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HATHOUT'S VICTORY WIN FOR DEMOCRACY.

Byline: GASSER HATHOUT Local View

I recently lived an experience usually reserved for the children of high-profile criminals and politicians. I got to watch my father be publicly vilified -- his character impugned and his life's work questioned. It began when my father, Maher Hathout, was nominated to receive the John Buggs Humanitarian Award from the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission.

My father seems to me a fitting recipient for such an award, for I have grown up watching him pioneer interreligious activities. Meetings of the Interreligious Council of Southern California taking place at our house were not an uncommon occurrence, and my father was constantly visiting churches and synagogues, often taking me with him.

I had been taught that Muslims, Christians and Jews were brethren in monotheism, and that all human beings were endowed with an intrinsic dignity. Yet, there were vociferous protests directed at the Human Relations Commission to rescind the award, amid accusations that my father was an anti-Semite, Muslim zealot, Hamas sympathizer and any other epithet that might discredit him.

Never mind that my father has spent a lifetime writing and lecturing against terrorism, hatred and religious extremism. I remember well the death threats my family endured when my father was one of the few Muslim voices publicly denouncing the fatwa by Ayatollah Khomeini against Salman Rushdie, because it violated Islam's principles of free speech and of the sanctity of life.

The cause of all the vitriol against my father now? He has committed the one unforgivable sin in American politics -- he dared to criticize the government of Israel.

Yes, it is true. My father did criticize Israel, and did so in harsh terms. What his attackers fail to mention is that he did this at the time of the second intifada in 2000, when Israel's conduct elicited the following commentary from Human Rights Watch: ``Within three weeks, more than 120 Palestinians were killed and over 4,800 injured in clashes with Israeli security forces ... Most of the deaths were the result of excessive, and often indiscriminate, use of lethal force by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers, police, and border police against unarmed civilian demonstrators, including children.''

But criticizing the conduct of the Israeli government in this particular instance does not equate to anti-Semitism. Even questioning the dogma that the interests of the United States are synonymous with those of Israel is not anti-Semitism.

The testament to this is that during the public hearings held by the HRC, my father's supporters were a mosaic of the relations he had fostered throughout a lifetime of outreach. Many rabbis stood by his side, defending his record, his character, and his sincere friendship to, and respect for, the American Jewish community.

In contrast, his attackers, calling on the HRC to immediately rescind the award, were an entirely uniform block: a portion of the pro-Israeli government lobby. After raucous debate, the commission affirmed its decision to honor my father.

The real victory here is neither for Maher Hathout, nor for the American Muslim community. Rather, it is a victory for our social system and for our democracy. It is a victory which was won by the courage and integrity of the HRC.

My father once wrote, ``From an Islamic point of view, we believe that when we accept American citizenship, a contract is established, by which we become loyal to our new country and protectors of its interests.'' The HRC has honored that spirit, and for that, I am deeply grateful.
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Sep 21, 2006
Words:580
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