Series explores Arab culture

April 01, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

We need more television series like "Moyers/The Arab World," which premieres at 11 tonight on MPT (Channels 22 and 67).

The five-part series, which runs through Friday, is a modest one by television production standards. Each half-hour show consists nothing more elaborate than Moyers and a handful of experts sitting in wingback chairs talking about Arab religion, culture, history and society.

But what important talk it is. The conversation is filled with the kinds of information we so desperately need if we are ever going to start having informed opinions about the Middle East, instead of living on a roller coaster of emotions triggered by television pictures and political rhetoric.

One of Moyers' guests tonight is Jack Shaheen, a professor of mass communications at Southern Illinois University, who has written a brilliant book on Arab stereotyping on television, "The TV Arab." Shaheen's introduction to a national TV audience is long overdue.

Tomorrow night, UCLA Professor Afaf Marsot explains the mistake many Americans make in thinking of Arabs as a monolithic community. University of Massachusetts Professor Yvonne Y. Haddad tackles racism toward Arabs.

On display in these conversations is the best Bill Moyers -- earnest, inquisitive, respectful of others' opinions and cultures and always seeking to find common ground between his values and those of his guests. He's a student in the most noble sense of the word.

Think of this Moyers as the opposite of the stereotype of the Ugly American. This Bill Moyers is proud of being an American -- in Moyers' case, a southern Baptist American, who has worked in the highest levels of government and the media. Yet, he's not chauvinistic. He uses the shared touchstones of the American experience to help us understand other ideas and worlds.

During the Persian Gulf war, this is the kind of background many of us screamed for. It's late in coming. But it is surely better late than never.

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