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October 24, 2003 - Image 16

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-10-24

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This Week

Arab American Institute

Flexing Their Muscles

Arab American conference shows Mideast dominates issues, but domestic concerns surface.


Jewish Telegraphic Agency



he imam finished his ser-
mon — a parable about a
corrupt emir and a diseased
flea — and told his congre-
ants crammed shoulder to shoulder
on the floors of the mosque, "One
more thing."
A senior officer in the Pentagon has
equated Islam with Satanic ritual,
Imam Hassan Qazwini told his con-
gregation, the largest in the city, and
congregants must phone, fax and e-
mail the White House to demand the
officer's dismissal.
"We have to speak up," Qazwini
said in Arabic-accented English. "You
have the power, brothers and sisters, to
make a difference."
Such an appeal — unimaginable just
a decade ago — marks a watershed in
the political maturity of the American
Arab community.
Immigrants from Arab lands who
once thought speaking out was a waste
of time at best, and an invitation to
hostility at worst, are giving way to a
second generation that has found its
"I see the depth of political commit-
ment among my following, especially
the youth," the Iraqi-born Qazwini
told JTA. "We cannot isolate ourselves
in this society. We are participants in
this society."
A conference of the Arab American
Institute over the weekend in
Dearborn, which drew hundreds of
Arab Americans, was as proudly Arab
American as is this town.




building in the
West Bank.
The politicians
have to think about
what both sides,
Arab and Jewish,
are saying, Zogby
said. "The discus-
sion is changing,"
he told conference
delegates. "They're
saying things better
than a year ago.
This is new. We are
in the process of
beginning to
change how they
Some national
Jewish organiza-
tional officials have
noted increased
political activity on
the part of Arabs in
the United States,
but they say those
efforts will have lit-
James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute,
tle effect on foreign
welcomes participants and eight Democratic presidential
"They have been
spending a lot of
northern California. "This is where we
money and a lot of time organizing,
live. When we go overseas, we're not
including candidates for city council
identified as Arabs. We're identified as
and on up," said Malcolm Hoenlein,
Growing Influence
executive vice chairman of the
Naraman Taha, a colleague of
Conference of Presidents of Major
What the burgeoning influence means
Shalabi, the Chicago social worker,
American Jewish Organizations.
for U.S. foreign policy, especially
said, "There is an identity crisis; the
"U.S. foreign policy is driven by
regarding the Israeli-Palestinian con-
younger generation does not want to
U.S. interests. People look at issues
flict, was a principal focus of the con-
be identified as Arabs. We're proud of
objectively and see what Israel stands
ference. Indeed, the most common
our heritage, proud to be Muslim, but
for, America stands for."
question for the candidates was how
we want to assimilate."
they intended to force Israel to dis-
Second-generation assimilation is
mantle the security barrier Israel is
hardly unusual among U.S. immi-
Americans First
grants. For Arab Americans, the Sept.
In heated hallway discussions, another
11, 2001, terrorist attacks and their
theme emerged from many of the con- aftermath constituted a watershed
ference participants: How important
are conflicts an ocean away to a gener-
"Sept. 11 was a wake-up call for
ation of Arab Americans trying to
Muslims, because we realized if you
assimilate into an American culture
were not involved, it would move
about which they are now proud?
against you," said Eide Alawan, an
"The elders have the wisdom of our
assistant to Imam Qazwini.
traditions, but our future is here," said
The moves by Attorney General
Jordanian-born Wafa Aborashed, who
John Ashcroft, and the security meas-
is running
ures in the Patriot Act he helped shep-
for a local
herd through Congress, helped unite a
National and international media
council seat
community long considered divided
outlets covered the Arab American
in San
conference extensively.
Leandro, in
FLEXING on page 18

And along with the pride comes
growing political influence for this
country's growing Arab community.
Qazwini, for instance, was the clergy
representative selected to open the
108th session of the U.S. Congress.
The perceived electoral consequence
of Arab and Muslim Americans, and
their concentrations in swing states
like Michigan, drew a roster of top
politicians from both parties to the
conference here last weekend.
Among them were eight of the nine
Democratic candidates or their repre-
sentatives — an unprecedented show
of political deference to the communi-
ty estimated to number between 3 and
4 million nationwide.
"Our issues are the nation's issues;
the nation's issues are ours," Dr. James
Zogby, president of the Arab
American Institute, said on Friday
evening, capping the first day of the
conference. "The country our children
will grow up in is different. We have
crossed the threshold."
"I want my boys to know that they
can be the next president of America,
inshallah (God willing)," said Itedal
Shalabi of Chicago, a social worker
who deals principally with Arab

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