The American fixation with race and Arabs

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The American fixation with race and Arabs

Saudi Gazette, Sunday Nov. 10, 2013


Los Angeles International Airport

Los Angeles International Airport (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, a terrorist pulled out an automatic weapon in the middle of Los Angeles International Airport and started shooting apparently targeting members of the airport’s security team working for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Days later, another killer opened fire on a shopping mall in Teaneck, New Jersey.

It’s moments like these acts of incredible violence that make me apprehensive as an American Arab.

Both Los Angeles and New Jersey have large Arab and Muslim populations. My first thought when I hear such news is always, “I hope an Arab or a Muslim wasn’t involved as the shooter.”

It’s kind of a selfish habit or fear that I have developed and that many Arabs and Muslims in America have developed over the years, especially after Sept. 11, 2001.

Americans have deluded themselves into falsely believing that acts of heinous violence are perpetrated by Arab or Muslim terrorists, so Arabs and Muslims become the first suspects.

Whenever an Arab or Muslim kills civilians and police anywhere in the world, the Western media jumps all over it, feeds the anger that grows and Arabs and Muslims who had nothing to do with the tragedy are immediately targeted by haters in this country.

It doesn’t matter whether the shooter or killer is an Arab or a Muslim, or both. Most Americans are so uneducated about the differences that they just assume Arabs and Muslims are all the same, even though the majority of Arabs in America, for example, are Christian, like most Americans are themselves.

But stereotypes that feed hatred thrive not on facts or knowledge but on fear, anger, and racism. In both of the recent cases, though, the killers were white men.

At Terminal 3 at Los Angeles Airport, the killer was identified as Paul Anthony Ciancia, 23 years old. His attack took the life of TSA officer Gerardo Hernandez, 39, who is the first from the agency to have been killed in the line of duty. Six airport commuters were injured in the cold attack. Ciancia was shot and seriously wounded.

Just before the shopping mall in Teaneck was scheduled to close, 20-year-old Richard Shoop, also a white man, began firing his automatic weapon randomly at shoppers. Fortunately, no one was injured or killed and after an all-night standoff, he committed suicide.

When the incidents happened, I posted on my Facebook and Twitter pages that I was relieved that the killers were not Arab or Muslim, noting that I always become apprehensive and scared after a tragedy like this because so many Americans automatically suspect that the killers are Arab or Muslim terrorists.

Americans have been conditioned to believe this through years of hate and racism in America, a country that took the slavery of Africans and other non-whites to its highest level of industrialized sophistication until it was outlawed in the 1860s. Racist hatred, however, continued for more than 100 more years marked by lynchings, bombings and assassinations of black leaders.

I was amazed when several white people who had “friended” my Facebook Page or are “following” me on Twitter expressed shock at my declaration of relief. “What are you talking about?” they protested. “What does his white race have to do with anything?”

I agree, what does the killer’s race have to do with anything or his religion, for that matter? But the truth is that there is a clearly defined double standard in America, the “Land of the Free” where some people are more free than others, based on their race and ethnicity and religion.

First is the use of the term “white man.” Many Americans think the use of that phrase is racist in and of itself. But they have no second thoughts about throwing around the terms “Arab” or “Muslim” in the same context.

Second, had either of the suspects in the attacks been Arab or Muslim, the incidents would immediately have been defined as “terrorist” attacks because the killers were either Arab or Muslim. There is a stereotype that comes from the racist practice of “profiling” that leads people to believe that the only killers who are terrorists are Arabs and Muslims.

But when the killers turnout to be white men, they are shrugged off as tragic, distressed, crazed, insane lone gunmen who committed violent acts.

Americans hold Arabs and Muslims responsible for every Arab or Muslim who commits an act of violence, but quickly separate and excuse any white person who does the same or worse.

Why is stereotyping acceptable when the suspects are Arab or Muslim, but not acceptable when the killers are white Americans?

That’s a question racists don’t like to address. It’s not all Americans, of course, who are like this. But it is a problem with far too many of them. And when the good Americans remain silent, then they become unwitting accomplices to hatred, even if they dislike it.

– Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist. He can be reached at or follow him on Twitter @RayHanania

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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 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 and (Illinois News Network at

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,, 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.

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