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By Ray Hanania — There is really no such thing as “free speech” in either the Arab World where tyrants handpicked by the Western powers openly oppress their people and in America, where the mainstream media picks and chooses what is free and what is not free. Demands for free speech resonate in both, and still those clarion calls for freedom are also marked by censorship, too. For example, in the Arab World, writers and groups constantly challenge the restrictions on free speech in America, and yet they condone censorship on those in their own circles with whom they disagree. This hypocrisy is particularly troubling for Arab Americans but something worth exploring in the wake of the American holiday that marks its freedom, the 4th of July.
The restrictions and sacred causes, or lines in the sand, are many. And, the distinction is all about politics. If you support the popular political views of the Arab American activists, you can say and get anything published in their circles. If you challenge their views, you will be ostracized, criticized and viciously attacked, and blacklisted.
That is especially tough for the moderate voices in the Arab American community who criticize based on “principle.” In other words, principle, not politics, should determine your position. If you denounce an Israeli soldier killing an innocent Palestinian civilian, you should also denounce the Palestinian militants and extremists who murder Israeli civilians.
Here is a list of things Arab Americans are not allowed to do in their own community. If they do, the first response is to shut them out of community activities and no longer invited to be a speaker, no longer celebrated in their publications as a leader, no longer acknowledged as a community leader. If it continues, and you don’t learn your lesson, the censorship takes on an activism that equates your voice with the voice of those the activists attack. Suddenly, you are no longer a “real Palestinian.” Instead, you are a “Jew-lover” or a “Zionist sympathizer.” And when you still persist, the attacks increase in the form of personal attacks, slander and libel.
I know this happens on the pro-Israeli side, too. But the fact is that it happens and it needs to be addressed and groups that engage in this practice, pro-Arab or pro-Israeli, are not principled. They are not moral. And they do not serve justice. It’s all about selfish politics, and a political hate industry that feeds the growing Arab-Israeli conflict and prevents peace.
They don’t just want to shut you out. They want to shut you up.
Arab Americans are not allowed to denounce Hamas or call Hamas a “terrorist organization.” If you do, you will be ostracized and blacklisted from Arab American organizations and activities.
Arab Americans are not allowed to denounce suicide bombings, without adding the caveat that it is the result of oppression and that the suicide bombers are forced to blow themselves up and take innocent civilians with them because of the brutality of the Israeli occupation.
Arab Americans are not allowed to be honest about their own history. Yes, in 1948, Palestine was wrongly partitioned. Hajj Amin al-Husseini, a religious extremist, imposed himself as the leader of the popular resistance and, when things didn’t go his way, he embraced the Nazis using the Biblical strategy that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The Israelis also embraced this hypocrisy.
Arab Americans are not allowed to point out that there is an increasing tension between Muslims and the dwindling Christian Arab community. It is one of the most sacred no-no’s that challenges the Arab World claim that if only we could return to 1948 and create “one state” where “Christians, Muslims and Jews” could live together in peace, everything would be great.
Arab Americans are not allowed to acknowledge that we have committed heinous crimes against not only Jews, but also anyone who opposed our thinking.
Arab Americans are not allowed to criticize their leaders, even when their leaders are wrong. In a truly free society, leadership is defined not by who holds the microphone and has the most friends, but by the ability to tolerate criticism and divergent voices. Criticism makes leaders accountable. In the Arab American community, the leadership is not accountable to the public and the organizations rule in much the same way as the Middle East dictatorships from which most of them have emerged and coddle.
Arab Americans who are pushed out of the Palestinian circle of “freedom” are denied their rights to free speech. The extremists insist that they are the true voice of justice, and yet they embrace injustice as their cause by attacking not only all Jews but any Arabs who dare to challenge their leadership.
Arab Americans are not allowed to ask their leaders: What are your real achievements besides pandering to the emotion of the frustrated masses? What have you done in your endless term of office? What are your achievements, besides organizing an event to raise money? How have you spent that money and on what?
Arab Americans are not allowed to force their leaders to be accountable.
Arabs live in American physically. But mentally, many of us still live back home. We think and act like the dictatorships have taught us to act. Don’t “air the dirty laundry.” It’s better to pretend the dirty laundry does not exist. The phrase “dirty laundry” is a euphemism for “failures.”
Pretend you support peace based on compromise, but the real goal is peace based on conquest. Many Palestinians and their Arab leaders want to destroy Israel, not compromise with Israel. They talk the talk of peace, but have no intentions of embracing peace based on compromise.
They criticize the “corruption” of the regime of the late President Yasir Arafat, but are silent on the moral corruption of Hamas and the Islamicist fanatics who dominate our causes today.
Palestine is no longer a secular cause based on justice. It is today a religious mantra that is little more than a stepping stone to world domination by the religious extremists.
Yet, despite these challenges, many moderates like myself, refuse to surrender to the extremism on both sides. One day, the silent majority of moderate Arab Americans and Arabs in the Middle East will stand up and be counted. They will bring down the fanatics who champion and distort and destroy their causes.
Until Arab Americans and Arabs in the Middle East overcome the cultural inhibition against challenging the extremism, airing the “dirty laundry” and demanding that their leaders be accountable, the “Question of Palestine” will always be a question and little more than a fading dream.
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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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