- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 19, 2002

BEIRUT (UPI) Lebanon's state television network refused to broadcast U.S.-supplied television spots aimed at repairing America's image in the Arab world because they were inaccurate, Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said yesterday.

In the spots, U.S. citizens of Arab origin talk about the freedom and opportunity of living in America, and the respect shown by Americans toward the Muslim faith.

Mr. Aridi said he rejected the spots because the reality for Arabs living in the United States after the September 11 attacks was very different.

"This is a political issue and as minister of information, I cannot allow the ads at a time there are reports from inside the United States that refer to pressures being exerted on Arabs and Muslims, including students, after September 11," he said.

He cited what he called "official [U.S.] comments against the interests of the Arabs and Muslims as part of the campaign to combat terrorism," and pointed out that Arab and Muslim visitors to the United States were now fingerprinted upon entering the country.

However, observers pointed out that the fingerprinting was limited to newly arrived visitors, and did not extend to permanent residents in the United States.

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Candace Putnam called the Lebanese decision "disappointing."

"We believe the TV spots are not political as they talk about Muslims' life in the U.S.," she said.

Mr. Aridi said the TV spots, produced by the Council of American Muslims for Understanding, reinforced an impression of "discrimination" against Arabs.

"Polishing the image of the U.S. [in the Arab world] cannot be done with a tape or a visit, but with measures that convince Arabs and Muslims of America's eagerness to establish peace in the region and remove all weapons of mass destruction," he said.

Despite the ban, many Lebanese will see the spots anyway because a local satellite station owned by Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has decided to broadcast them.

The spots show Abdul Raouf Hamuda, a Lebanese who owns a bakery in Toledo, Ohio; Dr. Elias Adam Zerhouni, an Algerian-born man who heads the National Institutes of Health in Washington; Rawia Ismail, a Palestinian woman born in Lebanon and now a public-school teacher in the United States; Farouk Mohammed, a paramedic in the New York Fire Department; and Mohammed Abdel Malak, a Muslim preacher attached to the New York police.

Mr. Hamuda, also the co-founder of the Toledo Islamic Academy, spoke of the "overwhelming sense of support among our customers" after the September 11 attacks. "No one ever bothered us," he says.

"America is the land of opportunity and equality. We are happy to live here as Muslims and to preserve our faith," he says as children around him sing Islamic songs. "I believe American people in general respect the Islamic faith."

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