Friday, August 28, 2009

Understanding Israeli public opinion and President Barack Obama

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A recent poll in Israel reports that only 4 percent of Israelis there believe President Barack Obama is "pro-Israel" and that more than 51 percent believe he is "pro-Palestinian." Although the question is a little misleading. It is do you believe Obama is "more" pro-Palestinian or "more" pro-Israeli.

When you ask it like that, the question numbers go in the direction the pollsters want. But then, what does "more" really mean?

In this case, it could mean we finally have a president who looks at the issues rather than the campaign war chest and fundraising and the votes. Maybe Obama really is interested in pushing both the Palestinians and Israelis to reach an agreement.

Why would Israelis think Obama is "more" pro-Palestinian than pro-Israeli?

Well, maybe some thought that he was Israeli since he shares his first name with Israel's foreign minister and former prime minister Ehud Barak. They just assume anyone with that name is going to be "more" pro-Israel.

On the other hand, if you look at the issues, Obama has asked Israel to abide by international law and stop the expansion of the illegal settlements, which is not something that is "too much" to ask, although his insistence on asking Israel to abide by Israeli law is "more" substantive than his weak-minded predecessor George W. Bush who went along with whatever the Israeli lobby put on his tiny plate.

Asking Israel to "compromise" in exchange for peace with the Palestinians does put President Obama in a special place.

Putting the interests of the United States above the interests of Israel or any other foreign country, does make President Obama different from any of his predecessors.

Making fairness a criteria in the Palestine-Israeli peace process does make President Obama "more" special than any of his predecessors, including President Bill Clinton who during negotiations in 2000 between Ehud Barak and the late President Yasir Arafat pretended to be Israeli and pushed his own agenda.

President Obama is not pushing his own agenda. He's not in anyone's back pocket. The Israeli lobby in the United States must be besides itself wondering what the heck is going on.

But if being fair, just and dedicated to genuine peace means that "more" people might think you are not on their side, then maybe that's the price someone in this country should finally pay if the United States is going to continue to insist on being the sole arbiter of the so-far elusive Middle East Peace.

-- Ray Hanania

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Battle between Bikini and Berqa in Arab World is about absence of freedom

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Choice between bikini and berqa is about absence of freedom in Arab World
By Ray Hanania

As I always do around this time of year, I pushed aside the Arab-Israeli conflict for a moment to contemplate the more serious conflict between secular Muslims and Christian Arabs and the growing religious extremism in the Middle East.

There are 22 Arab countries, yet only two had the courage (or pride in their women) to field entrants in this year’s Miss Universe Pageant, which was held in the Bahamas, where string bikinis replace car bombs and women are truly free.The only two Arab countries that entered contestants, again, were Egypt and Lebanon.

Now I know Egypt and its president, Hosni Mubarak, get a lot of flack for the alleged oppression of its citizens: The Coptic Christians are screaming; the Muslim Brotherhood is screaming; the religious fanatics are screaming; and Egyptian ex-patriots are screaming.

I wonder if Egyptians are protesting, or they just like to scream? Anyway, this was the 58th Miss Universe Contest and Miss Venezuela Stefanía Fernández was declared the most beautiful woman in the universe.

I have issues with that. The universe is a big place and who are we to define beauty based on our human criteria? What about creatures from other planets? Well, we can deal with that when they come here, occupy our lands and try to kick us off the planet.

I HAPPEN to think Arab women are the most beautiful in the world. And I think that beauty is something we should brag about, not suppress, hide or run from in fear and shame.

I mean, as an Arab, I have to ask this question: Why is it okay to threaten women who make the choice to showcase their bodies in the Arab world and not okay to challenge the oppressed women who wrap themselves in a burka and niqab like sacks of potatoes while their husbands and male family members run around unshaven in dirty Nikes and other “Western” T-shirts?

Why is it that an Arab woman has the “right” to make the “choice” to wear a burka and face veil and erase her physical identity in public, but that same Arab woman does not have the right to wear a bikini? I think the bikini is the symbol of true freedom and the burka is the sign of modern-day oppression of Arab women.

It’s one of the hypocrisies that plagues the Arab world, brought on by the religious fanatics – the lowest common denominator in the Middle East. And instead of standing up to it, secular Muslims and Christian Arabs – let’s just call them “Arabs” – are doing nothing to stop this growing oppression.

