Sunday, August 08, 2004

Arab-American Voice Needed

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

Arab-American delegates to the Democratic Convention in Boston were more than enthusiastic. When asked for a meeting, they obliged the very same day. Over 10 members representing different parts of the country attended.
They explained their dilemma. Thomas T. George, (CEO, The George Group, Lakewood, Ohio) was eloquent. He and other third generation Arab-Americans told how they had been happy to leave politics to politicians, just like in Arab countries.
They went about their lives, pushing their children to excel in business, science and technology. As a result, the 2.5 million Arab-Americans are among the most educated and prosperous minorities in the US. More than two- thirds are Christians, mostly from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine. All had happily melted into the multicolor, multiethnic American pot.
Then came 9/11, and things changed. For one, they were forced to relate to their Arab identity. The FBI, among many security agencies, now classified them as Arabs, treating them as such.
Neighbors, friends, business associates and schoolmates discuss Mideastern issues with them, and expect explanations.
Finally, they decided if they were to live as Americans they must act American. The politics they avoided for generations became now a necessity for survival. The Jews have successfully managed to combine personal successes with political ones, so why cannot the Arabs do the same?
Today, Arab-Americans are learning their way in the political maze. Many are motivated to invest time and money in the political process. In tight races, more than two million votes can — and should — make a difference.
“What party line are you taking?” I asked. Taleb Salhab, coordinator for Florida Arab American Leadership Council, explained that they were taking both sides, Republican and Democrat. First, people are encouraged, as they should be, to freely express their political orientations. Second, the Arab-American voice should be heard in both directions.
“What impact, if any, are you making?” Kerry sounds very much like Bush in his stand toward us. Both kiss Sharon’s hands and ask political favors which AIPAC, the most prominent Jewish lobby group, never fails to oblige. Just like Bush, Kerry had to switch his stand on the wall Israel is building on Palestinian land after hearing from the godfather. He supported Bush’s war on Iraq even though he now blames the president for it. So what difference are you making?
Professor Samia El-Badry, president of the International Demographic and Economic Associates, Austin, Texas, took my question. Yes, the effect is still minimal, she says, but that is a beginning since Arab-Americans began to play very late in the game.
She went on to count some successes on the domestic front, and promised to keep Arab voices clearly and consistently heard. Good luck, Arab Americans. Yours is an overdue step on a thousand-mile marathon.
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