Heritage Month: Arab Americans in Advocacy
BY: Husayn Hosoda/Contrubuting Writer
Arab Americans have never been a voiceless community in this country, and this is in large part due to the tireless advocates who have dedicated their lives and careers to defending and uplifting the Arab American communities they come from. Today we will take a moment to recognize their efforts.
Jim Zogby, a Lebanese-American born in Utica, New York, is the founder and President of the Arab American Institute in Washington, D.C. The Institute acts as the political and policy research arm of the Arab American community. In 2013, President Obama appointed Zogby to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom because of his history in bringing people of all religions together. He is a significant researcher in the data about Arab Americans and is a successful author, as well. Throughout his career, he has braved threats, attacks, and defamation, but continues the fight for Arab American civil rights, refugee resettlement, voter registration, and guidance of Arab American political candidates.
A notable Arab American who has advocated for the community while in office is U.S. Senator James Abourezk. He represented the state of South Dakota from 1973 to 1979 in the U.S. Senate. After retiring in 1980, he founded the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and has been a vocal critic of failed U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Abourezk was also an advocate against the FBI’s ABSCAM or “Arab scam” operation, which was condemned for its insensitivity towards the Arab community.
Doing more grassroots work in the Arab American community is Linda Sarsour, Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York. Sarsour is a well-known activist for civil rights and racial justice, as well as a leader in the major campaigns to end surveillance of New York’s Muslim communities and other policies that affect minorities, such as stop-and-frisk. She has also been an advocate for the end of police brutality and militarization, calling for investment in young people and communities. She has been called one of the 500 most influential Muslims in the world and today, she continues to help connect and empower people across ethnic, racial, and religious lines.
Some of the Arab American community’s most incredible advocates are the young students who fearlessly participate in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) and form and participate in their university’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). These future leaders are up against defamation, harassment, and discrimination from university officials and other student organizations. Yet, SJP continues to grow each year and win victories on behalf of the BDS movement.
This is only a short list of the incredible advocacy Arab Americans conduct in their communities, such as: Ahmad Abuznaid of the Dream Defenders; Ralph Nader’s early work in environmental and safety activism; Rasmea Odeh who is fighting in federal courts for fair trials; and Professor Steven Salaita who advocated for free speech and academic freedom in court after his unfair dismissal from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
While a few individuals and organizations are able make enormous impacts, the task also falls on the community at large and regular citizens to help support these efforts and to work for the betterment of their own communities, one neighborhood at a time.