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10 Arab Americans Urging you to Vote: Keenan Kassar

posted on: Oct 22, 2020

By: Diala Ghneim/Arab America Contributing Writer

I spoke with ten Arab Americans about voting. These individuals come from different age groups, industries, and political orientations. They are teachers, lawyers, students, stay at home mothers, IT professionals, etc…. They are active members of American society and they are all voting on November 3rd. This article is Keenan Kassar’s interview, and one of a series of ten articles (one for each interview).

You can find your state and register to vote here.

Keenan Kassar, 28, Finance

Tell me about your background, career, and immigration story.

I am a first-generation Syrian American who has been working in the finance industry for 6 years. As with many immigrant families, my father left Syria in the 1980s searching for economic opportunity in the US. He was and still is one of the hardest working people I know. Despite having a Civil Engineering degree from the University of Damascus, he obtained both his master’s and doctorate degrees in civil engineering when he arrived to the US. It was through him that I learned the value of hard work and continuous education. 

My mother, who also left Syria as an adult, instilled in me a love for reading. I got my bachelor’s degree in international business administration from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and recently received my MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Why are you voting? What are the issues you care most about?

It is my civic duty to vote. I have voted in previous elections and will continue to vote in all future elections too. A major issue that I care about deeply is economic inequality. I’m a big fan of Adam Smith, and a lot of our current problems- including economic inequality- partly stem from a failure to ensure the proper functioning of our markets. If we are not careful, unrestrained capitalism risks turning into crony capitalism. Market failures will be a big factor behind my voting decisions if they remain a problem.

In your opinion, what are the challenges that face the Arab American community?

I believe discrimination and the latest Muslim ban are the most pressing issues facing those two communities. Arab Americans and Muslim Americans are not homogenous as groups. They come from many different countries, circumstances and ethnicities. Arab Americans have a higher median salary than the average American, but the salary difference between a doctor who immigrated in the 1980’s and a cab driver who fled the Iraq War in 2004 is going to be large. 

Under ‘normal’ conditions, both the doctor and cab driver might vote for different parties. However, to the extent that discrimination is salient, then that will lead to them to voting more as a group. 

Additionally, the current administration’s ban on immigrants from predominately Arab and Muslim countries has affected many families. The Muslim ban is discriminatory in nature and its core goes against our ‘nation of immigrants’ rhetoric.  What is more understandable is when a country decides to accept immigrants based on their education level and economic potential, but that’s not the case here.

What would you tell people from your community who believe their votes won’t make a difference?

I would tell them “don’t complain about the outcome if you didn’t bother to vote,” and my statement is not pertaining to this single election. In the long run, political parties are shaped by the mix of voters that put them in power. When people say that they don’t ‘like’ any of the candidates and then refuse to vote-they are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

By abdicating their civic duty, they are signaling to politicians that Arab and Muslim Americans don’t matter. They are giving politicians permission to act against their interests. Except, it’s actually much worse than that. Politicians don’t even know what non-voters want because they aren’t making themselves heard. Fiery rants on Twitter aren’t going to change that.

Parting words for all individuals in your industry/career path on voting.

Finance professionals and MBAs are uniquely positioned to vote for the candidate they think will be the best steward of the economy. The current state of the stock market is not the only measure of the economy. Inequality is going up, market competition is going down, and that’s a problem. Go vote, and vote accordingly.

Vivian Khalaf’s interview

Check out Arab America’s blog here!