Jul 28th 2009

Our Path

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

On July 20th, I was invited by the Department of Justice to deliver the closing remarks at a conference organized to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the Civil Rights Bill, here are some excerpts from my remarks

The story of Arab Americans coming of age, as an organized community, is a classic American tale-of immigrants seeking opportunity, benefiting from America's freedoms, while also experiencing the dark side of discrimination that has haunted our nation's history.

Although most Americans of Arab ancestry are descendants of that wave of immigrants who came to America in the pre- and post-World War One era--our development as an organized community is more recent.

As a result of The National Origins Act of 1924, quotas for Arabs were near zeroed out, and maintained at low levels until the 1960's. Partly due to this growth-stunting exclusion, and the intense pressure of assimilation that characterized the American scene in that era, the impetus toward becoming a self-conscious organized community did not take hold until the late 1960's-a bi-product of the transformative power of the civil rights movement.

As Arab Americans, we, too, marched and sat-in for civil rights and celebrated the great victories of that period. But as the civil rights movement morphed into a cultural nationalist awakening-there was a profound additional impact.

As African Americans claimed their "Roots," there came the realization among many other ethnic communities that we too had "Roots"-and we were now enabled to give voice to their importance in shaping our identity.

As Americans of Arab descent came together, we discovered a shared pride in a common heritage and we began the task of creating organizations that gave voice to our concerns and advanced our rights.

Here we encountered difficulties, in part due to those who sought to silence our emerging voice, and also to the negative stereotypes that presented an enormous hurdle to our acceptance and our efforts at self-definition.

It is no accident, therefore, that our first major national organization was devoted to combating negative stereotypes, fighting discrimination and providing services to our underserved community.

During this period, law enforcement agencies not only did not help, they were a problem. They harassed, conducted broad surveillance of our organizations and compiled extensive intelligence files on Arab American activists.

At the same time, too little was done to defend our rights. My office was fire-bombed in 1980. Other Arab American offices were targeted in a spate of attacks in the mid-1980's, one of which murdered my friend, Alex Odeh in 1985. During all this time, there was not a single indictment or arrest.

And there was exclusion. In 1983, when we were invited to participate in the 20th anniversary of Dr. King's March on Washington, some groups threatened to withdraw unless Arab Americans were removed. It was painful, but with the support of strong allies in the civil rights leadership, we stood our ground.

The Jesse Jackson Presidential campaigns of '84 and '88 provided Arab Americans our first opportunity, as an organized community, to participate as a political constituency. We registered and mobilized our voters, ran and won elections and formed political clubs.

Here we experienced new problems. Some candidates returned our contributions, and others rejected our endorsements.

Still we persisted, and with the help of allies, our advance continued. Jesse Jackson helped us knock on the door, Ron Brown opened it, and Bill Clinton welcomed us in and sat us at the table. Had it not been for the advances we made during the 1990's-the access we gained, the empowerment we experienced and the allies we developed-we would not have been able to withstand the challenges we faced in the aftermath of 9/11.

The horrific terrorist attacks of September 11 were a profound and painful tragedy for all Americans. They were a dual tragedy for Arab Americans. As Americans, it was our country that was attacked. Arab Americans died in the attacks. Arab Americans were also at Ground Zero, as 1st responders.

Sadly, however, many Arab Americans were torn away from mourning with our fellow Americans, becoming the targets of hate crimes and discrimination.

But, then, something very important happened. The American people rallied to our defense, making it clear that, despite the enormity of the challenge, a new dynamic was at work.

President Bush spoke out forcefully against hate, and both Houses of Congress unanimously passed resolutions condemning hate crimes against Arab Americans and Muslims. For the first time, law enforcement agencies investigated and prosecuted hate crimes, and ordinary citizens defended and protected us, refusing to allow bigots to define America.

Arab Americans are proud to have played a crucial role in the Post-9/11 era, serving on the front lines of the war on terrorism as police, firefighters, soldiers, FBI agents, and translators. And, when called on, we worked to assist federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

We helped to create the first Arab American FBI Advisory Committee, and began regular meetings with the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice to share concerns and work through problems.

But all is still not well.

At the same time that these positive developments were occurring, an entirely different and negative message was being sent. Of special concern were the 2003 Racial Profiling Guidelines implemented by Attorney General Ashcroft that allowed ethnic, racial and religious profiling against Arab and Muslim Americans. This initiative was enlarged upon, in 2008, by Attorney General Mukasey whose new guidelines opened the door to even greater abuses-casting a cloud of suspicion over my entire community.

