HANANIA: Many similarities between Chicago and Middle East, For Immediate Release, 2-01-08

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Many similarities between Chicago and Middle East
By Ray Hanania —
Jerusalem is the only place where people don’t come up to me when they learn I am from Chicago, form their hands into “guns,” and then ask about “Al Capone.” Capone, for those who don’t know, was the most powerful mobster to head organized crime in the United States. During the 1920s. Well. People just have long memories, unlike in the Middle East, right? Capone’s organization, Murder Incorporated, managed prostitution, booze and gambling. But there are many similarities between Chicago and the Middle East.

We both have dictators who can barely speak English. In Chicago, we have a dictator-for-life named Richard M. Daley, who is a part of the Irish Mafia, which is more about controlling money and power than prostitution, booze and gambling.

Daley is often addressed as “Mayor Boss.” Or, “Mr. Son of the Original Boss.” His father, Richard J. Daley, was a mayor-for-life, also, kind of like Bashar al-Assad and his daddy, Hafez al-Assad.

Boss Daley has had a lifelong difficulty with the English language, partly, I suspect, because of his natural Irish aversion to British rule, something Arabs and Jews completely understand.

When a leader in the Middle East talks about a “Palestinian State,” usually no one understands what they mean. It’s never clear. It’s always confused. And everyone has a different understanding of what they mean.

But when Mayor Daley speaks loudly about how he supports a “Pakistinian State,” everyone in Chicago automatically understands what Daley is trying to say. We don’t bother to ask.

And, just like in the Middle East, the number one most wanted person in Chicago is an Arab. A Syrian American named Antoin “Tony” Rezko.

Rezko goes on trial next month on federal charges of taking money from buildings he was supposed to have rehabbed, and also for donating huge chunks of funds to his political pals, including another popular Arab celebrity, Barack Hussein Obama.

Rezko and Obama, now a candidate for president, were real pals for more than 16 years, kind of like President Bush’s friend, that Israeli dude, Jack Abrahmoff, who pled guilty to bribing elected officials and stealing money from Native American tribes.

Sound familiar?

For years, Rezko was helping a lot of people, not just Arab Americans, who were interested in running for office. He donated thousands to candidates, including to Obama, the first African American who has a chance at becoming President of the United States.

For the sake of full disclosure, every Arab American who has run for office has probably received a donation from Tony Rezko. When I left journalism and launched a successful political consulting firm for a few years, the first thing I did was run for local legislative office to experience firsthand what it is like to be a candidate. Rezko donated a few thousand dollars to my campaign, too, in 1992. Clearly, not even close to what Rezko gave to Obama, but maybe I was one of his first benefactors. Ooops!

Anyway, no one cared about a few Rezko donations to me because they came at a time when Rezko was not in trouble. In fact, I have to say Rezko is really a very decent person. A moderate on Middle East issues, and someone driven by helping other Arab Americans assimilate into American society.

Now in the sights of the Feds, Rezko’s friendship with Obama has stirred the political pot. Supporters of his chief opponent, Hillary Clinton, (I have to suspect), launched a massive, anonymous email campaign that accuses Obama of being a radical Islamicist, a “Muslim” indoctrinated into religious extremism at a “Madrassa” while growing up in Indonesia.

Forget that “madrassa” is merely the Arabic word for “school” and that every school in Indonesia, Muslim or Christian, is called a “madrassa.”

Who cares if it is scary enough to undermine his polling numbers?

The truth is Obama’s troubles go way beyond racist American views about Arabs, Muslims or Middle Easterners.

Rezko helped Obama get a discount on a new, expensive home. Obama’s home cost $1.65 million dollars. Rezko lived next door, in a $2 million home. And right in between was a small piece of land Rezko bought for $600,000 that ended up as a part of Obama’s home. The Feds have zeroed into that deal.

At least 11 of the buildings that Rezko’s company – in partnership with a Jewish developer, by the way — were located in Obama’s Illinois legislative Senate District, a local office he held before becoming the U.S. Senator from Illinois.

By 2002, one of Rezko’s companies was being sued by Daley’s administration, by the state of Illinois, and by several banks for “defaulting on loans” and allegedly doing a poor job renovating slum buildings. Taxpayers and lenders, federal prosecutors contend, lost as much as $100 million while Rezko’s firm made about $7 million.

Called out on the “Axis of Rezko,” Obama apologized for the land deal. He purged some $180,000 that Rezko, his companies and his pals donated to Obama election campaigns. Many of the Rezko pals have Arabian sounding names. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, that’s not a good thing in American politics.

Rezko may be the one Arab American who has achieved the highest position of influence in American politics. And his fall is unfortunate.

Not even Hillary is free of the Rezko controversy. Supporters (I have to assume) of Obama released a nice photo of Rezko sandwiched in between a smiling Hillary and cheerful Bill Clinton that’s been making the rounds of the media these days.

But if you think Daley has a lifelong difficulty with the English language, consider the difficulty Obama is having. Obama can’t even say Rezko’s name in public any more.

Who can blame him?


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Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award winning political columnist and author. He covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).

Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at www.TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

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, Hanania 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. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.

The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website www.SuburbanChicagoland.com, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.

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His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania

Visit this link to read Ray's column archive at the ArabNews,com ArabNews.com/taxonomy/term/10906
Ray Hanania