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Ray Hanania
Ray Hanania
19 Nov 2015
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The Heroism of Rev. Jesse Jackson


There is a running joke in the white community that is somewhat racist. Every time there is a crisis, Rev. Jesse Jackson will be there in front of the cameras.

But few Americans have stood up for civil rights more than Jackson. He doesn't take on the easy fights. He takes on the toughest ones, battles most other good people are afraid to fight.

I met Jackson back in 1974, when he met American-Arab businessmen who were being libeled in Chicago's biased mainstream news media.

Back then, American Arabs naively believed the news media was fair and objective. The reality was many reporters allowed their personal priorities to slant their coverage. Reporters and editors with ties to Israel, for example, often twisted facts to make the Arabs look bad. There were no American-Arab journalists back then to counter the bias, which is why I became one.

American Arabs believed that if they had a strong vocal champion for their cause, they could get fairness. And Jackson wanted to help. He argued the Arab community had to fight, too, raising $100,000 for the cause. That was a lot back than, but the Arab community stepped up to the plate.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with it, but the Chicago Sun-Times at the time turned it into something terrible. They interviewed several Arabs who were at that meeting, including me, and twisted our naive comments and beliefs the media was fair.

I couldn't lie then and I can't lie now.

The criticism against Jackson was very unfair. The truth is that Jackson, who was with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. when he was assassinated on April 4, 1968, has become a strong voice for civil rights, even involving victims of civil rights who were easy to hate.

Like today, where many Americans hate Muslims and believe they should all be locked up in concentration camps, forced to carry special IDs, take special "oaths" to remain in American, or simply be deported.

Sometimes Jackson is the only person who has the courage to stand up and defend the victims of discrimination.

This past week, I got a chance to see Jackson in person when he was the only civil rights leader to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Muslim community in Orland Park. Jackson traveled from his headquarters on Chicago's South Side more than 20 miles to be with the leaders of the Orland Park Prayer Center, one of Chicagoland's dozen mosques.

Only one media, a local community paper, sent a reporter. WLS sent a camera. I felt embarrassed for journalism that so few media covered Jackson's press conference. He made some powerful points.

Jackson said that what is happening to Muslims and to Syrian refugees happened to Jews back in the 1930s, when America turned Jewish refugees away who were trying to flee the rise of Adolph Hitler's Nazism, a Nazism I am proud to say my father and uncle, two Palestinians, fought against during World War II. He called the fear and refusal to accept Syrian refugees "un-American." And I agree. He said so much more, that he would stand with Muslims, Arabs and Syria refugees during these times of increasing hate.

If you believe in an America that is just and doesn't allow terrorists of any religion or race to undermine our principles with fear, you will, too.

Ray Hanania is an award-winning American Palestinian columnist and managing editor of The Arab Daily News at He writes for Al Jazeera English on American Arab issues. Follow him on Twitter @RayHanania. To find out more about Ray Hanania and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit



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