Oprah Touches a Sore Spot
Oprah Winfrey is better known for promoting empathy than creating controversy. But the queen of television talk is angering both Jews and Arabs with her recent examination of life for women in the Middle East.
Some pro-Israel advocates are upset over a profile of a would-be female suicide bomber that appeared in the June issue of O, The Oprah Magazine. Arab critics are complaining about an April 25 segment aired on Winfrey's daily television talk show, which focused on Rania Al-Baz, the Saudi Arabian television personality who spoke out after being brutally beaten by her husband.
In both cases, Winfrey's camp is standing by its work.
The magazine article, written by David France and titled "Love and Terror," attempts to "make sense" of the growing number of women and children suicide bombers, and focuses on the story of 18-year-old Yusra Abdu. It highlights Abdu's relationship with the Nablus head of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Hani Akad.
According to the article, which ran as an installment in O magazine's "Rescuing the World's Girls" series, Abdu first approached Akad, saying: "I want to become a suicide bomber."
Allegedly, the pair quickly fell in love and became engaged before eventually breaking up at Akad's insistence. Then Abdu was approached by another man who convinced her that it was time for her to become a suicide bomber. After waffling, France writes, Abdu backed out of her fatal mission. Within days, she was arrested by the Israelis.
In an e-mail alert, Deborah Passner, a senior researcher at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, objected to the "theme of Palestinian victimization" in the article. Citing allegations that Akad had recruited other women for suicide missions, Passner complained: "By what logic does a series on rescuing girls in peril romanticize a man who has tried to lure young women to their deaths?"
A widely circulated e-mail criticizing the story complained that "not once does the article raise the question of what kind of society not only breeds but venerates suicide bombing, nor whether suicide bombing can ever be justified as a means of political expression."
O is standing by the article. In an e-mail to the Forward, magazine spokeswoman Elizabeth Dye wrote that when dealing with "subjects [that] are often politically and emotionally charged, we make every effort to present a fair and unbiased report."
Winfrey's camp also is defending the television segment on Al-Baz, which was aired as part of a special episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show. The episode, titled "Oprah Takes You Around the World," featured Winfrey hosting women from 11 countries.
In an e-mail to the Forward, Harpo Productions spokeswoman Carly Ubersox stated that Al-Baz's story was "presented accurately" and was "always intended for inclusion in a show that examined the different lives of women from various countries." [more...]