Anthony McRoy

Edward Said and Rana Kabbani have both observed that denigration of Arabs is the last socially and politically acceptable form of racism. What else could explain the West’s slow genocide of Iraqis? Or the failure to condemn the Apartheid nature of the Zionist state and its ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians? Attitudes that would be unacceptable towards Blacks and Jews are seen as proper and normal against Arabs. Can we really imagine a Hollywood movie where the ‘good guys’ were Arabs? Why does our Government and the CRE not combat anti-Arabism?

 The answer is that just as anti-Black racism ‘justified’ slavery and Segregation in the Americas and South Africa, anti-Arabism excuses Palestinian dispossession and Western domination of Arab oil resources. It suits Western Governments, far from fighting anti-Arabism, to perpetuate such prejudices to maintain their economic, military and strategic interests. If anti-Arabism were as unacceptable as other racisms, Western policy in the Middle East might be jeopardised by outraged public opinion. This also explains the marginalisation of the half-million British-Arabs by Government race policy, which concentrates on ‘blacks and Asians’.

Anti-Arabism, unfortunately, is also the last acceptable theological racism, perpetrated by Christian Zionists. Often Biblical texts concerning Ishmael are wrenched out of context to excuse anti-Arab oppression. There is simply no Christian basis for racism, but unfortunately there have always been cranks that abuse texts, whether it was Genesis 9:27, used against Blacks or Matthew 27:25 against Jews. Theological racism was the reflection of prevalent socio-political prejudices. Once the latter changed, the former, being devoid of genuine Biblical support, collapsed. Few would dare voice such theological racism against Blacks and Jews today: Anti-Arabism is the exception.

communities have their fringe cranks. Muslims have Abu-Hamza, who has issued a fatwa against Egyptian Christians, threatening their lives. The worst Evangelical example is the so-called ‘International Christian Embassy to Jerusalem’. One can dismiss fringe elements, but on 16 October, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) issued a press release concerning what ADC termed ‘extraordinarily racist remarks’ by Franklin Graham, son and designated successor of famous evangelist Billy Graham made on 14 October with regard to the latest crisis in Palestine. His comments, reported by Associated Press, were ‘The Arabs will not be happy until every Jew is dead. They hate the state of Israel. They all hate the Jews. God gave that land to the Jews. The Arabs will never accept that. Why can’t they live in peace?’ ADC naturally demanded that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) ‘repudiate these shockingly racist comments which condemn each and every Arab as a genocidal bigot and suggest that Palestinians have no rights in their own country because “God gave that land to the Jews.”’

I was outraged and concerned at these remarks. There are Abu-Hamza types elsewhere in the Muslim world, and in the present volatile situation, Graham’s words could lead to attacks on Christians. One local Pakistani Christian leader, distressed by Graham’s comments, observed that churches in Pakistan were attacked during the Gulf war, as a sign of the ‘Christian’ West. I immediately contacted the BGEA in Britain, and they told me to ring their US office. I mentioned the ADC release, warning that Muslim-Americans would soon issue their own statement, and that Christians in the Muslim world were endangered by Graham’s comments. I urged that Graham should apologise. Sure enough, two days later CAIR issued such a statement. I again rang Graham’s office, only to be told he was ‘considering’ my remarks. In the meantime, I contacted ADC and CAIR to resolve the issue, informing them I had advised Graham’s office of the seriousness of the situation. ADC, at the request of BGEA to me, even faxed their statement to Graham’s office.

With every passing day, and the death count mounting in Palestine, Graham’s delay in retracting his words made the possibility of some Christian being killed in the Muslim world more real. I contacted his UK office again, and eventually a leading official spoke to me. He was disturbed at Graham’s words, and took seriously my warning of the consequences for Christians in the Arab/Muslim world. He checked with Graham, and confirmed to me that Graham had actually made these comments, and asked my advice. I was shocked that Graham had indeed made such inflammatory remarks, and stated that Graham’s only course was to publicly repudiate them, and that he must contact ADC and CAIR to ensure that this apology was sent round the Arab/Muslim world.

I waited and waited, but heard nothing. By now I was increasingly concerned at the possibility of retaliation, so I contacted BGEA again, and received a call from another leading official, saying that Graham’s PR firm in Atlanta, DEMOS, wanted me to ring them. The firm told me that the Charlotte Observer reporter to whom Graham originally made these comments had  ‘taken him out of context’, and that Graham had subsequently ‘backed off’ his comments. However, when I later saw the Charlotte Observer of 17 October, this merely involved his stating that ‘All Arabs do not hate Israel’, his affirming of the universal offer of the gospel to all races, but still mainly blaming Arabs for the crisis. It was not the accusation of hating the Zionist state that caused the problem – after all, Jesus never told us to love states, but people! Graham never retracted his comments about Arabs being genocidal bigots, nor the implication that Palestinians had no right to live in the land. At best, his wishy-washy ‘qualification’ implies ‘there is the odd noble savage among the Arabs’.

