Casey Kasem dies after long illness and family dispute
(April 27, 1932 – June 15, 2014)
By Ray Hanania
His real name was Kemal Amin Kasem and his parents were Lebanese immigrants who like hundreds of thousands of others immigrated to the United States. Kasem’s family settled in Detroit.
But for many, Casey Kasem, as he was to be later known with his Americanized name, became a rock-n-roll radio legend. I had heard of Casey Kasem when I was a young child following the Beatles and the Rolling Stones on WLS AM Radio in the 1960s. He was often tapped for interviews on the rock-n-roll scene and the rising rock bands and singers that grew exponentially in the late 1960s. In 1970, Kasem launched his iconic “American Top 40” song listings that syndicated nationally.
Although I was familiar with him, I never knew he was Arab until early in 1990s when I became active with several American Arab organizations including the Arab American Institute (AAI), the Arab American University Graduates (AAUG), the National Association of Arab American (NAAA) and the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) which I helped found in Chicago. Up until then, you might hear the name of Danny Thomas, or rumors that other famous people were of Arab heritage. But in the 1990s, the identification of famous Arabs became a past-time as Arab immigration to America increased along with the World’s focus on Arabs and the Middle East.
In November 1991, when I ran for the Illinois Legislature as the first American Arab to run for statewide political office in Illinois, Casey Kasem sent me a donation of $200 for my campaign. I lost that election to a Republican that year who circulated a letter to voters claiming anonymously that “Ray Hanania is not just a Palestinian Arab, he is an Iraqi.” The letter referenced the American war against Saddam Hussein in Iraq and cost my thousands of votes. I came close and lost by several thousand votes.
I met Casey Kasem in 1995 while serving as National President of the Palestinian American Congress (PAC). He wore white cashmere coat. He was a part of the small delegation of Arabs that had been invited by then President Bill Clinton to help increase support for the Israel-Palestine peace process, which Israel eventually trashed in order to increase its settlement construction.
And the next year, I receive a letter from Casey Kasem after I published by humor book “I’m Glad I Look Like a Terrorist: Growing up Arab in America.” The book was very popular, the first ever attempt by an American Arab to use humor in the context of the Arab American experience. Although Danny Thomas was a comedian and television actor, his focus only barely touched on his Arab Lebanese heritage. Several of the young comedians at the time in 1996 had reached out to me to tell me that my book had inspired them as they pursued their comedy career. I remember one time comedian Ahmed Ahmed, the king of American Arab comedians today, called me at my home to tell me how much he loved the book, how it inspired him and how he was working hard to build a professional comedy and movie acting career. He said he was calling from his mother’s home and that he had a copy of the book and enjoyed it so much.
Dozens of young American Arabs also had written or emailed me to say they loved the use of humor in telling the American Arab story, something that had not been done prior. Actually, the book is based on a feature essay I wrote for Chicago Magazine in 1988 which detailed my early life growing up Arab in America, called “Ya Habibi: An Arab Childhood.”
The article was so popular that I used it as the introduction to the book.
But it was the title that had caught Casey Kasem’s eye. He wrote and called me to say that he didn’t like the title and he wanted me to change it to “I’m Glad I Don’t Look Like a Terrorist: Growing up Arab in America.”
I told Casey back then that American Arabs need to use humor in their public dialogues and discussions because too many American fear us. That fear was fueling the growing anti-Arab sentiment. I told him that I hoped one day to do some standup comedy, if I could ever get the nerve up and to write a good routine. That didn’t happen until the middle of 2001 after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. I was able to perform comedy internationally, but drew the wrath of Jew-hating, Christian-hating Islamic extremists like Ikhras and KabobFest and even the Electronic Intifada because I dared to perform with “Israeli” comedians under the banner “The Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour.”
Kasem understood the hatred that he and other American Arabs who rejected extremism would face. But he insisted I change the name. Of course, it was too late. The book was already published and was doing great. In fact, it was the humor that drove the high sales of the book.
Kasem died on Sunday, Father’s Day, June 15, 2014 according to postings on his daughter’s Facebook Page. Kasem was an actor who did frequent voiceover work, including for television commercials and he did the voices of many cartoon characters, including as “Shaggy” from the popular Scooby-Doo children’s cartoon series.
In recent years, Kasem became the focus on a major family feud when his new wife had prevented his biological children from seeing him. The case was highly publicized and the battle between his wife, Jean Kasem, and his four children, became vicious and mean. But in recent weeks, a federal judge gave his children control of his life as his health deteriorated and he became bed-ridden and sick.
Casey Kasem was an American Arab success story. His activism included support for the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) before the organization was crippled nationally by opposition from secular Arab extremists and Islamic religious fanatics who sought to silence any voices that embraced moderation. His passing symbolizes the continued deterioration of the moderate Arab voices in America that are targeted by extremists and radicals in the Arab community whose activism is driven by a hatred of secular Muslims, Christian Arabs and Jews and Israelis.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and political columnist. His 1990 series on the Palestinian Intifada, the first-ever in-depth look at the Palestinian cause in a major American newspaper, was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize. He is managing editor of the Arab Daily News www.TheArabDailyNews.com.)
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Ray Hanania is an award winning political and humor columnist who analyzes American and Middle East politics, and life in general. He is an author of several books.
"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."
Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at www.TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website www.SuburbanChicagoland.com, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.
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