Tag: Arab

Stories about Arab immigrant communities.

The Occupational Hazards of Being a Reporter for the Arab Press in America: Al Jazeera English

Feet in 2 Worlds doesn’t generally rely on the Daily News’ Rush & Malloy gossip page as a credible source, period, let alone on immigrant and ethnic media. But an election-related headline caught our eye yesterday.

When an Al Jazeera English reporter attempted last week to interview an Iraq war veteran running for Congress in Florida, the candidate called the FBI, saying he feared a potential terrorist hit. See the whole story here.

The candidate, Republican retired Lt. Col. Allen West, reported he was suspicious of Al Jazeera English’s request to interview him on the recent ‘perceived uptick in violence in Afghanistan’. West said he suspected the interview request was a ploy to kidnap him in the dangerous confines of South Florida, where he is hoping to unseat Rep. Ron Klein, a first-term Democratic incumbent in a district that is also home to Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.


New Yorker Cover Update: Arab Americans on the Politics of Fear

The New Yorker published a letter from the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee on why the magazine’s controversial cover, which depicted Sen. Barack Obama as a Muslim, was so offensive.

“Why is the label “Muslim” such a powerful and popular weapon against Obama?,” Kareem Shora, the group’s executive director asked in the letter.

“And what should the Obama camp be doing, instead of denouncing a magazine cover? What needs to be challenged at full volume is the association between a man in Muslim clothing and terrorism, and the underlying assumptions that being Muslim is the same as being un-American, that being Muslim is the same as being violent, that being Muslim is the same as being Osama bin Laden,” writes Shora.

You can read the full letter here.

FI2W wrote extensively – when the cover first came out – on the larger question raised by Shora on why being a Muslim should be seen as a ‘smear’ .

Check out “Liberal Snobs and the Rest of Us: Arab Americans Respond to the New Yorker Cover.”

"Liberal Snobs" and the Rest of Us: Arab American Reaction to the New Yorker

This week’s New Yorker cover showing Barack Obama in Muslim garb and his wife, Michelle, dressed as a Black militant has shown that even in a political campaign where race, gender and age barriers have tumbled, there are still some segments of American society that the media must handle with the utmost delicacy. The cover, meant as a parody of right-wing rumors about the Obamas, has instead re-ignited long-standing complaints by Arab Americans about mainstream media depictions of Islam.

Leading Arab American organizations have released statements and sent letters criticizing the New Yorker for falling prey to the same stereotypes that the magazine had aimed to dispel, or at least poke fun at, in regard to the Obamas.

“What this puts on display is the deep disconnect that exists between the “liberal snobs” of NYC and the rest of us,” Dr. James Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute wrote Feet in 2 Worlds in an email.

“They think this is cute. Those of us who get our lives threatened and our careers ruined by the bigots who believe this crap do not think it is cute,” Zogby added.


Obama and Muslims: Part II

By Aswini Anburajan

We began blogging about Barack Obama’s troubled relations with Muslims and Arab-Americans yesterday. Today the headline in The New York Times reads “Muslim Voters Detect a Snub From Obama.” The article, which has an interview with Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim elected to Congress, says the campaign has repeatedly snubbed the Muslim community’s efforts to reach out to the campaign. The Obama campaign counters that Sen. Obama has spoken favorably about Muslims and recorded a radio ad for Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN), the second Muslim elected to Congress. In an interview with ’60 Minutes,’ Mr. Obama said the rumors (that he is a Muslim) were offensive to American Muslims because they played into “fearmongering.” But on a new section of his Web site, he classifies the claim as a “smear.” “A lot of us are waiting for him to say that there’s nothing wrong with being a Muslim, by the way,” Rep. Ellison said.

The criticism comes as the Obama campaign has ramped up its push to court Christians and Evangelicals, to the consternation of other religious groups. The Wall Street Journal quotes Tony Kutayli, a spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and himself a Christian: “There have been some concerns that courting Christians could alienate voters from other faiths, like Jews and Muslims. And the fact that Obama’s new anti-smear website has taken such pains to discredit the allegation that he is a Muslim, and therefore somehow linked to radical Islamism, could offend Muslim voters. If he were a Muslim, so what? That insinuates that if he were a Muslim, he’s automatically a jihadist. That’s incredibly insulting to people of the Muslim faith and Arabs who are Christian.”

Meanwhile a new site launched by Obama’s campaign, Fightthesmears.com, has drawn criticism from Salon.com. Rather than fighting smears, Salon says the new page plays into fears and gives legitimacy to a rumor that should be in the category of too false, too outlandish and too impolite to repeat.

