Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May 2004, pages 72-74

Arab-American Activism

Nader Speaks to Arab Students

Presidential candidate Ralph Nader spoke at the 6th National Annual Arab American Student Conference banquet sponsored by the Union of Arab Student Associations (UASA), and held Feb. 14 at the Saints Peter and Paul Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church in Potomac, MD.

Nader began his talk on a somber note, saying these are “very troubled times for the Arab-American and Muslim-American communities.” Since Sept. 11, 2001, he said, Arabs and Muslims have had to bear the brunt of “prosecutorial misconduct.” Pointing to the use of “secret evidence,” a procedure that the government first began using in 1996 to detain Arab and Muslim immigrants, Nader said an “historical shift in authority [took place] in which authority shifted from the courts to the executive branch.”

Nader also briefly decried the prison conditions of inmates “who haven’t even been convicted and tried.” Comparing the justice system now with his law school days “years ago,” Nader said, “I wouldn’t have dreamed of this world with no lawyers or trials.”

He told his audience of mostly young Arab-American students that there are two ways they could respond to the current civil rights crisis: “to hunker down and cower in a frightened fashion” or to approach it “with an historical mission” to strengthen the civil rights of all Americans. During the civil rights movement, he pointed out, fighting for the civil rights of African Americans ultimately expanded the rights of the entire population.

Nader, who formally declared his presidential candidacy on Feb. 23, also criticized the Bush administration’s “politics of fear,” saying politicians are using fear and manipulating the public to win elections. Assessing some of President George W. Bush’s foreign policies, Nader observed that “every day there is a new horror story in Afghanistan.” He added, “U.S. bombs are randomly killing civilians and [yet] it is painted as a success story.”

The “use of fear as a political tactic” extends to the war on Iraq, Nader explained. Pointing to inconsistencies in policy, he recalled, “Saddam was our boy against the Communists.”

Expressing frustration with the “quagmire” in Iraq, he commented, “Bush learned that it’s a lot easier to put [construction giant] Halliburton in Iraq than to get our troops out of there.”

Nader, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Lebanon, said immigrants should not be defensive when it comes to criticizing policy. He recalled that his father, who was known to engage in intense political debates, “never censored himself.” Nader said that young Arab Americans should similarly participate in civil society and speak out against injustices like the PATRIOT Act.

Pointing to successful figures like Dr. Michael Shadid, an immigrant from Syria who was a pioneer of pre-paid medicine, and Hassan Fathy, an Egyptian architect who “taught illiterate Egyptians how to build homes,” Nader said Arab Americans should be proud of their heritage.

“Step back and look at these performances of excellence so some of your friends with inferiority complexes will be able to hold their heads much higher,” he told the students.

Addressing activism on behalf of Palestinians, Nader said students should work to influence Congress through “meticulous organizations” that are “highly motivated on a local and national level.” He encouraged them to study how the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC became an influential force in Washington.

When asked why he was considering running for president once again, Nader said he would like to “mobilize young people in this country.” There likely would be no mention of such crucial topics as repealing the PATRIOT Act if he did not join the race, he added.

Laila Al-Arian

Ralph Nader Enters Presidential Race

Ralph Nader outlined his 2004 presidential election platform at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on Feb. 23. As expected from his 2000 campaign, his statements focused primarily on the corporate control of both the Democratic and Republican parties. In addition to remarking on the Bush administration’s poor environmental policy and the abysmal state of the job market, Nader also cited the egregious violations of due process that the Bush administration is committing with the help of the “PATRIOT-less” act.

Describing the treatment of Arab and Muslim Americans as particularly atrocious, he suggested—although without detailing specific policy changes—that Americans need to re-examine their steadfast commitment to civil liberties, and shy away from legal policies that leave us with racial profiling as a modus operandi.