I pointed out that ADC and CAIR would naturally demand to know what Graham’s actual words were, and their context, so I asked for a transcript of Graham’s words. I was concerned by the ambiguity of the PR man’s explanation – he said Graham’s words actually involved ‘the Biblical and historical background’ to the crisis, which he did not understand. I asked if Graham had condemned the murder of Palestinian children by the Zionists, notably the 12-year old deliberately targeted by the army. He replied ‘no, he didn’t say anything about children being killed.’ Again I waited for the transcript, but it never came, and by now ten days had passed since the original remarks. I warned both DEMOS and the BGEA here that unless I received it by Thursday I would wash my hands of Graham. On Thursday I rang the UK office to advise them that no communication had been received, so I was ending my attempts to help Graham clean up his own mess. The secretary asked what would be my next step. I answered ‘the only one left – to dissociate ourselves from his remarks.’

My determination was fixed by Graham’s stonewalling. Church of Scotland minister Rev. Samuel Hosain had written to Graham as an Arab and Christian expressing his concern at the remarks, but received no reply. ADC received no reply to their letter. Sir Cyril Townsend of CAABU had also written, observing that Graham’s remarks ignored the suffering of Palestinian Christians, but received no reply. Chris Doyle CAABU Press officer, commented ‘We are deeply concerned about these comments by Reverend Franklin Graham who is such an influential figure. One cannot help feeling that if similar comments were made about Jews a different reaction would have occurred. There should be no place in civilised society for such views.’ An official of a prestigious Christian organisation, himself an American Evangelical, had contacted Graham, and was promised a reply from three different sources, including DEMOS, but received none. This stonewalling inevitably fuels suspicions that Graham did actually make these racist comments.

Evangelicals here are aghast at Graham’s remarks and subsequent silence. Rev. Steve Sizer, outspoken Evangelical proponent of Palestinian rights, commented ‘ I find Franklin Graham’s racist comments about Arabs reprehensible coming from a Christian leader. It seems his unthinking dispensational presuppositions so favour a secular Jewish State that he is blind to the suffering such Zionist prejudice causes the indigenous Christian and Moslem Palestinian communities. I pray that Franklin soon repents of his sin and seeks forgiveness from his Palestinian brothers and sisters whom he has shamed and denigrated.’ Rev. Wagih Abdel-Masih of London’s Arab Evangelical Church denied Graham’s accusation about Arabs hating Jews, observing that it was the Israelis who are killing Arabs in Lebanon and Palestine. He feared that Graham’s remarks would cause Muslims to think all Christians are pro-Zionist, leading to attacks on Christians. Tom Getman, Jerusalem Director of World Vision, an international Christian aid and development agency operating in nearly 100 countries, which ‘due to human rights violations and restricted access to basic amenities’, works ‘predominantly with Palestinian people’ in Palestine remarked:

‘All racist comments are wrong and not based in fact. One must try to understand the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in more human terms. Both sides have been hurt, both have real wounds, but one side is clearly militarily occupying the other, continuing to go against international humanitarian standards for conduct, and using its superior political relationship with the US. It is wrong to imply to God-fearing people that hurting one’s neighbour and oppressing them in the worst possible ways is any where near the ideal God demands of humanity.’

 It was suggested to me by a prominent Evangelical that I write an article in a Muslim magazine about Graham’s remarks, and Shagufta, as a favour to the Evangelical community, and out of concern to prevent attacks on Christians, agreed to let me write for Q-News. Rev. Wagih said Graham should show concern for Arabs. The most ironic aspect of this affair is that a Muslim editor has shown more concern for Arab Christians than a major US Christian leader.

 Ultimately, only one thing will end theological anti-Arabism; the cremation of socio-political anti-Arabism. The previously suggested formation of a representative British-Arab body is now urgent. It would also help to hold a conference on the issue, with a Runnymede-type report exposing all facets of ‘the last acceptable form of racism’. Readers can assist in practically aiding the Palestinians, by picketing Burger King and tourist firms doing business with the Zionist regime, and mass lobbying of MPs. For when socio-political anti-Arabism is ended, theological anti-Arabism will collapse in its wake.

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