Census 2020 opens old wounds for Arab Americans

Community divisions are hindering Arab Americans in their fight for census recognition, observers warn. (AFP)
Updated 29 July 2019

Census 2020 opens old wounds for Arab Americans

  • The US census, conducted every 10 years, identifies the interests and national origins of all citizens
  • 'Arabs' remain unlisted as an ethnic group by the Census Bureau, an oversight affecting their share of federal funding

CHICAGO: Every 10 years, the US census not only counts how many people live in America but also identifies their interests and national origins. It determines how more than $600 million in federal funding is dispersed to communities to address their concerns.

Additionally, census data is mandated to ensure equal representation and treatment in government.

Anna Mustafa, who emigrated to the US in 1962 to join her late brother and father who had already settled in Chicago, believes the importance of the 24th US census, known as Census 2020, cannot be overstated.

“Arab Americans need to be and have to be counted in the census,” she told Arab News.

“The census is very important because it determines the allocation of dollars, the political influence, and the representation that we and all Americans are entitled to in the US.

“The more Arab numbers there are, the more federal funding and the more political power we deserve. It’s like that for every other ethnic and racial group.”


Lebanese Americans constitute a greater part of the total number of Arab Americans living in most states.

Egyptian Americans are the largest Arab group in Georgia, New Jersey and Tennessee.

• Illinois has the greatest concentration of Palestinians.

• There are almost as many Iraqis living in Michigan as there are living in California.

Source: Arab American Institute Foundation

The census asks about many different ethnic and racial groups, including Whites, African Americans, Hispanics, Mexicans, Latinos, Asians, American Indians and Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders and the category of “Other.” But it has never included a category for Arabs.

Mustafa believes Arabs need to be acknowledged. Since her arrival in the US, the Arab population in Chicago and throughout the country has continued to increase. She and her family were inspired by President John F. Kennedy, who had defined himself as a champion of immigrants in his 1958 book “A Nation of Immigrants.”

Mustafa and others watched as the Palestinian and Jordanian communities steadily grew after the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars as people fled political persecution in the 1980s and conflict in the 1990s.

Moved by Kennedy’s vision of an immigrant nation, Mustafa became involved in helping to accurately identify the Arab population. She was recruited by the country’s Census Bureau in the 1980s to encourage members of the Arab American community to complete census forms and become involved.

Mustafa quickly rose to leadership. She was appointed by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley in September 1990 as the first and only Arab American trustee on the Chicago Board of Education, the third-largest school district in the US.

Samer Khalaf, American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee president, calls for census inclusion. (Supplied photo)

The board oversees education for more than 400,000 school students in 600 schools. Almost 10 percent of the students were Arab American, a result of the growth spurt in legal Arab immigration to the country.

The year 1990 was critical both for the US census and ethnic and racial minorities such as Arab Americans. The census that year showed that the Hispanic community’s growth was faster than that of Arab Americans, but the population was divided geographically into two large populations: Puerto Rican and Mexican Americans on Chicago’s North Side and a large concentration of Mexican Americans on the South Side.

Although the two areas were more than two miles apart, the government connected them in 1991 by “an umbilical cord,” creating one of the most unusually shaped Congressional districts ever drawn and Chicago’s first-ever Hispanic-majority district.

The district had been represented by white men since its founding in 1843. But on Jan. 3, 1992, Luis Gutierrez, a former cab driver and Chicago alderman, was sworn in as Chicago’s first Latino American Congress member.

“That showed me how powerful and meaningful the census really was,” Mustafa said. “By getting an accurate count of Hispanics in the census, the government was compelled to create a district for the Hispanic community. I felt if our Arab community was counted accurately, we could achieve the same political strength and success.”

Mustafa was recruited again by the Census Bureau in 2000 to help encourage Arab Americans to complete their census forms.

I wanted us to be identified as Arab, but others wanted us to be identified by individual national groups.

Anna Mustafa

Arabs could write in their ethnicity in the “Other” category, and there was a new drive to have the word “Arab” included among the dozens of other ethnic and racial groups already identified on the census forms.

