Discrimination in the US against Americans of Arab heritage is “getting worse” not better, experts say, as the country prepares to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Samer Khalaf, president of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), and Abed Ayoub, the organization’s legal counsel, said that while anti-Arab political rhetoric has subsided following last year’s presidential election, the underlying substance of the racism has not.
The ADC was founded in 1980 by former Congressman Abdeen Jabara and Arab American leaders in Chicago, Washington and other parts of the country. It has been at the forefront of efforts to defend the rights of Arab Americans, including those who were victimized after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, which sparked a violent wave of anti-Arab bigotry.
During a discussion on “The Ray Hanania Show,” a radio program broadcast in Detroit and Washington DC, Ayoub said of the wave of bigotry: “It is getting worse. I think a lot of people look at the last four years of the Trump administration and think this is a new form of hate, bigotry and discrimination we have seen in this country.
“But the era of politics he ushered in, or he unveiled, started with 9/11. You began seeing an increase in the hate rhetoric. We began seeing it appear with our politicians.
“I often look at the ‘Ground Zero mosque’ in New York as the catalyst event which really launched a lot of the Islamophobia and a lot of the anti-Arab sentiment we see today.”
The “Ground Zero mosque” was at the center of a controversy in 2010 after plans were unveiled for an Islamic cultural and community center and prayer space at 51 Park Place in Manhattan, two blocks from the World Trade Center site. The project became a rallying cry for critics of Arabs and Muslims in America.
“A lot of the xenophobia started (with that),” said Ayoub. “That gave a platform to a lot of hate groups and really elevated the hate industry and ultimately led to the election of Trump, which has led to now seeing open bigotry, open hatred, against Arabs, against Muslims, against South Asians in our politics and (among) our elected officials, openly.”
Although the anti-Arab rhetoric in political circles has subsided since the election of President Joe Biden in November last year, Khalaf said the discrimination and bigotry continues in other ways because government has failed to fully respond to the needs of Arab Americans.
“We have been included more,” he said. “Could that go further? Could the administration include us even more? Absolutely. For the most part, the president of the United States really hasn’t recognized our community.
“(Biden) has done so on the down-low, or in little statements here and there. But when was the last time an American president addressed our community directly, either by video or at one of our meetings? It just doesn’t happen.”
Khalaf said Arab Americans must themselves shoulder at least part of the blame for this because as a community they do not participate as actively as other communities of color in elections or local government.
“We also have to do a better job of making ourselves more needed, more crucial to their elections,” he said. “That’s what we have to do, on our part. What they have to do on their part is a little less of the sort of token showing up at our events, that kind of stuff, (or) only dealing with us during Eid or during other holidays or even during tragic events.
“But having more of a one-on-one open dialogue with our community I think is the other issue we need to (address). We’ve gone a long way but we have a long way to go as well.”
Ayoub, who often files lawsuits on behalf of the ADC for Arab American victims of discrimination and racism, said there are different forms of bigotry.
“You’re going to have two types of discrimination,” he said. “You are going to have the rhetoric and the public discrimination, and that has quieted down since the prior administration left — at least the political rhetoric has quietened down but we still see some of the public engage in it.” He added that the rhetoric of Donald Trump had fueled the intensity of racism against Arabs.
“Then you have the structural discrimination problems and programs that we have to work toward dismantling, a lot of the programs that target the community,” he said. “And that is a longer fight. That is regardless of who is in office. We have to push back on that.”
Arabs continue to be excluded, for example, from the US census count, minority set-aside programs, and other Federal programs that can help to strengthen minority communities, Ayoub said. Although Biden has spoken about the rights of Arab Americans, his administration still has not decided whether they should be granted “minority status” and all the benefits that come with that, including hundreds of millions of dollars in federal-government support.
“We get all the negatives of being a minority — we are discriminated against, we see the hate — but we don’t get the help, as some of the other minority communities (do),” said Khalaf.
Ayoub pointed out that another problem is that not all victims of discrimination report it. “It is a struggle to get hate crimes reported,” he added.
Khalaf agreed, adding: “We have to fight to get our cases reported … We are seeing an under-reporting of hate crimes.”
• “The Ray Hanania Show” is broadcast in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 Radio and in Washington DC on WDMV AM 700 radio on Wednesday mornings at 8 am. Hosted by the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News, the leading English language newspaper in the Middle East, the show is also streamed live at Facebook.com/ArabNews and the podcast is available at ArabNews.com/RayRadioShow.