Lebanese-American journalist Rania Khalek is no stranger to controversy.
Khalek's work has appeared in a range of publications including The Intercept, Truthout, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Al Jazeera America, The Nation, Salon, AlterNet and VICE, among others.
As a former editor at Electronic Intifada, she drew a lot of ire from Zionists and their supporters. But despite the haters – and social media trolls – Khalek has "developed extremely thick skin" and carried on.
We talked with Khalek about being part of a Middle Eastern religious minority, how she got started in journalism, increasing xenophobia in the U.S. under President Donald Trump and how she probably watches "way too much" television.
On her Lebanese roots and how her background informs her work
Khalek's family is Lebanese and from the minority Druze religious group, but she personally identifies as an atheist.
"Growing up Lebanese-American informed my perspective on US foreign policy, especially with regard to Palestine. I grew up watching the US media justify Israel’s theft of Palestinian land and Israel’s bombing campaigns against my relatives in Lebanon," she told StepFeed.
"So I have an ingrained understanding of how flawed and propagandistic western media coverage of the Middle East can be and I use my platform as a journalist to counter and correct that narrative," she said.
Although she's part of minority religious group, Khalek said this never really factored into her understanding of the region until the Syrian war broke out.
"Being from a minority sect in the Middle East never really influenced my perspective on the region until the war in Syria. I have Druze relatives in Syria who have been under threat by the patchwork of Al Qaeda-affiliated rebel groups the U.S. and its regional allies armed and funded to weaken the Syrian government," she said.
"The strongest rebel groups are religious fundamentalists and extremely sectarian. The Druze in Syria have been killed or forcibly converted by these groups based solely on their identity. Other minorities have been targeted for death as well."
How did she become a journalist?
"I didn’t major in journalism. I wasn’t all that interested in politics until after Barack Obama won the Democratic primary in 2008. I remember thinking to myself, whoa, this guy’s middle name is Hussein. Maybe he won’t bomb the Middle East," she explained, pointing out that she was "very wrong."
"But at the time I was searching for anything I could find on Obama’s foreign policy positions and I stumbled across Democracy Now. I kept watching episode after episode with my jaw dropped. There were so many things taking place that weren’t being reported on or were being distorted by the mainstream press," she said.
"That’s why I am so passionate about independent media. It has the power to change opinions and lives."
On dealing with the haters and being an Arab-American journalist in the time of Trump
"I’ve developed extremely thick skin out of necessity. It takes a lot for the haters and trolls to get to me. You have to learn to let it go or it will drive you crazy," Khalek said.
In Khalek's opinion, under the Trump administration, xenophobia – particularly directed at Arabs and Muslims – has increased substantially. But she also points out that sectarian hatred isn't isolated to the West. It's alive and well in the Middle East as well.
"I can also feel the sectarian hate in my own community and in the Middle East. Hatred of minorities isn’t isolated to the U.S. and Europe. The rise of far right extremists and fascists is mirrored in other parts of the world as well, including the Middle East," she said.
"And they feed off each other. ISIS and Al Qaeda attacks strengthen politicians like Trump and Marine Le Pen, whose ever more aggressive and destructive domestic and foreign policies further empower groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda. It’s a nasty cycle."
But who is Khalek outside of the public eye?
"I love working out, spending time with close friends, drinking wine, reading and binge-watching shows on Netflix. I probably watch way too much TV, but it’s the best way to unwind," she said.
And is there something new she'd like to try this year?
"I’ve never been skiing. Weird I know. I want to try this year!"