There are undoubtedly many stories that sunk with the Titanic. But Ray Hanania is haunted by a certain group of passengers from the ship: the untold number of Arabs.
When Hanania reluctantly went to see James Cameron’s movie in 1997, he was caught off guard by a single word of passing dialogue: “yalla,” or “come in” in Arabic.
Hanania, an Arab-American writer and radio personality based in Chicago, had no idea there were Arabs aboard the famous ship. He continued scanning the movie for clues, and was rewarded when the credits scrolled by, complete with a list of the names of the victims.
“I looked at the names displayed and could right away easily recognize 79 [Arabic] names,” he told the United Arab Emirates newspaper Gulf News.
From then on in, the Titanic became an obsession and research project for Hanania. In 1998, he wrote an article that dredged up as many Arab stories as he could find, concluding there were at least 160 aboard the boat, of whom 29 were saved.
The details of their stories are indeed tricky to reassemble. For starters, Arabs arriving in the U.S. at the time were all branded “Syrians,” making it difficult to trace what countries and cultures individuals were from. Hanania points to one Titanic researcher who found that the eastern Lebanese village of Kfar Mishki lost 13 residents.
But Hanania believes many of the Arabs were Christian, not Muslim. Christian Arabs had an easier time migrating because they would receive support and sponsorship from churches along their travels.
As the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s tragic voyage passes, one can only wonder what other stories will surface in time.