When Sept. 11 memories become a cliché
By Ray Hanania — Each year that passes, activists on both sides of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist assault try to outdo each other and themselves from the past years. This year, another “Christian” leader in Florida has declared his plans to burn a copy of the Quran (Koran), the Muslim equivalent of the Bible on the 9th anniversary. The Rev. Terry Jones, a name that meant nothing before but now symbolizes the nation’s growing movement of hatred, says he is doing it because Islam is an “Evil Religion.” I guess in Jones’ favor is the fact that in order to really know evil, you have to be even more evil.
The tragedy chasers, a term sometimes used in journalism to refer to people who grab their 15 minutes of fame by glomming on to high profile tragedies, have found a new life in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001. Whether the threat of terrorism and the conflicts that are exploited to justify them are resolved or not does not matter to these opportunists.
Like sleazy ambulance chaser lawyers, they have one motive, personal profit. First in notoriety and fame – because there are so many it seems in America clamoring to be fed anti-Islamic hatred – and because their new found fame based on fanning the flames of hatred can elevate them to heights of power.
On the other side are the people like Fareed Zakaria. People always protest when I complain that there is a bias in the American mainstream news media, especially after Sept. 11, because so few Arabs are allowed to engage the discourse to help Americans understand the challenges of the post Sept. 11 conflict. Without missing a beat, they all say, Well, there is Fareed Zakaria. He’s an Arab.
No. Fareed Zakaria is not an Arab at all. He is an Indian American activist little known before Sept. 11, 2001 but now the journalism face of everything Arab, Islamic and Middle Eastern.
This week he wrote — wait and drum roll — Americans “overreacted” to Sept. 11, a ridiculous claim in the face of the fact that nearly 3,000 people died in one event at an icon of American Democracy.
Zakaria, who knows little about the Arab World, does understand journalism and the narrow American mindset. And, he needs to justify his new position with a provocative claim having moved just weeks ago from his perch at Newsweek to Time Magazine.
Honestly, I am tired of the Sept. 11 ambulance chasers. They are people who claim to know so much but really know so little. Sept. 11 is a major catastrophe in American history, a tragedy of immense proportions. No burning of a book or overwritten essay in a national magazine is going to explain the meaning behind it.
We don’t really know if Jones is going to be burning a real Quran or a copy of it, or even more likely a copy of a book he might take off of his library shelf, like Mein Kampf. It won’t matter, though. What he says means more than the reality. His symbolism of hatred is enough to energize both friend and foes.
And, what is being asserted goes far beyond the accuracy of that tragic day when two planes crashed into the sides of two of America’s most important buildings at the World Trade Center.
The terrorism of Sept. 11, 2001, not the date itself, has come to redefine the conflict and challenges Americans face. What was once a solvable secular conflict in the Middle East has instead been grown to become the symbol of the insoluble clash of religious titans. Christianity and Islam.
That must come as a relief to the Jews, though. For generations, Christian fanatics, evangelists and Bible thumpers pointed accusatory fingers at the Jewish people for the murder of Jesus Christ, fueling an anti-Semitism that remains today but is veiled beneath a newer and more sinister form of bigotry against people who “look” Muslim or Arab.
I’m not trying to pick on Zakaria who has pushed himself to the front of the line. He is a good writer, and is no Terry Jones. And, he is certainly unlike Jones’ mentors who include media screamers Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Ann Coulter. These screamers are carrying the torch of hatred. But his analysis is ridiculous and is leading the world away from one simple truth. No one overreacted. Americans reacted properly but allowed themselves to be led to the bonfire of the insanities for solutions.
Osama Bin Laden was no Muslim scholar. He was a spoiled rich brat with a long and stupid looking beard who with no worries in the world got involved in one of the world’s great conflicts in Afghanistan using Daddy’s Money.
Afghanistan was fun and it gave the spoiled brat something to do, other than go into the family’s profitable but boring construction business, a business that is booming, by the way, even more today than before. No pun intended.
He represented no one but himself. His al-Qaeda gang of privileged and moneyed thugs had only one talent, the ability to take the frustrations of the simpleminded and convince them to sacrifice their lives for some future that had too many adjectives.
Bin Laden is a new kind street gang leader on steroids with money and an Internet that gives him a worldwide stage for communications.
They built an army of perception that has become reality not because of their leadership, but because of the reactions of people like Jones on one side and Zakaria on the other. People who little about the causes of the conflicts that made it so easy for common street gang leaders like Bin Laden to take center stage with acts of violence noteworthy for the size of the number of fatalities.
When you recognize the real threat we face as Americans, it is easy to understand that the threat is not Islam at all, but a handful of miscreants – the word villain is even too kind.
Burning a copy of the Quran or over-interpreting its words won’t help anyone understand how to protect this country from a future act of terrorism.
But it sure will get a lot of publicity.
Personally, maybe Jones should burn some commentaries by Zakaria. And while he’s at it, he should throw in a few commentaries from Hannity, Beck, Coulter and a few more.
That would be worth celebrating.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian American columnist and Chicago Radio Talk Show host. He can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.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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