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Hug an Arab Day' Welcome in Wake of Fort Hood

posted on: Nov 18, 2009

In the facebook world, November 20th is a day of importance. It is the official “Hug an Arab Day”, an event that has only been circulating the social website for the past two weeks, but has thus far managed to confirm 13,593 members. The instructions that guests must adhere to are the following: 1) Find an Arab, 2) Hug the Arab, and 3) Repeat steps 1 and 2. Although generally comical, groups like this may be needed now more than ever in order to counter the resurgence of negative discourse surrounding Arab and Muslim Americans.

The event namely contributing to this resurgence is the November 5th Fort Hood attack in which Major Nidal Malik Hasan took 13 lives on the U.S. Army base where he served as a psychiatrist. The fact that Hasan is an American of Palestinian heritage (with parents said to be from the West Bank) and is simultaneously Muslim has unfortunately contributed to the reappearance of extreme anti-Muslim sentiments.

Bloggers, political pundits, and even politicians have unduly begun to judge an entire faith and ethnicity based on the actions of an individual. Syrian-American author Alia Malek recently wrote about these dangers in the Washington Post, saying “In that vacuum, acts of a single individual, Major Hasan, cast a shadow of collective guilt on millions of Americans.”

Directly following the incident, the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) released a statement condemning the actions of the perpetrator and additionally made the community aware of potential backlash. While as of yet no major hate crimes have been noted against Arab or Muslim Americans, ADC still expresses concern over the current discourse: “Our worry is that hateful commentary of bloggers and pundits begins to incite others. The problem comes when you have people going from hate speech to hate action,” says ADC Legal Adviser, Abed Ayoub.

ADC Michigan Regional Director, Imad Hamad, has also expressed concern for local Arab American residents, saying “Unfortunately, some people will use this incident as a reason to condemn anyone who shares the same ethnic and religious background; however, it should not be guilt by association.” In terms of immediate backlash, there have been incidents of threat to highly visible community leaders as well as an influx of hate-mail, yet Hamad hopes this reaction will be the worst of its impact.

So now the question is, how do Arab Americans best remedy their tainted image? Jordanian-American and “Hug an Arab Day” creator, Ash Kakish thinks his group will help in some capacity. He says “It seems the word “Arab” has become synonymous with violence and destruction. A day like this gives us an excuse to laugh and lighten the mood.” Through this group, Kakish is humanizing Arabs, reminding Americans that they too have feelings and enjoy hugs just as anyone else would.

On the other hand, Alia Malek believes the best way to re-shape the current image is through good citizenship: “Arab Americans should be visible and active members of their communities, which means building relationships as individuals and as organizations with the institutions and folks that make up a community.” Whether it’s more civic engagement or just a hug in passing, there is no doubt that any positive action is welcome and encouraged in the wake of Fort Hood.

Ameera David
Arab Detroit