Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Johnny Carson died ... why Arabs and Muslims should care 1-25-05

With Johnny Carson goes ethnic civility
Arab American Media Services, Jan. 26, 2005
By Ray Hanania

Late night talk show legend Johnny Carson died early Monday morning, Jan. 24, but why should Arab and Muslim Americans care?

Carson hosted the Tonight Show on NBC Network television for 30 years, before handing it off to Jay Leno in 1992. Carson had succeeded Jack Paar, another very popular host of the show in 1962.

Carson reigned in an era of television civility.

Although Hollywood had opened the floodgates on programming that demonized certain minorities like Indians, Mexicans, African Americans, Chinese and, of course, Arabs and Muslims, the Iowa native never engaged in racist stereotyping to promote his humor.

These days, nearly every talk show host on an American network competes to outdo the other in how racist they can be in vilifying minorities, especially Arabs and Muslims.

I was nine years old when Carson first stepped on the Tonight Show stage as its permanent host. My parents had loved Jack Paar because Paar, too, was a professional and a "gentleman."
They quickly fell in love with Carson, too, who relied on a wit that didn’t need a victim to make the sitcom a hit.

These days civility and gentlemanly behavior have been replaced by ugliness, viciousness and demagoguery.

Hosts like FOX Network’s Sean Hannity, MSNBC’s Don Imus and ABC radio’s Paul Harvey are just among the tip of the iceberg of hosts who regularly spew anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hatred in their talk show reports.

Of course, when Carson reigned, most of the opinions were in the newspapers, or on local television stations. These days, opinions often mean more than factual news, and they drive audience ratings and the almighty advertising dollars.

It’s profitable, these days, to bash Arabs and Muslims. There are even people who are not Arab or Muslim exploiting the Arab and Muslim suffering for their own successes including several stand-up comedians and even pro-wrestlers.

I don’t recall my parents ever reeling in anger over a comment that Carson made. These days, everything is fair game for Leno, whose jabs are gentler than Hannity’s and his coterie of network haters.

The people who spoke to America during Carson’s time were fundamentally good people. Red Skelton is a good example of someone who used civility not stereotypes to make a point. Even several Jewish American talk show hosts didn’t browbeat their views against Palestinian statehood, for example, on the American public.

Today, many hosts and entertainers enhance their careers by bashing Arabs with crude jokes mainly because they know that in today’s environment of intolerance against Arabs and Muslims, they can get away with it.

Maybe it was Carson’s kindly attitude that help mold an American society, during his reign, that was seemingly more tolerant. Maybe by demonstrating respect for all, Americans learned to tolerate and respect those who are different, too.

They say children are not born with racism. They learn it from their parents or their friends. In a way, Carson was to many Americans a respected relative, and definitely a good friend.

Although he left the Tonight show more than a decade ago, things have progressively worsened. His death only reminds us of what it was that he really stood for.

Carson’s death must have touched a nostalgic nerve with Americans who, deep down, are not racist at all. They just don’t speak out against bigoted blatherings, unless they happen to hit at home.

"Heeeeeerrrreee’s Johnny," the introduction proffered at the start of every Carson show by his side-kick Ed McMahon has been replaced by a less stated but equally loud, "Heeeeeerrrreee’s Hatred" in today’s America.

(Ray Hanania is a Palestinian syndicated columnist based in Chicago and managing editor of http://www.thearabstreet.com/ news web site.)


Friday, January 21, 2005

All we have left is hope, Jan. 21, 2005

All we have left is hope
Creators Syndicate Friday Jan. 21, 2005
By Ray Hanania

It is hard to find hope in America if you are not one of the privileged majority wrapped tightly in the “warm” blanket of the new American Patriotism.

Some of us are shivering in the chill of bigotry, discrimination and hatred.

The lines between us include the war in Iraq, which everyday is becoming a Vietnam-like battleground with insurgents doing a very good job of standing up to our high-tech and supposedly superior military.

The number of American soldiers who are killed continues to rise and the attitude among the tightly wrapped is that, well, we lost one, now we have to keep fighting for the honor of that loss.
No. We lost hundreds and soon thousands. Rather than fight an unwinnable war, we should pack up and leave with the lives we haven’t yet lost.

The terrorism of Sept. 11 has been so politicized it has been used to drive election results. This week, its greatest benefactor, George W. Bush, was sworn in to a second term most people before Sept. 11 didn’t believe he would ever have.

Whenever the politicians need to bump the polls, all they have to do is put an electrode to American fears and turn on the switch: We have to raise the warning from yellow to orange because two years ago, we learned someone might try to blow up a bus station.

Americans have become vigilantes against terrorists, walking around sneering at anyone with slightly darker skin who might look Middle Eastern. Amazingly, most Americans can’t tell the difference between a Pakistani or a Palestinian, an Iraqi or an Indian.

The debate has turned from a buzz to loud noise with the conservatives screaming and railing at anyone who questions American policy. The Constitution is a convenience, not a foundation for them. If they have to strip someone’s rights to protect themselves, they will do that.

Racism occurs without anyone blinking an eye. Arab Americans are losing jobs left and right, are being prosecuted without being the chance to defend themselves in our supposedly Democratic court system, and the primary strategy to fight terrorism is profiling, which was the very system that failed us on Sept. 11.

Bush tells us the world will be safer if we just bring Democracy to Iraq. But bringing Democracy to Iraq is an impossible and unachievable goal.

You cannot make a sectarian country divided by religion and ethnicity (Sunnis, Shi’ites, Kurds, Assyrians, Arabs, Iranians, Chaldeans) a Democracy when the people insist on voting on the basis of religion and ethnicity rather than on issues.

Bush says the terrorists are on the run. I don’t see them running at all, unless it is to blow themselves up at an American target.

Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of Sept. 11 is still at-large, but we have Saddam Hussein in custody who, as it turns out, did not have weapons of mass destruction, did not pose a threat to the United States, had no plans to attack us and isn’t even popular with his own people who every year voted to return him to office rather than stand up for their own independence and Democracy.

Meanwhile, healthcare, social security, the war on drugs and street gangs, education and senior care remain out of sight and continue to decline.

Of course, we might console ourselves by saying that things could get worse.

What’s really frightening is that things just might get worse.


Monday, January 17, 2005

Abbas must take control or fail as a leader Jan. 17, 2005

Abbas must take control or fail as a leader
Exclusive to Worldnet Daily … Jan. 17, 2005
By Ray Hanania

The recent attack by Palestinian militants killing six Israeli settlers in the Gaza Strip was as much an attack against Israel as it was against the authority of newly elected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The attack achieved its first goal, to provoke the extremist government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to severe ties with Abbas, thereby allowing increased tensions to fuel even more conflict.

Although the Palestine Liberation Organization which is the revolutionary body that Abbas now heads denounced the attacks and called on all militants to halt attacks, the proclamation is not enough.

Hamas and its extremist leaders have proven time and time again that they will defy all Palestinian authority, including one elected by the people themselves, and use violence, including the most immoral acts of suicide bombings and assassination to undermine any effort to compromise with Israel.

Abbas is at a junction that Arafat stood at for many years, unconvinced that the time was right to make a full crossing to compromise because of the failure of Israel to make fair and just compromises.

But Abbas is not Arafat. The situation has changed. And rather than wait for Israel to come around, Abbas must take the steps he needs to validate himself as a leader.

Either Abbas decides the policies of the Palestinians toward Israel, or he steps aside for the tyrants of Hamas who exploit the Palestinian people’s suffering to impose unilateral actions of violence that cause more suffering.

In addition to declaring opposition to violence and future attacks against Israel or anyone, Abbas also must move quickly to arrest and detain the leaders of Hamas.

These individuals are acting outside of the rule of law, and are therefore criminals. The cause they embrace is not criminal, but their embrace of the cause is a desecration of all that the Palestinians have stood for.

If compromise is the mandate of the Palestinians in order to achieve a viable and independent Palestinian State that is based on an agreement that is fair and just, Abbas must have the power to act.

Despite Arafat’s leadership, and his willingness to compromise for the sake of preserving the Palestinians as a people and achieving a viable state., he was constantly undermined by Hamas.

Every single Hamas attack and suicide bombing was intended to undermine the peace process as much as it was to retaliate against Israeli aggression and even acts of state and settler movement terrorism.

Abbas cannot allow that pattern to continue.

Rather than watch as the hopes for peace die, Abbas must swiftly move against Hamas and destroy the organization once and for all. He has the mandate to do it, Hamas has no mandate.

Abbas put his policies before the people and everyone voting for him did so as partners in a peace process.

Hamas has no viable constuency except that constituency that is fueled by continued suffering and increasing emotions. Remove the suffering and the motions and Hamas is weakened even more.

Once his power is stabilized, then Abbas can turn toward the intransigence of the Sharon government and Israel’s refusal to make the concessions necessary to make peace work.

But until he takes control of his own people, the individual agents of extremism will continue to control him.

(Ray Hanania is an award-winning nationally syndicated Palestinian American columnist. He served as national president of the Palestinian American Congress and is currently managing editor of www.TheArabStreet.com.)


False hope for peace in post-Arafat era Jan. 17, 2005

False hope for peace in post-Arafat era
Daily Herald Monday Jan. 17, 2005
By Ray Hanania

There is a difference between hope and optimism. I am hopeful for peace between Palestinians and Israelis, but I am not optimistic.

I expect things to get worse, despite the "euphoria" following the death of Yasser Arafat, a man revered by Palestinians and hated by Israelis.

The whole premise that peace is now possible is based on a falsehood: now that Arafat is gone, Israel has a partner. They’ve always had a partner.

The real problem is that each side defines "peace" differently. Israelis see peace as ending a conflict. Palestinians see peace as ending an injustice.

When Israel says it wants peace, most Israelis are speaking about an end to the violence and the continued occupation of Palestinian lands.

When Palestinians speak about peace, they are talking about an end to the violence and the withdrawal of Israeli occupation forces from the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, an Arab city. It also includes the evacuation of all of the illegal Jewish-only settlements Israel built since 1967 on Palestinian lands stolen or forcibly "purchased."

Unless you address these differences, how can you achieve peace?

Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas genuinely opposes the use of violence. But he faces the same obstacle in Ariel Sharon and the Israeli Likud Government that Arafat faced. Sharon doesn’t want to surrender the occupied lands, dismantle the settlements or share Jerusalem.

So what’s to negotiate?

While Abbas talks peace, Israel continues to occupy Palestinian lands. Everyday, Palestinian civilians are being killed. Their land is being confiscated. Life remains dismal.

The challenge Abbas is restoring Palestinian faith that Israel will make the concessions necessary to result in a viable, independent state, not the buntastan proposed by his predecessor Ehud Barak.

It’s a difficult challenge. And as time goes on an that goal is unachieved, Palestinians will continue to allow their emotions and despair carry them to resistance.

Abbas’ election shows how weak Hamas really is. The truth is the popularity of Hamas comes from emotion, not reason.

What I mean is that if you could strip away the emotion, the vast majority of Palestinians would embrace genuine compromise with Israel and an end to the conflict.

It doesn’t mean violence will disappear. That’s impossible. It will be there on both sides.

Israelis are feeding Palestinian emotions through the occupation, land confiscation and by inflammatory rhetoric that Jerusalem cannot be shared, settlements will not be dismantled and Palestinian refugees have no rights, the future for peace will continue to look bleak.

Peace is not possible if the pressure is only on the Palestinians to change. If Israel doesn’t change its policies, there can be no peace.

But what really fuels my pessimism is the fact that Palestinians and Jews in America can’t seem to overcome their own animosities to sit down and work together.

Instead of fighting for peace, most are cheering on their own extremists.

How can one expect the Palestinians and Israelis who live in the war zone overcome their emotions if the Palestinians and Jews who live 9,000 miles away in America can’t do it?

Palestinian and Jewish Americans have the power to make a difference. The fact that they don’t try shows you how empty hopes for peace really are.


Friday, January 14, 2005

Israel failing to do its part Jan. 14, 2005

By Ray Hanania

While all the focus this week has been on Palestinian elections and a collective hope for change, little attention has been paid to what Israelis must do to make peace work. Newly elected President Mahmoud Abbas publicly denounced violence saying it has not benefited Palestinians, a stark assessment many Palestinians did not want to hear.

Abbas will struggle to engage the peace process through a one-sided American "arbiter" while ending violence by Palestinian militia groups, the Israeli army and extremist settlers.

He can't do it alone. Those who oppose peace based on compromise in the Israeli camp know it. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon can continue to obstruct peace with his rigid, uncompromising policies, or he can turn away from his bloodied past and do something before it is too late.

Sharon, facing the breakup of his coalition government, has been forced to cut a deal of convenience with Shimon Peres and the more moderate Labor Government. Peres is a visionary who, like Arafat, recognized that peace based on land compromise is unavoidable. Peres might steer Sharon away from his extremist roots and to a new future of managed moderation.

But the bigger problem is that Israel would not have a vicious prime minister like Sharon as their leader if it were not for the complicity of an emotional and uncompromising Israeli public. Israelis are great at saying one thing and doing something else.

They complain about the racism and anti-Semitism that does exist in Palestinian society, but they say little about the racism and anti-Arab hatred that exists in their society. When Palestinian acts of violence become horrendous, pushed by a disengagement of hate between Palestinian and Israeli societies, Israelis are quick to denounce them and showcase the ugliness of suicide bombings for their own political benefit.

But when Israeli soldiers murder innocent civilians, Israelis remain hypocritically silent. That goes especially for the Jewish-American community, both the rigid right and the silent "peaceniks."

I don't expect humanity from the settlers. The Israeli settlers are an extremist movement driven by religious fanaticism and racial hatred. Their entire existence is to steal lands belonging to Christians and Muslims and convert them into Jewish military enclaves packed with weapons and hate.

But I do expect more from the Israeli peace movement, which has been uncomfortably silent these past four years when it comes to Israeli transgressions and violations of civil rights. Genuine peace is about justice and fairness, not convenience or military might as defined by the old Sharon.

When an innocent person is murdered, Palestinians and Israelis both must speak out, regardless of the victim's origins.

When an opportunity presents itself to overcome the viciousness that has kept Palestinians and Israelis apart these past four years, Israelis need to seize the moment, too.

They must speak out against extremists in their own midst.

They must embrace Palestinians who oppose violence and support a just peace, and they must end their discriminatory and harsh practices of isolating any Palestinians who criticize Israeli politics.

They must articulate a fair compromise dismantling all settlements, sharing Jerusalem and finally addressing the issue of Palestinian refugee rights. Until Israelis do a reality check on their commitment to peace, there will not be peace no matter what Palestinians do.

To find out more about Ray Hanania, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2005 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

Originally Published on Friday January 14, 2005

Monday, January 10, 2005

Abbas election puts ball in Israel's court, Jan. 10, 2005

Abbas puts ball in Israel’s court
Arab American Media Services, Jan. 10, 2005
By Ray Hanania

Mahmoud Abbas did more than just win an election this week. He redefined several important notions about Palestinians and their desire to achieve peace, and their ability to embrace fundamental Democracy.

Abbas won 66 to 70 percent of the Palestinian vote to succeed the late President Yasser Arafat, according to unofficial election results.

By Western standards, the vote represents a landslide that gives Abbas a clear mandate to pursue his political agenda to re-engage the Israelis at the negotiating table and to seek to control violence.

Not only did Abbas win a majority in a field of seven candidates, Abbas also won a clear majority in the Gaza Strip where Hamas has asserted control. Hamas boycotted the election, urged followers not to vote and refused to field its own political candidate.

The Abbas victory exposes some weakness in Hamas which has recently won regional elections taking a majority of the country’s 26 municipal council seats in December.

Hamas officials immediately criticized Abbas’ vote saying that with only 66 percent of eligible Palestinians voting, they argue Abbas only has the backing of 34 percent of Palestinians.

But Hamas logic is faulty, and typical of an organization that has feared placing its name on a national ballot, concerned that a national loss would undermine its own credibility.

And, the Hamas logic also reflects less the fundamentals of a Democracy and more the traditions of an Arab tyranny where presidents-for-life are expected to win more than 99 percent of a vote. The 66 percent turnout is higher than turnouts in most American elections.

The election proved that Democracy is alive and well in Palestine, one of the few Arab countries where it is practiced so effectively.

Mustapfa Barghouti, the president of HDIP a health services organization in Ramallah, received almost 20 percent of the vote. Despite his loss, Barghouti managed to help define the election beyond existing political parties and on issues of concern for Palestinians.

The public debate was substantive and addressed all of the major issues.

It was only the second Democratic election in Palestine since Arafat’s election in 1996.

Immediately, President Bush announced plans to invite President-elect Abbas to the White House. And rightwing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon also said he hoped to meet with Abbas soon, although Abbas insisted any such meeting should be substantive.

The election puts the pressure on Israel to deliver on its unfulfilled promises.

Although Abbas reached out to all Palestinian voters, including those engaged in the insurgency and guerilla war with Israel, Abbas has vowed to pursue peace and has called on the individual militias and those led by Hamas and Islamic Jihad to end their attacks against Israeli civilians. And during the campaign he came out strongly against suicide bombings, saying the violence of the past four years has undermined not strengthened Palestinian national aspirations.

Abbas, more than anyone, has given the hope for a negotiated end to the conflict its first real breath of life since Sharon scuttled the peace process and provoked the Intifada with his combative visit to the Haram al Ash-Sharif in Sept. 2000.

But as in the past, Hamas can operate independently and launch suicide terrorist attacks against Israel, giving Sharon the excuse he needs to ignore the election results and continue to falsely place the blame for the collapse of peace these past four years on the shoulders of Palestinians.

Abbas has a tough challenge ahead. He must organize his government and clearly define his post-election goals in a clear manner not only to Palestinians but to the Americans who more than any other people, have the power to push Israel to make the hard concessions that will result in a viable Palestinian state that includes the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem.

Abbas also has a mandate to explore a reasoned compromise on the thorny issue of the Palestinian Right of Return.

(Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian American syndicated columnist. His columns are archived at www.TheArabStreet.com.)


Saturday, January 08, 2005

Elections and Democracy in Palestine Jan. 8, 2005

Final days of a Palestinian election
Jan. 8, 2005
By Ray Hanania

Regardless of the results, the Palestinian elections to succeed the late President Yasser Arafat will help expose the Palestinian people to the real substance of true Democracy.

There are many candidates running in the Jan. 9 elections, but the two frontrunners appear to be Mahmoud Abbas and Mustafa Barghouti. Abbas succeeded Arafat as head of the PLO and previously served as the nation’s first prime minister, an Barghouti is a longtime activist who has helped provide medical services and to expand democratic options to Palestinians.

The election actually has a "campaign," which means the candidates travel throughout the territories and "speak" to the public. They are debating the issues. Each has their own agenda, although the actual campaigns are far from what most people in veteran Democracies might recognize. And the candidates are exploiting professional campaign consultants, a necessity to a professionally run election.

This election is set in the unusual setting of a continued Israeli occupation that is oftentimes brutal and prohibiting.

In one instance in the final hours of the campaign, Barghouti was arrested by Israeli occupation soldiers when he tried to visit the Haram al-Ash Sharif (known as the Temple Mount to Jews). It exposes the Israeli claim that Jerusalem is an "open city" when in fact many consider it more closed today than ever before.

There are other issues. Major factions like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, organizations that have embraced all out violence including suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism against Israel, have refused to field candidates in the election.

The power base of Hamas and Islamic Jihad is founded on intimidation and threats of violence, not on popularity. Clearly, had they fielded a candidate, their candidate would have lost. They seem only to have regional strength in pockets of Palestinian communities. In the past, they have won university and union elections, although their strength has increased in recent months winning a majority of municipal council elections.

Of course, Hamas always does best in conflict and high emotions and most of the vote for Hamas was really more a rejection of compromise with Israel.

Democracy is about candidates building coalitions based on individual issues, not more broad-based ideologies or on religion. Religion has no active place in Democracy, except as a beneficiary of Democracy. People should be able to practice whatever religion they prefer, something Palestinians and Israelis seem to ignore in defining their own national movements.

Many internationals have traveled to Palestine to monitor the elections. Usually, people fear the incumbent government will steal the election. In this case, the real fear is that Israel is trying to manipulate the election behind-the-scenes, as is evidenced by the brief detention this week in East Jerusalem by Israeli occupation soldiers.

Richard Gere, the American movie star who has shown a longstanding interest in helping to promote peace in the Middle East has not only visited the region to encourage the peace movement, but he even taped a TV commercial urging Palestinians to vote.

It was a very courageous move on his part, especially in a society best known for criticizing everyone who tries to help them.

Gere’s efforts were criticized by some, but the bottom line is that his message that Palestinians should vote is an important one and needs to be repeated.

Palestinians are oftentimes their own victims. When they could help to make a difference in Israel’s elections, those who are Israeli citizens boycotted the election in 2000 helping Ariel Sharon to defeat Ehud Barak.

To many Palestinians, they see no difference between Sharon and Barak, but that is the narrow and blurred vision of a people deprived of democratic rights for so long both as a result of the Israeli occupation and as a result of the tyranny of the Palestinian Revolution.

Abbas is expected to win, and already inexperienced pundits are predicting that if he doesn’t receive a 70 percent plus vote from voters, he will be a "loser."

That’s the same logic that forces most dictators to demand that they and no one else run in elections. Saddam Hussein ran for "re-election" and claimed to have won more than 99.9 percent of the vote. Anything less to him and the Iraqi people would have been considered a defeat.

It’s not, but that’s what happens to people who have only experienced tyranny and dictatorships all of their lives and generations.

In a real Democracy, a victory is a victory if the winner receives 50 percent plus 1 vote of all the votes cast. A landslide is usually defined as someone who has a plurality (margin of victory) of 8 to 12 percent.

Regardless of who wins or the margin of victory, Palestinians should do their best to escape the plague of cynicism and embrace democracy for what it offers.

Free speech is essential, but breaking out of the old habits of "all or nothing" is something Palestinians have a long way to go to overcome.

Both Abbas and Barghouti, and the other candidates, have contributed towards helping the Palestinian people to move closer toward those goals and to true Democratic freedom. For that, they are both winners.

(Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian American Syndicated columnist and author based in Chicago. He served as the former president of the Palestinian American Congress. He can be reached at www.hanania.com.)


Friday, January 07, 2005

Arab World slow to respond to Tsunami victims 01-07-05

Arab World slow to respond to Tsunami victims
Creators Syndicate Friday Jan. 7, 2005
By Ray Hanania

Indonesia is supposedly the most populace Islamic nation in the world. More than 60 percent of the estimated 150,000 fatalities reportedly come from Indonesia, located in the heart of tsunami.

So why haven’t Arab/Islamic nation’s led the relief campaign for the tsunami victims, especially since the Arab World is located right around the corner from the disaster?

While the focus has been on the response of Western nations, with Europe and the United States duking it out over who is stingy and who has given more, the response for the Arab World has been even slower.

Kuwait increased its donation from $2 million to $10 million. Saudi Arabia increased its donation from $10 million to $30 million. The United Arab Emirates is giving $30 million. Qatar has pledged $35 million.

League of Arab States spokesman Secretary General Amre Moussa expressed sorrow and condolences for the victims of the Tsunami. He can’t do much more because the League of Arab States is basically an empty shell based on an outdated notion of Arab Nationalism. He can’t even get one million dollars budgeted to help organize a PR campaign to straighten out the mess called the image of the Arab World.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference also expressed sorrow and urged its members, which include many of the Islamic nations hardest hit by the Tsunami to do whatever can be done to help the victims.

Several major American-based Islamic organizations like CAIR have nobly announced fundraising campaigns for the victims, despite the fact that most Islamic charities in the West have been devastated by anti-Muslim world animosity driven by Sept. 11th. The U.S Patriot Act has decimated most Arab charities and unjustly imprisoned their leaders while casting a malevolent pall over all Arabs and Muslims in America.

Still, the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim backlash of Sept. 11 is not a good defense for the Arab or Islamic worlds. If the first obligation of Islam is to help those in need, then the response from the Arab World has been pitiful and lacking.

The slow response and low numbers reflect a problem that exists among many Muslims and the Arab World in general. The fact is Muslims in the Arab World, where Islam originates, often look down upon the non-Arab believers.

At numerous conferences I have attended over the years, the most poorly attended sessions were those involving non-Arab Muslims who complained that the Arab Muslims don’t take their issues seriously.

In contrast, the non-Arab Muslims are often at the lead of championing the rights of Arabs, especially the Palestinians.

Arabs, as a culture, don’t like to discuss the "dirty laundry," which might be one reason why the Arab and Muslim nations were also the slowest to respond to Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda’s massacre of 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11.

Worse, the Arabs are so dysfunctional as a society they can’t seem to organize anything. They have no common front towards Israel. They lack one regional policy against increased terrorism from fanatics who have hijacked and insulted the very fundamentals of Islam and the Prophet Muhammed.

They have demonstrated time and time again that they make great dictatorships, but are lacking when it comes to bracing the civil rights of individuals, women and their non-Muslim minorities.

As an Arab, I am ashamed of the response. Here is a perfect opportunity for the Arab and Islamic Worlds to stand up and lead and instead, their political mouthpieces have been silent.

I should note that I am a Christian Arab, a community that is disappearing fast from the Arab World and coming under great persecution in many Islamic nations. Christian Arabs are being pushed aside in the rise of Islamic empowerment, although ironically, most non-Muslims assume I am Muslim when they learn I am Arab.

Americans are holding telethons to raise funds for the victims. President Bush has pledged $350 million and is sending two former presidents, his father George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton to spearhead fundraising efforts. Bush has already sent outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell and his brother, Jeb Bush, to the region to report firsthand on the cataclysm and correct the misperception that the U.S. is slow in response.

For all the abuse that Bush and the American people have taken because of their biased stand on Israel and insensitivity to the rights of Palestinians, when it comes to helping tsunami victims, Bush and America are putting the Arab and Islamic Worlds to shame.

They should stand up and do what’s right, not what’s politically correct. And they certainly should demonstrate that when disaster strike in the heart of their own region, they should be leading the drive to provide relief, not following another nation’s lead.


Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Media Bias undermines truth and peace: Suicide Bombings 1-05-05

Media bias undermines truth and peace
Arab American Media Services Jan. 5, 2005
By Ray Hanania

One of the reasons why there is no resolution to the Palestine-Israel conflict is that the media, mainly the pro-Israel American media, continues to distort facts, exaggerate stereotypes and lie.

What’s new, you might ask? The American media has been doing that forever, but not as much as it does on behalf of Israel. Much of the bias comes from reporters who have a religious affinity to Israel, or reporters who simply are racist.

But oftentimes, most of the bias is the result of journalistic laziness, or worse, convenient ignorance that goes hand-in-hand with the propaganda of Israel’s more extremist supporters.

One of the most egregious distortions is the canard that Arabs reward suicide bombers by giving their families monies.

In fact, I heard this exaggerated lie repeated by Jack Cafferty, CNN’s capable, resident curmudgeon. Cafferty’s whole shtick is to act and sound like an angry old man. His cynicism helps audiences understand the issues that bombard Americans and other CNN viewers. It’s actually a service.

But occasionally, he goes astray and simply says something that is just untrue, because it is so much easier to say the lie than to offend Israeli supporters with the truth.

Cafferty reported this week on how Saudi Arabia increased from $10 million to $35 million its charity to the Tsunami victims. Cafferty noted the Saudis planned a telethon that might raise as much as $150 million.

If this were about Israel, the story would be a banner headline in 72 point type across the front pages of every major American newspaper. But because the story is about Saudi Arabia, it was buried in most papers and passed off with cynicism.

Cafferty was no exception when he said he knows they can raise that much because they have for suicide bombers.

I thought, okay, let’s find out if that is true.

And here is the complicated truth the Israelis don’t want the American media to report or Americans to understand.

All victims of Israeli violence receive financial support from the Arab countries. Usually, families are given $10,000. And, that includes families of suicide bombers.

But the majority of funds go to families who lost relatives, fathers, mothers and siblings who were murdered when Israel has attacked alleged militants but instead killed scores of innocent civilian bystanders.

A young girl was murdered months ago by Israeli soldiers. Her family received money. She wasn’t a suicide bomber.

A dozen other innocent civilians were murdered by Israel when they blew up an apartment building of an alleged militant several years ago. Those families got funding.

If we use Cafferty’s claim that Saudi Arabia gave $150 million, and we calculate that there were about 75 suicide bombings in the past four years of the Intifada, that means $750,000 went to families of suicide bombers, but $149,250,000 went to families of civilians killed by Israeli soldiers and settlers.

Now, the Israelis and their legions of media allies scream that the families of suicide bombers should not be "rewarded" when a member of their family commits a suicide bombing and kills scores of innocent Israeli civilians.

I agree that the support should not be a reward. I oppose suicide bombings and believe they are wrong and immoral.

But the fact is, when a suicide bomber kills an Israeli, the Israelis go to the homes of the suicide bomber’s family members who have nothing to do with the suicide bombing and they destroy their homes, their neighbors’ homes, and they uproot their farmlands.

Most of these innocent victims of a bad conflict are tossed into the street and forced into poverty. Israel calls this collective punishment.

In many instances, Israeli soldiers have destroyed homes while Palestinians were still in them, killing them.

So, it’s okay for the Israelis to punish, without trial or morality or the rule of law, relatives of suicide bombers who had nothing to do with the suicide bombers.

But it’s not okay for the Arabs to intervene and help these distressed families who are much the victims of Israeli violence as the Israelis are the victims of terrorism.

That’s not logic. That’s bias, bigotry and the kind of one-sided media coverage that you can expect from even a good media organization like CNN. It’s worse elsewhere in the American media.

When the lie is more convenient to tell than the truth, it helps explain why the conflict continues to drag on endlessly.

(Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian American syndicated columnist and author. His columns are archived at www.hanania.com.)


Monday, January 03, 2005

Do Muslims denounce terrorism? Yes they do! Jan. 3, 2005

Do Muslims Denounce Terrorism? Ues they do!
Arab American Media Syndicate, Jan. 3, 2005
By Ray Hanania

In the war against extremism, moderates are at a significant disadvantage.

Extremism is driven by emotion, not logic. It is usually cloaked in religious fervor, which is fueled by faith rather than reason.

And no place is more emotional or driven by religious fervor than the Middle East, where tyrants rule and an illusive peace results in enormous hardships and suffering for the public.Moderates there are faced with the impossible task of convincing a cynical public battered by suffering, brutality and oppression to believe in the message of moderation. Yet the Arab and Muslim worlds find it difficult to the Western definition of "moderation" when they see clear a double standard in the West on issues of violence, morality and justice.

Worse, the Western news media that carries these messages often is biased an imbalanced.

It is easier for extremist Arab and Muslim leaders to be extremist. Most Arabs and Muslims believe that the media's bias reflects the bigotry and biases of the West.

In contrast, moderate Arab and Muslim leaders find themselves burdened not only by the double standards in the West, but also by the fundamental confusion in the West over basic Arabic words and phrases commonly misused by the media to symbolize extremism.

The mis-translation of commonly accepted phrases has a significant role in casting Arabs and Muslims as extremist, when in fact, they are not.

The word "Jihad" is another often misunderstood and distorted for political purposes, as is the meaning of the word "Allah."

Many in the West believe that "Allah" is a different God than the God of Christians and Jews. In fact, Allah is merely the Arabic translation for the word God. Muslims and Christian Arabs both embrace not only the same God of the Bible and Torah but also the same prophets while sharing the same Biblical history.

In Arabic, the true meaning of "jihad" is to "strive" or "struggle" in the sense of an honorable goal. Yet in the Western media, the Arabic word Jihad is inaccurately translated into the politically charged catchphrase of the extremists as "Holy War."

The Arabic translation of "Holy War" is al-harbu al-muqaddasatu, a phrase rarely used by mainstream Arabs or Muslims at either the political or religious pulpit.

The term "martyrdom operation" is often used by religious leaders in sermons, but it has a specific meaning in Arabic that is different from the English translation. It does not refer exclusively to "suicide bombings."

Martyrdom operation refers to any act of civilian or military resistance to an oppressor. In the case of the Palestine-Israel conflict, a martyrdom operation includes both suicide bombings that target civilians, and legitimate resistance to Israel's military occupation.

Posters pasted to the walls and buildings in the West Bank and Gaza not only showcase suicide bombers who pose prior to committing their homicidal missions, but also the faces and names of Palestinians who were killed during Israeli air strikes against alleged militant suspects.

According to the Palestine Red Crescent Society, almost two-thirds of Palestinians killed during the past four years of the "Intifada" (rebellion) were unarmed civilians not engaged in violent protests. Israeli disputes that and considers all Palestinian fatalities, civilian or otherwise, to be "terrorists."

Driving through any Palestinian city, for example, one might think the walls are covered by posters glorifying suicide bombings. But the fact is that many of the posters are of victims killed by Israeli military operations that include not only adults but many young children.

On July 23, 2003, for example, Israel launched an air strike using an American-made F-16 jet, into a residential apartment building in the al-Daraj area of Gaza City. The target, a man suspected of being involved in alleged terrorist acts, was killed. But the strike also killed 18 innocent Palestinian civilians and wounded and maimed more than 150 others.

How can Israelis or Palestinians be "moderate" in a situation like that where the other side does not recognize their crimes and each justifies their response?

