By George S. Hishmeh – Washington, D.C.
For many Christians and Muslims, whether American or Arab, particularly Palestinian, the month of September brings back depressing memories that have affected their lives and regrettably shaped their attitudes toward each other, drastically and often negatively. Even Israelis or Jews were equally marred by the actions of their extremists, if not their government.
Twenty-eight years ago this week (September 18) Lebanese Christian militiamen, with the assistance and protection of Israeli armed forces who had occupied southern Lebanon, under the leadership of then Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, overran two Palestinian refugee camps on the outskirts of Beirut to mistakenly avenge the assassination of their leader Bashir Gemayel, Lebanon’s president-elect. (Lebanon has yet to identify the culprit who assassinated Gemayel).
As a result, hundreds of innocent civilians were murdered in the three-day “orgy of rape and slaughter, which is considered the bloodiest single incident of the Arab-Israeli conflict.” Robert Fisk, a much-respected British journalist who visited the site of the massacre the following day, wrote: “There were women lying in houses with their skirts torn up to their waists and their legs wide apart, children with their throats cut, rows of young men shot in the back after being lined up at an execution wall. There were babies – blackened babies because they had been slaughtered more than 24 hours earlier and their small bodies were already in a state of decomposition – tossed into rubbish heaps alongside discarded U.S. army ration tins, Israeli army equipment and empty bottles of whiskey.”
Nine years ago on September 11,four civilian planes, were hijacked by several Islamic extremists and in suicidal crashes destroyed the so-called Twins Towers where the World Trade Center is located in New York City and one wing of the Pentagon, the U.S. military headquarters in a Washington suburb. The fourth plane crashed landed in the countryside of the state of Pennsylvania, killing all its passengers. Altogether about 3,000 persons perished, mostly in New York, in the most shocking and bloodiest event in recent U.S. history. Among the fatalities were people of all faiths and nationalities (including a relative and the son of a Palestinian-American friend).
The 9/11 anniversary this year of the terrorist attack touched off an unprecedented and misguided fury in the U.S. against Muslims and vehement reactions elsewhere in the Muslim world. All this thanks to the wild machinations of a little known, publicity-seeking and half-crazed Florida pastor, the Rev. Terry Jones, whose congregation hardly numbers five dozen members, who received a shot in the arm by the gullible U.S. media. His threat to burn copies of the Holy Koran in protest over the 9/11 terrorist attack and the recently unveiled plans for an Islamic community center and mosque two blocks from the location of the Twin Towers was publicly condemned by top U.S. officials. President Obama. urged tolerance and pledged that “s Americans we are not – and never will be – at war with Islam.”
Several Christian and Jewish leaders as well some relatives of the 9/11 victims have also denounced the raging anti-Muslim bigotry. But sticking out like a sore thumb was the absence of any significant Congressional reaction, probably because of the upcoming midterm elections.
All, however, failed to realize that there has been a mosque in the same neighborhood — Lower Manhattan – since 1970, and, in fact, there is another inside the Pentagon, another 9/11 target. The frenzied bigotry was topped by another ingenious claim that the site of the projected center and mosque will be established on “hollowed ground.” All overlooked the fact that many Jewish synagogues tend to post large size placards on their grounds saying, “We Support Israel.” Arab-American churches or mosques have refrained from adopting similar antics.
Another historic event at this time that is bound to galvanize all involved in this debacle is the start of face-to-face negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli leaders, President Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu respectively, and the participation of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. special envoy, George Mitchell. Whether this meeting will yield any significant results that will pave the way for a Middle East settlement remains to be seen. But since it seemed to be still ongoing may raise some hope.
In the meantime, it would be indeed helpful should the Arab and Muslim world put their act together and explain themselves to the West, particularly the U.S. which holds several trump cards. It was interesting to note that Egypt has in the past few years has spent as much as $4 million in a lobbying campaign to win American favors. It would be equally wise for the Obama administration to encourage all school curriculums to prepare the new American generation on how to integrate with the outside world to avoid popular misconceptions as evidenced here this September.
– George Hishmeh contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: Hishmehg@aol.com.