I know that I have mentioned, in the past, that my family was part of a predominately Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian parish in South Florida during the dark weeks right after 9/11. I remember, for example, that one young Orthodox boy was attacked in a public-school playground because he was an Arab — with his gold baptismal cross hanging around his neck. It’s tragic when innocent Muslims are attacked for their faith. It is also tragic, and bizarre, when Arab Christians and Arabs who practice other faiths are attacked by haters who — simply stated — are blind in more ways than one.
With that in mind, please consider this story that I noticed in the local newspaper, while passing through the airport in Manchester, N.H. This Union Leader piece is quite short, so I would suggest that you read the whole thing. Still, here is the top of the report:
MANCHESTER — For the second time in recent years, a Catholic parish in the city has seen a sign drawing attention to the church’s Middle Eastern roots vandalized.
The sign advertising a Mahrajan at Our Lady of the Cedars Melkite Greek Catholic Church was trashed, apparently by vandals. The sign says that Mahrajan is “Arabic for wicked good time.” It was damaged between 10 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. Saturday.
The church pastor, the Rev. Thomas Steinmetz, said he does not want to think that ethnic prejudice or hate was responsible for the crime. Manchester police, who are investigating, say it seemed to be an act of vandalism for the sake of vandalism.
“I prefer to think that it was simply a crime of opportunity, the sign was out and close to the sidewalk.” Steinmetz said. “I think it is more disturbing that it happens to be a church.”
Later in the story, the newspaper has to flirt with the same same dark question:
The church has seen other acts of vandalism in the past. While its pastor said he prefers to think the damage done to church property were not rooted in ethnic hatred, the fact that a church was targeted is upsetting.
“Its happened before and we have had other incidents here. It’s disturbing when these things happen to a church,” Steinmetz said. “Handicapped access signs have been broken, there have been windows broken, beer bottles in the parking lot.”
Now, it is possible that I am missing something — in part because I am not familiar with the city in which this parish is located (other than knowing the route to the airport). It is possible that, in such a short report, the newspaper’s editors felt they did not to include information on the neighborhood that would provide some context for this latest in a series of attacks. Perhaps these senseless acts of vandalism are quite common and, well, truly senseless.
But, maybe they are not random. Let me stress that I also know that it is not the newspaper’s job to speculate. It is, however, a journalist’s job to ask logical questions.
Basically one of three things appears to be going on here. It’s possible that these are random acts of vandalism. Would police say that on the record? If so, there is no real religion ghost haunting this crime report. What we have here is an unfortunate series of events — noting more.
Yet, it would help to know if other Arab institutions — Muslim, Christian or secular — have seen similar attacks. These could be blind attacks against Arabs.
There is also a chance, to voice a third possibility, that this is an attack by Muslim extremists against Arab Christians, perhaps due to that light-hearted reference to “Mahrajan” being the Arabic word for a “wicked good time.” Ask Arabic Christians and they would tell you that stranger things have happened. Did anyone ask about the message that was on the sign that was torn down several years ago? What did that sign say?
In short, I wondered if this report was simply a bit too short, a bit too shallow, a bit too easy going. To state the obvious: Would local police and journalists have settled for simple answers so quickly if these attacks were focused on a mosque? My point is that the story should be handled in the same way, with journalists asking logical questions and taking nothing for granted.