Ray Hanania appeared at the Oak Park Library on Thursday night, September 30, 2010 to discuss his recent book, Arabs in Chicagoland. Hanania is Arab-American and like Michele Norris, who appeared earlier in the same week at a library sponsored event, a radio personality.
Hanania describes himself as a “Christian Arab married to a Jew.” Talk about minority status! Even within the Arab minority in the U.S., most of whom are Muslim, he is a minority. Hanania also pointed out that only about 20% of Muslims worldwide are Arabs but all Arabs, even Christians like himself, are viewed as extreme Islamic militants.
Hanania is a journalist who, he says, is always identified as Arab or Palestinian. In contrast, other journalists, who might be Jewish or Italian or Hispanic, are not consistently identified by their cultural or ethnic heritage. He says that the media is highly biased against Arabs. When he wanted to cover the story of the Intifada from the Palestinian point of view, the Sun Times was so uncomfortable with the idea that they said he would have to go on his own. Then, when he wrote a series of articles based on his research in the camps, they sat on them until a prominent journalist asked about them. (I regret to say that I didn’t write down the name of that person.)
Hanania says that there needs to be more access to the media for Arabs in order to forge new insights and understanding on political and social issues. Because there is limited coverage of Arabs, there is little opportunity to get nuanced perspectives out to the larger American society which then gives greater weight to the strident voices of the militants and perpetuates the stereotype of the hate-mongering Muslim. Hanania says that we have to provide a forum to talk about issues that impact Arabs.
I was struck by how this position echoes Norris’s contention that we need to share our stories. All of them, even painful and uncomfortable ones.
I admit I have often wondered why Muslims who are pacifistic don’t seem to speak out against the extremists. I assumed it was because there was tacit approval of the militants’ tactics. However, perhaps the reason is that their voices are intentionally muted because we are afraid to listen to what they have to say.