Friday, March 31, 2006

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

No comments: