(Below is a speech and true story of Mrs. Wendy Ghannam, former employee of USAID)
Thank you all very much for allowing me to be your speaker here today at this conference/meeting here in the No. VA area. Truthfully, this is an honored occasion for me, and I sincerely hope that the information I am about to share with you will enlighten and alarm you, as members of the Arab-American community living here in the Nations Capital in the United States.
The title of my speech is relevant because it happened to me as an American married to a Muslim Arab, and it resonates upon the Arabaphobia and discrimination going on in the country today as a whole. Wherever I travel and talk about this issue, it amazes me how first impressions in my audience scrutinize my less-than Arabized appearance, then the non-acceptance issue is suddenly thrown out the window–because I am the only person who truly stands before you, who can definitively tell you what transpired in Washington, DC in its upper foreign policy echelons regarding the hope and aspirations of your community here as well as back home in the Arab world.
Compared to other English speakers who have come to speak with you and what they have presented to you as well, I will probably be speaking about one of the most memorable topics from my own case history that you will ever hear, thus it is probably unlikely you will hear about a significant issue such as this again in your lives–of this I am quite sure because I am determined to make a
difference by seeing that it never happens again. Honestly, being an American-born female I never fully understood its grip myself until it happened over the course of the last seven years making my appearance here today one to share with you and apprise you for the sake of your own families and your community’s future here inside the United States.
Therefore as your friend and as an American-born woman who married an Palestinian-born man 28 years ago, and from one who raised children steadfastly within your culture and community, I am here this evening to tell you that the United States Government is not your friend and is not considerate of your needs as Arab-Americans either.
The bi-culturalism you are experiencing has many forms within the context of your desire to achieve success here in the States, but it ceases to exist when the US Government determines that you are not suitable to remain employed within its own federal civilian service, and when it determines that you and your family are, in essence, transgressors of the so-called American right to pursue life, liberty and happiness thus enforcing its consistent anti-Arab stance not to allow survival in order to support the Arab-American community around us earmarking what is apt to be lost in the process as well. Such is what transpired in my life from 1994 onward to this day and why I am here tonight speaking about it.
As Arab Americans you all know about the high volume of discrimination content affecting and impacting your own community and its ramifications. What some of you don’t realize now, however, is that these views and misconceptions are also being perpetrated against individuals like myself, Americans who have partnered into the Arab/Muslim culture and landscape–individuals like myself who can talk about the framework of bigotry and prejudice conveyed by the federal employment spectrum against people like me, because we are also a part of you!
I married my husband (Shaa’ban Daoud Hamdan Abu-Ghannam) over 27 years ago. He is a Moslem Arab born and raised on the Mt. of Olives–East Jerusalem, Palestine before WWII. I lost my U.S. federal career because of this fact back in 1996. At the time I was employed in the high echelon corridors of the United States Foreign Service at the Agency for International Development, Washington, DC, in its general schedule capacity, I administratively supported various USAID management folks, as well as members of the US Foreign Service to the best of my God-given abilities for over eight years. I also want it known that my federal career was finally decimated and destroyed after a cumulative superior service of over 16 years in retrospect. My last position was to have led to a high-ranking personnel specialist category in training development.
My story starts out simple enough–born and raised in Southern Tier New York State, my husband and I met, married in college in Pennsylvania. Over the 28 years of our marriage, God allowed us to live, work and travel together in the Middle East and the eastern U.S., as well as raise two beautiful children together.
I began my federal civil service career in 1975 in Washington, DC. As the years transpired, I did not encounter any problems because of my husband’s religion or ethnicity–that was true throughout much of the 70’s & 80’s. However, with the American fear of unwarranted terrorism and ongoing threats which were made against our country–as these began occur–and as we approached the last decade, seemingly the work environment definitely changed for me–and I suddenly found myself on the other side of the fence. Therefore, my story and my reasons for being here with you today really stem from my affiliation with the previous Democratic Administration, and the work environment I was subjected to while performing my job-function duties inside USAID during the time Pres. Clinton was in office.
