The American Dream is an Arab American Nightmare


I’m afraid,” Jordanian-born American citizen Ahmad Namrouti.

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Benjamin Franklin

‘Let’s kill all those Arabs. I hate all those camels.’

An unnamed junior in a Metro Detroit High School

The expression “land of the free, home of the brave” is lost on Arab Americans and those of Muslim background these days. Since the tragic events of September 11th, another tragedy has been unfolding as verbal and physical assaults and acts of discrimination have manifest themselves into quasi-public policy.

According to the Council on Arab-Islamic Relations (CAIR), more than 1,500 cases of abuse and discrimination have been reported since September 11.

The latest incident, however, has captured major media headlines; in full Christmas cheer, an American Airlines pilot forcibly removed an armed Arab-American secret service agent from a flight to Dallas. The agent is a bodyguard in President George W. Bush’s security detachment so imagine the outrage, if you will. In a weekend press briefing, Bush lambasted the American Airlines decision, “if he was treated that way because of his ethnicity, that’s — it may be — that will make me madder than heck”.

CNN has reported that the agent, Walid Shater, would probably sue the airline for ignoring his high-level security clearance and the manner in which the pilot and staff handled the affair. Shater’s lawyers claim that the airline ignored the fact that his ticket was issued by a U.S. government agency, that Shater was carrying his badge and photo I.D., and that the pilot never once called the secret service to verify Shater’s identity despite Shater’s suggestion to do so. The pilot would later reveal that he believed the phone number Shater gave him to be the number of an accomplice or “friend” who would lie about Shater’s identity.

American Airlines claims Shater was loud, agressive, and rude. This claim was discredited by passengers who sat next to Shater and witnessed a stewardess go through his jacket and scrutinize a book on Middle East history.

“Pure and simple, this is a case of discrimination,” said attorney John Relman. “This wouldn’t have happened if he wasn’t of Arab descent.”

The fact that such a high profile American citizen is harassed and humiliated because of his Arab origin is finally bringing to the mainstream the anguish and turmoil many Arabs and Muslims face in the U.S.

Take, for example, the harassment U.S. Energy Secretary Specter Abraham (a Christian Arab American) had to endure when he was running for reelection to the Senate from Michigan. According to the Washington Post, “the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which describes itself as an ‘immigration reform organization and watchdog group,’ launched an expensive advertising campaign against his candidacy. One newspaper ad featured a picture of Abraham next to a photo of another man of Middle Eastern appearance. It was Osama bin Laden, now believed to be the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon” (Washington Post, November 27, 2001; Page A11). The ad accused Abraham of facilitating the easy entry of bin Laden’s terrorism to the U.S.

The rising trend of racism against Arab Americans is beginning to push this minority to believe that they are no longer welcome in the U.S. and it may be high noon for a move to greener pastures; possibly north.

According to the New York Times, many Arab Americans have already packed up and left. “Convinced that their community has been singled out for scrutiny by law enforcement and still wary of reprisals by vigilantes, many Muslim and Middle Eastern residents of Southern California say some of their friends and family members have left the United States, leading them to wonder whether they should follow” (The New York Times, November 23, 2001).

In the weeks leading to October 5th, federal hate crime statistics collected from law enforcement agencies revealed a 500 percent rise in hate crimes with nearly 250 anti-Arab incidents, many of them involving violence.

Arab American and Muslim communities fear that they will be interned much like Japanese communities following the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Muslim leaders are shocked that an October 20 CNN-USA Today Gallup poll showed that 49 percent of Americans believe that Arabs in the United States should be required to carry a special ID card. Civil liberties experts warn that this scheme is uncomfortably similar to the Taliban’s issuing of special IDs to non-Muslims and is hauntingly akin to the Nazi requirement that all Jews wear a yellow Star of David to single them out. (The U.S. went to war to oust both the Nazis and the Taliban, right?)

And they are being singled out. An Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reported that

“between Sept. 11 and Dec. 6, the EEOC received 166 complaints of illegal discrimination from members of those groups, mostly involving Muslim workers who were fired from their jobs”. However, most do not report harassment citing their fear that the EEOC is “a government entity,” while other government agencies, particularly the FBI, are pursuing an aggressive, and often controversial, investigation of Muslims.

In an ironic twist of workplace discrimination, a Los Angeles Times article (The Los Angeles Times, 1/1/2002) raised the possibility that the abrupt firing of David Lehrer, the Los Angeles regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) may be linked to his amicable ties with Muslim community leaders. Lehrer spent 27 years with the ADL.

In addition to public scrutiny, cold stares, fire-bombings of mosques, Islamic centers and churches, racial profiling and murder, the Arab American and Muslim communities must contend with senseless banter from ‘free’ media and the fanatic purge of evangelists and religious zealots. The so-called “religious scholars and clerics” are initiating a paramount Maleus Maleficarum witch hunt of their own.

In October, Franklin Graham, a miserly evangelist proclaimed that “the God of Islam is not the same God. He’s not the son of God of the Christian or Judeo-Christian faith. It’s a different God and I believe it is a very evil and wicked religion.”

A few weeks later, frustrated syndicated columnist Ann Coulter, at an Oregon State University speech, called all Middle Easterners “camel riding nomads’. That follows in line with her September call to “invade their countries, kill their [Arab] leaders, and convert them to Christianity…”

No need for invasion, however. “Calling Christianity “the only true religion,” the Rev. James Merritt, president of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, urged Southern Baptists to pray and fast on Ramadan’s final day, Dec. 16, that Muslims “will find the true way to heaven, and this is through Jesus Christ” (Philadelphia Inquirer, November 28, 2001).

Fueling the anti-Arab, anti-Muslim pogrom are views like those of Nolan Finley, editor of the Detroit News. Last week, Finley brazenly said that “extremists make up about 15 percent of Islam’s followers. If not dealt with before that number reaches 30 or 50 percent, the clash of civilizations …will be inevitable.” Finley believes that Muslims have a “chronic inability to live peacefully with neighbors of a different culture” (The Detroit News, 1/1/2002). Finley must have either not read up on Islam during his college years, or never made it that far academically.

Not to be outdone, Randall Terry, the founder of a pro-life movement told a live radio show audience that he believes the Prophet “Mohammed was a terrorist”. No uproar, no frantic calls of protest and astonishment, no liability. In the U.S. today, Muslims and Arab Americans are fair targets.

A December 30th vandalism of an Ohio mosque (copies of the Quran were shredded) gained little attention in U.S. media. Instead, the airwaves were festooned with the tragic news that Buddy, the Clinton’s prized dog, died last week. The story received front page attention in the U.S.

Firas Al-Atraqchi is a Muslim Canadian journalist living on the Pacific Coast.

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