Posted by Nicole Khamis on August 25, 2015 in Blog

121102094206_yalla_vote_624x351__nocredit.jpgSome say you can’t get out of a conversation with Arabs without talking politics. Although Arab Americans may view themselves as inherently political people, the lack of Arab American youth in the political arena may say otherwise.

Feelings of alienation, fear, and disillusionment are all common reasons Arab Americans cite for their reluctance to touch anything political. While this is a common ‘immigrant approach,’ it is true that Arab Americans have not been the main beneficiaries of some of the countries policies. Events that have spanned from the Reagan Era until current times-such as the 20-year effort to deport Palestinian individuals, who were later deemed the “LA Eight” or the recent existence of a smear campaign aimed at pro-Palestinian and pro-BDS individuals-show Arab Americans that historically, and currently, that there is a price to pay if one chooses to be a dissident from the predominantly pro-Israel rhetoric of the United States.

But Arab Americans have also paid the price for not being involved in politics, and may continue to, as the 2016 election heats up. Intolerance for Arab Americans and Muslim Americans are widespread in statements with the GOP, who use the tactics of fear mongering and subtle racism to unite voters against a single, perceived “enemy.” The examples of the GOP’s ‘war on Islam’ are too numerous to be listed, but include examples such as pushing “Anti-Sharia” law in 23 states, and presidential candidate Lindsey Graham (R-SC) saying that terrorist Dylan Roof exhibited a type of ‘Middle East Hate’ to name a few examples.

It is easy for Arab Americans and American Muslims to condemn the system that alienates an entire population. What is not easy is inserting oneself in the system to counter the negative and numerous remarks that are spewed a little too often by elected public officials. While Arab Americans are quick to criticize the singular, false narrative that circulates through Congress and eventually thorough legislation, they fail to realize that by reluctance to step into the political realm, allow only one narrative to be presented.

Legislation and rhetoric that attack the Arab and Muslim American community will likely continue to occur, and are sadly misused as a litmus test of dedication to national security by some. Widespread acceptance of these comments and little broad backlash effectively highlights the sad reality of the absence of Arab Involvement in large-scale grassroots organizing that can effectively counter the racism and Islamophobia that is currently running rampant.

 The existence of the Arab American Institute has been invaluable in its role of effectively elevating Arab American voices. But this is only one half of the battle, as the Arab American Institute relies on the involvement of Arab Americans in the political realm to do so.

Criticizing is easy; making a difference is hard work. In the 2016 election year, the value of having Arab Americans active in governments on the local, state, and federal level, as well as effective organizing, cannot be stressed enough. For progress and real change to occur, the next step is clear: Arab Americans cannot continue to alienate themselves from a process that has undoubtedly and intricately intertwined itself with the future of its people-one that will be decided with or without them.

Nicole Khamis was a summer 2015 intern with the Arab American Institute