Profiling, and the dangerous conflation of immigration policy and national security policy, took many forms in the post-9/11 era. From the initial roundup of over 1,200 Arab and Muslim immigrants, the call-ups of 5,000 and then 3,000 Arab immigrants and visitors, to the NSEERS program, a badly conceived, poorly planned and arbitrarily implemented effort.

FBI and other officials, with whom I have spoken, have criticized the usefulness of these profiling initiatives, calling them a waste of manpower that produced little useful information, and damaged their community outreach efforts.

We are now, I believe, at the start of a new era. Leaders in my community have met with the new leadership at DOJ and DHS, and our relationship with the FBI, though tested at times, has developed, and in many instances, born fruit. In many ways, this conference today marks not only a commemoration of a past victory, but a renewed commitment to building on this past to ensure a freer tomorrow-sending the clear message that our march continues.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: " I remember recounting fellow leaders of the story of a Rwanda schoolboy caught up in the genocide of the 1990s and now immortalized in the Kigali Genocide Memorial museum, where, in a section devoted to children, one can find his photograph and a plaque that reads: ----- David, age 11 ...... Ambition: to be a doctor ...... Favorite sport: football ...... Favorite hobby: making people laugh ...... Death: by mutilation ...... Last words: the UN are coming to save us ----- In his idealism and innocence, David believed the international community would save him and his mother. We didn’t. "
Jun 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " While many conservative Republicans opposed Trump and saw that he posed a danger to their party and democracy itself, they were hesitant to buck the mass movement they had created, fearing that it would turn against them. Some of these same conservatives assumed that with Trump's defeat, the horror of January 6th, and the former president's banishment from social media, the time had come to restore sanity to their party. But the GOP leadership’s continued cowering in the face of what they now call "Trump's base" has caused them to circle the wagons and purge their ranks of those who call for sanity. "
May 26th 2021
Editor's Note: This article is about the Federal Reserve, inflation in the 1970's, and possible similarities to today.
May 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "Netanyahu claims to be acting in the name of the Jewish people. He certainly is not. Many Jews around the world, including me, despise Netanyahu’s racist politics. As an American, I am also deeply troubled by the US government’s knee-jerk support of Israel. Fortunately, I am not alone in this view. A growing number of Democratic Congressmen, Jews and non-Jews alike, have called on the United States to stop supporting Israel’s lawlessness. The truth is that the US government’s uncritical support for Israel has come to depend more on evangelical Christians, such as former US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, than on American Jews, who are deeply divided by Netanyahu’s actions. And the evangelicals’ real interest in Zionism is not Jews’ security, but Armageddon, the end of the world, which they believe will come only when all Jews are in Israel."
May 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "This period in US history could go down as the moment when America’s democratic system for electing a president – the most consequential duty of US citizens – was broken, perhaps for good."
May 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "While reading Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) monumental report “A Threshold Crossed,” I felt a range of emotions. It also left me with one big question. I was deeply impressed by the report’s rigorous scholarship. At the same time, it brought to the surface feelings of anger and profound sadness. It’s an extraordinarily complete study detailing not only the many ways Israel has violated a broad range of Palestinian human rights, but the ideology of racial superiority and entitlement that Israel has used to justify its repression." ..... "My advice to both Israel’s defenders and weak-kneed liberals is​, “Read the damn report.” "
May 16th 2021
EXTRACTS: .... "He transformed a transitioning market economy into a stable statist project that rests on an alliance of his inner circle," ..... "He transformed Russia from a respected member of the international community into a rogue state" .... ". He energized NATO by providing it with the adversary it lacked after the end of the cold war," ..... "He befriended hopelessly corrupt, dysfunctional, and unstable dictatorships..." ..... "He forged a quasi-alliance with China, thereby enhancing Russia’s dependence on the one country that might have reason to appropriate those Russian territories inhabited by Chinese."
May 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "On the face of it, the latest escalation of violence is following the template of all inter-ethnic wars. Muslims observing Ramadan shouted nationalist slogans and clashed with Israeli right-wing groups chanting “Death to the Arabs.” The Israelis haughtily marched with their national flag on Jerusalem Day, marking Israel’s capture in 1967 of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the site of the biblical Second Temple, and of Al-Aqsa, completed in the year 705. Battles in and around the Al-Aqsa compound erupted, with worshipers inside throwing stones at the Israeli police, who responded by firing rubber-tipped bullets and other projectiles, wounding hundreds."
May 13th 2021
"Regardless of how the current and future violent conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians in Jerusalem will end, there will be no Israeli-Palestinian peace unless East Jerusalem becomes the capital of a Palestinian state while the city remains united."
May 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " Would the United States be prepared to risk a catastrophic war with the People’s Republic of China to protect the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan? "
May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."