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Arab Americans and the Coming 2016 Election

posted on: Oct 21, 2015

BY: Adrian Tafesh/Contrubuting Writer

We have for the last few months been in the election season. A season that, not unlike the approaching holiday season, is all about marketing and lasts entirely too long. The question is one of how each candidate can best market themselves to a voting public and, more importantly, ultra-wealthy donors. It’s about how parties can best market a platform that gets their candidate elected. Ultimately, as we have seen with the last two presidential elections each becoming the most expensive in history, it’s about who spends the most on their campaign.

All of this comes to a head for Arab Americans every two to four years as they seem to be excluded nearly wholesale from this system. There is, and has been as long as Arab Americans have been in the United States, unilateral agreement by the parties on Arab American disenfranchisement, despite the occasional overture from Washington about inclusion. This has played out locally, nationally, and vitally, in foreign policy.

Saba Shami, President and Treasurer of the New Dominion PAC, is someone who understands party politics at the local level intricately. New Dominion is a state PAC in Virginia that supports Democratic candidates, and lobbies on behalf of the Arab American community of Virginia. This is a local election year in Virginia and Shami is concerned about engagement. “I’m not optimistic about turn-out in the community.” He said. “People are confused about our foreign policy and that causes them to stay away from local elections.”

He speaks to the core of the problem that Arab Americans face, being essentially outside of the system means their interests, central to which are issues of the civil and human rights of the peoples in the Arab world, are never truly represented. This in turn limits the desire of Arab Americans to try to participate in the system. Still, Shami believes that increased engagement is the way to go, and cites that Arab Democratic efforts in Virginia have revealed members of the General Assembly who show support for Arab American interests.

Randa Fahmy, former Associate Deputy Secretary of Energy under George W. Bush, believes that the message of the Republican Party is compatible with Arab American views, despite perceived antipathy towards Arabs and Muslims by candidates from the party. “Arab American interests are just like every other Americans interests. They are concerned about domestic issues whether it’s the economic policy or social issues here in the United States…There were two individual candidates who said different things. I would hate for our community to condemn the whole party for those statements.” She notes that there were several voices within the party who came out and condemned Ben Carson’s and others’ Islamophobic comments.

Still, this strikes as a significant point when discussing the idea of disenfranchisement; it is rarely left simply to exclusion, but often stretches into outright Anti-Arab antagonism. And this is something that truly is not reserved to the Republicans. Democratic politicians have, if not in word, expressed their Anti-Arabism in their voting records, as well as their unwillingness to combat racism and Islamophobia to their colleagues.

It is in the spirit of fighting this pervasive attitude in our politics that the Arab American Institute (AAI) is convening it’s National Leadership Conference, this coming weekend, in Dearborn, Michigan. Maya Berry is the Executive Director of AAI, she notes the cyclical nature of Anti-Arabism as it relates to national elections. “This institution was established in the 80’s in response to the politics of exclusion.” This is a reference to what the Arab American community at the time named the general mood in the U.S. with regards to Arabs and our interests. “I believe we have come a long way since that thanks to Arab American efforts.” Like Shami and Fahmy, she believes that increased activism and engagement by the Arab American community is the best way to stake a claim in national politics. “This community is not a monolith, but we are entirely in agreement on our political empowerment.”

It is yet to be seen as to whether this empowerment will ultimately be achieved.

For more information on the National Leadership conference click here.