Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 2012, Pages 44-45

Muslim-American Activism

CAIR Chicago Commemorates Arab American Heritage Month

alt(L-r) Cook County Judge the Hon. William J. Haddad, Prof. Laith Saud and Ahmed Rehab discuss the Arab Spring and American Autumn. (Photo L. Jaber)

The Chicago Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) commemorated Arab American Heritage Month with a Nov. 13 panel discussion on the Arab Spring and its momentous effects on not just the Middle East, but also the United States.

Aptly entitled, "From Arab Spring to American Autumn," the discussion focused on the aftermath of the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya and the current "Occupy Wall Street" movement here at home. "The Arab Spring was a source of human inspiration to Americans," explained DePaul University Prof. Laith Saud. "But the Arab Spring isn't about overthrowing dictatorship, but a demand for accountability…And that's what Occupy Wall Street is all about," he continued. The sheer force of the events that took place in Cairo's Tahrir Square moved the American people and really began to dispel many myths that people had about Arabs. And this, in turn, created a positive space of dynamism, Saud explained.

Ahmed Rehab, CAIR Chicago's executive director, who witnessed the revolution in Egypt firsthand, recalled: "We saw the Egyptian people taking ownership and the real fabric of the Egyptian people, standing side by side [with each other]." But the work left to be done in Egypt is far from over, he added. The removal of President Hosni Mubarak has left uncertainty about Egypt's future, leaving a lot of room for the rise of different political forces and special interest groups. But regardless of the instability Egypt is experiencing now, Rehab said, one thing is for sure—and that is that people are demanding democracy. "While there is fear and uncertainty now," he said, "people are serious about a change for democracy."

According to Cook County Judge the Hon. William J. Haddad, as we Americans see a shift taking place throughout the Middle East, we must also be attentive to the concerns and wrongdoing there as well, and be ready to combat it. "We are now dealing with a new concern," he warned. "Muslims are being blamed for violence in the Middle East against Christians." Although these incidents are happening on the fringe and do not represent the true feelings of the majority of the people in that part of the world, he added, it remains a concern.

Haddad asserted that political zealots in America are ready to criticize Muslims at the first opportunity. Human rights concerns about Christians in the Middle East, protecting the integrity of Muslims and Islam, and the possibility of backlash against Arabs and Muslims in the U.S. and overseas are just a few of the reasons why Arab and Muslim communities should be aware of the atrocities that are taking place against Christians abroad.

Ultimately, the potential of the Arab Spring is one of beauty and possibility that will, inevitably, reach Americans and inspire them to demand accountability and transformation for their own people.

Leen Jaber

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