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Commentary Last Updated: Jun 6th, 2008 - 00:28:25

TV show epitomises anti-Arab feelings
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jun 6, 2008, 00:10

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Recently broadcast on MBC4 were three episodes of the Dr Phil show that initially aired in the US last November. They featured Katherine Lester, a pretty 18-year-old American woman who travelled to the West Bank to be with Abdullah, a 22-year-old Palestinian man she "met" on the Internet when she was 16. This was the second time that Katherine had flown to the Middle East to see the young man; on the first occasion, in response to her family's objections, she got as far as Amman, Jordan, before being picked up by the FBI as a minor and escorted home.

The first episode showed videos of the star-crossed youngsters in Jericho holding hands and staring lovingly into one another's eyes declaring they wanted to marry much to the horror of Katherine's mother and sister, who shared the stage with Dr Phil.

The mother said she feared the boy had brainwashed her daughter or was keeping her from going home against her will. Dr Phil made a meal of the fact Katherine's life could be in danger in the Middle East and said he would do everything in his power to get her away from him and back with her mother. And he did.

When Katherine joined the show alone via satellite he treated her like someone who had been kidnapped even though she protested her happiness and told him she intended returning to the US very soon. Later, when Abdullah joined her, Dr Phil berated him for disrespecting her parents, criticised his parents for sending Katherine an air ticket, and repeatedly asked him why he hadn't been to the US embassy to request a visa for the United States.

He then badgered the girl to return to the safe arms of Uncle Sam on the coming Friday and insisted he would send an escort so that she could fly from Tel Aviv airport. It was evident Katherine didn't want to leave and, in fact, the Dr Phil show bought several tickets home and sent several escorts before she finally agreed, only to arrive home to discover her mother and sister hadn't bothered to turn up at the airport to greet her.

The last episode was the most offensive. This time Abdullah was on his own in the West Bank studio, while Katherine was on the stage. Again, on Dr Phil's repeated say-so she told a shocked Abdullah that their relationship was over and depicted him as a possessive stalker, causing him to remove his earpiece and walk off only to return a little later to ask why.

On Dr Phil's prodding, Katherine admitted with a wry smile that she had met someone else. "An American," said the ecstatic Dr Phil enjoying this hallelujah moment to the full. After all, he had saved this cute American princess from the evil machinations of a Palestinian, who wanted her for goodness only knows what nefarious purpose, and the audience loved every second. One of their own had been brought home.

No understanding

There was no understanding of exceeding difficulties Palestinians encounter to get a US visa that would first entail Abdullah getting a permit to travel to occupied Jerusalem where the nearest American consulate is sited. And there was no explanation that the only threat to the girl's life while she stayed in the West Bank was from Israeli attacks.

It was clear that Dr Phil was clueless. We were told that the couple were in Jericho on the West Bank, yet on several occasions he mentioned Katherine's flight from Gaza.

It's certainly true that nobody really wants their 18-year-old daughter to take off into the unknown on an emotional roller-coaster, and I can understand her mother's concerns, but, what I found objectionable about the show was the way Dr Phil stressed that Abdullah was an Arab, presenting Palestinians and this region in a negative light.

He even went so far as inviting Betty Mahmoody. author of the book Not Without My Daughter, onto the show so that she could warn Katherine of the dangers of hooking up with a Middle Easterner. She is still in hiding from her husband after 25 years, Dr Phil told his audience in an obvious attempt to paint all Muslim men with the same brush. That could have been you, he scolded Katherine. No wonder Abdullah thought the pop psychologist made him look like "a bad guy" even "a terrorist."

Last Sunday, Abdullah had the opportunity to give his side of the story on the MBC1 chat show Kalam Nawaem, a sort of Arabic version of The View. The female hosts rounded on him for not properly defending himself or his culture on Dr Phil, and then he dropped the bombshell. According to him, the pair had married but Katherine hadn't wanted to admit this on TV.

So the "possessive stalker" Katherine had referred to had actually been her husband. Congratulations, Dr Phil, for managing to wrest asunder a happy couple!

The question is would he have done the same if the young man had been called Alan or Aaron instead of Abdullah, and even if he had, would his audiences have applauded as enthusiastically? Go on! Have a guess!

All right! Here's a clue. Dunkin' Donuts has been forced to drop featuring another TV host in the Harpo (Oprah reversed) stable: Rachael Ray because she wore a black-and-white fringed scarf resembling a Palestinian keffiyeh. Oh, no! What would Dr Phil say?

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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