HANANIA: Dueling hoaxes expose more than youthful lies in bonfire of the bigotries, FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, 10-18-08

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Dueling hoaxes expose more than youthful lies in bonfire of the bigotries

By Ray Hanania — The incidents happened weeks apart, a young Christian girl in Palos Heights, a community notorious for anti-Arab hatred and racism, told police that she had been sexually assaulted by an man she described as “Arab looking.” Police developed a sketch of the suspect and the community response was immediate. The sketch was posted on nearly every store window not just in Palos Heights, but throughout the Southwest Suburbs across a 15 mile span that happened to correspond with the regional settlement of Arabs.


Although widely reported, the story even made America’s Most Wanted and host John Walsh repeated the description of the assailant being “creepy” looking.


Several weeks later, a Muslim girl reports she is assaulted at Elmhurst College. The news media covered the event and Muslim organizations stood up denouncing the attack as an example of rising anti-Muslim and anti-Arab hate crimes.


In contrast, there wasn’t a peep from Arab American groups as they are ineffective and dysfunctional. And, America’s Most Wanted, which always seems to highlight cases where the victims are White and the Assailants are Black and “creepy” looking Arabs, didn’t bother to even give the incident 15 seconds on their popular national weekend TV program.


Safia Jilani, 19, told Elmhurst Police that she was attacked in the bathroom at the Southwestern suburban college and the incident was declared a “hate crime” when police found threatening graffiti written on the bathroom’s mirrors and walls.


Just about the time of the Muslim attack, the family of the Christian assault victim hired an attorney and the attorney announced his client had lied to police and that no such sexual attack had taken place.


The attorney expressed genuine remorse from the family, apologizing to the public, the police and later to “ethnic groups” who felt targeted, a reference to the Arab American profile of the hoax. Police said they would not prosecute, although the investigation into the crime cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The girl has agreed to do community service.


But when Jilani’s hoax was discovered, after she admitted to police that she had made up the attack details, police immediately announced they would file charges against her. She is charged with a Class 4 Felony and can face up to 4 years imprisonment.


The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) which helped lead calls to declare the event a Hate Crime, responsibly and immediately issued a statement saying that false reports like Jilani’s undermine efforts to fight the many other, frequent incidents of discrimination that do occur.


Hate groups immediately flooded the Internet with statements denouncing Muslims as anti-American and citing the Jilani case as evidence that claims of discrimination are false.


Arab groups remained silent, reinforcing their view that doing nothing is oftentimes the best course of action.


What caused these students to do what they did?


In the case of the young Palos Heights girl, who is under-aged and her identity is therefore not made public, she was afraid to tell her parents about something she had done. The sexual assault would help her cover that up.


In the case of Jilani, earlier before she made up her lies, there was a clash between rightwing conservatives on the campus and students, including many Arabs and Muslims, who were protesting the abuse and violation of the rights of prisoners at Guantanamo, a detention center many compare to a concentration camp and a Russian Gulag. Many of the prisoners there are victims of politics and have never been charged with any crime, other than being Arab or Muslim.


Tensions were high at Elmhurst College but college officials acted responsibly to address the issues. Tensions were also high at Palos Heights but officials there have notoriously refused to address the rising incidents of hatred that have given the community the shameful moniker, “Palos Hates.”


Palos Heights was the site of the 2000 community protest to prevent their Muslim neighbors from establish a Mosque where they could pray. Palos Heights has two dozen Christian Churches, and no Synagogue.


While both girls are responsible for their lies, they are also victims of societies that put ethnic and religious faces on crimes. It’s not enough to capture a criminal. The suspects are used to argue racial issues that dominate American society and politics.


But there is one thing very clear.


When a Christian girl, who is White, cries wolf and it turns out she is lying, society is more willing to excuse her actions and not punish her with imprisonment of fines.


When a Muslim or Arab girl cries wolf and it turns out she is lying, the bonfires of bigotries and racism are ignited.


Although most of the police sketches of the phony “creepy” Arab assailant have been taken down from store windows, the mental sketches of hatred remain seared into the racism of a community disabled by hate.


(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host. He can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com or by email at rayhanania@comcast.net.)

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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