Remember playing, "What's wrong with this picture?" A seemingly normal tableau would contain several subtle mistakes that the viewer would have to hunt for and identify: a man with a spigot growing out of his head, a bird without wings, etc.
These days it's a little like reading a feature story in one of Chicago's major papers. An article that appears harmless actually contains a lot of concealed, and disturbing, messages.
Here's a story that ran in the Chicago Tribune: (I have bold-faced some of the more problematic sections, which I'll address at the end of this piece)
Arab women find help adjusting to America:Arab-American Action Network smooths out rocky transition for recent immigrants, By Jennifer Day, Special to the Tribune , July 21, 2010
Randa Ibrahim was serving coffee to the guests in her Palos Hills living room when her 17-year-old daughter distractedly breezed through the living room and out the back door without so much as a nod.
"She won't come say hi," Ibrahim said disapprovingly. "I don't like the way she just comes through."
Showing respect to elders is important in Arab-American culture. Ibrahim, a 47-year-old Palestinian woman who grew up in Kuwait before coming to the United States in 1982 has tried to instill in her children the values she was raised with.
"I teach them the right ways. I take care of them," said Ibrahim, but American culture has taken root, too.
Arab women in the U.S. are often without the strong network of extended family that is traditional in Arab countries, and that can make dealing with the many cultural issues they face here very stressful. Many feel isolated and in some cases may suffer from depression, say officials at the Chicago-based Arab-American Action Network, which a little more than three years ago organized a group to help them cope better.
The Arab-American Women's Committee brings together women who recently have come to the United States with more established immigrants to discuss problems and find better ways of coping with social challenges, said the organization's associate director, Rasmea Yousef. It aims to help women bridge cultural gaps while helping them become community leaders.
"We help them express feelings," said Yousef, who formed the group a little more than three years ago. "Traditionally, women didn't speak about private things. They thought it was shameful."
Abdalla Ali is a family therapist in Dearborn, Mich., home to the largest Arab U.S. population. (The Arab-American Action Network estimates there are 220,000 in the Chicago area). He said Arab-Americans face an array of challenges and estimates that of the 1,400 patients in his clinic, 600 to 800 have been diagnosed with depression or, in the case of war refugees, post-traumatic stress disorder.
Many lack the language skills and education levels that can help find jobs, leading to financial strain. For women, the issues that arise with raising children here can be very stressful, he said. As children start to Americanize to fit in with their peers at school, tension rises.
If mothers, usually the ones dealing with issues at school, don't speak English, they have trouble communicating with children's teachers and heading off problems. Language barriers may arise within the family, too.
"The most important thing here is communication," said Ali, who added that he was a translator during a counseling session for a mother who spoke only Arabic and her teenage son who spoke only English.
"It really depends on the family. When a father and mother can't follow their kids in school and go to the parents meetings and read what the school sends home, you have a very difficult burden to manage," he said. "Families often try to hide these problems, this shame."
One way women are encouraged to open up is by sharing what they are going through, said Faida Sahouri, a group member and one of the relatively few Arab-American women therapists in the Chicago area.
"When they talk about [issues they face], it makes it less of a burden. It makes them feel better after that," said Sahouri, who facilitates a creative writing project for the group.
The group is working on its second volume of collected stories as a result of the writing project. Several of the stories recounted ugly incidents involving ethnic or religious targeting, which also add to families' stress, she said.
When Ibrahim decided at age 30 to cover her head with a hijab and dress in an abaya — a robe traditionally worn by Muslim women — she was surprised by the reactions she received.
"When I started wearing a hijab, my neighbor, she doesn't know me," she said. "I saw her in school and said hi, and she turned her face. I thought maybe she didn't know me, but I had my kids with me. She knows my kids."
Ibrahim said that since joining the women's group, she has become a stronger, more independent woman. When her husband was overprotective, she didn't challenge him. She was always exhausted from taking care of the kids, making sure the house was perfect, and fielding phone calls from her mother-in-law, who she said would quiz her about what meals she was planning to cook for the day.
Now she teaches Arabic as a second language, works with her daughter as a DJ at weddings and sells Mary Kay cosmetics. When she decided to go back to school at DePaul University to become certified to teach Arabic, she said her husband "got crazy."
