3 feet of snow, coastal flooding; leaders in New York, spared most severe weather, criticized for being overly cautious More

China Lifts Lid on Sale of Fake Goods Online

A recent survey found nearly 60 percent of a random sample of items bought from Taobao were fake More

Upward Aims to Create Old-girls Network in Silicon Valley

Lisa Lambert, an executive with Intel Corp.'s venture-capital unit, responds to the gender-disparity debate by creating a new social organization More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid