Friday, March 31, 2006

Our children need parental involvement and leadership

Our children need parental leadership
March 15, 2006, The Future News, Arab Newspaper Chicago
By Ray Hanania

A few years ago in District 230, Arab families noticed that their children were being singled out by the school board, and being punished harshly. Many were being expelled.

The board members, mainly from Palos Heights, were behind what later appeared to be a racist-driven campaign to force the Arab families to move to other communities. That racism boiled over, as we all know, in 2000, when the community protested plans to convert a long-abandoned Christian church into a mosque.

At the time, we organized a campaign to approach the school board to determine how we could work with them to address what was clearly a problem.

District 230 has three schools, Stagg, Andrew and Sandburg, and about 6,60 students in all. Of that, about 10 percent, or 660 were Arab, mostly Palestinian and Jordanian, split evenly between Christian and Muslim in religion.

Yet, of the students expelled, 90 percent were Arab.

We went to the school board meeting and said that if the Arab students are only 10 percent of the school population yet 90 percent of the punishments, didn't that suggest that something was wrong that needed to be addressed?

Instead of responding positively, the school board rejected our efforts and some described our children as "street gang members."

They avoided their responsibility as an elected school board paid for by our tax dollars.

But at the same time, we quickly recognized that the Arab parents of our students also neglected their responsibilities.

Sometimes, we, as parents, don't even know what our children are doing at school. And worse, we don't get involved in the school activities ourselves.

The only time we do something is when we are there to complain. We become reactive, not pro-active.

Things have changed much since the early 1990s. The number of students in District 230 and also in the neighboring Oak Lawn High school district, have increased dramatically.

In Oak Lawn alone, 20 percent of the students there are Arab. I have participated in several programs through Oak Lawn high school from career days to parental training to help get parents involved. I've seen many Arab students at these events, but very few parents.

Oak Lawn is a good example.

Although we have so many students there of Arab heritage, we have very little parental involvement. As a result, our students are not performing as well as they might.

For example, just walking through the hall of the school I noticed a few things and jotted down some statistics.

There are seven members on the Oak Lawn high school board. None are Arabs. In fact, since the school was launched in 1950, there were no Arab members, even though the Arab community in Oak Lawn is significant and continues to grow.

There are four officers on the Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA), and none of them are Arab, either.

On one wall, I did notice something that made me feel pride.

The co-president of this year's student council is Maysa Matariyeh. One of the school's sports stars highlighted in several newspaper stories is Mohamed Abdel-Qader.

But although I know we have many students who are great achievers in sports - like the soccer team which has many Arab members, we are dragging behind in other important areas.

Of the 240 students this year cited with achieving "High Honors" and a grade point average of 3.75 or above, only 8 are Arab. Of the 480 students this year cited with achieving "Honors" and a grade point average of between 3.0 and 3.749, only 39 are Arab.

The school newspaper, which is so influential in terms of defining students and putting the spotlight on student achievement, had no Arab names in it or on its editorial board. The Year Book has about 20 editors and 15 of them are Arab, I was told, which is an encouraging sign.

And, of 200 students who were cited with having "perfect attendance" this semester. Only three were Arab. Tariq Haddad and, presumably his brother,. Khalil Haddad, and Shadi Ahmad.

Of hundreds of teachers, we only have one teacher and two teacher aides who are Arab. We should have far more given the number of students at the school.

And, of all the languages taught at the school, Arabic is not one of them, even though today it is one of the most sought-after languages by companies and the government in job hiring.

Is there a problem?

If there is, it is not with the students. It is with the parents. We don't get involved. Few of us attend school board meetings. Even fewer could tell you what their children ate for lunch.

Some say that the cultural difference place an excessive burden on our students. But I don't believe that is the real reason. It is a factor, but not the most important factor.

Our children don't have role models in the school system or in life who are Arab that they can look up to and help to build their own lives. The role model who is most important is the parent.

We need to do something about it. But don't wait for the school district or even agencies like the Human Relations Commission to do anything. They always have excuses. You have to do it yourself.

Get involved in your child's school life and you will be amazed at how much of a positive impression you will have on them and on the non-Arab parents and families who participate.

It can change the way we live in a positive way and make it easier for our children to achieve great things with their lives.

(Ray Hanania is a 1971 graduate of Reavis High school and former editor of the school's newspaper. He is an award winning journalist, author and standup comedian and can be reached at

Reasoned Voices in media only emerge when it's safe

Reasoned voices only emerge when it’s safe
Feb. 22, 2006, The Future News, Arab Newspaper of Chicago
By Ray Hanania

A few weeks ago, a senior editor at the Chicago Tribune, one of the nation’s largest daily newspapers and a formidable voice on foreign policy issues, came out of the closet in a column on the issue of media bias against the Palestinians.

Don Wylciff has been a member of the Tribune’s editorial staff since 1990 and its public editor since 2000, positions that have given Wycliff, a former New York Times reporter, a lot of clout.

So when he wrote in a column trying to analyze the recent victory of Hamas in the Palestinian parliamentary elections, and the so-called terrorism case against Bridgeview resident Mohammed Salah, Wycliff pulled no punches. He wrote something that is rarely admitted in public journalism circles, acknowledging something candidly about the reality of the American media and the Palestine-Israel conflict:

"Part of the reason we felt blindsided by Hamas' victory is that we don't see or hear things from the Palestinian perspective very often.

"On Sunday, for example, the Tribune's Commentary page carried two articles on Hamas' victory. One was by ‘an American-Israeli peace activist’ from Oak Park, the other by the executive director of the publication of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

"Our Commentary page features no columnist who can be depended upon to routinely explain and defend Palestinian actions and attitudes as, say, Charles Krauthammer defends Israel's. So on probably the most enduring and insistent foreign policy issue of our time, we routinely do not hear from one side."

Wow. I have never heard an editor at any of the nation’s powerful dailies admit what most observers of the Middle East conflict have known for years. The Op-Ed pages of most major American newspapers are biased, not so much because they are pro-Israel, but because they lack a Palestinian voice.

Krauthammer is probably one of the most racist, anti-Arab columnists in America, but that is a very difficult distinction to draw when so many columnists at American newspapers are anti-Arab bigots and racists.

I wish the Chicago Tribune had a Palestinian columnist who wasn’t like Krauthammer, but just offered the other side, as I have done for 30 years.

I wouldn’t expect the Tribune to ever hire me. I was a veteran City Hall reporter at the rival Chicago Sun-Times and later a critic of Tribune policies, specifically their lack of a balance perspective on the Palestinian-Israeli issue.

I’ve never asked an editor at a major American newspaper to be pro-Arab. I’ve only asked that they be fair.

Wycliff’s column, published on Feb. 2, 2006, finally comes close to offering a neutral perspective and a vindication of that claim of bias against Palestinians.

But, as usual, reasoned voices don’t always surface on such touchy issues as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

About eight days after publishing the column, the Tribune announced that Wycliff was taking a new job, as spokesman for the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, the school where he graduated in 1969.

I doubt that Wycliff was punished for his views, as some in my community emailed me.

The position Wycliff is taking became open when Matt Storin, who happened to be my former editor at the Chicago Sun-Times back in the late 1980s, left the post a few weeks earlier to take on a teaching post at the same university.

I suspect Wycliff had already decided on his departure before writing the column. But clearly, writing the column gave Wycliff a sense of personal relief.

In fact, Wycliff concluded his very eloquent column, saying, "I'm not sure what this has to do with Muhammad Salah and my conscience. Maybe what I feel is the anxiety that comes from knowing that, in this case anyway, ignorance isn't bliss."

You are and always will be my hero, Don. But I wish you had the courage to say that five years ago, instead of eight days before announcing your departure.

You can’t blame him for saving his candid views until this late date in his journalism career.
The fact is that the Tribune is not the only newspaper that lacks balance on the issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Most newspapers are even worse.

While the ChicagoTribune has tried to build a reputation as a thought-leader on international issues, it’s rival newspaper, the Chicago Sun-Times, my former alma mater, has been an unabashed, shameless and shill for pro-Israel voices. It’s anti-Arab and anti-Muslim columnists have been vicious and strident.

So the Tribune has always looked better. But "better" is a relative term. Because it was better, the Tribune has been the target of a boycott and protests and pressures from the Jewish American community.

Some Jewish American leaders have even called the Tribune anti-Semitic, an often over-used but powerful bludgeon used to silence those who exercise their so-called rights of free speech when criticizing Israel, or challenging Israeli policies.