Polls of Palestinians and Israelis reflect this extremism. Surveys of Palestinians show strong support for "martyrdom operations," which include suicide bombings and also legitimate armed resistance against occupation.

Similarly, the majority of Israelis support Israel's tough military policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the confiscation of Palestinian lands, and the "extra-judicial" killing (assassination) of suspected "terrorists."

You cannot hold one community to a standard that you deny to another. If extremism exists among Arabs and Muslims, for example, it also exists among Israelis and the West, which absolves Israel of its brutal and often illegal policies.

It is politics and media bias that puts meaning where meaning does not exist. The fact is that there are extremists who do embrace suicide bombings specifically. But it is easy to distort legitimate expressions of grief and the emotional cries for justice and turn them into the glorification of "suicide bombings" when they are not.

A news report in the leading Jewish American newspaper, The Forward, reported in December 2003:

In March 2003, Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the current president of Cairo's Al-Azhar University and former Egyptian Grand Mufti, said that "martyrdom operations" against Israel are "100% legitimate." One year earlier, he ruled that Palestinians who carry out suicide operations in the occupied territories are regarded by God as "a martyr" and "even rises to the highest level of martyrdom." Last year, he urged Muslims all over the world "to take up jihad against the invading forces." Tantawi, Grand Imam of the flagship Al Azhar mosque in Cairo, proclaimed in 2002 that suicide bombings against Israel are valid.

To Arabs and Muslims, the meaning is clear. But to those who oppose Islam, the legitimacy of the Palestinian struggle for nationhood or the Arab World, the broader definitions are replaced by "suicide bombings" and "holy war."

Even when Arabs and Muslims are specific in denouncing "suicide bombings," extremists are quick to respond, equating "martyrdom operations" with "suicide bombings."

On June 20, 2002, as polls showed strong Palestinian support for "martyrdom operations," more than 50 Palestinian leaders published full-page newspaper ads in leading Palestinian and Arabic newspapers condemning "suicide bombings."

The ad appeared in most Arabic newspapers including Al Quds, the leading Palestinian daily, the day after a suicide bombing killed 19 people on a Jerusalem bus, and hours before another suicide attack killed seven more people at a bus stop the same evening.

The message, endorsed by signatories like Hanan Ashrawi, a leading Palestinian spokeswoman and a legislator, and the Palestinians' senior Jerusalem official, Sari Nusseibeh, was repeated in mosques and in political halls throughout Palestine.

But the media immediately countered their message with a response from a spokesman for Hamas, who said that despite the call, his organization would continue "martyrdom operations" as a legitimate form of resistance.

One of the major problems is that the West often skirts the complicated specifics of the Middle East conflict and instead embraces the simplistic stereotypes.

The more difficult a crisis is to understand, the easier it is for extremists to exploit it, the West to misunderstand it and the moderates to find themselves impossible to explain.

But Zohair Dobei, considered a moderate Muslim sheikh in the West Bank city of Nablus, stressed the Islamic prohibition on killing civilians. He also was critical of Palestinian mothers who have appeared in videos, endorsing bombing attacks subsequently carried out by their sons.

Survey results are distorted to reflect support for suicide bombings as opposed to the broader context of violence in the act of self-defense.

When the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center reported in April 2003 that 66 percent of Palestinians believe "Palestinian military operations against Israeli targets" are a suitable response during the current political situation.

Even in those cases where extremists have embraced suicide bombings specifically, the support is often placed in the context of the current conflict.

In response to the public denunciation of suicide bombings on April 20, 2002, Hamed Baitawi, chief of the Islamic Clergy Committee in Palestine who has close ties to Hamas, told the Associated Press, "martyrdom operations" are "legitimate at present … Islam demands that we avoid killing women children and civilians, but God ordered us to fight our enemy in the same way that he fights us … As long as the Israeli occupation is killing our people, we have the right from the sky to kill its civilians."

That attitude is not only present in Muslim society, it is also common in Jewish and Christian societies, too.

The fact is that a majority of Americans support the war and invasion of Iraq, even though no evidence exists proving claims that Iraq was involved in September 11th, was engaged in supporting al-Qaeda or terrorism against the United States or was a direct threat to this country.

Saddam Hussein was heavily demonized in the Western media and was an easy target and, therefore, violating international law to enter his country, destroy his government and occupy Iraq was accepted. Most Arabs were angered by the hypocrisy of the American position on Iraq rather than being supportive of Saddam Hussein, yet their opposition to the war in Iraq was often translated into support for Saddam Hussein;s government.

Cries for Muslims and Arabs to "denounce" the violence of September 11th have become political weapons in the wars against Islam, the Palestinians and the Arab World.

The fact is nearly every major Muslim and Arab organization denounced the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks and the accused perpetrator, Osama Bin Laden, a renegade militant trained by the CIA and Western military forces in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets.

In the Chicago suburb of Bridgeview, renown for alleged Islamic extremism, leaders of 25 Arab and Muslim organizations held a press conference to denounce, unequivocally, the Sept. 11th al-Qaeda attacks.

Community leaders of rival organizations set aside differences to stand on the same stage. Only two organizations refused to participate, including the Islamic Association for Palestine which is accused of being the political voice of Hamas in the United States.

The organization's two leaders, who were also members of the nearby Bridgeview Mosque board, held their own press conference blocks away. Although they denounced the terrorism, they insisted that it was "the result of American foreign policy" and that the "roots of terrorism" must be better understood.

The larger press conference was ignored by the major media while the press conference by the IAP was given widespread coverage.

As word of anti-Muslim acts spread, the Imam of the Bridgeview Mosque Jamal M. Saad held a "prayer session" where he said, "Ugliness has no nationality. Crime has no race. This is a time to be one people."