Salon continues, “Late last week Barack Obama’s campaign launched Fight the Smears, a Web site that aims to put a lid on the chain e-mail-based rumors that have menaced the Senator’s presidential bid since its inception. By now you’re probably familiar with the smears in question: Obama is secretly a Muslim, he refuses to pledge allegiance to the flag, he was sworn in to the U.S. Senate on a Quran, and his terrorist-fist-jabbbing wife has taken to calling people ‘whitey.’ As political rumors go, these are of a piece with John McCain’s illegitimate black baby: Too ugly for polite company, the stories thrive on e-mail and talk-radio hearsay, and though they’re trivial to debunk (the truth is just a Web search away), the lies seem possessed of uncanny sticking power. Polls show belief in the Obama-is-a-Muslim rumor now hovers at around 10 to 13 percent, up from single digits last December.”

Lifting the veil on Obama's relations with Arab-Americans

The sharp outcry last week after two Muslim women wearing headscarves were told they couldn’t appear behind Senator Barack Obama at a campaign rally in Detroit, has raised questions about the credibility and motivations of Obama’s post-racial, multi-ethnic message and appeal.

On June 18th two Muslim women separately reported that they were told they could not appear on stage behind Obama because they had headscarves on. Obama later called the women to personally apologize, and his campaign released a statement saying that the actions by the Obama volunteers who barred the women was unacceptable and went against the spirit of his campaign.

The incident was picked up by the national press, some calling the move hypocrisy, while others pointed out that the campaign has had to tread a tightrope between combating rumors and perceptions that Obama is a Muslim and at the same time not appearing to denigrate Muslims or Islam with his disavowals.

The reaction in the Arab press has been louder, harsher and more impassioned. A scathing column by Ray Hanania posted on the Arab Writers Group went so far as to allege a tacit agreement between the press and the Obama campaign to report the incident without a sense of outrage. Hanania called the incident an act of “racism.” He claimed that if the same thing had happened at a McCain event there would have been a loud outcry in the media.

To underscore that sentiment a political cartoon released to Arab newspapers by Hanania and David Kish shows Obama telling a crowd that there are many differences between him and Sen. John McCain. The following panel shows a volunteer telling two women in headscarves that they can’t be seen. The cartoon ends with a thought bubble over Obama’s head that reads: “Then again maybe not so many.”

While reporting on the incident has focused on the motivations and tactics of the campaign, it has neglected to delve into whether Obama’s candidacy may be raising the level of interest and participation in the political process by Muslims and Arab-Americans.

While there’s no concrete evidence to suggest that Obama’s candidacy has galvanized Arab or Muslim voters, there are attempts within the community to increase political participation. The Arab American Institute has launched “Our Voice. Our Vote. Yalla Vote ’08.” to bring issues related to the Arab-American community to the forefront in 2008.

“Like all Americans, we’re concerned about the economy and education, about health care and home prices. But there are a host of other issues that are impacting our community more deeply and more personally than any others: issues like civil liberties, immigration, and our country’s foreign policies,” Dr. James Zogby, of the Arab American Institute said in a statement.

The group is planning to put organizers on the ground in key states, and plans to monitor political races on all levels to help advance an agenda that reflects Arab-American concerns.

It’s easy to see how Muslim voters would be attracted to a candidate with family members who are Muslim, whose father comes from Kenya, and who spent his early years in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation. But is the appeal of Obama’s personal story outweighed by his campaign’s efforts to downplay his Muslim roots? For Arab and Muslim voters incidents like the one in Detroit last week could end up linking Obama to what some in the Muslim community allege is a long-standing bias by American politicians and the mainstream media against Muslims and Arabs in this country.

Michigan will be a battleground in 2008, and has one of the largest Arab and Muslim populations in the country. In a tight election the Arab vote could be a significant factor.

Antoine Faisal from the Arab-American newspaper Aramica blogs the NH primary

The Race Is On!

Aramica witnesses the New Hampshire Primary

By Antoine Faisal

4 candidates, 3oo miles, and 2 days traveling from Durham, NH to Manchester, NH to Concord, NH and back again – talking to voters, attending rallies, and listening to the candidates (try) to work their magic and rile the crowds into states of voting frenzy before midnight approached and the voting booths opened.

Along with me on this manic trip were fellow members of our sponsoring organization – the Independent Press Association – all of whom represented a wide variety of ethnic and community newspapers in the greater NY area.