Regarding Iraq, Nader insisted that Kurds, Shi’i and Sunnis all need to be involved in the reconstruction project, and called for extended humanitarian assistance. He also recommended U.N. involvement and a withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Following his remarks, Nader was predictably bombarded by questions as to why he was choosing to run as a “spoiler” and thus help keep the Bush administration in office. He answered the many variations on the theme by reiterating that he was not running as a “spoiler,” but in order to give an alternate choice in the election. When asked why he refused to run as a Democrat, he responded, “I don’t choose to run in wealth primaries” citing Howard Dean’s $10 million budget in Iowa.

Unfortunately, the focus of most of the questions precluded Nader presenting substantially alternative and thoughtful points of view on urgent issues. If the Democrats do not have a more imaginative policy than “Anybody but Bush” he argued, it will fail them both on election day and, if elected, afterward, as the candidate-elect will have no mandate which he has been commissioned to follow. This sort of blank check, Nader argued, only serves to propagate corporate influence on American government.

With a nod to Noam Chomsky, the latest presidential candidate implored Americans to pay as much attention to the current election as we might to our sports teams.

Amanda Gibbon

Results of First Presidential Election Arab-American Tracking Poll

In a poll of Arab Americans conducted by the Arab American Institute Foundation (AAI), potential voters in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida expressed overwhelming dissatisfaction with President George W. Bush, fragile support for Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), and small but significant backing for Ralph Nader. AAI president Dr. James J. Zogby presented the results of the first tracking poll March 12 at the organization’s headquarters in Washington, DC. The poll was the first in a series of five leading up to the November presidential elections. Each state polled has a relatively high Arab-American population and is predicted to be a swing state in the upcoming election.

When asked how they would vote if the election were to be held today between Bush and Kerry, 54 percent of respondents supported Kerry and 30 percent supported Bush. This is in contrast to numbers from the 2000 elections where Bush received the backing of the Arab-American community (which, according to the Abu Dhabi Television Poll conducted by Zogby International, voted 45.5 percent for Bush and 38 percent for Gore, nationally).

The AAI’s Zogby (brother of the pollster) alluded to voters’ disappointment with Bush’s Middle East policy, as well as with his overall job performance. Arab Americans, he stressed, not only are voting on U.S. foreign policy, but are concerned with all the issues facing the country—the economy and healthcare included.

In the projected two-way race, Kerry received wide support across the poll’s demographic subsections. The numbers changed, however, when voters were asked about a three-way race—specifically one with Ralph Nader in the mix. In a three-way race, Bush received 27 percent of the vote, Kerry 43 percent and Nader 20 percent.

Zogby noted that these numbers are remarkable for a number of reasons. First, the poll shows that Nader’s numbers have swelled from 2000 (when, according to the Abu Dhabi Television Poll, Nader received 13.5 percent nationally).

Secondly, Zogby continued, Nader supporters tended to come predominantly from the native-born, college-educated, and female subsections of the Arab-American community. Those who said they would support Nader also seemed to be driven by specific issues, with 80 percent indicating that a candidate’s position on the Arab-Israeli conflict would be “very important” in determining their vote.

Finally, of those who said they would support Nader, 50 percent would have supported John Kerry in a two-candidate race, 16 percent would have voted for Bush, and the remainder would have voted for an unspecified alternate candidate. Displaying numbers from the 2000 race, Zogby showed that such numbers could be significant on election day.

Zogby concluded by suggesting that candidates should be working to court the Arab-American vote, and cited Bush’s recent television commercials as a step in the wrong direction. Although Zogby, a member of the Democratic National Committee, did not elaborate on why Arab Americans were turning away from Kerry in favor of Nader, he did mention that, in his opinion, it was not an either/or proposition between the Arab-American and Jewish-American vote. “There is a language that reaches both communities,” he observed. “A candidate can be committed to a language that works with both sides.”

Complete results of the first of five polls leading up to the 2004 elections are available at <http://www.aaiusa.org/>.

