Society continues to block Arabs
By Ray Hanania
Southwest News-Herald Newspaper Friday, April 04, 2014
I was pleased to see Chicago celebrate St. Patrick’s Day earlier in the month and then the Shamrock Shuffle marathon this past week.
They’re just two of the many celebrations hosted by the City of Chicago each year.
The Polish Constitution Day Parade is coming up in May. There are parades to celebrate Mexican Independence, Puerto Rico, Italian Americans, a Greek festival in Greek Town, and so many more.
But there is nothing to celebrate Chicago’s Arab heritage. Being American Arab, I blame my community for that problem. We did have an Arabesque festival at the Daley Plaza that began under Mayor Richard M. Daley, but when Rahm Emanuel became mayor, he consolidated the various ethnic commissions into a new one that better reflects his priorities.
Emanuel created the Office of New Americans in July 2011, just after his election. The following year, in 2012, the Arabesque Festival was shutdown, too. Not enough funding, from a city and state that gives out millions to other ethnic groups all the time.
Like I said, I do blame my community but I wonder how Chicago can get away with keeping Arabs outside of engagement?
In Emanuel’s defense, he did appoint two Muslim activists to ONA representing the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and from the Council on Islamic Organizations of Chicago (CIOC). By coincidence only, the two are Arab.
But there is no American Arab representation on ONA, which has more than 46 members involved in four different areas of interest: Economic Opportunities; Human Capital and Education; Administration; and, Civic Engagement, Diversity Welcomed and Celebrated.
It’s a funny thing about being Arab. You can be Christian and most American Christians will hate you thinking you are Muslim. Muslims are not the most popular people in the world, but Arab Christians are victimized by the exact same racism and discrimination and hatred.
In 2005, I authored a book that I hoped would begin the process of documenting Arab involvement in Chicagoland called Arabs of Chicagoland (from Arcadia Publishing). The book did very well, far better than the Arabs portrayed inside it.
But the way Arabs are treated in our society, you have to wonder.
A critical fact in the book is that the majority of Arabs in Chicagoland, more than 65 percent, are in fact Christian, not Muslim. Muslims are more distinguishable, though, with many of their women wearing Hijabs (head scarves). Christian Arabs tend to blend in and are often mistaken for Mexican Americans.
I remember after Sept. 11, 2001, many Mexican Americans had to wrap the hoods of their cars with the Mexican flag just to keep the racists from throwing stones at them. An American flag wouldn’t do, of course.
Last week, 40 Muslims, mostly Arab, were praying in their Arab religious center, called a mosque, when someone fired a weapon at the religious center’s gold dome, puncturing it causing the roof plaster to fall on their heads as they prayed.
They pray to the same God that Christians and Jews pray to. I know because I am Christian and my wife and son are Jews.
Yet, Arabs are treated differently.
There are more than 450,000 Arabs living in the Southwest corridor of Chicagoland, including about 85,000 who live inside Chicago. Many Arabs voted for and supported Emanuel.
I think if Emanuel wants to really do something for diversity, he might reach out to the one community that people are still shooting at, Arabs.
It all makes me wonder: Do people who talk about the need for diversity have advisory groups that are diverse enough?
Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. Reach him at email@example.com.