ON APRIL 9, 2006, Tamar Goregian, 23, a Christian woman from Iraq, which remains occupied by American forces, withdrew from the Miss Universe Pageant after Islamic extremists called her “the queen of infidels” and threatened to kill her if she participated. The 2006 pageant was held at the Shrine Temple in Los Angeles.

The two runners-up in the Miss Iraq Beauty Pageant, who were Muslim, declined to take Miss Goregian’s place in light of the death threats. The fourth place runner-up, Silva Shahakian, 23, also a Christian, was left to take the title, but apparently she, too, declined as she was not among the 86 pageant beauties who were introduced during the 2006 show’s broadcast.

The religious thought police in the Arab world argue that a woman showing off her body is disgraceful. Blowing yourself up at a crowded bus stop is not disgraceful, though.

They also assert that the “rights of women” are guaranteed in writing in some Arab countries.

When you have to put something in writing, it usually means it is a problem; otherwise why have it written in a constitution? You have to ask yourself, when a religious fanatic says his wife must wear a burka to protect her “purity,” who is he protecting her from? Strangers? Or his own selfish ego, pride and arrogance.

The truth is that in human beings, the fear that sin will be committed usually comes from the person’s own heart. Humans fear what they know they would do. Are we forcing women to wear the veil to protect them from others? Or are we protecting them from ourselves? That’s why many men in the Arab world would kill their daughters based not on the fact but on the rumor of sexual indiscretion, because the Arab men fear the damage to their own pride, not the “damage” to “their” women. Honor killings remain a serious problem in the Arab world and it’s only getting worse.

THE ISSUE of the Miss Universe Pageant may sound trivial to some, but in truth, it is the cornerstone of the problem that plagues the Arab world and continues to threaten its freedom.

With the exception of violence, a society achieves true freedom when it tolerates the intolerable, mainly in speech.

When you cannot tolerate an individual’s right to live his/her life as s/he wishes, that is called tyranny. Tyranny is the cancer that destroys all societies, and will destroy the Arab world.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist, author and Chicago morning radio talk show host. He can be reached at This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post August 26, 2009. Permission granted to republish.)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Anger of Lockerbie bomber release driven by revenge not justice

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Release of Libyan in Lockerbie bombing puts past behind us
By Ray Hanania

The release this week of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the convicted mastermind of the 1988 bombing of PAN AM Flight 103 over Lockerbie, opens old wounds by also a debate that should have taken place years ago.

It’s understandable that Americans are angry with the decision. Many Americans were on board the flight and lost their lives in the bombing. What has never been understandable is the American indifference to the killing of innocent civilians who are Arab, Muslim or of other races by American terrorists.

The condemnation of al-Megrahi’s release is misguided and driven by selfish-emotion, understandably, but more so by longstanding hypocritical and one-sided American foreign policies that put no value on any lives except their own.

The release of al-Megrahi on humanitarian grounds – he is suffering from cancer -- should put the past in true perspective; Americans must recognize that Lockerbie was not one incident in a vacuum but one of a chain of events that saw injustice, death and destruction on all sides.

On April 15, 1986, then President Ronald Reagan ordered the bombing of the home of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, killing his young daughter and 36 other Libyan and Arab civilians.

Reagan justified the personal attack using American soldiers and bombs claiming that Libyan was behind an earlier bombing of a disco in Berlin that killed two American soldiers and a Turkish woman and injured 229 others.

The disco bombing was in retaliation for American military attacks against Arab targets in the Middle East and also for the American financing of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians which one year later exploded in the first Intifada in the occupied West bank and Gaza Strip.

On Dec. 21, 1988, PAN AM Flight 103 exploded in a terrorist bombing while flying over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 passengers and crew including several American passengers. Debris from the plane bombing caused the death of 11 Scottish citizens on the ground.

The 1970s and 1980s represented a dark time for civilians victimized by the political battles between the United States, Israel, the Arab World and even Iran.

Battle lines that we see today were not so clear then. Iran was run by pro-American funded dictator, the Shah Reza Pahlavi, until he was forced to step down by protesters. Iraq was ruled by Saddam Hussein, who was backed and funded by the United States in a war against the Shah’s successor. Osama Bin Laden was a member of the Mujahideen fighting and defeating the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and backed by the United States.

