Omaha massacre raises issues of American hypocrisies
By Ray Hanania — (Jerusalem, Israel/Palestine) When an unknown man pulled out his gun and started randomly shooting shoppers killing nine and wounding more than five at an Omaha, Nebraska shopping Mall, Wednesday, the first thing I feared was terrorism. I wondered, “Was he Arab or was he Muslim?” When they identified the “terrorist” as Robert Hawkins, a White unemployed 19 year old who had complained about losing his job and being kicked out of his home, I asked myself, “Isn’t he a terrorist, too?”
I bet millions of Americans asked the same question.
But once we learned he was not Arab or Muslim, the killer went from being a “terrorist” to just another murderer.
It made me wonder why Americans do not describe killers by their race and religion unless they are Arab or a Muslim?
Isn’t Hawkins a White American Christian terrorist killer?
Some will argue he probably didn’t kill his victims in the name of his religion – which I assume is Christianity. But I say he is the victim of an American society that has serious moral and ethical problems when it comes to how they treat other people.
Hawkins was a young kid kicked out of his home by his parents. He was unemployed after he was fired from his low-paying job at McDonalds. He broke up with his girlfriend. He even had some problems with the law.
These are all American and Christian traditions, whether he declares his actions to be a devotion to his religion and lifestyle or not.
The Israelis did not miss the similarities between Hawkin’s terrorist rampage and the violence they and Palestinians face in the Middle East.
As Hawkins was entering the Von Maur Store in the Westroads Omaha Mall in Nebraska on Wednesday, I was entering the Malha Shopping Mall in West Jerusalem.
But, while Hawkins easily strolled in with his guns, apparently, I walked through a security net that includes metal detectors, guards at all Mall entrances, and sharpshooters on nearby buildings.
The Israelis did not have information that an attack might occur. They have this kind of security all the time. I opened my camera bag to inspection, was patted-down, and walked through a metal detector. A guard waved a security wand over my body. Then, I walked in to a mall that looked exactly like the one in Omaha that Hawkins chose for his terrorist killing zone. The Israeli Mall had all the same American retailers, like Burger King and Virgin Records. There were even knock-offs of famous brands like the Versace shop that brags it has nothing to do with Versace Italy. I wonder if the real Versace cares?
Violence is as much a fact of life in Israel and Palestine as it is in the United States, yet somehow Americans like to think its different. Americans define things according to their own political needs and views, rather than based on facts.
Israelis immediately saw similarities with terrorism. But Americans won’t. They don’t want to be insulted. The very idea that an American might act like a crazed terrorist is objectionable to most Americans. Hawkins, the White Christian American who murdered nine people and injured five at a mall in the American heartland is not a terrorist in American eyes, but rather just another deranged, frustrated killer.
I can hear the collective American sigh of relief, like the one I felt when I discovered the killer was not an Arab or a Muslim. Because Americans will look at the causes of the killing when it involves their own, in ways they refuse to look at the causes of Arab and Muslim violence.
They will see differences, although when you are dead, you are dead no matter how someone kills you or how the killer is described.
The Omaha massacre will be the focus of endless news stories in America. People will ask why, but not with the sense of pointing a finger, but rather because of morbid curiosity.
Americans will explain Hawkins away as the victim of his own problems, not caused by an America that has serious moral and ethical challenges. He was a “maniac,” maybe pushed over the edge by “his” problems.
Americans will grieve. Students around the country will set up FaceBook pages to memorialize the victims of Robert A. Hawkins, whose actions will be analyzed in the context of his own troubles, not those of American society or culture.
But, had Hawkins been Arab or Muslim, the American response would have been different. In that case, the killer would have been defined as an extremist reflecting corrupt Arab and Muslim society, religious fanaticism, and political extremism.
Americans apply words like “terrorist” based not on the action of a killer but rather on the ethnic and religious profile of the killer. Political convenience.
And all I can say is thank God Hawkins wasn’t an Arab or Muslim. Had he been, the response would have been very different. “Americans” would react by beating up Arabs and Muslims. They would paint all Arabs and Muslims as terrorists all because of the actions of one person.
American politicians would decry Islam as an “Evil Religion,” and pro-Israel activists will lobby Congress to take tougher actions to reign in all Arab and Muslim Americans, and give them more foreign aid.
Life for Arabs and Muslims would become insufferable – more insufferable than it already is, actually. Their rights would be violated with the approval of an entire American nation.
Hawkins may not be an Arab or a Muslim, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that he is the product of an American society that has some serious ethical and moral lapses when it comes to civil rights, justice, principle and fairness. Serious issues Americans prefer to ignore, but blame on everyone else.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and author. Copyright Arab Writers Group Syndicate, www.ArabWritersGroup.com.)
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"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."
Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
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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