In Detroit, Michigan, which is considered the "Washington D.C." of the Arab and Muslim American community, newspaper publisher Osama Shiblani said "99 percent of the leaders of the Muslim and Arab community denounced Bin Laden and the attacks on Sept. 11 as the acts of thugs, terrorists and murderers."

The community even worked with the FBI to help convince more than 14,000 Arab and Muslims residents to come forward and participate in "interviews" to help fight terrorism.

Many who volunteered found themselves harassed, detained and arrested for minor INS infractions unrelated to terrorism, national security or September 11th. The round-up was viewed as an opportunity to single out Arabs and Muslims for routine INS violations typical or many other racial and ethnic groups.

"After we did everything we could to help them, they turned around and attacked us and said our community supported terrorism," Siblani recalled of statements made by Secretary of State Colin Powell who addressed the Muslim and Arabs of Detroit.

Muslims and Arabs continually denounce terrorism and excessive violence by the community, but they also insist on denouncing similar violence and terrorism by Israel and the West.

Critics site this "moral equivalence" as the challenge to their sincerity insisting that Arabs and Muslims only denounce a specific form of violence committed by their community while turning their backs on the same violence by the West.

Americans may not see a difference between the terms "martyrdom operations" and "suicide bombings" or "jihad" and the terrorism of al-Qaeda, but Arabs and Muslims do see those differences.

Western bias drives the false claim that Muslims and Arabs do not denounce excessive violence such as the recent beheadings in Iraq, suicide bombings in Israel and Iraq.

They do denounce them, but not by the double standard that is insisted on by the West.

(Ray Hanania is an award-winning nationally syndicated columnist, and the former national president of the Palestinian American Congress. His columns are archived on the web at www.hanania.com)

Saturday, January 01, 2005

UN role shines in Tsunami calamity Jan. 1, 2005

Role of United Nations shines in Tsunami calamity
Arab American Media Services, Jan. 1, 2005
By Ray Hanania

Why is world suffering often more political than the world’s conflicts? Could it be that helping the victims of conflict underscores the transgressions of the victors?

For that very reason, no international agency or world body has come under more political criticism than the United Nations. Yet stepping in to assist the victims of cataclysmic tragedy may in fact be the UN’s primary mandate.

You don’t have to go far in the United States to come across evidence of how much the UN is hated. Anti-UN billboards, slogans and bumper stickers are everywhere. Newspapers are filled with anti-UN rhetoric and the cable TV giants that fire the flames of demagoguery use the UN as timber.

But the Tsunami in South Asia has demonstrated how important the United Nations is to the world, and how political the resentment of Western and wealthy nations like the United States really is.

Whether it is Kosovo, Iraq or Palestine, the UN is there to help as the nation’s most equipped to help seem driven more by political agendas.

Americans hate causes they view as unpopular, like the Palestinians, and they view any support of their "enemies" as disloyal and treacherous. None has lingered longer than the tragedy of the Palestinians, caused in part by the manipulation of the UN after its founding by Western nations who favored Israel over justice.

In 1948, while the United States embraced the victor, the UN extended its arms to help the nearly 800,000 civilian refugees forced from homes by Israel’s military.

Under a UN partition plan pushed by the West, Israel was offered half the country. But months before Israel declared independence, it attacked and captured 10 major Arab cities located in the proposed "Arab State." Slick propaganda shifted its aggression to resistance.

In the end, Israel not only controlled the half of Palestine it was given, but it also ended up occupying half of the land set aside for the Palestinians, an occupation faded from memories by time.

Tragedy is often the result of politics, and maybe that is why Americas were so slow in giving to help the Tsunami victims.

Or maybe, the real problem is that people in the West just don’t care for people in the Third World where suffering is expected.

The Tsunami erupted the day after Christmas near the city of Aceh at the northern tip of Sumatra, Indonesia, expunging hundreds of cities in a dozen countries that hug the Indian Ocean an the Bay of Bengal to the north. The casualties continue to rise to staggering heights, starting at 10,000 on the first day and climbing to nearly 150,000 by weeks’ end.

In the Tsunami’s wake, only the voice of the UN stood resolute. The response of the world’s richest nations seemed stingy. The stingy ratio seemed to correspond to the ratio of wealth and anti-UN attacks.

President Bush finally upped America aide from $35 million to $350 million when provoked by France, a nation who gave more but whose per capita wealth can’t compare to America’s wealth.
And if thoughts of politics seemed remote, Bush formed his own four-nation coalition to disburse its aid.

But the Tsunami response also exposes the hypocrisy of the Arab and Islamic Worlds, nations located in the immediate area of the suffering. It is true that their embrace of the plight of the Palestinians has been as much about justice as it is about partisan politics.

Suffering is as much a political football to them as to America.

Arab American Institute President Jim Zogby, who speaks for the interests of many of these Arab/Islamic World governments, was on CNN on New Year’s day politely criticizing the Bush administration.

Much of that criticism is driven by American politics -- Zogby is a Democrat and Bush is Republican.

But why didn’t Zogby address the region he is most familiar with questioning the very Arab/Islamic countries that have funded his political agenda over the years?

The Tsunami demonstrates the real reason why the UN is so important to this world. It was mandated with many roles that don’t seem to work effectively: arbiter providing neutral observers to monitor cease fires and conflict resolution; and the one world body that is supposed to lead the war against oppression, a mandate that grew out of World War II.

But it’s real importance may be its ability to look beyond politics and help the victims of tragedy in a non-partisan manner that rises above the politics motivating reactions from France, the United States and the Arab/Islamic World.

If the UN did not exist, as many in Americans would wish, there is no doubt that the level of the suffering and death caused by the Tsunami would certainly be far higher than the toll is has so far claimed.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning internationally syndicated columnist, author and writer based in Chicago. His columns are archived at www.hanania.com.)