Friday, October 08, 2004

Muslim Coalition Building missing one key component Oct. 8, 2004

By Ray Hanania
American Muslims achieved a milestone this past week with the launch in Chicago of a daily live talk radio program called "Radio Islam." Broadcast one hour each night over a brokered ethnic station, the 1,000-watt WCEV (1450 AM) Radio, the station's audience reach is very limited.

But it has broken the glass ceiling that has kept Muslims out of the major media, except when stories involve Middle East violence or anti-Muslim conflicts.

On a recent show, the host interviewed several Muslims who spoke about coalition-building, especially as Muslims enter the presidential elections with other Americans.

They discussed many possible coalition partners, but the one that was almost always excluded was the one that would seem the most natural: Christian Arabs.

There are more than 7 million Muslims in America by many unofficial counts. We don't know the exact number because the U.S. Census continues to reflect the biases of the federal government, prohibiting the inclusion of a category for Muslims or Arabs on census forms every decade.

Of those 7 million Muslims, according to the Los Angeles-based Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), 33 percent are South Asian, 33 percent are African American or African, 9 percent are European, South Asian or "other," and only 25 percent are Arab, or about 1.75 million.

Not included in that study are the 1.5 million Arabs who are Christian, and who suffer equally with their Muslim brethren; most Americans can't tell the difference between a Palestinian or a Pakistani, and believe that all Arabs are Muslims.

And while they are a micro minority in the shadow of their larger Muslim cousins, Arab Christians offer the advantage of having open access into America's Christian societies. They are members of many churches, from Maronites and Orthodox sects that are based overseas to Catholics, Protestants and Baptists.

Yet few Muslim organizations make any effort to reach out to these abandoned natural partners. And that is even more ironic because when Muslims discuss political issues, one that is always mentioned is the battle for justice and fairness for Palestine.

It is amazing to me as a Christian Palestinian that Muslims will embrace the cause of Palestine but are reluctant to embrace Palestinians who happen to be Christian. That failure to be inclusive results in a weakening of their own agenda, especially the touted claim of championing Palestinian rights.

A good example of how this flaw undermines the cause occurred the week Radio Islam was launched. The radio station is supported by Sound Vision, a 501(c)(3) charitable institution based on Texas with offices in Bridgeview, a hub of Palestinian American activism that has sometimes found itself under the unwanted scrutiny of the FBI and U.S. Justice Department.

To raise funds for the new radio station, Sound Vision brought in Muslim comedian "Preacher Moss," who bills his comedy routine under the title "Allah made me funny." He is now performing on a 30-city tour that includes Chicago. His show is hilarious.

What isn't funny, though, is that his Chicago performance is at Zanies Comedy Club, the one club in the country that was a part of the decision by Jewish comedian Jackie Mason to publicly bounce a comedian from his stage because that comedian was Palestinian.

I am talking about myself, of course, when I was kicked off a show I was originally billed to showcase before Mason was added to the line-up as the last-minute headliner. Why would any Arab or Muslim comedian perform at Zanies given that history?

Part of the reason is that Arabs and Muslims are desperate for positive attention, believing that success in America can somehow extract them from the daily grind of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism that is rampant among Americans.

Another reason, of course, is that Muslims have a wide agenda that they speak from, but a narrow vision of practice. I'm glad Muslims finally have their own daily radio program.

I'm a little envious, too, considering decades ago, all Muslims, Pakistani, Asian or Arab, were also all considered "Yellow" people or "Syrians," and we worked so hard in the 1960s and 1970s to battle that broad-based hatred of anyone with a "Middle Eastern look."

If they hope to be successful, and if they genuinely seek to champion the many just causes under the banner of Islam, they must recognize that many people who are not Muslim suffer anti-Muslim bigotry, too.

Christian Arabs should be welcomed, not ignored. And their history of suffering should rank alongside the suffering that Radio Islam's proponents argue their radio station hopes to break.

To find out more about Ray Hanania, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2004 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC

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