Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Orland Park a long way from the days when they discriminated against American Arabs

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The Village of Orland Park, years ago, was a place where discrimination against American Arabs was common. It was reflected in the three high schools at District 230 (Andrew, Sandburg and Stagg) back in the early 1990s when the number of expulsions of students showed that 90 percent of them were Arab or Muslim, even though the total Arab and Muslim student body at the three schools was only about 10 percent of the total population (6,600). Arab kids were beaten, harassed and no one did anything about it. And then there was the Orland Mosque controversy, in 2004, where bigots and racists packed meeting halls to warn that if they build a Mosque in Orland Park "Osama Bin Laden will come to Orland Park and kill our people."

Thank GOD, then, that President Barack Obama managed to do what his predecessor George W. Bush failed to do (or didn't want to do because he is such close friends with the Saudi Royal family) and had Bin Laden, the terrorist mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks killed in his secure little castle next door to a Pakistani Security and Military center. (That's another story we all know).

Anyway, back to Orland Park.

The fact is that in the past seven years, Orland Park has changed much. Mayor Dan McLaughlin has worked more closely with American Arabs and Muslims. The Orland Mosque is a showpiece of how a mosque should be run -- it's considered one of the most "moderate" mosques in the Chicagoland region. And many American Arab businesses have opened in Orland Park -- but like other businesses have also stumbled on their own because of the terrible economy and their lack of marketing knowledge.

Pita Oven, one of my favorite, closed a few months back. It just couldn't generate the business to cover its expenses. Shami Restaurant at 152nd and LaGrange Road next to the now shuttered Borders book store is continuing but who knows for how long? There is a wonderful Arab Muslim Grocery store that makes GREAT foods, The Grape Vine (Laila there makes the best stuffed grape leaves and lamb in the region -- order them for your dinners sometime.)

It's not because of Americans who dislike Arabs. American Arab restaurants have a tough time because many Arabs and Muslim won't eat at them. They prefer to cook for themselves. And the Arab restaurants don't do a good job of marketing. How do you teach marketing and communications strategy to a community that has a 2,000 year history of ignoring such important things? Can't be done.

The truth is the Village has been very supporter of American Arabs and Muslims, treating them no different than other ethnic and religious groups. (There is a growing population of Jews in Orland and Tinley Park and they are talking about trying to find a way to build a Synagogue here -- I hope they succeed. It would save my son and wife a 35 minute drive that they now make to go to their synagogue.)

But the issue of discrimination came up, this time in the case of a cigar store, the only one where smoking was permitted under the Village's smoking ban ordinance. (If anyone is discriminated against, it is smokers). But the former owner of the cigar store, an American Arab, was arrested, charged and jailed for tax problems and the new owners, who is also American Arab, is charging that she is being discriminated against because she is Arab. Click here to read the story.

I don't think so.

I think Orland Park has been very supportive and sensitive to the needs of American Arabs and Muslims and they are a bright star in a sea of Southwest Suburban communities where discrimination is a common practice -- like in Worth Illinois where several Sheesha (nargeelah or bong) shops were forced to close while smoking continued in other non-Arab owned bars.

Orland Park deserves praise for their ethnic, racial and religious sensitivity and Mayor Dan McLaughlin and the board of trustees including Ed Schussler and Pat Gira and Brad O'Halleran and especially the Village Administrative staff headed by Paul Grimes deserve much praise and credit for that.

Even District 135 has strengthened their support and programs for children of Arab and Muslim families to give them the same educational benefits as all of the families in Orland Park enjoy.

Discrimination at the Cigar Store? I don't think so.

-- Ray Hanania

Here's the two-part  video I did on the Mosque controversy ... Part I and Part II.

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