Not surprisingly, Arab Americans do not form their opinions on foreign policy issues in conformity with general patterns, but neither are they entirely different. To emphasize the similarities would deny the uniqueness of the group just as emphasizing the differences would take the group out of history and out of the country, as if nothing in the American experience had an impact. As we noted earlier, the Arab-American experience exists on both sides of the hyphen.
Arab Americans have two qualities that make them distinct. One is that they are an ethnic population charged with concern for their homelands. This quality is not rare in itself, but the nature of their arrival in the U. S. is different from the experience of many other ethnic nationalist groups.
As Shryock and Lin note, the influx of Arab immigrants has been “triggered, and has been periodically sustained, by complicated, often horrible, geopolitical events,” in which U.S. policy played a disturbingly important role.
Other groups – Cubans, Jews, Lithuanians, Armenians, Irish – all found sympathy in the U.S. for their national causes. The same is not true with today’s Arab Americans. If there is anger or passionate distress in this community, as individuals look back to their homelands and what has happened to them, it should not come as a surprise.
They are also unique in a second way. Arabs and Muslims are the only group in the country singled out for systematic monitoring and even harassment. Not only do security forces have them under surveillance, but private organizations and political interest groups attempt to reduce or marginalize their involvement in politics.
Michael Suleiman, author of “Arabs in America: Building a New Future” and other books about Arab Americans, calls this a “politics of exclusion.”
The stories are endless: persons appointed to advisory committees or staff positions or granted public service awards have their appointments and honors challenged and even cancelled. Political candidates return donations from Arab Americans, both Christians and Muslims. Often the grounds are vague.
Individuals are said to have made a loosely defined “anti-Israeli” or “pro-terrorism” statement or are linked to someone with such views. These rejections involve the very nature of citizenship. Citizenship is not just a passport and the right to vote. It involves the right to full political engagement, including the right to assemble in organizations that disagree with public policy, the right to petition for redress of grievance through challenges to authority and the right to participate in the political process.
As Haddad notes with regards to returned campaign donations, “many in the community feel disenfranchised, given the importance of donations in providing access to elected officials and determining American policies.” In this sense, there is a convergence of civil liberties issues and foreign policy expression, and many Arab Americans would see them as two dimensions of the same issue. (MORE)