The agency, USAID, is a premier foreign affairs agency for the Third World development alongside the US State Dept. in Washington, DC. Its primary focus is to distribute Third World funding and to support sustainable development efforts going to the neediest countries around the world supposedly to combat poverty–this also includes food for peace programs which you should all become aware of after tonight, because in this program the US holds the carrot over the Arab world in ways that are unimaginable and uses its strength to allow your people to either eat or starve! In retrospect, I can honestly say that from my work exposure situation on a daily basis, the partisan politics and sublime egotism which members of the USAID Foreign Service espouse, along with the US Dept. of State, sadly egotistic individual needs always surfaced first and the needs of relevant needy countries took a backseat. Also, when you compound the problems which developed because USAID has in place a very combative and corrupt human resources and management staff arena–then you can understand why no Administrator, who ever was appointed there, was ever duly able to achieve very much while in office.
The recount of what I am here to speak to you about today will solidify that fact. Since I was the only spouse of a Palestinian-born Arab working in the agency at the time of my high-end career objectives, it was always pointed out to me that the Arab world would ever intrinsically receive the complete focus of US dollars with integrity and honesty, and that to build a “frustration front” was the epitome of Foreign Service objectives as dictated by the White House and the US Dept. of State–as too much had been alternatively promised to be spent on support for the Zionist entity. Therefore, anything initially done for the Arab masses per se would, undoubtedly, lead to mixed messages being sent overseas and this was not the achievement-oriented goal of the US Foreign Service in retrospect. I could see from the beginning that there would always exist potential problems for the Arab world because of the US involvement and support with Israel. I was not surprised by our treatment of Iraq either.
Needless to say, I have also taken the liberty to bring along with me and present at this mtg. documents which I believe all of you should be aware of and involved in regarding USAID funding awareness, and how its implementation program should systematically be questioned–esp. the West Bank/Gaza program, as administered by USAID. I present these documents as a concerned American married to an Arab because I personally feel that after experiencing such mistreatment and in-house treachery at the hands of such an abusive organization like USAID–your own ethics and scrutiny should be administered and the agency should be well apprised that you are knowledgeable of this program. You should also be very focused on other Middle East initiative programs sanctioned with our foreign aid money as well. Likewise, you should alert your legislators that you in turn know of the dire consequences that these programs often take on. In other words you should refuse to remain apathetic and in the dark regarding these programs going on inside Middle East, esp. the West Bank/Gaza–these efforts reflect on your own awareness of the needs for Palestinians–& as Arab-Americans you should demand answers as to where all of this money is supposedly going and do not take any hesitations for their answers. Remember, you vote in your legislators on this side of the Atlantic.
As I continue my story here this evening, I also believe that the Agency for International Development should be further watched very carefully by all involved Arab-American organizations as to how it is conducting its own hiring practices concerning other Arab-Americans and/or their families because my own story will shock you and amaze you after you hear it. I know for a fact that there exist at least three other employees at USAID of Arab lineage who cannot be as vocal as I am this evening, because they have been compromised at the agency.
Quintessentially, I am here to relate significant details regarding the fact that I am the first American ex-federal civil servant, the first American woman, and the first American woman married to a Palestinian Arab/Moslem to litigate the Agency for Int’l Dev.–or even the entire US Gov’t for that matter, under the Inspector General’s Act of 1978. I was ruthlessly abused and mistreated by the Agency and its Inspector General who acted on behalf of the Clinton/Gore Administration under the advocacy of Ms. Janet Reno herself in order to fire me from my federal employment back in 1994- 1996. I will tell you all more in just a moment. Let me just say this: From the perspective of my litigation and how it impacts the Arab-American community today, it is my understanding that my case holds a precedent in federal law. Yet, before I continue onward I want to give you some background on just who the Inspector General is and why I sadly came to this end with my career at USAID.
To begin with, the Inspector General is the supreme legal political appointee of the Pres. of the US, designated for certain agencies to oversee, investigate, report to the Pres., and matter-of-factly eradicate perceived mis-management and criminal activities going on inside the agency or dept. which is her/her domain–this person is also in office to listen to and protect employees who come forward to discuss prohibitive practices and mismanagement activities going on inside the agency. I happened to be considered the latter individual towards the end of 1994 while working tenure there.
It took me over six months to get my concerns aired with the Office of the Inspector General at the agency. And just before I received an audience with the Inspector General himself, a Mr. Jeffrey Rush, the agency decided to re-investigate me because of my home-life and my married status as well. Thus, I was made subject to arduous, offensive, and unscrupulous interrogation/
Investigative sessions, which were clearly outlined to me to be the catalyst to bring about my departure from my employment because of my husband’s ethnicity and religious affiliation!
In the beginning, I was told that the questioning was routine and would not necessitate me to bring along any legal counsel–as it was the agency’s IG mandate to administer such questioning sessions upon any employee’s five-year tenure with the agency–failure to do so accordingly would earmark me for dismissal. I was also told at the outset that all questions would pertain to my family and the outside activities off the scope of my job–thus one afternoon would probably suffice.
After four days of ruthless questioning and the apparent stockade of my family’s FBI and IRS files compiling many years on the IG investigator’s desk, which he personally alluded to, I will hereby share with you some of the many questions posed to me concerning my married life:
How long have you and your husband been married?
Do any of his family members live with you?
Has anyone traveled from the West Bank/Palestine, or any other Arab nation to visit you since your marriage? Names and relationships and years they visited, please.
Have either of you signed immigration paperwork to initially bring any relative of your husband into this country since your marriage? Names and relationships please. Where are these relatives now?
How often do you speak to your in-laws in West Bank/Palestine–i.e.. Jerusalem area? Who calls whom? Do you speak Arabic–can you understand when your husband speaks?
In what religion are you raising your two children?
How often does your husband attend his mosque?
Which mosque does he go to in No. Virginia? Do you realize that many mosques in this country are harboring and aiding/abetting dissidents to the American way of life?
How much money does he give for Zakat–which is charity monies?
Does he pray daily, does he fast over Ramadan?
Where are your in-laws that you know of at this sitting, and where do they live in this country? How often do you visit them?
How do you feel personally about the State of Israel? Do you realize that your answer to this question hinges on your ability to remain employed in this agency?
How do you feel about Palestinian rights?
How much do you really know about the history era of that land?
Do you speak of pro-Palestinian issues with your co-workers here at USAID?
How often do you access the State Dept. for work assignments.
How do you feel about the concept of a Palestinian state?
Do your children attend the mosque with your husband? Which one or do both attend?
Have you converted to Islam? Do you intend to?
Has anyone of Arab extraction given you or your husband money to hide in any way or in any manner since your marriage?
How much education do your children have? What schools do they attend? Have they ever attended Arab-influenced/mandated schools?
If your son is a Moslem, are all of his friends and acquaintances Moslem as well?
Does your husband stay after mosque prayers for any clandestine meetings and/or activities? How do you honestly know he is home when he says he is?
Are any relatives of your husband–have they ever been in an investigative stance or has anyone been under Israeli incarceration since your marriage?
Please tell us abut the entire educational backgrounds of each of your husband’s family here in the U.S. and where they work today?
We are worried about Hamas and/or Hizbollah affiliation, does anyone in your husband’s family fully support any of these groups?
Do you intend to retire in West Bank/Jerusalem area when you are older?
Do you realize that most mosques fully support terrorist activities and their operations around the world, this includes what goes on in the U.S.?
Do you understand why USAID would have problems with your continued employment under these circumstances? Don’t you feel you should consider it your civic duty to leave the employment spectrum at this time in your life?
Why did you ever marry a Moslem? Did you not know these problems would arise for you down the road?
Does your husband have any outside accounts without your knowledge and/or signature on?
Do you drive a car into work each day, or take public transportation? If you drive, where do you park?
Did it ever occur to you that you have totally become an outcast in American society because of this marriage?
Do you realize that your employment career may be over with because you are too closely tied into the Islamic world?
After four days of these high-intensity questions, I was told that considering my answers I presumably posed no real threat to the agency. The interrogator even said that a report would be rendered to the Inspector General and to the Agency’s Administrator absolving me of any guilt or a terrorism threat–esp.. since my husband had lived in this country since 1966 and we were both model citizens and taxpayers! Yet, he became very honest with me and told me emphatically that he doubted it would do any good. He said that the agency had given him the clear-cut directive to use any and all info against me to assist them in releasing me in any manner possible–and that the five-year follow-up was really just a “ruse” in my situation! The agency had presumably wanted to knock me out from under months earlier, probably at the 3 or 4- year juncture. However when confronted, he told me that he informed agency hierarchy that this action in itself was against the law! These were his own words–I am not exactly paraphrasing here. He finally suggested that I remain very low in the organization (another illegal infraction on my personhood and career), otherwise the agency would definitely take care of me and escort me out of there once and for all.
Following this horrific situation, I was also a witness and a clear-cut victim of USAID‘s further abuse and mismanagement on another matter while working in the organization (and I had clearly forgotten about the bittersweet four days spent with the IG representative before)–anyhow the matter which I was subjected to was so egregious that it was/is considered a uniform violation of workplace law–even today. Thus, in 1995 I tried to obtain a meeting with the Agency’s Inspector General himself, and was unable to do so until a year later–the same exact year I was finally fired. This meeting proved to the “last straw” adding to my confirmed demise–I am sure.
Anyhow on May 28, 1996 with another agency employee as my witness, I did finally meet with the Agency’s Inspector General–Mr. Jeffrey Rush–a full six weeks before I received my pink slip. In this meeting I brought forward my whistle-blowing concerns and ancillary documents, which I previously shared with Sen. Jesse Helms and his high-ranking personnel, as he is Chief of the US Foreign Affairs Committee–due to Mr. Rush’s adamant failure to see and talk with me. I might add that I was warmly received by Sen. Helms and his staff–they actually forced USAID‘s Inspector General to meet with me within three days. Let’s face it, he simply deserved that order.
So when that meeting between us did occur, he refused to protect me for what I had witnessed and the documents I had surrendered to him. He even admitted that he knew all along what was going on within the realm of USAID‘s human resources dept. and he saw no reason to become involved. He also said that he felt his job was not to oversee specific instances of supervisory abuse and misconduct, as it was a personnel nature item. This proved to be a bold-faced lie on his part, and I might add–what a stupid man! He did offer to send my situation to Special Counsel’s Office in Wash. DC instead–this is called passing the buck back in our nation’s capital. At the time, I did not realize that he in effect would never follow up with Ms. Koch’s office in my behalf afterwards either–thus leaving me out in the cold for further retaliation and retribution from the agency. In fact, the Inspector General, Jeffrey Rush, physically threatened me and my friend as well. He also made crude remarks about my affiliation to my husband and the Arab people. He also told me that I would be losing my job later that year–so why should he bother himself with me? That was also illegal, because no one was supposed to know any employee’s status for elimination before the July 15 deadline date.
Now, I would like to reflect on what this means for all of you as Arab-Americans: From my pedestal I see a very clear-cut hatchet job being unleashed against honest, hard-working Americans who have teamed up with people of the Arab world. I also see that what befell me could certainly affect all of you and your own families down the road if you fail to become involved. I see your spouses’ futures in jeopardy and your children’s as well. I see a systematic Gestapo-like endeavor here to ruin all of you and to ruin your hopes and dreams to achieve and hold dear the American dream that is supposed to be yours–as written on the cornerstone of the Statute of Liberty in New York City and as promised to you by the US Constitution. I also see problems abound for you and your community in this country today if you do not stand behind one another and do your very best to wipe out this type of workplace discrimination that is being unleashed against Arab-Amer. and their families. I had no idea that Araba-phobia existed until I encountered this problem at USAID, despite the fact I am a wife to an Arab by birth. For your information, USAID also accused me of being a terrorist and my husband to be one as well. On this note, I personally urge each and every one of you to become more involved in this rotten pattern of behavior and to stand behind people like me who are trying our best to alleviate this kind of pain and misery. As Arab-Americans I urge you to cohesively stand together and take this cause all the way to the courts and to the White House–and do not let your loved ones here in America suffer because of these political dictates. The United States Government should be ashamed of itself to allow USAID, the Dept. of State, the US Justice Dept. or any other Dept. inside the Federal Government establishment to mistreat and abuse its employees the way I was systematically treated.
My case now sits in federal court today in Washington, DC–it is 99-656 under the Honorable Judge Emmett Sullivan. I believe that I can firmly prove that the Agency and its Inspector General, as well as his staff colluded & conspired to make my life a living nightmare, as sanctioned under VP Al Gore & Ms. Janet Reno. My losses are many, as are my insights, which I can now share with all of you, and my regained sanity abounds–as a true testament to the American spirit and fortitude presented to me for all of you to witness and learn from. Maybe some of you have heard about my legal case & about my experiences–God knows it’s been an active two years for me getting this story around. Again, let me just add that the work ahead of us is long and tiresome but it must be done because our children and grandchildren deserve only the best of what we all have to offer.
I am also here to urge you to ask the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, as well as the management at CAIR in Wash. DC to finally come to grips with my statutory claims and duly stand in back of me–as what I am doing, I do for every Arab-American who aspires to succeed in this country today and fulfill the American dream as well. Thank you very much for the time you have given me to relate my story to you.