Highs and Lows for Arab Americans at Home and Abroad—A 2020 Retrospective
By: John Mason/ Arab America Contributing Writer
Here, we review some of the major events that affected Arab Americans as well as Arabs around the world. In all, 2020 was a tumultuous year for many of the world’s citizens. The impact of events includes some rare moments of entertainment; many continuing effects of Covid, including medical and public health issues; financial and economic conditions affecting particularly the poor; and political results that have deeply affected Americans. For each month of 2020, we pose one event or issue that causally relate to Arab Americans. There are many such events that we could have considered, but these are a selection chosen by contributing writer John Mason, based on his posts during the year.
January- Shakira, Dancing Like an Arab at the Super Bowl— “Hips don’t
Late January-early February of 2020 started out very well for Arab Americans. Especially if you watched the Super Bowl on Sunday, February 2, just a bit before the Covid virus appeared. You would have been impressed by the influence of Shakira’s Arab background on her music and dance. You would have been surprised to hear distinctly Arab musical and dance rhythms in her performance. While she has absorbed her Lebanese Arab roots over time, Shakira now seems to embody that connection. And, while she is a thoroughly Latin woman, she is relying more and more on the influence of her father’s Arab background in her music. Arab Americans were allowed a moment to feel proud of another Arab American, though an Arab of Latin American origin.
February- The Peace Charade of the Century–Score: Israel Everything, Palestine Nothing
The Trump Peace Plan of the Century that we saw in early February was a ruse, a charade, a cynical, Machiavellian ploy to help Netanyahu in his upcoming election, but more dangerously, a road map to destroy the peace process itself. The Trump-Kushner plan did not bring peace to Israel and Palestine. A fear was that it might make the post-occupation of Palestine by Israel permanent. That, in turn, could result in a one-state solution, which some critics have described as ‘apartheid’ and, given the demographic that favors the Palestinians, a time bomb just waiting to go off.
The plan seems to have been facilitated by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jew whose family donates to occupied-West Bank Jewish settlements but dictated by the right-wing Netanyahu government. The Guardian captured the situation perfectly, “Quite apart from its gross offense to justice and basic humanity, the striking point about the Trump-Netanyahu plan is its complete lack of reality in relation to the situation in the Middle East.” This report suggests that were the tables turned and Palestine had dominion over the lives of Israelis, the latter would certainly not quietly accept such a one-sided arrangement.
March- It’s Inevitable: The Coronavirus has Hit the Arab World—How are they Handling It?
During March, it seemed that in the beginning of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the Arab countries were managing it as well as possible. They did not seem to have been left flat-footed by the arrival of the virus, unlike another country, whose initials are the U.S. As all countries in the world were hit by the coronavirus, most Arab countries recorded new coronavirus infections. At the time, in March, the World Health Organization believes it was too soon to announce a global pandemic due to the virus, WHO did not rule out it’s becoming a pandemic. Indeed, the pandemic came to pass. The evidence in March was that, till then, ministries of health of Arab countries were up to the initial task of identifying and responding to the early stage of this pernicious infectious disease.
April- Zooming Ramadan–Practicing the Fasting Pillar of Islam during COVID-19
Stressful times, including pandemics, had been with us for millennia, but this pandemic of the COVID-19 virus is the first time many of us have experienced such behavior-altering moments. By March, some of us were reminded of the shutdown of 9/11, the austerity of World War II, and the poverty and outright misery inflicted more than a century ago by the Great Depression and an earlier pandemic. The Covid pandemic, however, had brought the entire world to a practical standstill. In this context, the celebration of Ramadan in 2020 will go down as unique.
May- Arab American Doctors on the Frontlines of the Pandemic
If you had happened to be a consumer of cable TV, by May you has probably seen a large number of Arab American physicians, nurses, epidemiologists, and other public health experts discussing the Covid-19 Pandemic. It might seem that these health workers had had an oversized role in dealing with the Pandemic, given that Arab Americans only comprise less than 1% of the total U.S. population. The number of these specialists, in fact, represents their impressive part in serving patients and in analyzing the public health aspects of how to improve the management of Covid-19 across the country. Many of them are women physicians and nurses.
June- Arab Americans “All In” for Black Lives Matter
Many Arab Americans had been used to being “categorized” according to some criteria or other, whether this stemmed from the 9/11 attacks or the more recent Trump “Muslim Ban.” More specifically harmful were the racist remarks, which in June were directed by President Trump at four Democratic freshmen women in the House of Representatives, including Arab American Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. All are women of color. Trump tweeted for them to “go back home [to the] places from which they came.” And this, even though three of these women, including Tlaib, were born in the U.S. Indeed, it was not a great chasm for Arab Americans to leap to support African Americans or Black Americans in their moment of travail triggered by the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25? It did not take long for many Arab American communities around the U.S. to react to the history and moment of white police violence against people of color.