Samer Khalaf, national president of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), said that Arab Americans have been pushing to be included in the census for more thanthree decades.

In recent years, there was a push to create the “MENA” category representing Middle East and North Africa.

“We believe that it is crucial for our community to be counted fairly and accurately,” Khalaf said. “They only way to do that with any certainty is to have a category for our community.  The census’ own studies showed that when the MENA category was included, the numbers were more accurate.”

The push to create the MENA category began following the 2010 census during the administration of President Barack Obama, but it never received the support it needed.

In January 2018, the proposal was formally rejected by newly elected President Donald Trump. Despite the rejection, Khalaf said, the drive to create a category for “MENA” or “Arab” is far from dead. “We have been fighting for the category for about 30 years and we will continue fighting for it until it is added,” said Khalaf, who has been at the forefront of fighting for census inclusion for Arab Americans.

“Of course, my preference would be for an ‘Arab’ category. I believe it more accurately describes our community. MENA is purely a geographical designation with multiple definitions. The decision to agree to a MENA category was a compromise that the Arab American organizations made to facility the inclusion of the category.”

Race questions on 2020 Census

Mustafa also prefers “Arab,” although she said that it might be easier to get MENA passed as a category. The real problem is that many other Arab American organizations have focused on political power and funding, which has fueled divisions within the community, she added.

Today, the Arab American community is more divided, with fractures based on individual national identities and even on religion, she said.

“What’s holding us back is our community divisions, as well as people in the US government who don’t want us to be recognized or to have power.

“In 2000, I felt there was support to have a category for Arab Americans. But what happened was that in less than one year that support for the census disappeared.

“It seemed we started to make our own trouble. Our community started to divide itself and we became weak. I wanted us to be identified as Arab, but others wanted us to be identified by individual national groups such as Palestinians, Lebanese, Jordanians, Syrians, Iraqis, Egyptians, etc,” she said.

In the “White” category, the 2020 census form suggests that users identify their “race” and offers examples such as “German, Irish, English, Italian, Lebanese, Egyptian, etc.”

Today, no one really knows how many Arabs live in the US. The census has some data based on Arab Americans who check the “Other” box but add the word “Arab.” Based on that incomplete practice and extrapolating on a 2013 analysis of data collected during the 2010 census, the Census Bureau believes there are only 1.9 million Arabs in the country.

But groups such as ADC and the Arab American Institute (AAI) argue that the actual number is much bigger — almost 3.7 million roughly. Still others insist the figure is greater than 4.5 million, with high concentrations in Chicago’s suburbs.

According to the Arab American Institute’s data on demographics, there are more than 324,000 Arabs in California, 223,000 in Michigan, 152,000 in New York, 124,000 in Texas, 112,000 in Florida, 111,000 in Illinois and 108,000 in New Jersey, with smaller populations in Ohio, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

Last week, a New York federal judge barred President Trump from placing a question on the 2020 census that would ask Americans if they are citizens, and the public debate over the census has been muted. Ironically the “citizenship” question was always on the census forms until 2010, when it was quietly removed without much fanfare.

While Americans continue to focus on issues of legal and illegal immigration, Arab Americans are left wondering when they will be counted. Or, as Mustafa puts it: “When will Arab Americans get their fair share in funding and representation?”

Indian anti-hate group ‘victim of hate’ after leaders arrested

Updated 26 October 2020

Indian anti-hate group ‘victim of hate’ after leaders arrested

  • Several members detained on charges of inciting deadly religious riots in Delhi

NEW DELHI: A prominent group established three years ago to fight incidents of hate and prejudice against the Muslim minority community in India said on Monday that it is “gasping for breath” after officials detained some of its founding members under the country’s draconian terror law.

The authorities have accused the United Against Hate (UAH) group of inciting religious riots in New Delhi in February this year.

“The platform which has been fighting against religious and communal hate in society has become a victim of hate itself,” Nadeem Khan, 35, one of the founding members of UAH, told Arab News.