But the most damning indictment of American hypocrisy when it comes to the double standard of denouncing Arab suspects while remaining silent when the killers are in fact American soldiers is the massacre committed in 1968 by American Lt. William Calley at Mai Lai in Vietnam.

Calley and his unit gunned down more than 500 old men, women and children in cold blood. Three years later, Calley was charged with directly killing 22 women and children. He was sentenced to life in prison, much like al-Megrahi. But he was pardoned after having served only three years under house arrest by then President Richard Nixon.

Calley’s action was unique in that most massacres of civilians by American soldiers go unpunished and those few prosecuted usually end up with the murderers getting released for compassionate reasons.

The world has turned upside down in the past 30 to 40 years but the truth is that no one side has suffered more or less than the other.

In 2001, a Scottish Court, under pressure from the United States, Israel and Britain, forced the arrest and conviction of al-Megrahi, who was accused of the Lockerbie bombing.

No charges were ever brought against Reagan or any American officials or “soldiers” and “pilots” for murdering Gaddafi’s little girl or the many Arab civilians who were killed as a result of American foreign policies.

It was taboo to even discuss the American role in the murders of thousands of Arab civilians and the thought of bringing an American president to justice was ridiculed. But Americans cheered like an angry mob for justice in the death’s of their victims.

Relatives of the Americans killed on the PAN AM Flight over Lockerbie are understandably angry.

But what about the outrage for the innocent lives lost in the Middle East that were a part and parcel of the Lockerbie bombing and a period of American military brutality in the Middle East?

Although the relatives of the victims deserve to grieve and feel anger over the decision, their anger should not be limited to the Scottish decision to release al-Megrahi. It should also be directed at the hypocrisy of American government foreign policy that has placed a value on the life of Americans and no value on the lives of anyone else.

Hopefully, the al-Megrahi release will begin a process of healing and, more importantly, American and Western recognition of the tragedies that people in the Middle East have been forced to accept without any form of justice at all.

Yet maybe those demanding justice in the Lockerbie bombing are not seeking justice at all. After all, justice has apparently never been the real motive behind any of American foreign policies towards the Middle East.

Maybe Lockerbie is just about revenge.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist, author and morning radio show host in Chicago. He can be reached at

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Release of Libyan in Lockerbie bombing is opportunity to put injustices of the past behind us

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It is understandable that many Americans are upset about the decision by the Scottish court to release Abdelbaset al-Megrahi from his 27 year prison sentence after only a few years served.

The accused, al-Megrahi, was convicted in the bombing of PAN AM Flight 103 in 1988. The plane was flying over Lockerbie when it exploded, killing all 259 passengers and crew and 11 civilians on the ground.

But not understandable is the narrow-vision of Americans who always see terrorism as an act of violence by someone else, but never an act of violence that has resulted from terrorism committed by the United States and the West against civilians in the Arab World.

Libyan President Moammar Gaddafi's infant daughter was among the 36 civilians murdered in 1986 when US President Ronald Reagan ordered the bombing of one of Gaddafi's homes.

The attack was not against a Libyan military target but rather against innocent civilians. Reagan alleged that Libya was behind the bombing of a disco many weeks earlier that took the lives of two American soldiers and one Turkish woman, and injuring dozens of others in Berlin.

But Americans screaming about al-Megrahi's release, seem blind and unconcerned when justice is lost involving non-American murdered by American foreign policies.

Thousands of Arabs in the Middle East were killed because of American policies, and those murders often were the motivation between retaliatory violence against Western targets, including the PAN AM Flight and other airline targets.

Terrorism is terrorism, but justice is also justice. The fact is that no one has complained when Reagan was never brought to justice for ordering the killing of Libyan civilians. Or, for that matter, no one in America was ever charged with funding and orchestrating and "masterminding" the murder of civilians in Iran during the pro-American and funded terrorist regime of The Shah of Iran Moahmmed Reza Pahlavi. Pahlavi was one of the worst mass murderers in Middle east history and he was protected by Americans.

Osama Bin laden is well known today as the terrorst mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the United States, taking some 3,000 lives. But Americans conveniently forget that Bin laden was a member of the Mujahideen trained and funded by the United States in the war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union.

