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Orthodox Easter comes amid persecution of MidEast Christians
By Ray Hanania — The only time anyone really thinks about Arab Christians is when they are needed as political pawns in a larger battle. Israel and its extremist supporters often assert that Arab Christians are persecuted by Muslims, but make no mention of the fact that Israel itself is the primary cause of anti-Christian Arab persecution. Muslims assert that “Christians and Muslims are equal” in the Middle East, but discourage any open discussion of strains that exist for Christians in the Islamic World. And the mainstream American news media often ignores or glosses over Arab Christian issues, feeding American ignorance and stereotypes of Arab Christians. Few address the reality.
Some of the common stereotypes found in the mainstream American media include the inaccurate interchangeable use of the terms “Arab” and “Muslim,” or the suggestion that that “Allah” is a “Muslim God” when in fact Christian use the Arabic word “Allah” to refer to God, too.
And another instance when Arab Christians receive gratuitous and political attention is during their holidays.
This week, for example, Jews celebrated Passover and the mainstream American media featured many stories detailing the traditions of the Jewish religious holiday and how it is celebrated in the United States.
In contrast, very few stories have been written about the Orthodox Arab Christian celebration of Palm Sunday (April 20) and Easter (April 27), which arrived many weeks after traditional Easter.
One problem, of course, does originate in the place Christians have in the Arab World dominated by the Islamic religion.
Muslims discourage any discussion of tensions that in fact do exist between Christian Arabs and Muslims. The policy is also embraced by most Arab activists. Individuals who seek to bring these issues up are denounced, ostracized, vilified and excluded from Arab events.
The activists fear that any discussion of Christian-Muslim tensions in the Arab and Islamic World will be exploited by the powerful pro-Israel movement to further undermine Palestinian and Arab rights.
The truth is that the two challenges are not mutually exclusive. Discussions need to continue on Israel’s mistreatment and abuse of Christian Arabs while a serious dialogue needs to be initiated between Christian and Muslim Arabs to address real problems.
Muslims always point out that Christians have been equal brothers in the fight against Israeli oppression. They often point to the fact that one of the leaders of the Palestinian revolution, George Habash, a doctor and founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (Jabha al-Shabiyya), was in fact a Christian.
In truth, though, Habash, who recently died, was non-religious. He was a Marxist-Leninist who rejected religion.
American biases against Christian Arabs have been fed by the powerful pro-Israel lobby in the United States which seeks to align the Arab-Israeli conflict in the context of the more recent post-Sept. 11th 2001 stereotype of one being between radical Islam and the West.
To feed this political view, Israelis constantly argue that Christians are persecuted in the Islamic World, by the Palestinian National Authority government, disparaged in the Arab and Islamic media and being forced to flee traditional Christian centers, such as Bethlehem and its neighboring Christian villages of Beit Sahour and Beit Jala.
They point to the real events where Muslims launched vicious attacks and waged an arson campaign destroying many Churches in the Gaza Strip under the control of Hamas, and in Beirut, Christian Churches damaged by Muslim protestors angry with the depiction of the Prophet Mohammed in the Danish media.
Although Arabs are careful not to feed this conflict by detailing the religion of Palestinian civilians killed by the Israeli military, some Palestinian Christian sources estimate that of more than 4,000 Palestinian civilians killed during the most recent Intifada, almost 25 percent are Christian.
The number does not include militants targeted by Israeli military assaults which also number in the thousands.
Some of the most outrageous issues discussed informally by many but excluded from the public discussion in the Arab media, is such ridiculous claims that Christians built the magnificent Burj al-Arab, the world’s only seven star hotel, in Dubai which has what many Muslims complain is a “Christian Cross” at its peak, the largest in the world, in fact. The so-called cross, is in fact a part of the larger image that the hotel represents of a traditional Arab boat and sail.
Meanwhile, Christian Arabs themselves play into the quagmire and feed the stereotypes by refusing to engage in a full and open debate on the issue of how Christian Arabs are treated not only in Israel but in the Islamic World.
Christian Arabs share the fundamental Christian philosophy of “turning the other cheek” in conflict scenarios, avoiding most of these discussions fearing backlash from all sides.
This week, Orthodox Christian Arabs, the largest Christian Arab denomination, are celebrating their Easter with services throughout the West and the Middle East.
Palm Sunday is the sixth and last Sunday of Lent and begins a week long celebration of the events around the final days of Jesus before his crucifixion in Jerusalem. Events include commemorating his resurrection (Good Friday), and Easter Sunday, celebrating the spreading of the Gospel and Jesus’ role as the Christ (Messiah) the guiding light for what has become the largest religion in the world today.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist, author and radio talk show host based in Chicago. He can be reached at www.hanania.com. Distributed by the Arab American Writers Group www.ArabWritersGroup.com.)
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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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