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Chaldean Detroit Times: Arab Spring brings uncertainty to Middle East Christians
By Ray Hanania
For the Christians of the Arab World, change is not always good. The Arab Spring has brought much uncertainty for Christians living in the Arab World. Their challenges have been excluded from Arab Spring demands.
Over the years, Christian Arabs, who do not challenge Islamic laws in Arab countries, have been ignored by the Arab governments, the powerful militias and organizations that represent a wide range of Muslim political factions.
Change in some of the Arab countries has been good and bad, in different ways.
On one hand, many Christians in Iraq felt that Saddam Hussein was able to suppress violence against them from Muslim extremists who embrace a political view that has put many Middle East and Christian Arabs in danger.
Yet Saddam Hussein was so violent and oppressive that his regime punished entire villages, and especially those highly educated Iraqis whose careers pushed them into the spotlight.
Christians have always enjoyed a higher level of education because of the support they have received from the Christian Churches around the world. They have had an easier time to enter universities not just in the Arab World but in the West because of that Christian Church support.
But that educational enlightenment exposed them to the realities of Saddam Hussein’s brutality and many of them became targets of his brutal regime.
Despite Saddam Hussein’s overthrow and hanging at the end of the American post-Sept. 11 invasion, Christians continue to be persecuted as the country has become more and more sectarian.
In Egypt, Coptic Christians have been at the receiving end of brutality from Islamic radicals including from the Muslim brotherhood.
Their leaders have welcomed the military coup that removed Mohammed Morsi, who was Egypt’s first ever Democratically elected president.
Most Christian Arabs believe safety under some form of strong armed rule is better than the haphazard safety in a Democratic environment that has provoked constant violence, protests and turmoil.
Change in Egypt has brought more uncertainty to Christian Arabs, but as long as the military is in control, they feel safe.
In Jordan and Palestine, Christians continue to receive special privileges in elections, with seats set aside in quota systems.
Christians in Jordan prefer the Monarchy to Democracy knowing that if King Abdullah or the Hashemite Monarchy, which is Muslim, were to collapse, they would be immediately exposed to harm.
In Palestine, Christians are close to Muslims because of the continued oppression of the brutal Israeli military regime in the occupied West Bank. Christians suffer alongside Muslims in Palestine in the occupation and under Israel’s so-called twisted form of Democracy, which places emphasis on religious racism and favoritism.
That closeness in suffering has pushed Christians and Muslims in Palestine to set aside their traditional differences as they are both victimized by Israel’s terrorism and violence from settlers and from the military. Worse, Israel’s so-called “judicial system” denies Christians and Muslims equal rights before the law in the face of discriminatory practices driven by racial supremacy in Israel’s laws.
When Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip, for example, even though the Israelis maintain a prison-like military stranglehold and embargo on the land area, some Muslims immediately began targeting Christian Palestinians burning down their churches and violently disrupting festive celebrations that are prohibited under Hamas laws.
Even in the West Bank, occasional Muslim animosity flares up targeting the only Christian village remaining there, Taybeh, and its annual OctoberFest celebration of the village’s production of Taybeh Beer. The mayor’s car in Taybeh has been destroyed several times by arson.
Lebanon continues to enjoy a Christian-Muslim peace based on the antiquated political system set up in the early part of the 20th Century that preserves representation for Christians and Muslims based on an unchanging quota.
The tensions between the West, Iran and Hezbollah have taken the spotlight off of Christian-Muslim tensions there.
In Syria, many Christians have stood by the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad because his government has protected Christians and has fought against religious activism. Despite his civil rights violations, Assad’s regime has always been very pro-Christian. Assad himself is a member of a minority Muslim sect of Shi’ites called Alawites that have been targeted by the larger Sunni Muslim population.
When Sunnis and Shi’ites battle, Christians often fall off of the radar screen and only suffer with the general population, but not as Christians.
Christians in other Arab countries continue to face discrimination but only when they seek to challenge discriminatory laws in the Gulf and in the Levant.
Christians who convert to Islam are welcomed, but Muslims who convert to Christianity are persecuted, jailed and sometimes killed.
Throughout the Middle East during Ramadan, Christians are often targeted. Ramadan is the month long Muslim fast and devout Muslims refrain from eating until after sunset each day.
Christian restaurants that serve food publicly during the day are often targeted by protests and threats. Many Christians have simply surrendered to the pressure and close their outdoor cafes during Ramadan to avoid these sometimes violent challenges. Public eating during the day and public celebrations during the day are discouraged among Christians.
The plight of Christians in this reality has been politicized by everyone from Arab governments to Israel and to political activists in the West.
Christian groups in the West often do not recognize Christian Arabs as an entity, and instead define their political policies based on a false assumption that all Arabs and all people of the Middle East are Muslim.
That’s one reason why so few Western Christian groups come to the aid of Christians in the Middle East, although there are some involved in supporting schools and providing educational programs that take the students out of the Middle East and place them at Western Universities.
The Arab Spring has brought more uncertainty in this environment to Christian Arabs and Middle East Christians.
In the face of this uncertainty, Christian groups in the West and Christian Arab groups have failed to effectively defend Christian Rights in the Arab World, and Christians remain vulnerable to he winds of change.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist. Reach him at www.Hanania.com and follow him on Twitter at @RayHanania.)
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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