RECIPE FOR A CONTROVERSY
The blogger, the chef and the terrorist
By Ahmed M. Rehab
3:27 PM CDT, May 30, 2008
How could a chirpy TV host with such edible title credits as "30 Minute Meals" and "Tasty Travels" one day awaken to find herself in the middle of a terrorism-related media blitz -- all because of a Dunkin' Donuts ad, no less?
It's a tough recipe to cook up, but here are the ingredients:
One paisley scarf that somewhat resembles the checkered pattern of a Palestinian national garment called the "keffiyeh," --a scarf that could be bought at Macy's
One right-wing blogger who lacks any sense of cultural nuance
A public opinion climate ripe with paranoia
A slow news day for the media
Directions: Briefly expose the scarf to the blogger, scatter over the climate, let simmer on a slow news day, and voila!
Can you hear the world's laughter?
The blogger is Michelle Malkin, author of the universally ridiculed book, "In Defense of Internment."
One of many to find fame and fortune in the post 9/11 hullabaloo, Malkin has a strange but simple job: to whip up controversy. If she succeeds, she gets attention. If she gets attention, she gets paid. She is her own brand, and like any brand, hers must deliver on expectations to remain competitive in an increasingly saturated market.
Malkin continuously scours the world's hot button issues hoping to raise the heat. On Thursday, she hit the jackpot with the most unlikely of subjects.
Enter Rachael Ray, who also has a straightforward job: to whip up meals. She shows TV audiences how to find bliss through the art of food. Sound controversial yet? Patience.
Ray happens to do an iced coffee ad for Dunkin' Donuts. She dons a paisley scarf selected by the stylist for the spot.
OK, that's the end of the buildup.
No, really, that's it.
Presented with that ad, most people may wonder if the iced coffee is any good. None is likely to wonder whether Dunkin' Donuts and Rachael Ray were promoting terrorism.
Malkin is a notable exception. She has a hungry career to feed.
And so, Malkin's pattern-recognition sensors kick in: Palestinians!
According to her, if Ray's scarf looks like a keffiyeh, the traditional scarf worn by Palestinians, then it must be a keffiyeh.
So what if it were?
Well, she further argues that, unbeknownst to the world, keffiyehs are actually a symbol of terrorism, hence her insinuation that the ad promotes terrorism.
Malkin then proceeds to educate the world about Palestinian keffiyehs, when they are worn, by whom, and why.
Not surprisingly, she gets it all wrong: In reality, the average Palestinian is much more likely to wear a keffiyeh than a terrorist.
Think about it: would the keffiyeh really be your preferred disguise if you were a terrorist and wished to walk incognito into a Tel Aviv bus or pizza parlor?
It is, however, your likely choice if you are an average Palestinian going to the mall, farming your land, walking to school, or -- yes -- hurling stones at an Israeli tank in the streets of your occupied hometown: hardly acts of terrorism.
So how does Malkin manage to discombobulate the facts? How does she find no shame in writing off a people's national dress as "a symbol of terrorism"?
There can only be one explanation: For Malkin, every Palestinian is a terrorist. To sell that point, she resorts to sensationalism, minimalism and obscene sweeping statements.
Sadly, this reductive approach is an old and tired trick when it comes to public discourse on the Middle-East, or Muslims.
But let's not kid ourselves. Malkin's anti-Palestinian message, by itself, is not newsworthy. It is only effective when coupled with a climate that is highly receptive to fear-mongering. Only then can it wreak havoc. After all, it is only because of the perception of a public backlash that Dunkin' Donuts, with curiously weak knees, felt pressure to yank the ad off the Internet.
Luckily most Americans know better than to drink Malkin's Kool-Aid. They will likely remember this tale only as one of 2008's silliest. Nonetheless, I am certain Malkin is gloating over the few prized conformists her antics were able to mobilize.
Come to think of it, I think I will wear a keffiyeh on my way to work tomorrow -- as I sip my iced Caribou coffee.
Ahmed M. Rehab is the executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Copyright © 2008, Chicago Tribune
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Ahmed M. Rehab on Our Terrorist Sympathizer, Rachael Ray
This more or less treads the same ground as my post yesterday, but I was pleased to see it in the Chicago Tribune, where I first learned of Rachael Ray and "Keffiyehgate." Thank you, Ahmed, for pointing out what is painfully obvious: apparently, demonizing whole peoples (Palestinians, Arabs, in particular) is still being done, and without much controversy.