To discriminate or not to discriminate is the Arab American question

The American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), an organization created to fight discrimination against Arab Americans and defend their civil liberties and human rights, has decided to disinvite a Syrian composer and pianist because he chose to present a piece expressing hope for freedom in his homeland, Syria.

Ben Smith of Politico uncovered this saga in an article published in June 8 issue titled “Arab-American group blocks musician over ‘freedom’ song.” Smith attributes ADC’s decision to disinvite Jandali to a personal friendship between ADC chairman Safa Rifka and Syria’s ambassador. Smith quotes the ambassador of referring to Rifka as “one of his three best friends.”

Hussein Ibish, a former ADC communication director, sees the problem as endemic to the organization’s current leadership and the new direction they have taken. The new direction seems to include fostering relationship with an autocratic regime that has become increasingly brutal at the expense of advancing their original mission.

What is more alarming is that the song itself celebrates freedom in general and does not take a specific political stance. Rejecting it because it could be construed by the pro-Assad members of ADC as critical of a regime that has shown its complete disregard to human rights is troubling. It is a shame that ADC, a human rights organization, would mimic the dictatorial and brutal regime’s paranoia regarding the word "freedom."

By supporting a regime that kills freedom advocates and tortures prisoners of conscience, while sheltering those implicated in corruption and abuse, ADC indeed promotes discrimination in its worst forms and stand in conspicuous contradiction of its declared mission.

In response to criticism, ADC issued a statement citing its long record of defending the rights of Arab Americans. Hoping to be able to placate its critics, it alluded to its intention to serve as “a unifying force that speaks with one voice in the interests of our community as a whole.” Preserving unity is a desirable goal, no one can dispute that, but not when this unity undermines the organization’s ability to maintain moral integrity and the credibility it must have to be able to advance its mission.

The statement went on to talk about “ADC’s resolution not to promote any particular side of a dispute” as a reason for failing to undertake a principled position. This is precisely the problem with ADC current stance, the lack of leadership. Leaders cannot cite their fear of taking side in a dispute among their members when the dispute is about the use of brutal force by Syrian security forces against peaceful demonstrators. ADC leaders must stand on the side of the victims of horrific atrocities instead of expressing ambivalence as to where they should stand on a dispute. ADC members who want to side with dictatorship against a freedom movement do not belong in a civil rights organization and should not be allowed to dictate its direction.

ADC leaders cannot claim to defend the rights of Arab Americans while condoning the brutal violation of Arab rights elsewhere. An anti-discrimination organization cannot discriminate as to when and where human rights matter. In the times of global media and communication, violations of Arab human rights overseas will come to haunt Arab Americans here at home. Martin Luther Kings, Jr. got it right: “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Will ADC leadership heed this wisdom?