A few months short of my twentieth Birthday, I set out to see America on the cheap. Using my thumb I covered 15,000 miles, hitchhiking across America and its unbelievable expanse. I started in New York and headed to Seattle and down the coast to Ensenada, Mexico. During the course of my journey I discovered a lot of beautiful things about this country. I also uncovered a few of its darker unspoken secrets.
Coming from New York, I had grown up with suburban Italians and Jews and Wasps who always had a bad word for the African-Americans and Puerto Ricans. Everybody had an opinion on these minorities and it was rarely favorable.
But as I drifted west, and came to the Blackfeet Indian reservation at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in Montana, the rantings of the good white people of America began to focus on the the Indians. The Native Americans were not popular on the little patches of the continent where they had managed to maintain a visible presence as a unique and separate culture.
In Los Angeles and San Diego the bias against the Hispanics was unmistakable and I felt it on a personal level, because my Middle Eastern olive skin and a droopy mustache gave me a distinct Chicano appearance. I felt an immediate kinship with Mexican-Americans and volunteered to work with the United Farm Workers to organize farm labor.
In San Francisco, I fell in love with everything. Yet, in this most liberal of American cities, where the summer of love had not yet faded and hippies still lingered in the Haight/Ashberry, you could not fail to hear the slightly veiled anti-Asian sentiments.
Which brings me to the Arabs in America. You talk to the old timers about how it was in the 1920s and 1930s and they will spin you tales of how they struggled and triumphed as immigrants. But they will never complain of having suffered what other minorities suffered. Indeed, they basked in the full glory of American democracy. The average white American did not make too great a distinction between a Lebanese, a Syrian, a Greek, an Armenian, a Palestinian, a Slav or a Maltese. Una Faca, Una Rasa. Wave after wave of Arab immigrants from the 1860s to the 1950s was made to feel as welcome as other immigrants from the Eastern Mediterranean.
Things have certainly changed in the last half-century. Americans of Arab descent or Islamic faith are now a politically quarantined community. Our children are constantly bombarded by negative images of the ‘old country’ culture. The Democratic and Republican Party shun us and discourage our political participation, led by a former First Lady, Hillary Clinton.
As a community we are a barely visible phantom minority made up of professionals, small businessmen and strong families. We rarely cluster into ethnic neighborhoods. I have never heard of an Arab street gang in any American City. The percentage of our kids who complete high school and continue to college is among the highest in the land. We have readily integrated, inter-married and settled in every corner of every state in the union.
My point is that the scorn heaped on us as Arabs or Muslims or Persians or Pakistanis or Bosnians is a unique form of bigotry. Most Arab-Americans will tell you that they have encountered few acts of overt bigotry from individuals or in housing or at work. Certainly nothing comparable to what African-Americans or Asian-Americans have experienced or continue to experience. The bigotry against Arabs and Muslims does not originate from the American heartland. It is trickle down bigotry manufactured by special interest groups for the singular purpose of marketing a bizarre Middle East foreign policy that can only stand on legs of ethnic bias and religious bigotry.
The ‘manufactured disdain’ of Arabs and Muslims seems to flow unchecked from major newspapers, movies, media companies and Hollywood. Added into this volatile mix is the unfortunate tendency of many American politicians to demean one ethnic constituency to carry favor with another. Pandering to the ethnic vote is one thing. But Hillary Clinton did not stop at pandering to the Jewish vote to become New York’s junior Senator. She went one step further and defamed every Arab and Muslim citizen in America.
There is a common thread binding those who labor at the task of ‘manufacturing disdain’ for everything Arab or Muslim. They all seem to have a single item agenda. It is an agenda of bashing the Arabs for the greater glory of Israel. So, in essence, Arab-Americans are not just a minority in America. We are a minority’s minority. The larger more influential and politically savvy Jewish minority has taken upon itself the task of constructing an American Foreign Policy that favors the Jews in the Middle East over the Arabs in the Middle East. An essential component of that policy is that America must officially match Israel’s chauvinistic hostility against all Arabs, including American citizens of Arab descent.
Nathan Chofshi, an Israeli writer, came to the following conclusion about Israel’s attitude towards Palestinians in the 1950s “We came and turned the native Arabs into tragic refugees. And still we dare to slander and malign them, to besmirch their name. Instead of being deeply ashamed of what we did and trying to undo some of the evil we committedé We justify our terrible act and even attempt to glorify them”.
Fifty years later, the disdain and bigotry are now manufactured to target Muslims, along with Arab-Americans along with the Palestinians. That matters have escalated to this level of vulgarity is a testament to an American political process that can be persuaded via special interest money to shun a whole ethnic constituency.
Mr. Ahmed Amr is Editor of NileMedia.com in Seattle and a regular contributor to Media Monitors Network (MMN)