Arab-Americans close ranks
When Joseph Lieberman, one of several Democrat candidates in the US presidential race, addressed a gathering of Arab Americans in the state of Michigan he faced strong opposition and several interruptions by the audience, a result of his defence of Israel and his justification of the construction of the apartheid wall in the West Bank under the pretext of self-defence. Lieberman said that the Israeli wall is merely a temporary measure and will be torn down once the Israelis and Arabs are living side-by-side in peace.
It is unlikely that a candidate such as Lieberman, a staunch defender of Israel, will win many votes cast by Arab-Americans who have hopefully learned a lesson. In 2000 a large number of them voted in support of George W Bush, and it was said that their votes were essential to the Republicans winning the state of Florida. But they were the first to pay the price for his foolish policies, falling victim to discrimination campaigns and Ashcroft's racist laws.
It is not the first time Arab and Muslim Americans express a clear-cut political position in defence of their interests as American citizens first and as Arabs and Muslims second. Following 11 September they realised they could not defend themselves, let alone Arab issues, unless they exercised their rights as American citizens, practising them within American society. They need to be active within political and social structures in a way that enables them to become an effective pressure group, informing both domestic and foreign US policy.
A few weeks ago leaders of the Muslim community in the US called on Muslim voters to cast their ballot against Bush's re- election in 2004. According to Nehad Awad, executive director of the Council of American- Islamic Relations, Muslims -- who number between two and four million Americans -- are at "a critical crossroads for Islam in America. We cannot hand over our future and fate to the waves of rising hatred in this society". This is the hatred which a senior Pentagon official expressed when he described Muslim values as satanic.
The recent gathering sponsored by the Arab League in Detroit could play a part in strengthening this closing of Arab- American ranks. The events of September 2001 left many open wounds which will be difficult to heal. The continued arrest of hundreds of Arab- Americans, their interrogation, detention and dismissal from their jobs is a cruel experience, especially for those who chose the US as a their home in the belief that it guaranteed freedom, equality, democracy and respect for the rights of minorities.
Twenty years ago Democrat presidential candidate Walter Mondale was forced to reject campaign contributions by Arab- Americans out of fear of agitating Jewish voters. He lost the 1984 election. Such facts must have been taken on board by the large number of Arab governments that regularly -- though secretly -- funnel millions of dollars to the candidates whom they mistakenly believed were sympathetic to them and their causes.
More important, though, is that Arab-Americans increasingly exercise their civil and political rights at all levels of government, both local and federal. This is the most efficient defence of their existence and of the causes they support, and the only available means to prevent the "war on terrorism" from evolving into a war against them.