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Can Tony Rezko get a fair trial?
By Ray Hanania — In the post-Sept. 11th world of growing anti-Arab sentiment in America, can an Arab American get a fair trial in an American court room? As his trial begins this week, there are many reasons to believe that Arab American businessman Antoin “Tony” Rezko will not get a fair trial. The impact on Rezko’s ability to get a fair trial will probably be under-estimated.Rezko was born in Syria, a nation identified by President Bush and most Americans as a part of the “Axis of Evil” terrorist nations that include North Korea and Iran.
He is associated with a circus Arab Americans who also have been central to several political scandals. One of Rezko’s co-defendants, Ali Ata, is a prominent Palestinian American activist and former head of the Chicago Chapter of the prestigious American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and board member of the Arab American Business and Professional Association (ABPA).
All of this may not be presented as significant evidence, but it will impact jurors in a nation where every Arab is a terrorist, and every mall explosion and shooting is a suspected act of Islamic violence.
In 2004, I experienced by own brush with anti-Arab juror feelings. I was dragged into a political fight between four South Side politicians when I wrote a feature about their political battle. The case was thrown out four times, but returned for a jury hearing as a result of politics.
The 45 potential jurors were asked if they “recognized” any of the people involved in the case. Ironically, most of the jurors said they did not recognize the politicians, but several pointed to me in front of other jurors and said they recognized me as “that Arab newspaper writer.”
After a three-day trial, the 12 selected jurors found all four defendants, including myself, guilty in a freedom of speech case. They ordered each of to pay the plaintiff politician “punitive damages” of $100,000 each.
Fortunately, the judge reviewed the jury’s decision and found it to be at fault. She vacated the jury judgement and the politically motivated case was never brought back to trial.
But will Rezko be that lucky to find a judge with such commitment to fairness in such an unfair world?
The judge in the Rezko case, Amy J. St. Eve, is no ordinary federal judge. She lorded over several high profile “terrorism” cases involving Arab Americans. From the standpoint of the Arab American community, and the facts, she demonstrated an outright bias against Arab defendants.
In one case, defendant Mohammed Salah was brought to her courtroom as an alleged terrorist conspirator. But, after years of negative publicity in which the public was repeatedly told that Salah was a terrorist, the Justice Department dropped its terrorism charges from the case.
Salah was accused of the lessor charges of being a member of a “terrorist organization,” and perjury, having denied being a member of a terrorist organization.
During the case, the government failed to prove that Salah was a member of a terrorist organization. In fact, Salah was a supporter of Hamas, a group that was only designated a “terrorist organization” after Salah had severed his ties with the group.
Convicted of “perjury,” Salah was slammed by Judge St. Eve with an unbelievably harsh and unjustified sentence, ordered to serve 21 months in a federal prison.
Several other Arab Americans accused of terrorism also beat terrorism charges, but were convicted of far lesser charges. It was almost as if Salah and the others were being punished by juries having beat the government’s trumped up charges of terrorism.
Rezko goes into this trial with another huge political burden hovering above his future. Jurors may never delve with substance into Rezko’s Arab heritage, but they won’t be able to avoid the highly charged presidential political fight.
Rezko has already been drawn into the increasingly bitter battle between Democratic Presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Rezko raised funds for Obama and helped him purchase his home. It’s center stage in Clinton’s attack campaign strategy.
But Obama has also come under a non-partisan barrage of slander, with critics pointedly noting that his middle name is “Hussein,” one of the most popular Arab Muslim names in the world.
The controversy is not just on the Democratic side, but is a cornerstone of Republican criticism against Obama, too. When a popular Republican radio host railed against Obama’s middle name at a fundraiser for U.S. Senator John McCain. McCain felt compelled to apologize. But the damage was already done.
Clearly, being Arab or associated with an Arab in today’s climate is not considered an advantage.
For Rezko, an Arab American businessman with ties to a presidential candidate slammed for having a Muslim middle name in a courtroom presided over by a judge with a history of anti-Arab rulings, the question isn’t whether the jurors will be unfair, but rather, how unfair will they actually be?
Worse, will anyone besides other Arab Americans who experience anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hatred really care?
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and author. He can be reached at www.ArabWritersGroup.com.)
This post has already been read 54 times!
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
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