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Minority in Middle East, Christians Dominate US Arab Community With AM-Arabs-USA-III, Bjt

May 6, 1993

NEW YORK (AP) _ When Americans are surprised that Joseph Hana, a Syrian immigrant, is Christian, he often asks them: ″Have you ever read the Bible? Christianity didn’t come from Kentucky.″

A minority in the Middle East, Christians dominate the Arab community in the United States, comprising about 80 percent of the 2.5 million Arab- Americans, according to the Arab-American Institute in Washington.

Like most immigrants, they were lured by stories of easy fortunes in America. But unlike their Muslim brethren, Christians shared a cultural and religious bond with the West fostered through missionary schools in the Middle East.

Once here, they assimilated easier than Muslims, who had to build their own mosques, open special butcher shops to cater to religious dietary laws and abstain from liquor.

So, too, do the Christians look differently at the countries they or their ancestors left behind. The rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism has made the Middle East an inimical place for many of them.

Kamal Azouz, 58, immigrated to the United States in 1972 from the Israeli- occupied West Bank town of Ramallah when its population was mostly Christian. He vowed not to return because fundamentalists have become dominant.

″The extremists have taken over our town,″ said Azouz, who owns a restaurant in Fairfax, Va. ″They have occupied one of the houses my brother owns and refuse to get out of it. We’ve become strangers in our own land.″

Hana, a taxi driver, said: ″These people want us to go back to the sixth century. There’s no way I will be able to live with them in the Middle East. Christians have no place in the Arab world anymore.″

In Egypt, sectarian strife between Muslim extremists and the large Coptic Christian community may provoke even more to flee, said the Rev. Shenouda el- Baramousy of St. Mark’s Orthodox Church in Washington, D.C.

″It will not be only the Copts who will want to immigrate but also the moderate Muslims,″ said el-Baramousy, who left Egypt in 1979.

Arab immigration to the United States came in two major waves.

Christian peasants from present-day Lebanon and Syria were the first to land on the shores of the United States in the late 1880s.

More recent political events, such as the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism since the Iranian revolution in 1979, have spurred more Christians to emigrate.

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