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Arab Americans Face Challenges

posted on: Nov 4, 2008


Arab Americans still have a lot more to learn if they are to succeed in US politics, said a leading activist.

They need to be taught how to craft a message that will win the support of the public, said Dr Hussein Ibish, who is the senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine in Washington, DC.

He said traditionally Arab Americans had been resistant to political mobilisation and while attitudes were changing it was still a challenge to recruit them, especially since the events of September 11.

“There is a resistance by elements of the community of being (politically) organized,” said Dr Ibish, who is also executive director of the Hala Salaam Maksoud Foundation for Arab-American Leadership.

“People don’t want their name attached to anything.

“There is a fear of the government, the rest of society and being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is totally unfounded.

“There is no way that contributing to these (political) organizations would bring negative political consequences to your life.”

Dr Ibish said Arab Americans found it difficult to craft a message that would be accepted by the US public and this posed a challenge to their success.

He said while it was difficult to take the discourses of particular Arab American groups and translate it into a message that would be received – it was possible.

Another challenge to Arab Americans was a cynicism that doubts the motivation of everyone that becomes politically active.

“People think you can’t be politically active without being backed by someone,” said Dr Ibish.

“All these are excuses to not be politically engaged.”

Dr Ibish said there needed to be more education about political engagement before Arab Americans would get involved and be heard.

“It’s not to change their values but to teach them they need to create a message that will be received and heard in policy,” he said.

He said to get involved in the policy conversation they needed to bring in a credible national security figure that would suggest better security.

“Essentially the task ahead is to teach the community how to get involved, why to get involved and the techniques they need to get involved,” said Dr Ibish.

He said the special relationship between America and Israel was not debated in politics.

However, it was official US policy to end the occupation and create a Palestinian state and this was an issue that Arab American political groups could work on.

“There is no need to be modest if you want to achieve an impact on foreign policy,” explained Dr Ibish.

“You need to think and speak like an American. You must be a loyal citizen and want the best interests of America.

“If you are not aware of the sensitivity of your fellow Americans you won’t get far.”

Dr Ibish said as far as a voting block the first and only major candidate to reach out to Arab Americans was George W Bush in 2000.

“He took the time to say he was opposed to racial profiling against Arab Americans,” he said.

“He was trying to reach out to these communities. In 2004, neither party tried to reach out. But this time I think many Arab Americans are excited about Obama.”

Dr Ibish was on a visit to Bahrain to present a lecture entitled ‘Arab Americans and their role in American politics: Current and future perspectives’ held at the Bahrain Centre for Studies and Research, Riffa.

By Rebecca Torr
Gulf Daily News

Photo caption:
Dr. Hussein Ibish