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Published: Sunday, 10/3/2004

Ex-senator critical of Iraq war and blind support of Israel

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Blind support of Israel has led the United States to support the oppression of Palestinians and an unjust war in Iraq, a former U.S. senator told Toledo-area Arab Americans last night.

Addressing the 16th annual banquet of the Greater Toledo Association of Arab Americans at the SeaGate Centre, keynote speaker James Abourezk said U.S. policy is allowing Israel to destroy Palestinian society.

"We're witnessing one of the most brutal occupations in history in Palestine," said Mr. Abourezk, a South Dakota Democrat who served in the Senate from 1973 to 1979.

The former lawmaker, who founded the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee in 1980, accused President Bush and his advisers of invading Iraq last year to overthrow a regime that Israel saw as a threat.

"We were tricked by Israel into doing its dirty work," he told an audience of more than 400 people.

Mr. Abourezk, the American-born son of Lebanese immigrants, said Americans are not getting a true picture of the suffering inflicted on Iraqi civilians by insurgent bombings and U.S. military strikes.

He spoke of watching the al-Jazeera Arab TV station last week and seeing footage of wounded and dead Iraqi children in Fallujah, a center of resistance to U.S. troops.

"That's something you'll never see on American TV," Mr. Abourezk said.

The evening's other featured speaker, film critic and author Jack Shaheen, focused on media portrayals of Arabs and Muslims and urged his listeners to fight stereotypes and discrimination.

Mr. Shaheen said more than a century's worth of American movies have reinforced negative images of Arabs and Muslims.

A short video presentation accompanying his remarks began with silent film footage in which female belly dancers swayed back and forth.

"There was a time when Arabs represented our Victorian sexual fantasies," Mr. Shaheen said.

Later films, he added, portrayed Arabs and Muslims as thieves, Neanderthals, or terrorists.

He pointed to a scene from the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark in which Indiana Jones shoots down a turbaned, sword-wielding Arab while a crowd around them cheers.

"I want you to know these 1,000-plus movies were all released before 9/11," Mr. Shaheen said. "This vilification process has been going on for a long time."

Mr. Shaheen urged his audience to organize against such negative portrayals, which he said have spread to television shows since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"Unless we get together ... these images aren't going to go away," he said. "They're going to impact our children and grandchildren."

During the banquet, the Toledo association honored three local residents: Michael D. Sallah, The Blade's national affairs writer who won a Pulitzer Prize with Mitch Weiss and Joe Mahr this year for the series "Buried Secrets, Brutal Truths"; Rita Mansour, managing director of the McDonald Financial Group, and Chafic Hatoum, former president of the Greater Toledo Association of Arab Americans.

Contact Steve Murphy at: smurphy@theblade.com or 419-724-6078.



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