Foukara Joins Connect Arab America’s Empowerment Summit, A Role Model for Arab American Journalists in America.
“America has been a land of opportunity. But a community’s success here is neither a foregone conclusion nor an irrevocable result.”
By Isra’ Saleh / Arab America Contributing Writer
Born and raised in Morocco, Al Jazeera Washington Bureau Chief, Abderrahim Foukara talks to Arab America about the challenges of being an Arab in America. Abderrahim’s career, spanning two continents and a wide range of news organizations, gives Arabs a blueprint for success in America.
What is the importance of having events such as ‘Connect Arab America: Empowerment Summit?’ How do such events strengthen the ties of the Arab American community?
“America has been a land of opportunity. But a community’s success here is neither a foregone conclusion nor an irrevocable result. Communities often have to work hard to achieve success and to work just as hard to maintain it. Part of any community’s success has also been how hard it has worked to define itself as opposed to letting others define it. The Arab American community knows a thing or two about letting others define it. As the late Jack Shaheen compellingly showed us in Reel Bad Arabs for example, the Arab has often been defined as a bad guy or as a camel rider while Arabs have thousands of years of amazing civilizational achievements behind them. Dialogue is a contributor to creating that reminder that you are not a cardboard cut-out but a real human being with real achievements and real potential to achieve more. Connecting Arab Americans is not only about dialogue among themselves or between them and mainstream America. It is also an important platform to remind themselves of what they have achieved as Americans in politics, culture, industry, and all the other spheres of this American life.”
How often we should ask the ‘identity question’ as Arab Americans? Do you think that the Arab identity is fading across younger generations?
“On the contrary. Arab identity is not fading even though the long process of assimilation may have led some of us to believe Arab identity has sometimes melted away in some cases. I am thinking of the American descendent of a famous Arab poet who told me that adversity has ironically revived his desire to feel Arab again in America, although he grew up here speaking only English and no Arabic. The adversity he was talking about was 9/11.”
How deep is the rift between Arab Americans and other Arabs in the Arab World? Are they perceived as one extended body in the media?
“I believe that Arabs in the Arab world and Arab Americans all fit under the broad umbrella of Arabness in all its variety and different meanings. Arabness does not, should not be identified solely as a race issue. We can be Arab because of the way we see the world or the Arab values we embrace although we are not necessarily genetically linked to Arabness or to each other as Arabs. To the extent that human beings are the product of their history and their geography, it is only natural that Arab Americans would be different in some important aspects from Arabs in the Arab world or even from European Arabs. In each one of those environments, there are corresponding stimuli and reactions which make Arabs the what they are where they are. But there are also fears and hopes, joys and pains which unite Arabs everywhere. Indeed, it is a good thing for Arabs not to see each other or to be seen by others as a carbon copy of the same type everywhere.”
What is the role of minority journalists in Shaping Race-Related News Coverage in the US? Where do Arab American journalists stand?
“When George Floyd was killed, his pictures cropped up everywhere in the Arab world- in Palestine, Syria, and other places. The battles against racism were fought on the pages and screens of the American mainstream and social media. But new shared sensibilities were discovered or reinforced between African Americans and other minorities in the US as highlighted by- among other things- minority media in English, Spanish, Arabic, and other languages. Having said this, the killing of George Floyd was a tragic moment when, luckily for us all, the editorial content became difficult to separate in terms of mainstream media and minority media. The main divide became between the media sympathetic to Donald Trump for example and the media which saw his presidency as the cause or at least catalyst of the deterioration of inter-racial relations in this country at a particular moment in history.”
How can Arab Americans find a balanced-stance between their American patriotism and the US-foreign policy towards their mother lands? What role do Arab journalists have in bridging the cultural gaps?
“It is difficult sometimes to avoid your destiny. Arab-Americans’ destiny is to win both battles or at least synchronize them- the battle to be patriotic and to be seen as such and the battle to at least gradually moving the needle on the issue of US foreign policy on the Middle East. Sadly, that has been tough to do. Happily, it has been done even though slowly and in small measure so far. A few decades ago, Arabs could not even talk about Palestinian rights in DC for example. Today you have the Rashida Tlaibs (plural intended) staunchly defending those rights in the United States Congress and elsewhere while even enjoying sympathetic ears. That is a tribute to the twists of history, the tenacity of Arab Americans, and the opportunities offered by this country even when the climb seems steep.”
Foukara will moderate two panels, ‘Service and Solutions: Arab Americans Seeking Public Service’ and ‘Leading the Way: Arab Americans Serving in Federal and State Government Positions’ at the upcoming Connect Arab America Connect: Empowerment Summit on November 12-14, 2021 in Dearborn, Michigan.
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