Amanda Gibbon

DC-Based ATFP Dedicated to Creation of Viable Palestinian State

The American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) was founded in Washington, DC on July 15, 2003 to advocate the establishment of a viable and independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

The idea for an organization focused solely on Palestine started as a series of conversations between Ziad Asali, then president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), and several prominent Palestinian Americans, including the late Edward Said as well as former White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu. These initial discussions stressed the need for a separate and distinct voice to speak on the issue of Palestine from an American point of view, given that the creation of a Palestinian state was now a stated objective of U.S. foreign policy. A board of directors was formed and, soon thereafter, ATFP was up and running under the direction of an Executive Committee comprising Dr. Asali, Rashid Khalidi, Talat Othman, Reema Ali, Jesse Aweida, Hani Masri and George Salem.

From offices overlooking the White House, ATFP advocates a viable and independent Palestinian state, based on relevant United Nations resolutions, to live separately and in peace alongside Israel. Specifically, ATFP advocates the following six principles toward a fair and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

  1. Two sovereign states—Israel and Palestine—living side by side in peace and security based on the borders of June 4, 1967, with mutually agreed upon territorial adjustments.
  2. An end to the Israeli occupation and the evacuation of all Israeli settlements, save for equitable arrangements mutually agreed upon by the negotiating parties.
  3. A just solution for the Palestinian refugee problem, in accordance with international legality and the relevant U.N. resolutions.
  4. A shared Jerusalem open to all faiths, serving as the capital of two states, providing for the fulfillment of the political aspirations of both the Palestinian and Israeli peoples.
  5. Full acceptance of Israel by all Arab states, and normalized diplomatic and economic relations throughout the region.
  6. A Marshall Plan-style package of aid and investment for Palestine and the new Middle East.

In addition, ATFP seeks to promote awareness of the far-reaching benefits that Palestinian statehood will have for the United States in the following areas:

  1. Enhancing national security, as well as regional peace and stability;
  2. The proliferation of American values of freedom and democracy, through the creation of a democratic and constitutional state for the Palestinian people; and
  3. The expansion of economic opportunities throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds, in an atmosphere of peace and cooperation.

ATFP firmly believes that Palestinian statehood will remove the single greatest source of anti-American sentiment throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds, and will open the door to a trillion dollar marketplace.

The major difference between ATFP’s effort and that of previous Arab and Arab-American organizations is that ATFP benefits from having a singular focus based on what is in America’s national interest, as opposed to serving a set constituency. ATFP also approaches the issue as an American organization rather than as a foreign entity.

The new organization has been able to reach high-level Washington decision makers, with ATFP President Ziad Asali having recently testified before Congress. In the past few months ATFP has written for or appeared on CNN, Charlie Rose, National Public Radio, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Hill, the Jewish Journal, as well as several Arab newspapers.

Outreach efforts have included presentations to the United States Congress; American, Cornell, George Washington and George Mason universities; and the National Council of Churches, Churches for Middle East Peace, and Temple Adas Israel in Washington, DC.

On a daily basis ATFP provides a “Mideast News Roundup” to thousands of decision makers, academics, journalists, activists and 97 percent of congressional offices. This news is compiled from various national and international sources to give readers a comprehensive view of the events taking place in Israel and Palestine.

Through these activities ATFP hopes to change the image of Palestinians in America and illustrate why it is in America’s best interest to support a fair and lasting peace in the region. ATFP’s funding comes from its board of directors and from individuals across the United States. It receives no institutional or governmental support.

To learn more about the American Task Force on Palestine or to sign up for its Mideast News Roundup visit <www.americantaskforce.org> or e-mail <[email protected]>.

—Nino Kader

Hussein Ibish Workshop Teaches Students Effective Arguments

The Union of Arab Student Associations (UASA) held its 6th Annual Arab American Student Conference from Feb. 13 to 15 at the George Washington University in Washington, DC.

The conference featured a variety of sessions, including workshops, lectures, and movies. Among the speakers was Dr. Hussein Ibish, communications director of the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC). An acclaimed author and editor, Ibish is also the vice president of the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom (NCPPF).

His workshop presented effective arguments Arab-American youth can use to defend certain issues. Ibish focused on five basic concerns: civil liberties and the PATRIOT Act; the relationship between immigration and national security; racial profiling; Palestine; and Iraq.

His first important advice to the students was to be clear about what is and what is not in the PATRIOT Act. The U.S. government has the power to detain people indefinitely on a six-month basis, he said. All detainees swept up in the post-9/11 furor were made under the existing INS regulations.

In fact, Ibish noted, the PATRIOT Act is not used often because Washington is afraid of the reactions of the American people. Under the PATRIOT Act, search and seizure without reasonable cause is acceptable, as is surveillance. Terrorism, once defined as “the use of terror, violence, and intimidation to achieve an end (The American Heritage Dictionary),” Ibish noted, is now considered as “any use of violence by two or more people or any threat to violence” a definition he described as “vague with serious consequences.”

It is imperative to learn about draft proposals for PATRIOT Act II, Ibish stated. Members of Congress have not been willing to sign on to the expanded version because both leftists and rightists believe the executive branch already has too much power. Under PATRIOT Act II, the U.S. government couldtake awayone’s citizenship without having to give it back.

Now that immigration policies have changed, Ibish pointed out, people can be detained for 48 hours without charge. There are now also new “special” visa requirements. Everyone who enters the United States must be fingerprinted, Ibish said, which is “an admission to failure.”

If an Arab or Muslim not from the U.S. is found to have a minor visa problem, Ibish continued, he or she can be arrested and deported secretly. Not only are the deportations secret, he said, but the hearings are secret and the visitor is denied counsel as well. At least 3,000 to 5,000 Arab and Muslim immigrants have been detained, according to Ibish, who argued that a rational immigration system is still needed because people cannot be treated as terrorists and criminals. The U.S. government supposedly understands this problem and is “working” on a plan. The problem is, said Ibish, that immigration policy and national security are viewed as the same thing.

“Ethnicity is a false lead,” said Ibish, segueing into the issue of racial profiling. “Religion is a false lead. Government doesn’t boil down to an ethnic or religious stereotyping.”

Ibish said he believes that stereotyping exists because of the bigotry of individuals. He advised his young audience that it was not useful to racially profile.

Dr. Ibish suggested that reading the views of opponents and recording their reactions would benefit a person arguing on behalf of the Palestinian issue. People do not want to hear a story of Palestinians suffering, he added, because they know this already. “It disrupts their cornflakes, the dead bodies,” he said.

Trying to explain and justify situations by presenting historical facts, Ibish said, rather than the nature of the conflict as it is today, is unjustifiable and not a valid argument. Once people see that the occupation is the cause of the problem, he explained, they will realize that the way to end the conflict in Palestine and Israel is by ending the occupation.

Turning to Iraq, Dr. Ibish described it as an ambiguous topic because Iraqis are divided about the occupation. He recommended not using colonialism and resistance as an argument, but to focus on neoconservatives and the lies told by those Americans, causing chaos and demonstrating fraud. He went on to describe the neoconservatives’ actions that brought about the war in Iraq.

Soon after Sept. 11, Ibish said, a small intelligence office was created by the Pentagon to assess the threat Iraq allegedly posed to the U.S. It remained relatively secret during the first year of its existence, known only to Donald Rumsfeld’s inner circle of neoconservative ideologues.

Sources within the intelligence community told reporters that the group, known as the Office of Special Plans, cherry-picked intelligence from questionable sources to support the case for invading Iraq. The intelligence team’s conclusions were presented directly to the White House and National Security Agency without first being vetted by other intelligence agencies, like the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency. The office was also blamed for the administration’s lack of post-war plans in Iraq and accused of undermining the administration’s policy toward Iran. (see <www.cooperativeresearch.org/wot/iraq/office_of_special_plans.html>)

Dr. Ibish urged his young Arab-American listeners to use every opportunity to explain how and why the United States got into this mess.

In closing, Ibish reaffirmed his belief that the current U.S. government wants war not only against Iraq, but against a “trillion countries,” including Syria, North Korea and Libya.

Shereen Kandil

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