Posted on June 28, 2004 in Washington Watch

I had the opportunity to submit testimony representing the concerns of Arab Americans to the Democratic Platform Committees. In the wake of September 11th and the war in Iraq, much has changed for the U.S. Arab Americans are leaders in the struggle to balance civil liberties and security and are a continued resource to fellow Americans who wish to understand the Arab world and see a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. What follows is my testimony.

We believe that at stake in this year’s election is the very definition of our nation-the values we seek to protect at home and project to the world.

The last four years have had a devastating effect on our nation. They have tested our national unity and our sense of mission. This Administration has pursued domestic and foreign policies that have been both neglectful and reckless. Because of reckless tax cuts a record surplus was turned into record deficits. Previously strong allies were compromised by a reckless and radical policy of unilateral preemption, while the significant diplomatic gains of the last decade were neglected or cast aside. Basic Constitutional protections were ignored or put at risk by reckless executive fiat.

As a result, we squandered opportunities that would have made our nation stronger, more prosperous, more secure, and better respected in the world.

My mother, a Democrat all her life, used to say that she was a Democrat because it was the party that lent a helping hand to people in need.

This simple dictum “that we care for those in need” defines the essence of our message-the litmus test we should apply to all we do.

That is why we support progressive taxation, quality public education, defense of the rights of women, racial and ethnic minorities and the vulnerable and disenfranchised, at home and abroad. We do so because, as Democrats, we believe that government has a responsibility to promote the well-being of all.

We were, as a nation sorely tested by the traumatic terrorist attacks of 9/11. Nineteen young men abused our nation’s freedom and openness to murder 3,000 innocents. In the face of this challenge and threat, Democrats stood unified in defense of our homeland, our people, and our way of life.
Some Americans, however, struck out with hate against those who looked like the terrorists. My family and I received death threats. We were protected, but others, not so fortunate, lost their lives or suffered grave harm.

The nation responded. The President, the Senate and House, the community of concerned civil rights organizations, and ordinary citizens from all walks of life came forward to speak out against hate and to reaffirm our unity as a nation. Our party, for example, passed repeated resolutions speaking out against these hate crimes and called for protection of the rights of Arab Americans and American Muslims.

But intolerance remains a troubling concern. Some on the religious right and some officials in the Bush Administration continue to make inflammatory remarks about Arabs and Muslims. These comments give support and encouragement to those who would strike out in hate. The problem, therefore, remains a serious one and we must continue to be vigilant and vigorous in defense of our values and our national unity.

After 9/11, law enforcement faced an unprecedented challenge to secure the homeland and rout out those who intended to do us harm. While their efforts have for the most part been commendable, many now recognize that excesses were committed and mistakes were made.

Some believed that in order to meet the urgent need, the long-cherished balance between our Constitutionally protected freedoms and our need to be secure required a shift. Both the Patriot Act passed by Congress in October of 2001 and several independent initiatives of the Attorney General reflected that shift. As a result, Arabs and Muslims were targeted by profiling and several Constitutional rights were negatively impacted. Thousands were arrested, oftentimes on the basis of a minor infraction. Many were held in secret, without charge, denied access to lawyers, and detained for long periods of time. In the end, many were deported without due process. Most disturbing was the fact that although these arrests, detentions, and deportations were based on minor immigration violations, they were presented to the public as somehow related to the war on terror.

Immigration organizations, civil rights groups, and hundreds of communities across the nation have responded. Excesses have been identified and the Constitution has been affirmed. Now Congress has before it two pieces of legislation that help us to restore the balance between liberty and security. The SAFE Act protects what is right with the Patriot Act while eliminating the unneeded and unwarranted sections. The Civil Liberties Restoration Act reins in the Attorney General by canceling several questionable practices he initiated in the post-9/11 period.

In foreign affairs as well, the Administration has undertaken a dangerous and reckless course in response to the 9/11 attacks. They began their tenure with the declared intent to pursue a more unilateral and aggressive foreign policy. They walked away from signed treaties, international conventions, and agreements.

The Middle East peace process, which was experiencing a setback and some renewed violence, was left largely untended. As deadly violence increased, the Administration showed too little resolve to act, even on its own initiatives. Articulating only a vision, with no serious commitment to providing the leadership needed to realize its implementation, Israelis and Palestinians continued to die and hope was drained from both peoples.

After articulating a new national security policy the Administration squandered the near unanimous support shown for our nation after 9/11 and pursued instead an ideologically driven policy of unilateral military preemption. Though committing to Congress that they would pursue an international mandate, the Administration moved toward war with Iraq never detailing for the American people the costs, the levels of commitment required, or the consequences of this war. When US diplomats or military leaders questioned this approach, they were ridiculed or dismissed.

Pursuing their ideologically driven vision (of a quick win, with the Iraqi people welcoming us as liberators, followed by a flowering of democracy that would transform the Middle East) this Administration risked American lives, prestige, and international leadership in a war which we might win followed by a situation which we could not control or even understand.

Today, faced by stubborn realities, the Administration has been forced to change course deferring to Iraq’s ethnic, sectarian, and tribal leadership and the frustrations of the international community. Despite some signs of progress, we are not able to extricate ourselves from the dangerous situation brought about by the Administration’s recklessness-this conflict is far from over.

Our leadership in international affairs does not spring from our power or our wealth. It comes from the values we project. What is required to regain our footing is a foreign policy, like that which has been historically advocated by our party that promotes international cooperation, human rights, and strong and aggressive leadership in the promotion of peaceful negotiations of regional conflicts. We lead best, not when we act alone, but when others are drawn to follow our leadership in the pursuit of shared goals.

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