Posted on September 14, 1998 in Washington Watch
Arab Americans have a full political agenda for fall 1998. As the community continues to advance into the U.S. political mainstream, it is required to operate on several fronts simultaneously. Later this month, for example, Arab American leaders from a number of organizations will convene a leadership summit to address Arab American foreign and domestic policy issues and review plans for the 1998 elections. High on the agenda for this meeting will obviously be concern over U.S. Middle East policy. The lack of U.S. leadership in the peace process, the continuing concern with Iraqi sanctions and the recent U.S. bombing of Sudan have all contributed to a growing alienation from the United States in the Arab world.
Arab Americans are deeply troubled by this fact and will seek to present a unified voice in warning the Administration of the dangers to U.S. allies and interests and to regional stability if this situation persists.
Two congressional initiatives sponsored by Arab Americans will also be assessed by the leadership meeting: a congressional letter calling on the Administration to develop a new policy to address the humanitarian concerns in Iraq resulting from the economic sanctions policy–that letter currently has 40 sponsors; and a Senate and House bill that calls on the United States to show greater respect for Islam and to advance the rights of American Muslims. Both efforts are receiving strong Arab American grass roots support and represent positive initiatives designed to involve the community in lobbying campaigns.
Community leaders will also assess their efforts to address a number of important civil rights issues. Some progress appears to have been made on the problem of airport profiling. In the aftermath of the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Africa, the U.S. Department of Justice directed the Federal Aviation Administration to issue a strongly worded directive to U.S. airlines and airports insisting that heightened security precautions not violate the civil rights of individuals because of their ethnicity or religion. This appears to have had at least some positive impact.
When Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, the second in command at the Department of Justice, appeared last week on my live call-in television program on ANA-TV, he informed viewers of efforts being made at the Department to address Arab American civil rights concerns. Specifically he noted that next month he will be convening the heads of FBI offices from cities where Arab Americans have complained of harassment to meet with community leaders in order to directly hear their concerns. He hopes, he said, to develop a mechanism to address and resolve these problems.
Arab Americans are currently engaged in a national mobilizing effort called the “Campaign for Fairness and Inclusion” designed to protest tactics used by some candidates who Arab-bait candidates or contributors of Arab descent. The campaign has organized a national petition drive that has received the endorsement of more than 25 Arab American and American Muslim organizations and over 15 national organizations representing other ethnic communities. The leadership summit will discuss ways of expanding this campaign so as to build the broadest possible national support to end this un-American practice of discriminating against Arab Americans in politics.
Finally, Arab American community leaders will take a close look at the 1998 elections and discuss ways to increase Arab American participation. Significant progress is being made. The national Arab American Leadership PAC is well on the way to exceeding its goal of raising more than $100,000 (a record for any Arab American PAC) to support Arab American candidates and candidates who support Arab American concerns. There are, in addition, a number of Arab American local PACs that have now been formed making 1998 the first year where organized Arab American PACs will join individual Arab American fundraising efforts in support of candidates for federal office. Clearly more must be done in this area–but the community is making a serious start at campaign fundraising.
This year 40 Arab Americans are running for federal, state and local offices. In addition to the six Arab American members of Congress who are running for reelection, two Arab Americans have won their parties’ primaries and will be competing in the November elections. 18 other Arab Americans are running for state senate and representative positions, while 16 others are running for judgeships and other local positions.
In a number of states, especially where there are strong concentrators of Arab Americans, the community is heavily involved in voter registration, campaign support, fundraising and community mobilization for the November elections. These efforts will continue to be strengthened.
The agenda is a full one, but a necessary one. Arab Americans realize that the struggles for justice, for civil rights and for recognition are all, at their core, political struggles. The reason that there is a double standard in U.S. foreign policy is because Arab Americans have not yet achieved the political power to balance the power of those who support Israel. The reasons that negative stereotypes exist against Arabs and Muslims and the reasons that Arab American civil rights are violated are because the community has not yet achieved the political power to defend itself and to define itself.
The lesson Arab Americans are learning is a simple one: in a democracy political power is an essential prerequisite to success, not only for the community but also for the nation as a whole.
For America to correct its course in the Middle East, Arab Americans need to grow in influence as a political constituency and have their voices heard in the policy debate in the Administration and in Congress.
This is a huge responsibility for a small community–but it is one that the community has assumed out of necessity. And given its continuing record of growth, it is clear that despite all the obstacles and challenges, Arab Americans are taking this responsibility seriously.
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