I am Arab American. My family came to this great country from Lebanon almost a century ago. They, like hundreds of thousands of other Arab immigrants, came because of the freedom America promised, and the opportunity it provided.
Beginning in a little enclave in Brooklyn, where Kahlil Gibran wrote his most famous work, Arab Americans fanned out across the country. Like the rest of their generation, they survived two Great Wars and a Depression. Yet, despite the hardships they endured and because of the sacrifices they made, they were able to provide their children with the better life they had hoped to find when they arrived on our shores.
In the past sixty years, the descendants of that first wave have been joined by new waves of immigrants from across the Arab world. Today there are almost four million Arab Americans. We are farm workers in California and auto workers in Detroit; doctors in Houston and businessmen in Chicago. We are teachers and lawyers; elected officials, firefighters and police officers; entertainers, athletes and CEOs. Though a diverse community, we share two core beliefs: a love and appreciation of the greatness of America, and a respect for and an attachment to the heritage of our ancestors.
We approach this election, profoundly aware of its importance. Like most Americans, we believe the past eight years have been devastating for our nation. The recklessness and neglect demonstrated by the Bush Administration have taken a toll.
At home we face a shrinking economy. Our industrial base continues to erode, leaving broken communities in the wake of factory closures and the exportation of jobs overseas. Confidence in our financial institutions is at an all-time low as a result of corporate scandals and financial crises that threaten the pensions and homes of millions. In the broader economy, the rising costs of healthcare, education, energy –” and, now, even food –” coincide with the decline in income for the middle class. And in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, we lost confidence in the ability of our government to care for our people’s most basic needs.
As a result, for many, the American dream that inspired millions is in danger of becoming out of reach. And many Americans are no longer confident that their children will be able to match their standard of living.
In the face of these great challenges, the Bush Administration has displayed the characteristics that have become their hallmarks: neglect when action might have made a difference; ignoring reality and, instead, imposing ideologically-based policy when they do act; and, when they inevitably fail, either working to change the subject or dumbing down the definition of victory.
Nowhere has misguided Bush Administration policy been more evident than their behavior in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11th. In the wake of this horror, the American people were united, and the world community rallied in support. But in response to this crisis, the Administration undertook domestic and foreign policies that have shredded our Constitution and squandered international goodwill, while engaging in an ill-conceived unilateral war that has left us at greater risk in a world that has rejected our leadership.
As Arab Americans, we feel the effect of these misguided policies acutely. As a community that maintains close ties to the Middle East, where the United States was once revered, we are stung by anti-American anger, and the disgrace brought to our nation by Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and torture. At the same time, recent Arab immigrants have been profiled, detained and deported without due process. The values that we once projected to the world and protected at home, we now see degraded.
We feel personally the trauma of Iraq, as one-fifth of that country’s population have become refugees or internally displaced persons. 25,000 Arab Americans visiting family members in Lebanon were trapped, and waited too long for help in evacuating, during the war that devastated that country in 2006. And Palestinian Americans, who had such great hope in the prospects of peace during the 1990s, saw this Administration neglect that process, and then elevate a vision of two states while doing little to make that vision real.
This election provides more than a choice between two candidates. What we will decide is whether or not we profoundly change direction, reclaim our values and restore our image around the world. From the incredible excitement he generated during the primaries to the enthusiastic reception he received during his recent nine nation overseas tour, we believe that the election of Barack Obama will send the much needed message that America is back.
The Platform you are writing will send a message, both to the American people and the world. More than just a political document, it will describe the policies we will pursue and the values on which we will stand. It can, we believe, reinforce the hopes of so many that change is on the way.
Others will address many of the failed domestic policies that are making the American dream seem so far away to so many. For my part, I want to focus on some of the critical issues I noted above that uniquely affect my community.
Because we have become so deeply concerned by the erosion of basic civil liberties and the loss of civility in our national discourse, we urge you to:
- Make clear that we will work to restore the balance between protecting civil liberties and national security at home, and that abroad we will honor American values and our treaty obligations. We should specifically call for an end to all racial, ethnic and religious profiling. We must also make clear our commitment to the rule of law including an end to torture, the closure of Guantanamo Bay, and an end to warrantless surveillance.
- Make clear we will reject the demagogues who seek to divide us, and who specifically target Arab Americans and American Muslims; that hate crimes should be punished; and that efforts must be made to strengthen our sense of national community by promoting respect for all faiths and ethnicities.
Because we are deeply troubled by the neglectful and reckless policies pursued by the Bush Administration that have left the Middle East in shambles and America less secure, we support and call for:
- A responsible end to the war in Iraq, working with the Iraqi people to achieve political reform and national reconciliation. More must be done by all parties to support refugees and internally displaced persons, especially vulnerable groups like Chaldeans and Assyrians. In addition, particular attention must be paid to the tens of thousands who worked with the United States and now as a result find themselves at risk. Congress and the President acknowledge the debt we owe to them, a debt we have been too slow in meeting.
- An active and determined diplomatic engagement that strengthens the commitment of all parties to achieve a just, lasting and comprehensive resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, working toward a two-state solution while being attentive to impediments on the ground that make such an outcome more difficult. This diplomacy should ensure the creation of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security –” a Palestine that is viable, contiguous, sovereign and independent alongside an Israel that has secure and recognized borders –” and recognize that the final status of Jerusalem, along with other outstanding issues, should be negotiated between Israel and Palestine with the constructive support of the United States.
- Support for the continued efforts of the Lebanese people to achieve reform, reconciliation and national unity; work to strengthen the Lebanese army and develop other national institutions; investment in economic development that ensures fair distribution of services, opportunities and employment; and encouragement for the implementation of all U.N. reforms; ensuring that U.S. leadership will demonstrate to the Lebanese people that their country, as a unified and sovereign nation, is a respected U.S. partner in the Middle East-rather than a battleground for foreign confrontation or competition.
For generations, millions have been inspired by our great nation and its values. As we acknowledge the damage that has been done, we must remain cognizant of the responsibility that has fallen on our shoulders to restore that hope.
* Testimony of Dr. James Zogby before the DNC 2008 Platform Committee