I was juggling several balls in the air. Whose concerns do I focus on: our readers overseas who are most interested in the candidates’ foreign policies; our new immigrant readers whose most pressing issues revolve around immigration and the war in Iraq or; our 2nd and 3rd generation readers, whose concerns are health care and taxes?

I approached the New Hampshire primary and the storm surrounding it with a healthy dose of skepticism, accustomed as I am to charismatic politicians who make grandiose promises they have no intention of keeping.

Uncle John?

Pollster Andrew Smith of the University of New Hampshire’s Survey Center describes McCain’s appeal as that of an old uncle who’ll scold you when you’re wrong and “set you straight”. A lot of people seem to respond to that combination of warmth and strictness, as if every adult is secretly wishing they had someone still nagging them to do their homework or finish all their vegetables.

Listening to him on the steps of that Town Hall and watching the audience’s reactions, I could sense his sincerity. Here was a man who meant what he said and who would keep his promises.

He is the most moderate of the Republican candidates and the most experienced. He has a good reputation. There isn’t a hint of scandal or corruption anywhere near him.

The only question is whether you agree with his beliefs. He voted NO on preserving Habeus Corpus for Gitmo detainees. He believes Libyan disarmament was a CIA success story. He believes the War on Terror is the overriding issue.

Visual Aids Can’t Help This Campaign

Looking sharp in his sweater and slacks, Romney tries to distinguish himself by not wearing a suit and acting as if he’s just ‘one of the guys’ but it’s hard to pull off, as it’s well known he’s used a good deal of his personal wealth to finance his campaign.

It’s interesting that Obama’s lack of experience is called into question, as Romney’s only political experience is one term as governor of Massachusetts (2002 – 2006).

Romney’s big claim to fame was his ability to successfully manage the affairs of the 2002 Winter Olympics as its CEO and to turn around Massachusetts’ economy and budget 4 years running. While those are excellent accomplishments, there is little else to recommend him as Leader of the Free World.

Romney’s answer to the health care crisis in Massachusetts was to sign a health reform law in 2006 which requires nearly all Massachusetts residents to buy health insurance coverage or else face a penalty in the form of an additional tax assessment. He vetoed provisions providing health coverage to senior and disabled legal immigrants not eligible for federal Medicaid.

Change We Can Believe In?

Dr. Andrew Smith, who runs the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, said during our visit with him that every election has the ‘change’ candidates. While this is true, he left out one vital difference: this election’s ‘change’ candidate is different: he isn’t a white guy, his father was an immigrant, he’s lived abroad, and his parents were divorced.

But where it counts for Arab Americans, is Obama really any different?

In a speech he gave last year to AIPAC in Chicago, he said that Israel is “our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy… we must preserve our total commitment to our unique defense relationship with Israel by fully funding military assistance…”

Clinton’s views aren’t that different. Three months ago, in a letter to Condoleeza Rice, she wrote:

In particular, you should press friendly Arab countries that have not yet done so, to:

1) Participate in the upcoming international meeting and be a full partner of the United States in advancing regional peace;
2) Take visible, meaningful steps in the financial, diplomatic and political arena to help Palestinian President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad govern effectively and meet their obligations to fight terror;
3) Stop support for terrorist groups and cease all anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incitement;
4) Recognize Israel’s right to exist and not use such recognition as a bargaining chip for future Israeli concessions;
5) End the Arab League economic boycott of Israel in all of its forms; and
6) Pressure Hamas to recognize Israel, reject terror and accept prior agreements, and isolate Hamas until it takes such steps.

Neither are McCain’s. In July of 2007, he addressed the National Convention of Christians United for Israel:

“… When one thinks back over the conflicts – 1948, the Six Day War, Yom Kippur, Lebanon, the first Gulf War, two intifadas and Lebanon again – it is clear that Israel has been challenged more, in less time, than any nation on earth… But the tests continue – with Hamas and Hezbollah, in the anti-Semitism so pervasive in the Arab press, in the restive violence in Iraq and elsewhere… the leadership of Hamas must be isolated. The Palestinian people are ill-served by a terrorist-led government that refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist, refuses to renounce violence, and refuses to acknowledge prior peace commitments. The United States cannot have normal relations with a government that deliberately targets innocent Israeli civilians in an attempt to terrorize the Jewish population…”

An Immigration Resolution?