“With the detention of some of our founding members and the questioning of a large number of youths, there is a strong sense of fear among people who are part of such a platform,” he said.

Founded in 2017, when incidents of alleged hate crimes against Muslims – on the pretext of selling or consuming beef – were on the rise, the UAH was one of the few nonpolitical groups which played a significant role in mobilizing the masses against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) which became law in December last year.

While the CAA guarantees citizenship for minority Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Parsi, and Buddhist communities from neighboring Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, it excludes Muslims.

The CAA is part of the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC), an exercise aimed at identifying “genuine citizens” of India.

However, many Indians, and not only Muslims, feel that the CAA is discriminatory as any non-Muslim who does not find a mention in the NRC can seek recourse under the citizenship law.

Muslims, on the other hand, would become stateless.

“People, mostly Muslims, across India came on the streets against the CAA, and the UAH was just an agency for creating awareness. But the Indian government did not like the political mobilization of Muslim masses,” Khan said.

Protests against the CAA, which began in late December, surged for months, resulting in the leaders of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) launching a counter-campaign. 

The heightened communal tensions led to religious violence in the Indian capital toward the end of February, in which more than 50 people, mostly Muslims, died.

“It was a peaceful and democratic protest against the discriminatory policy of the government. This was our right to protest. But the government is now calling our protest sedition and arrested some of our founding members,” said Khan, who has been questioned by Delhi police in connection with the February riots after being named in the charge sheet.

Other UAH members who felt “the need to respond to such hate crimes through a social platform” include 28-year-old Umar Khalid and 36-year-old Khalid Saifi.

They have since been arrested.

“What was the crime of my husband? When has serving people and fighting for unity and secularism of the country become a crime in this nation?” said Khalid Saifi’s wife, Nargis.

Saifi was detained in February for “inciting religious violence” in New Delhi while Khalid was arrested on September 16 and faces multiple charges.

“This is nothing but an attempt to break the spirit of the people, particularly Muslims, and tell the community that they can live in India like ordinary citizens without raising their political voice,” said Nargis, a mother of three.

More than 600 people have been detained in the Delhi riots’ cases, the majority of them Muslims.

Several rights groups, including Amnesty International, have voiced concerns over the large-scale detentions of activists and students for protesting against the CAA and blamed the BJP government for “crushing democratic dissent.”

On Monday, the president of India’s main opposition Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, attacked the government for stifling protesting voices that it brands as “terrorism” and “anti-national activity.”

“The fundamental right to freedom of expression has been systematically suspended through suppression and intimidation. Dissent is deliberately stifled as terrorism or branded as an anti-national activity,” Gandhi said in an opinion piece published in the leading English daily, the Hindustan Times.

“The Narendra Modi government and the ruling BJP conjure up sinister conspiracies behind every political protest, indeed behind any and everything they see as opposition to them. India’s hard-won democracy is being hollowed out.”

Renowned author and activist Arundhati Roy agrees.

“It is really beyond humiliating to live in this atmosphere where people are funneled and marinated in this hatred. Today, you have a country whose economy is in shreds. People are hungry; people don’t have jobs. Everything is coming apart. But we are held together by a pipeline of hatred, which is funneled by the mainstream media,” she said during a press conference in New Delhi on Thursday.

The BJP denies promoting “hate.”

“We are fighting against hate. We don’t promote an ideology of hate. We can claim to represent India’s real intellectual legacy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family),” BJP spokesperson Sudesh Verma said.

He described Gandhi’s article as a piece “written in pangs” as the Congress party’s “ecosystem is collapsing.”

“People are leaving the party. And there is no reprieve for the Gandhi family because the BJP is going to be in power for many more years. We can understand the pangs of the Congress chief,” he said.

Political experts, however, say that the broader aim of the governing party is to “disempower people and make them subjects,” who cannot act independently.

“My understanding is that the criminalization of organizations like UAH is the first step towards disempowering all Indians and turning them into subjects who don’t have their agency of their own,” said analyst Professor Apoorvanand Jha, of Delhi University.