Posted on June 19, 2014 in Countdown

Remembering our Brightest Arab American Star: Casey Kasem

In light of his recent passing, AAI would like to pay tribute and recognize just how unsurpassed and dear Casey Kasem was in the hearts of the Arab American community. Featured in our Together We Came series, Kasem’s nationwide contributions are unparalleled; he truly exemplifies what it means to be an exceptional American. As AAI President Jim Zogby reflected, “Casey was more than the most recognized voice of his generation, what he said mattered. He inspired us to be positive, to strive for peace and justice, and to care for each other and our planet.” Proud of his Arab heritage, Kasem was a strong voice and guiding force for all Arab Americans as he worked to empower and celebrate the Arab American community. An avid supporter of Arab American civic participation, Kasem helped establish the Arab American Institute and was the 2013 recipient of the Award for Individual Achievement at our annual Gibran Gala. Kasem will be profoundly missed for his incredible talent, generous spirit and impactful humanitarian work. We as Arab Americans couldn’t be more proud to have him as a member of our community. Through both the music radio industry and political realm, Kasem has moved and inspired millions. He continues to be “the brightest star in our Arab American constellation.”

Iraq Is Back

Paul Wolfowitz on “Meet the Press”? Dick Cheney in the Wall Street Journal? Bill Kristol on “This Week”? This can only mean one thing: Iraq is back. ISIL or ISIS (we’re still unsure of what to call them but we’ll say ISIL so we don’t get confused with the Egyptian goddess) surprised almost everyone in the policy community with a major offensive in Iraq last week. The group managed to advance from the Anbar province into Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, forcing Iraqi troops to flee. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government has so far been unable to reclaim parts of the country and ISIL now controls around one-third of Iraqi territory. While ISIL’s advances almost instantaneously reversed several years of U.S. efforts to maintain some sort of stability in Iraq, President Obama has so far refrained from any military action to help the Iraqi government. Now, ghosts of the past are back to speak their mind and Congressional leaders are posturing on the issue, with critics blaming Obama for the power vacuum after U.S. withdrawal in 2011 and failure to act in Syria early during the uprising. And here are a few other surprises. Ultimately, the discussion about Iraq should have less to do with the United States than with Iraq’s internal politics – President Maliki’s sectarian governing isolated Iraq’s Sunni population and undoubtedly helped bring legitimacy to ISIL. As AAI President Jim Zogby has said, we cannot recycle the ineffective policies of the past in Iraq, but we should look at the 2006 Iraq Study Group report, which urged the United States to focus on convening regional powers like Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to address the growing instability in Iraq and Syria.

Immigration Reform Is Not “Dead”

AAI held a briefing on Capitol Hill yesterday with leaders from various ethnic constituencies to discuss the need for comprehensive immigration reform. There was a strong consensus for urgent Congressional action, but it’s clear that obstacles remain. On the Republican side, the fight for comprehensive immigration reform is neatly captured in the race to replace Eric Cantor as House Majority Leader. One of the issues that felled Cantor was his opponent’s relentless depiction of him as pro-amnesty, and although immigration reform is not “dead,” Cantor’s primary upset has some Republicans fearing what might happen if they go “soft” on immigration ahead of elections. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who is expected to replace Cantor as Majority Leader today, has some incentive to compromise on immigration. On the other hand, his opponent for House leadership, Raul Labrador (R-ID), an immigrant himself who has on occasion sounded somewhat more moderate on the topic, proclaims on his website, “immigration reform will not and should not happen in 2014.” Meanwhile, immigration activists from all sides are becoming increasingly frustrated at President Obama’s lingering hope for bipartisanship action. The advocacy group urged Obama to take unilateral executive action, saying “face the facts, stand up to the xenophobic and hateful forces in America, and take action to stop deportations immediately.” The facts are quite daunting. With an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, and with Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to Central America to address the recent surge of unaccompanied children crossing the U.S. border, pressure continues to rise for reform to our broken system.

After Al Jazeera Journalist’s Release, Egypt’s Roadmap to Where?

Ten months later and 88 pounds lighter, Al Jazeera journalist Abdullah al Shami has been released from prison along with 12 others pending trial on “violence-related charges.” Abdullah was arrested last August and held without charge after filming Egyptian soldiers violently breaking up a protest. In January, he began a hunger strike that drew worldwide attention to Egypt’s crackdown and imprisonment of journalists and put significant pressure on the Egyptian government. Al Jazeera’s campaign to free the journalists made Hosni Mubarak’s quip when visiting their headquarters seem prescient: “All this noise is coming out of this matchbox!'” Even though Al Jazeera hasn’t been operating in Egypt since December and will be closing its Egypt offices, don’t expect the “noise” to subside anytime soon. Three other Al Jazeera journalists are still imprisoned and awaiting trial and they have been ordered to pay $170,000 just to access the video evidence against them. Meanwhile, Egypt’s government is moving, but forward or backward, we’re still unsure. The cabinet was sworn in Tuesday, consisting mostly of leaders from the previous military-installed government – except Nabil Fahmy, who visited DC in April as Egypt’s Foreign Minister but has now been replaced by Sameh Shoukry (again). So even amid brutal crackdowns and a plan to cut aid to Egypt in the U.S. Senate, the country has at least checked off two boxes from the July 2013 roadmap: passing a new constitution and electing a president.

Israel Says #BringBackOurBoys, At Any Cost

The occupied territories of the West Bank received some new occupants this week as Israel deployed a host of armored vehicles, military personnel, and road blocks to further the search for three Israeli teens abducted last Thursday. Since Prime Minister Netanyahu condemned Hamas for the capture, around 150 Palestinians now sit innocently behind bars, forced to accept the backward Israeli narrative that brands them as guilty until proven innocent. Of course, there is no justifiable defense of kidnapping, and President Abbas promptly condemned the abduction of the teens while Hamas has denied involvement. Unfortunately, the search for the teens has prompted Israeli forces to fight an indefensible act with an indefensible tactic – oppression. There’s no silver lining: the Israeli response only exacerbates tensions between Israel and the new Palestinian unity government and paints any future efforts toward peace in a dim light. According to an Israeli military spokesman, “as long as our boys remain abducted, Hamas will feel pursued, paralyzed and threatened.” It would be a shame for the plight of three boys to be employed as a political tool. But it seems too late – with Israel’s response to this kidnapping, Netanyahu’s desire to destabilize the unity government only appears to intensify in the wake of upcoming Palestinian presidential and legislative elections.