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

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches 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.
Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debatei
X
Shelley Schlender
July 24, 2014 6:43 PM
In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Death Toll From Israel-Gaza Conflict Surpasses 700

Gaza officials say a shelling hit a compound housing a United Nations-run school in the Gaza Strip, killing more than a dozen people, during an Israeli offensive in the area. Heavy fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas militants continued on Thursday, pushing up the death toll. So far, more than 730 Palestinians and 35 Israelis have been killed in the conflict. VOA's Scott Bobb has the latest from Jerusalem.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Researchers Target Low-Cost Avatar Technology

Scientists at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies say 3-dimensional representations could revolutionize social media. Elizabeth Lee has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid