Posted on January 07, 2016 in Countdown

Click here to subscribe to Countdown, AAI's weekly take on news from Washington, around the country, and abroad.


2016 Is Upon Us

In reality, the 2016 election cycle has been a headline since mid-2014, but at least now we’re not getting ahead of ourselves. We’d be remiss to not plug the many 2016 initiatives that we’re rolling out ahead of the elections. Our Yalla Vote hub will have weekly election analysis, we’re keeping track of what every candidate says about issues we care about, we’re planning events at both conventions (Republicans in Cleveland then Democrats in Philadelphia), and that’s not all. So we’re super glad you’re reading Countdown every week – but make sure to sign up for our AAI listserv as well so you’re not missing out on anything big. Sign up here.


Saudi Executes, Tehran Riots, And We’re All Worried

We can’t shake the feeling that the world is spinning a little bit out of control (or, a lot of bit). Saudi’s unjust, reprehensible execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr (along with 46 others) has sparked a crisis across the region that has resulted in the Saudi Embassy being attacked in Iran and a series of diplomatic fissures along tired sectarian lines. And the tinderbox is still being lit by the continued threat to al-Nimr’s 21-year-old nephew who was sentenced to crucifixion (yes, crucifixion). But the constant reiteration that the region’s sectarian tensions have led us here is drowning out any good analysis of what’s going on and how to deescalate. We’d kindly suggest that it’s possible that the wantonly aggressive geopolitical battle for power is fueling the sectarianism, not the other way around. Someone might need to find an Archduke to guard, because we might be one assassination, death, or foul word away from a similar scenario that sparked World War I. 


Department of Education Delivers a Much Needed Lesson on Discrimination

The out of control anti-Muslim and anti-refugee rhetoric from some presidential candidates that has become an everyday headline is having real consequences for young Arabs and Muslims growing up in America. Our young people are bearing the brunt of this nonsense, and we’re glad to see the Department of Education step up to deliver a very high-level, perfectly clear  message to schools and universities across the country to step up to end harassment. The joint letter was sent by both the outgoing and incoming Secretaries of Education, and it is right on: schools must not become (or remain) places where students fear for their physical safety or decide to hide their identity because their worldview already accepts discrimination as inevitable. Last month when we met with White House leaders to find actions President Obama’s Administration can take to protect Arab Americans and American Muslims in the vitriolic climate, protecting our young people was one of our most important points. We’re glad to see the administration take swift action.


The Spies' Eyes Have Congress Seeing Surveillance a Little Differently

Congress might be the last people in the country to realize that the government is listening to their phone calls, or at least that’s what we’re led to believe by the reactions of some Members to a December piece in the WSJ. The investigative article broke the news that the NSA overheard and recorded conversations between our elected officials and their Israeli colleagues while the intelligence community had Prime Minister Netanyahu under surveillance. We can’t help but point out how rich it is that only now is Congress concerned with the privacy rights of Americans in the face of an increasingly large surveillance dragnet. It’s not like Congress is the one who voted in favor of the surveillance programs (oh wait, yes they did). So after supporting the programs that made it legal to collect their phone records, elected leaders like former Rep. Pete Hoekstra – who campaigned against Arab American Congressman Justin Amash by accusing him of being a Hamas sympathizer, amongst other smears – are complaining about the vague guidelines that allow widespread, indiscriminate, and unavoidable spying. We wish Congress would show half the amount of concern about the American people’s rights as they do their own.


Executive-in-Chief is Back in Action

President Obama came back from his Hawaiian vacation to give a big “Aloha” to 7 years of inaction on gun control reform. Using his executive authority to bypass Congress, President Obama has issued laws that will integrate mental health reporting into background checks and  make those screenings a requirement for all firearm sales, and he announced a major investment into smart technology that can shape the future of more secure firearm use. President Obama is no stranger to having to find a way around Congress to get the job done, we saw it when he announced the DACA Act back in 2012 and recently when he moved to deport 121 asylum-seekers over Christmas break. Yeah, you read that right, those two diametrically opposed actions were both Obama’s executive orders. But with a major streak of wins at the Supreme Court last year, and only a year left in his presidency, we just wonder if the “get it done” Obama is here to stay. There’s a couple things we’d like to see done. Just a few.