This article appeared in the Standard-Times of New Bedford, Massachusetts, on 8/25/98
Page C4, Opinion; Copyright 1998 by Beth David

Stereotypes of Arabs play into Clinton's diversions

After the president's Monica speech this week, and inspired by Women's Equality Day on Aug. 26, I decided to write an article asking the world to forget the trivia and pay attention to the matters of government that affect our lives. Most notably are the very real, very dangerous attacks on abortion rights spearheaded by the Newt Gang and allowed to proliferate virtually unnoticed thanks to the despicable Ken Starr.

I did not intend to defend Bill's treatment of individual women, but would strive to make the point that Bill vs. George Bush was the choice in 1992, and Bill vs. Bob Dole was the choice in 1996. And as Patricia Ireland writes in her book, when the "choices on our ballot are Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumber, we've lost before we ever cast the first vote." Bob Dole probably wouldn't have had sex (uh, inappropriate contact) with an intern, but Bob Dole would have signed the ban on the D&X procedure. Maybe George Bush wouldn't have broken Barbara's heart as we watched, but we wouldn't have gotten Ruth Bader Ginsburg, either.

Unfortunately, just as I began collecting these thoughts, Bill once again addressed his fellow Americans to tell us how we simultaneously bombed Afghanistan and Sudan. The president effectively blind-sided the whole press corps while they focused on zippers and dresses and Hillary's hand-holding lapses.

Immediately, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-PA, nominated himself for this feminist's "Foot-in-the-Mouth" award. First he cryptically alluded to "Wag the Dog," then he praised this decisive blow in the war against terrorism. Republicans like war; makes 'em look tough. Reminds 'em of the Gipper.

After the simultaneous bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, the United States needed a pick-me-up, Monica or no Monica. And as George Bush's Gulf War proved, there is no better pick-me-up for Americans than Arab bashing, unless of course, it's Arab killing.

The picture of Osama bin Laden alongside a picture of Clinton vividly tells the story: Complete with turban, the narrow face, dark and bearded, opposes the suit-and-tie portrait of our rosy-cheeked, plump-faced president. Evil incarnate vs. the leader -- albeit somewhat tainted leader -- of the free world.

My second-generation Lebanese blood boiled. I can still remember my father's voice booming through the house, calling us to the TV whenever he heard Arabic spoken. We would rush anxiously to listen carefully. Whether a stray "marhaba" or "allah" floated out of an Arab market in a bad detective movie, or Danny Thomas talked to Uncle Tanous, we'd pick out the familiar words and critique the translations.

When CNN cablecast Sudanese Television, those same Arabic words floated through my house. But I didn't call my relatives hoping to share a moment of pride. I called solemnly to say, "Guess who we bombed today?" It's a strangely American phenomenon that I say "we" when I mean Bill, and "we" when I mean Arabs.

Arab-bashing seems to have replaced baseball as America's favorite pastime. Our No. 1 Scapegoat is the "Arab-looking male," and even Helen Thomas failed her usual watch on CNN the very morning that I wrote this. How convenient this scapegoat of ours: not quite black enough to stir up U.S. guilt about slavery, but not quite white enough to be spared, either.

For me, the verdict is still out on whether or not Clinton used Monica to distract from Arab killing or Arab killing to distract from Monica. Either way, the dead spoke Arabic, and many U.S. politicians envy the commander-in-chief responsible for this popular outcome. Yes, I am a second-generation Lebanese American and this colors my perspective greatly. Yes, I proudly declare myself a feminist, wholly skeptical of any solution that Newt Gingrich supports.

But what honest person can avoid wondering what would've happened if the trail had led elsewhere? If white-skinned and blond or red-headed Europeans were the targets, what clever, less deadly ways of reprisal would American ingenuity have found? Would we be so cavalier in tossing our bombs if most of our elected officials could trace their own families to the feared countries?

I think not.

You know, on second thought, let's get back to the trivia. Does anyone know who's choosing Bill's ties these days?


Beth David owns YASNY Designs in Fairhaven