Obama’s detractors mention his ‘lack of experience’ as a disadvantage. Numerous elected officials have tremendous experience. This has not stopped them from digging an even deeper hole out of which the country will have to dig.

Experience hasn’t solved America’s immigration issues. Clinton, McCain, and Obama have all worked on it during their time in the Senate, with little success, so far. Obama supported McCain’s first immigration reform bill in 2005.

Clinton’s reform includes:
“…strengthening our borders, strict but fair enforcement of our laws, federal assistance to state and local governments, strict penalties for those who exploit undocumented workers, and a path to earned legal status for those who are here, paying taxes, respecting the law, and willing to meet a high bar, including learning English… ”

Obama’s idea of reform:
“… reaffirms the rule of law and brings undocumented population out of hiding.” He helped craft the immigration reform bill that the Senate passed before the 109th Congress adjourned. The bill would provide more funds and technology for border security and prevent employers from skirting our laws by hiring illegal immigrants. The bill also would provide immigrants an opportunity to remain in the country and earn citizenship. Not all illegal immigrants would be guaranteed the right to remain in the U.S. under this proposal: they would first have to pay a substantial fine and back taxes, learn English, satisfy a work requirement, and pass a criminal background check.”

McCain’s view:
“… strong border security and enforcement provisions… greatly improve interior enforcement and put employers on notice that the practice of hiring illegal workers simply will not be tolerated… establish a system that emphasizes immigrants that contribute to the economic and cultural growth of our nation … undocumented workers will have incentives to declare their existence and comply with our laws. They may apply for a worker visa. They would be subjected to background checks. They must pay substantial fines and fees totally approximately $7000, learn English, enroll in civic education, remain employed, and if they choose to get a Green Card, go to the end of the line behind those that waited legally outside of the country to come in.”

Charmer of Hearts and Minds

Soft-spoken, low-key, intelligent, and articulate, it is a pleasure to listen to Obama, who spoke for close to 45 minutes and touched upon virtually every issue important to voters – from education to the war in Iraq.

Obama and Clinton voted on redeploying US troops by March of this year. McCain voted No, and has said that he would be willing to be the last man standing for US involvement in Iraq and went so far as to vote YES for spending 86 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama believes Iraq has distracted us from the Taliban in Afghanistan and has said that we should get Al Qaeda hiding in the hills between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Clinton says she voted for the war in Iraq based on available information, she wouldn’t vote for it today and is opposed to any war funding that doesn’t move the US toward withdrawal.

Romney’s view is that staying in Iraq protects the lives of American citizens, Iraq is part of a global jihadist effort to bring down the West, and we should keep open the option to attack Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

Waiting for the Final Count

The scene was repeated at every venue occupied by candidates – dozens of journalists and photographers, preparing for that split second when the winner is declared so as to get the perfect image to reflect that candidate’s elation or disappointment.

Voters in New Hampshire felt pretty much the same way that I did about Huckabee (who believes that prisoners in Guantanamo are treated very well and that all illegal immigrants should be sent home so ‘Americans can hold their heads high’) and Romney (who believes that Muslims should have equality but “hate preachers” should be followed into mosques and that FBI wiretaps and spying on immigrants is OK).

Surprise, surprise!

The instant CNN declared Clinton the Democratic winner, up went the posters, the hands, and the yelling, whooping, whistling, and shrieking.

Neither the winners nor the losers have any time to dwell on the results. Clinton, Edwards, and Obama are either in Michigan or on their way to Michigan preparing for that primary and for the next Democratic debate in Las Vegas and McCain, Huckabee, and Romney are stomping through South Carolina in anticipation of that state’s Republican primary.

Pollsters Get it Wrong Too, Sometimes

We spoke to Dr. Smith before the Primary, when his educated opinion was that Obama was going to win New Hampshire.

Definitely one of the most interesting part of the trip was listening to Dr. Smith explain how pollsters analyze political campaigns and put them in perspective, comparing and contrasting them with campaigns run maybe decades earlier.

On Tuesday night, he was asked why Clinton transformed into a front runner. He said, “Women shifted … from Obama back to Clinton, where they had been throughout his campaign…” It may have been, he explained, due to the shift in Clinton’s new tone.

Homeward Bound

By this point, I was so happy to be heading back to New York but we all wanted to mark the moment – that we had witnessed history in the making.

Regardless of my exhaustion, it was an extraordinary opportunity. I am honored that I was asked to be a part of that momentous occasion and pleased to have met, traveled, ad worked with this group of talented and fiercely dedicated journalists.