Dr. M.T. Mehdi
Dr. Mohammad T. Mehdi, an immigrant from Iraq who earned his Ph.D. at the University of
California at Berkeley, pioneered the fight for justice for Palestinians and for Arab
American and Muslim rights and recognition in the United States. In 1964 he established
the American Arab Relations Committee in an effort to preserve a show-piece mural in the
Jordan Pavilion at the New York World's Fair. The mural depicted the plight of Palestinian
refugees in painting and poetry. World's Fair Commissioner Robert Moses came under
pressure to have it removed. Using a first ammendment arguement, Mehdi prevailed and the
mural remained for the duration of the Fair.
Many things have changed since 1948 when Dr. Mohammad Taki Mehdi immigrated to this country from Iraq, his home, to study on a full scholarship at the University of California at Berkeley. He went on to earn many degrees and received his PhD in political science, specializing in American Constitutional Law.
That same year, events in the Middle East would take a tragic turn, with the expulsion of some 600,000 Palestinian Arabs from their homes. That year, Israel had declared its "independence, destroying more than 400 Arab villages and towns, and confiscating of the majority of the land known as Palestine. These new "Israelis," were Jews who had fled their homelands in Europe over a period of 30 years. The way the Israelis brutalized the Palestinian refugees and moved to "erase" their very existence remains as one of the world's great human tragedies.
But few would see it that way in 1948. Especially in the West where pro-Israeli and anti-Arab writers in the media would distort the facts and turn a blind eye to Israel's human rights violations and acts of "state sanctioned" terrorism.
Dr. Mehdi married in 1953 to Beverlee Ethlyn Turner, who had joined Mehdi as a volunteer with the American Friends Service Committee. At that time, the United States was Israel's sponsor and financier. Israel could do nothing wrong in American eyes, which were blind to the injustices committed against the Palestinian Christians and Muslims. There were very few Arab Americans in the United States at that time, far less than there are today. And it took great courage for an Arab American to stand up and speak out against Israel's injustices against Palestinian civilians.
Dr. Mehdi could have pursued another career. But instead, he chose to become an activism, not out of self-glory or reward, but out of natural motivation. Dr. Medhi could not sit back silently and watch as the Israelis lied about their actions and wantonly murdered Palestinian civilians, most of whom were refugees trying to return to the Palestinian lands where their families had first found existence.
In 1962, his activism took a high profile turn when pro-Israeli groups and anti-Arab leaders in the United States attempted to shut down a mural display that was in the Jordanian Pavilion at the New York World's Fair. The mural depicted the plight of the Palestinian refugees, their suffering and their struggle to regain their rights. Mehdi had just moved to New York working with the Arab Information Center, and he led the fight to expose the racist and bigoted lies that were being spread denying the Palestinian suffering.
Had it not been for Mehdi and a new group he helped found, the Action Committee on American-Arab Rights, the pro-Israeli and Anti-Arab groups might have had their way as they had since Israel's creation 14 years earlier. With the support of Arab Americans, and the worldwide coverage Mehdi's actions brought, the Jordanian Government stood firm and refused to remove the mural. They cited the rights of the American Constitution, a subject upon which Mehdi was a foremost authority.
In the months and years to follow, Mehdi stood up to the attacks of the pro-Israel lobby which was surprised that an Arab American would dare to stand up and speak out on Arab American and on Palestinian rights. Until then, the pro-Israeli lobby had the field to themselves, thriving on anti-Arab bigotry and anti-Arab hatred that dominated this country.
He became an outspoken champion of Palestinian rights, on TV and in articles published in most major American newspapers. He was outnumbered 100 to 1, yet he refused to back down, because, as he often wrote, justice is not based on the number of people who support an issue but on the weight of its righteousness. And the Palestinian claims were more righteous than those of the Israelis, though they were drowned out by the hysteria and screaming of pro-Israeli activists and anti-Arab haters.
Mehdi came to realize what many had seen. The American news media was biased. That bias exists till this day, although more and more Arab Americans are finding it easier to express themselves in the American media. But their ability to speak out in many ways is the result of the fight that Mehdi led to expose media bias. Around 1970, Mehdi took a definitive action to respond to the one-sided media and journalistic hypocrisy that existed in most American newspapers. He began publishing his own newspaper and he appropriately named his effort ACTION Newspaper.
Through the pages of ACTION Newspaper, Arab Americans from around the country shared their thoughts. This communication network allowed the small Arab American community to better express itself and to focus its efforts and to better make its case. Mehdi used the newspaper to expose the lies being published about the Palestinian and Arab peoples, but he also used the newspaper to champion issues of justice and righteousness.
Until that time, most Arab American newspapers were either based on religion or were published exclusively in the Arabic language. Publishing in Arabic made it easier for them to exist, but they failed to reach the English speaking American public and the growing number of Arab Americans who were slowly assimilating into American life and to whom Arabic was becoming a second language.
ACTION Newspaper was published exclusively in English. It became a model that many copied in years to come. In 1976, having written his first columns for Mehdi's newspaper, journalist Ray Hanania began publishing the English language newspaper, The Middle Eastern Voice. A Journalist by trade, Hanania modeled his newspaper after Mehdi's' own newspaper.
Dr. Mehdi was a pioneer of Arab American journalism. He made the step from publishing Arabic language papers to English language, and that immediately exposed him up to harsh criticism from many Americans who could now read the truth of our cause in English.
Mehdi's courage back then opened many doors for Arab Americans. He was a role model and an inspiration. His actions pioneered the fight for justice for Palestinians in this country and for Arab American rights, that has today expanded to include defending the rights of Muslim Arabs, too.
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