July- A Time Bomb that Continues to Tick—New Census of Palestinians Spells more Danger to a Single Jewish State Model
By July, we found that a new census of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and the diaspora is only a fresh reminder to observers and policymakers involved in the Israel-Palestine conflict, that the unrelenting population growth in the Israel occupied territories will come home to roost if a single-state solution becomes the option. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, in reporting on its recent census, noted that there are approximately 13.5 Palestinians in “historical Palestine and diaspora.” Of that figure, about 5.1 million are in what the census labels the State of Palestine, namely in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. The remaining 8 million are spread over the rest of the globe. A further distinction is that 3.05 million Palestinians reside in the West Bank, while 2.05 live in the Gaza Strip. Occupied Territory Palestinians are about equally split among females and males.
August- Help Me, Help You–Biden Campaign Readjusts its Course: A New ‘Plan for Partnership with Arab Americans’
By August, the Biden campaign came forth directly to address the contributions of Arab Americans to “the fabric of our nation.” In ‘Joe Biden and the Arab American Community: A plan for Partnership,’ the presidential campaign took up the cause of anti-Arab bigotry and the Trump administration ban on Muslim immigration. Biden pledged to include an array of Arab Americans across a Biden-Harris Administration. The campaign took the opportunity to address specifically Arab American issues, in the context of the politically salient question of “restoring our values as a Nation of Immigrants.” One of Biden’s press release noted, “On day one, Joe Biden will rescind the un-American Muslim travel and refugee bans and will cease the immoral family separation policy. Biden noted that he will reestablish the United States as a welcoming destination for those seeking to pursue the American dream, including immigrants from the Arab world.
September- A Noble Woman, a Noble Cause—Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, “Fighting the Good Fight for Palestine all my Life”
During September, Arab America had the pleasure of a Zoom Meeting visit with Dr. Hanan Ashrawi from Ramallah, Palestine. She generously shared her broad knowledge of what it means to be an Arab, an Arab American, and a Palestinian. She expressed her belief that bringing our Arab American populations under the banner of heritage is an effective way of organizing. Also, when responded to questions from the audience, Dr. Ashrawi made the negotiated settlement for Palestinians as the basis of an excellent discussion, including the role of Israel and the U.S. in affecting or constraining such a settlement. Dr. Ashrawi discussed some practical steps Arab Americans can take in supporting the Palestinian cause.
October- Michigan Arab Americans could Tip the Scale towards Biden in November 3d
Jill Biden visited Dearborn, Michigan in October to make a case for her husband Joe’s bid for the presidency. She made the visit in part to make up for earlier presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton’s, absence in Michigan in the runup to the 2016 election, in which 10,000 popular votes would have kept Michigan from giving up its electoral votes. In 2016, we recall, the Clinton campaign in Michigan lost the primary to Bernie Sanders, signaling that she had a problem. A complaint had been that Hillary never visited the Arab community to listen to them and that she’d gone to Detroit, but never came Dearborn, even though she had been traveling nearby. It was felt by some Arab Americans that a Trump presidency could have been avoided if Clinton had only listened to American Arabs.
November- Arab-Israeli Accords Seem more about Trade, less about Peace—at least for Palestinians
Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain, in November, signaled a rearrangement of part of the Middle East map, at least in symbolic terms. Neither of these Arab countries had fired a shot at Israel, so that the accords seemed more akin to opening trade relations, including a strong dose of tourism. One important concession of the accord with the UAE is that the annexation of over 30% of the occupied Palestinian territory has been taken off the table for the time being. However, the accords mention nothing about peace in the Middle East that includes Palestinian interests. Trump boasted about his “Abraham Accords,” as his new claim to fame on the Mideast peace front. In 2017, according to the Washington Post, “’ We will get it done,’ Trump told reporters, saying that the task was ‘not as difficult as people have thought over the years.’” Trump believes these accords are bringing an end to “blood” in the Middle East. This, despite the fact the neither the UAE nor Bahrain had ever fired a shot on Israel.
December- What if—The Holy Family tried to Enter Bethlehem Today? Reflections on an Occupied Palestinian Town—Then and Now
In December we looked at the historic town of Bethlehem, the town of Jesus’ birth, to reconstruct what it would be like were Jesus’ family, Mary, and Joseph, to seek refuge there today. We found that their fate might have ended up as follows: The shepherds would be stuck inside the walls, unable to leave their little town. Jesus might have been born at the checkpoint like so many Palestinian children while having the Magi and shepherds on both sides of the wall. This situation, while perhaps exaggerated, is not so far afield from how Palestinians are treated when they approach checkpoints to Bethlehem.
These selected events are a mix of positive, negative, and neutral outcomes occurring this year. We are still awaiting some results in the political arena, which are mostly linked to an erratic and debased U.S. presidency. At this moment, these results are not tied to strictly Arab American interests, but are, rather, of importance to Americans generally. It is gratifying that many Arab American interests will be represented by the new presidency of Biden and Harris. InshA’allah!
John Mason, PhD., who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi, Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and the American University in Cairo; John served with the United Nations in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively on socioeconomic and political development for USAID, the UN, and the World Bank in 65 countries.
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