TV show epitomises anti-Arab feelings
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Jun 6, 2008, 00:10
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
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.
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.
"possessive stalker" Katherine had referred to had actually been her
husband. Congratulations, Dr Phil, for managing to wrest asunder a happy
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
S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes
feedback and can be contacted by email at email@example.com.
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