HANANIA: Gesture of tolerance in Oklahoma turns to hate, For Immediate Release, 10-26-07

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Religious gesture of understanding turns into usual debate on hate
By Ray Hanania —
An ethnic advisory commission set up by the Governor of Oklahoma printed copies of the Quran, the Islamic “bible,” had them embossed with the State Seal and offered to distribute them to the 149 members of that state’s legislature. After all, earlier in the year, Oklahoma lawmakers also were given free copies of the Bible by a non-government and religious organization called “The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.”  The organizers paid for the Quran’s using private, not government money. So why is there a controversy?

Well, this is America and Muslims and Arabs are blamed for anything and everything wrong that comes out of a Middle East turned on its head by years of bad American foreign policy.

What was to be a gesture of understanding has turned into a battle of hateful words.

Oklahoma legislator Rex Duncan, a Republican from Sand Springs, rejected the offering and returned his copy of the Quran.
Had it just been that, maybe we would not have noticed. But then like many other confused and uneducated Americans, Duncan added a little hate-politicking to the mix.

Duncan sent a nasty letter to his legislative colleagues and about two dozen said they would return the Islamic holy books, too, asserting that Islam is an evil religion that encourages its followers to kill innocent people.

“Most Oklahomans do not endorse the idea of killing innocent women and children in the name of ideology,” Duncan asserted, adding in an interview with the Associated Press that he has “researched the Quran,” on the Internet, of course, and believes it supports killing.

“That’s exactly what it says,” Duncan insisted. “I think it’s pretty straightforward. By their own admission those are the exact words. They don’t all practice that.”

The most disturbing thing about this story is that a presumably intelligent elected government official who has sworn an oath to represent “all Americans,” turned to the Internet to get answers to such important topics.

I can only imagine the hate sites that he visited in order to find enough quotes to justify his claims.

Maybe he should have spent more time expanding his Internet research and he would have probably discovered that even the Bible has quotations in which Christians are taught to kill, too.

He obviously didn’t because when asked about receiving copies of the Bible from a religious organization, Duncan said, “It’s one of the nicest things I’ve received in my three years in the Legislature.”

Quotes are like statistics. Take them out of context, throw them up against the wall of public discourse, and people driven by hate, stereotypes and little knowledge will believe anything that comes from the mouths of demagogues.

Leaders of the American Jewish community in Oklahoma joined the Muslims in expressing their disappointment in Duncan’s claims. And so did many other groups including the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) which has an uneven track record across its chapters in denouncing hate against other groups.

The Muslims who distributed the copies of the Quran are not completely off the hook themselves.

Instead of turning towards racism as a justification to reject the Islamic Holy Books, Duncan could have easily pointed to the fact that what American Muslims are doing is prohibited by law in most Islamic countries.

The same Muslims and Arabs who are asking Americans to be tolerant and show understanding, and even convert to Islam from Christianity and Judaism, seem silent when Islamic governments arrest and jail Muslims who convert to Christianity, or Christians who try to proselytize their Muslim citizens.

The world is already ugly enough without all this additional hate over a religious book.

Islam is a religion of peace. And much like Christianity and Judaism, human beings who embrace each religion often interpret the meanings themselves.

Terrorist mastermind Osama Bin Laden claimed to be Muslim and justified the murder of nearly 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001 on the backs of Islam. Yet, Bin Laden is not really a representative of Islam and his interpretation of Islam is really a bastardized politicization of the religion.

Christian leaders are guilty of that, too.

But I don’t think that is what Duncan and people like him really care about. Notorious for spewing anti-Muslim and anti-Arab hatred, Duncan probably is mindful of the fact that Americans are not knowledgeable about Islam, and that makes for a great opportunity to exploit them for political purposes.

There is nothing like hatred to wind people up and get them to forget about real issues like government corruption and mismanagement.

It will even make Duncan more popular among some of his constituents.

Muslims and Arabs in America are under siege by a wave of ignorance-driven hatred. They should know that even the simplest, kindest gesture will be exploited by some to create angry debate rather than understanding.

They should also know that handing out copies of the Quran doesn’t even come close to influencing Americans to change their ways the way it would if they denounced the hypocrisies that exist in their own communities first.

Before you can redress the hypocrisies of others, you have to correct the hypocrisies of your own.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and author. Copyright Arab Writers Group, www.ArabWritersGroup.com.)

This post has already been read 63 times!

Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and Columnist who began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He covered Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992 (Mayor Daley to Mayor Daley) and has expanded to writing for newspapers around the world focussed on Middle East and American politics.

Hanania loves to write about American Arabs in politics, and focuses on Arab life in America.

Currently, he writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com. He writes on American politics for the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News newspaper and the Reporter Newspapers. He also writes for the online websites TheArabDailyNews.com and NewsAmericaNetwork.com (Illinois News Network at IllinoisNewsNetwork.com).

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Hanania began in journalism as an activist publishing Chicago’s first English-language American Arab Newspaper “The Middle Eastern Voice” from 1975 through 1977. In 1976, he was hired by the Chicago community newspaper The Southtown Economist (Daily Southtown) and in 1985 was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times and covered Chicago City Hall for both. In 1993, he launched the “The Villager” Newspapers which covered 12 Southwest Chicagoland suburban regions. In 2004, he published “The National Arab American Times” monthly newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East ethnic food stores in 48 American States.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

Hanania’s writings have been published in newspapers around the world. Formerly syndicated by Creators Syndicate, Hanania also has written news, features and Opinion Columns for Al Jazeera English, the Jerusalem Post, YNetNews.com, Arab News, Saudi Gazette, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle, The Daily Star, the News of the World, the Daily Yomimuri in Tokyo, Chicago Magazine, the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, and Aramco Magazine. His political columns are published in the Southwest News-Herald and Des Plaines Valley News, Regional News and Palos Reporter newspapers in Chicagoland. Hanania is the President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media and public affairs consulting which has clients in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Washington D.C.

Hanania is Palestinian Christian from prominent Bethlehem and Jerusalem families. His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.

His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania

Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com