Pope’s visit puts spotlight on Christian Arabs in a world of hurt

Pope’s visit puts spotlight on Christian Arabs in a world of hurt

By Ray Hanania

A lot of my Arab “friends” didn’t seem to happy when I wrote recently that while Christian Palestinians do suffer alongside other non-Jews in Israel, the truth is much broader than just blaming Israel.

Oh, they hate to hear anything that suggests maybe Israel isn’t the “only” bad guy in the Middle East.

Christian Arabs face oppression and persecution from extremists in the Muslim community, too, but we are not allowed to speak about it, and if we do, we can’t dwell on it.

This isn’t a new problem that just started with the rise of Islamic extremism or the terrorist violence on Sept. 11, 2001 in New York that murdered nearly 3,000 innocent civilians in the name of a religion. It began long ago and continues.

Here is the problem.

Arabs as a culture do not like to “air the dirty laundry.” If there is a child, for example, who is handicapped, many times, the Arab families will hide the child in the basement or in his room rather than treat the child as they would the other children. It happens to often to ignore. Why? There is an issue of Arab pride. It’s twisted into something that suggests that any flaw, even those that are not intentional, is a flaw that undermines the “cause.”

So, Arabs believe it is OK to criticize Israel. And not only criticize Israel, but many will bash Israel and hate Israel and Jews, too. Their anger overcomes logic. That hate-anger breeds more hatred and soon the hatred takes over.

They are so consumed with hating Israel that when an Arab asks, well, how are Arabs better? They go berserk with anger, and hatred.

So when someone like me criticizes Islamic extremism and the extremist persecution of Christian Arabs, mainstream Muslims get angry. They know the extremism is a cancer in their religion but they don’t want to over do it. They don’t want Christian Palestinians to talk about how other extremist Palestinians attack Christian Palestinians. How can that be if the narrative is that they want “one-state” where “Muslim, Christians and Jews” can live side by side and in Democracy.

Where is that place, by the way? I don’t see it at all.

Many mainstream Muslims would rather get angry at the Christians who complain about the persecution from extremists than complain about the persecution itself.

In Christian areas throughout Palestine and the Arab World, Christians are being persecuted. Not by all Muslims, but by extremist fanatics. But the crime is that mainstream Muslims don’t want to put a spotlight on that persecution or oppression. They want to hide it in the basement hoping it will go away. Or, they want to blame it on Israel and claim that Israel is the cause of the oppression that Christians face from extremists, and they will repeat ad nauseam “Christian and Muslims are brothers who suffer equally and together.”

The visit of Pope Francis to Jordan, Palestine and Israel not only puts a spotlight on the situation of Christians in the Holy Land, it also opens the door to explore all aspects of that problem. And it emphasizes the truth that Christians are not only suffering in Israel and under Israeli occupation, they are suffering in the Arab and Muslim World, too.

Hypocrisy is the real crime. People who cry when one of their own is hurt or killed, but remain silent or are joyous when one of the otherside is hurt or injured. That’s extremism. That is fanaticism. It exists on both sides.

But the Arab World can’t keep attacking Israel while being silent about its own problems. Christians are suffering and are being persecuted in the Arab World. The bigotry is selective. The Arab World patronizes Christians who toe-the-line and recite the “Israel is bad” narrative. But they are more oppressive against Christians who also speak out and say that the Arab World is just as bad. The Arab World discriminates, too. The Arab World oppresses Christians. The Arab World media is biased, worse than Israel’s media. The Arab World tolerates oppression when it involves their own governments. And the Arab World uses Christians when they need them, embracing them as a tactic to off-set criticism as is being done in dictatorships like Egypt and Syria.

By not speaking out against violence against Christians, mainstream Muslims are allowing the extremists another opportunity to control their world and their image. Their silence empowers extremism. Israel isn’t the bad guy and neither are Muslims. The bad guy is extremism in politics, in government and in society. The real war is between moderates versus extremists and moderates need to do a better job of coming together to speak out against the extremism.

Christians need to stand up and speak out. They need to bring the issue to the forefront and force mainstream Muslims to finally address the problem of Islamic extremist oppression of Christians. They need to address it head-on and openly and forthrightly, something the Arab World doesn’t often do.

While the population of Jews and Muslims are increasing in the Middle East, only the Christians are seeing their numbers being erased. Vanishing. Disappearing.

And if Israel is willing to address that while the Arab World is not, then I think Christians should seriously explore Israel’s willingness and find ways to make the oppression from all sides end.

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About the Author
Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian American columnist and former Chicago political City Hall reporter. His father is from Jerusalem and mother from Bethlehem. A Christian, Hanania's wife, Alison, is Jewish. He has two children, Carolyn Haifa, from a previous marriage, and Aaron, who is Russian Jewish. Hanania writes regularly for Creators Syndicate on Middle East issues and for the Saudi Gazette every Sunday. He is the managing editor of The Arab Daily News online (www.TheArabDailyNews.com). During more than 35 years in journalism, he has also hosted several live radio talk shows. He performed standup comedy with the Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour, lampooning his Arab-Jewish marriage, and is the author of several books including "Arabs of Chicagoland" (2005), a historical look at Arab settlement in Chicago, and “I’m Glad I Look Like a Terrorist: Growing up Arab in America” (1996, 2006), which humorously explores his experience growing up Arab in America.