Still, if Wycliff really wanted to clear his conscience, he would have done something about the imbalance in reporting and hired a Palestinian. There are not a lot of us, but clearly, you can’t really comprehend the complexity of the Palestinian-Israel conflict unless you have access to both sides.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning syndicated columnist, author and Palestinian American standup comedian. He can be reached at

King Tut's First Visit to Chicago -- 1977

The return of King Tut reminds us of near past
Jan. 28, 2005, The Future News, Arab Newspaper of Chicago
By Ray Hanania

King Tut returns to Chicago after 29 years. While the Egyptian Boy King will display remnants of an ancient past, it is King Tut who will see the striking changes that have taken place since his last visit.

When King Tut came to Chicago in 1977, the Arab American community was organized as one. Though smaller than it is today, it was a solid community built around Arab pride.

We had a great dinner, a great celebration and all of our leaders stood together, even when they disagreed or had differences about politics. That ability to come together was the great achievement of the Arab American community of the past.

Christians and Muslims partnered at every level in the many professional organizations and also in political activism.

Today, that is an ancient and long lost Chicago past. On his return to Chicago, King Tut will instead see a community that is very divided on religious lines, and that instead of moving forward has stumbled backwards.

Just mentioning how seriously relationships between Christian and Muslim Arabs have declined will provoke some Arabs to angrily scream hatred and throw epitaphs. Meanwhile, Christian Arabs will do what they do best these days, crawl into their self-enclosed environment and hide silently, uninvolved, voiceless and unproductive.

Muslims and Christians no longer work together in a serious way. Despite some contacts and cooperation, relations are strained and they have each turned in different directions.

Muslim Arabs have turned and embraced their own religion not just as a faith but as a political activism.

The Council on American Islamic Relations is by far the largest and most effective organization championing the Palestinian cause these days. Yet, it is all Muslim, as its national president emphasized to me in an email many months ago.

Christian Arabs are not a part of CAIR, except as filtered guests invited to speak to politically correct topics, as if CAIR fears opening the door to real debate. And many Christians will ask under their breath, in the most hypocritical of new traditions, why they are not included when CAIR claims to address "Arab" causes?

King Tut will learn that Arab Americans in Chicago have learned only one thing, that the best way to deal with our community problems is to ignore them.

Still, King Tut will find that CAIR Chicago is very active and does much, and deserves recognition as one of the most active in Chicago, while the national organization remains under the constant scrutiny of anti-Arab phobia in our American society and in American government.
King Tut will also find himself crowded and yet alone.

In 1977, the few Arab American organizations that existed came together and organized a special reception to welcome him to Chicago.

By playing an official role in the King Tut exhibition at the Field Museum of Natural History, they were making a statement that while King Tut represented the ancient past, the Arabs of Chicago represent the present Arab heritage and pride.

This visit, King Tut will be surrounded almost exclusively by non-Arab Americans who will hypocritically marvel in the greatness of Egypt while scowling at the Arab World.

The organizations that claim to speak for Arab Americanism are basically useless when it comes to organizing outside of their very specific professional and social concerns.

As a result of the recent public quarrel over Zanies Comedy Club, the Chicago Commission on Human Relations has started to stir from its five year slumber. Despite the ugliness of their attacks, the director of the Advisory Commission on Arab Affairs feels pressure to start doing something, holding "meetings" with "filtered" Arab invitees, those that they deem to be acceptable.

I hope the Commission succeeds in rebuilding its mandate, doing the good work that it is capable of achieving, and refocusing efforts where they should be rather than where they have been. They can still embrace an effective strategy of inclusion and democratic effectiveness, if they set aside political differences and reach out to everyone. There are many good members of that board.

There’s no long term planning, only reaction in the Arab community.

During King Tut’s visit, there may be several Arab events, mostly fundraisers often featuring
the same-old, same-old speakers talking about the same-old, same-old topics.

We’ve talked these issues to death and have go no where. In fact, if King Tut kept notes about his last visit in 1977, he would wonder why nothing has been achieved by the community since.

He’ll shake his golden and blue striped royal crown in sadness as he sighs that the glory days of the Arab American community in Chicagoland has long past.

Today, we have some good organizations. And we have many more organizations that were once great that today have nice luncheons, give out many awards to themselves, and then fail to administer the mandates they were handed, such as defending the civil rights of Arab Americans.

King Tut, maybe you can save us. Clearly, we, the Arab community divided between Christian Arabs and Muslim Arabs and living in denial, cannot.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning journalist, author and standup comedian. He can be reached at