"He said, 'How will you go?' " Ibrahim recalled. "My friend said, 'It's OK, we'll find a way.' "
But she said some topics, such as teen drug use, are still easier to write about in the group.
Ibrahim wrote a play about an Arab-American mother who was oblivious to her teenage son's drug use. She and her friends performed the play, which blended humor and education, for 150 women at an Arab-American Action Network event.
As Ibrahim relates the details of the play, Yousef beams: "When I first met Randa, I knew she (would) be a leader in her community.
Hmm....where to begin?
As soon as I finished reading this pathetic example of journalism, I tried to post a comment on-line. The Tribune always follows feature stories with a commentary box so people can post reactions to the story; oddly enough, there was no forum for discussion. I emailed the editors to ask why. They replied:
I asked our website editor Ben Estes to respond to your question. He tells me that, "Comments have been shut off from this story because too many readers were abusive."
Thanks for writing in with your comments, and please let me know if you have any other questions.
Jenna Lasich, Chicago Tribune Reader Help Desk
Clearly, I was not the only person who didn't appreciate the story. I find it hard to believe, though, that the Tribune would be deluged with such a huge number of negative comments that they had to remove the comment box entirely. And if some of those comments were removed for profanity, etc., what was left as "abusive"?
Here's what happened: the staff at the Tribune didn't WANT any criticism of the story: the story is supposed to generate sympathy. The Tribune is not in the business of reporting on reality; their job, when it comes to certain issues like militant Islam, is to present a story in a positive light and then ONLY allow supportive comments to be printed. They are not conveying information, they are propagandizing.
So, I followed this up with a letter that I emailed to the editorial page in the hopes that the print edition of the Tribune would carry it:
I was offended by the Tribune’s story, “Arab women find help adjusting to America,” (7/21/210). The writer introduces us to an innocent, refined Muslim woman thrust into the hostile and barbaric United States. Given Randa Ibrahim’s disdain for American culture, what would possess her to live, and raise a family, here?
My three kids are teens, and over the years I have met scores of their friends. They have always treated me, and my guests, with respect. Among the American kids I know, Ibrahim’s daughter, who sashays past guests without acknowledging them, is an exception to the norm. This young woman was poorly socialized. The American term for this is “rude.” (And if the girl was born here, she is American—not “Americanized.”)
Ibrahim also finds it hurtful that her neighbor ignores her at a school event because Ibrahim is wearing Islamic garb, a fashion Ibrahim did not adopt until she was in this country. Hijab is not religiously mandated, and Ibrahim’s birth culture apparently did not require it. But hijab is also a political statement, symbolic of a conservative and often radicalized element within Islam. The governments of Turkey and Syria know this, and so too does Ibrahim’s neighbor. Ibrahim may have the right to wear her politics on her sleeve—or in this case, on her head—but her neighbor also has the right to express her disapproval.
I haven't heard from them, so it's safe to say they won't publish that, either.
The letter I sent them "covers"--haha--my main points, but there are some other annoyances hidden, like IED's, within the story.
The support group that's mentioned consistently identifies with "Arabs" ( or Arab-Americans). That's a little disingenuous. This is about Muslim women. Not only are "Arab" and "Muslim" NOT mutually inclusive terms, but Arabian people have traditionally had no problem assimilating to American culture (eg, Danny Thomas). The only issues that have arisen recently regarding "assimilation" have had to do with Islam's political--not spiritual--agenda.
Need more clues that this is about politics and not immigrant assimilation? Dearborn MI is home to a huge number of radicalized Muslims. DePaul U. has long harbored faculty with these leanings, and they cultivate this mentality among students.
This woman's quest to teach "Arabic as a second language" is a little off, too. If she's sufficiently fluent in English at this point, why isn't she using her background to help recent Arabian immigrants learn English? That would make more sense, but she's probably teaching Arabic under the auspices of one of these Muslim "schools" that dedicate a large part of their curriculum to pounding conservative Islamic teachings into young kids. These students, most of whom were born in the U.S., are being pressured into identifying more strongly with Muslim culture than with American society.
It seems counterintuitive to then claim that opportunities for assimilation are so often frustrated. More to the point, the woman in question is part of a large network of Muslims who are trying to foist their views and their lifestyle on American society at large.
That these views are dangerous goes without saying.