And, we conveniently forget that Iraq's murdered dictator Saddam Hussein was in fact our ally int he war against the Iranian religious Muslim successors to the terrorist Shah of Iran, the Ayatollahs who held so many Americans hostage during the administration of former President Jimmy Carter.

Rather than lament the release of al-Megrahi, Americans should look towards it as an opportunity to close a dark period in our history fromt he 1970s and 1980s when American terrorism was answered with Middle East terrorism.

-- Ray Hanania

Those pimping for the U.S. Census should be honest, its about their money not our community empowerment

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The U.S. Government has done a great job hiring Arabs in our community to shill for their cause, to continue to oppress our community. The focus on the effort is the U.S. Census.

I want you to notice something. Everyone one pimping and pushing for the American Arab community to "participate" in the U.S. Census are all PAID by the U.S. Government to tell us to fill out the census form.

They lie that filling out the census form and "writing in our race" Arab in the little line at the bottom of the form is a way for us to be empowered. And when someone questions their lies, they slam and slander Arabs who argue that we have been misled by lazy, do-nothing Arab activists who have taken the short and easy route to money instead of fighting the long term challenge.

What is the long term challenge? Arabs should be listed officially on the census.

Here is who are now listed on the U.S. Census:

The census form asks for your Race, listing Hispanic, Latino or Spanish Origin. And they ask if you are Mexican, Mexican American (I didn’t know there were two categories of Mexicans), or Chicano? What kind of race is “Chicano?” What country do “Chicanos” come from? “Chicano-stan?”

They ask the same question again on the long form: Are you White? Black, African American or Negro? Are you American Indian or Alaskan Native and they even give you a place to write in your tribe name.

That’s not all. The form asks are you Asian Indian? Japanese, Native Hawaiian, Chinese, Korean, Guamanian or Chamorro, Filipino, Vietnamese, Samoan or Other Asian where they give you a space so you can print your “race” like Laotian, Thai, Pakistani, Cambodian “and so on.”

Oh, they don’t stop there. They ask are you “Pacific Islander” and ask you to print your race like Fijian, Tongan “and so on.”

Way at the bottom, in case they missed someone, someone not so important, they have the throw away line, to check here if you are “Some Other Race – Print Race.”

That is where I have to hand-write that I am “Arab.” And proud of it too, by the way.

Read the full original column that has Rashad al-Dabbagh, who works for the census, and some members of the Arab American Institute targeting me because I don't agree with their laid-back lack of activism against this problem. Click here to read the column?

The fact is that while these activists are cashing their checks and telling American Arabs, "Don't worry. You don't have to be listed on the census form, you can write it in so the AAI can complete their list," government agencies across America are discriminating against American Arabs specifically and directly because the U.S. Census DOES NOT list Arabs as "Arab" on the Census form.

The federal government requires police officers who pull people over for traffic stops to list the race of the person being stopped. But, they are required only to list those races AND ethnicities listed on the U.S. Census form.

Why is that important? If the race is listed on statistics, communities can easily see if they are being targeted for discrimination by police officers and then use that as "EMPOWERMENT" to demand that the police department hire American Arabs.

But American Arabs are NOT listed and police are not required to list us at all.

In every instance of EMPOWERMENT, not being listed on the U.S. Census means we are denied the ability to confront and stop discrimination, discrimination that is holding our community back.

And all that the activists who are PAID by the U.S. Census can do is attack me ands my argument and tell us little American Arab Sheep to "write your race on the form."

Well, writing your name on the form does not stop the discrimination and it DOES NOT force government agencies from the top of the Federal Government to the bottom of the local suburban government to recognize the rights of Americans Arabs.

When we ask school districts how many Arabs have they hired, the answer is "We are not required to list employees based on the race 'Arabs' and we only list race and ethnicity based on those identified in the U.S. Census."

I know what the problem is. It's easier for some in our community to take the handout from the government and keep the American Arabs in a stupor than to find the courage to stand up and change a system that needs to be change.

Arabs should and MUST be listed on the U.S. Census form and until we are, we will continue to be discriminated against, denied government grants, denied government jobs and marginalized in our society.

-- Ray Hanania