A few months short of my twentieth Birthday, I set out to see America
on the cheap. Using my thumb I covered 15,000 miles, hitchhiking across
America and its unbelievable expanse. I started in New York and headed
to Seattle and down the coast to Ensenada, Mexico. During the course of
my journey I discovered a lot of beautiful things about this country. I
also uncovered a few of its darker unspoken secrets.
Coming from New York, I had grown up with suburban Italians and Jews
and Wasps who always had a bad word for the African-Americans and Puerto
Ricans. Everybody had an opinion on these minorities and it was rarely
But as I drifted west, and came to the Blackfeet Indian reservation at
the foot of the Rocky Mountains in Montana, the rantings of the good white
people of America began to focus on the the Indians. The Native Americans
were not popular on the little patches of the continent where they had
managed to maintain a visible presence as a unique and separate culture.
In Los Angeles and San Diego the bias against the Hispanics was unmistakable
and I felt it on a personal level, because my Middle Eastern olive skin
and a droopy mustache gave me a distinct Chicano appearance. I felt an
immediate kinship with Mexican-Americans and volunteered to work with the
United Farm Workers to organize farm labor.
In San Francisco, I fell in love with everything. Yet, in this most liberal
of American cities, where the summer of love had not yet faded and hippies
still lingered in the Haight/Ashberry, you could not fail to hear the slightly
veiled anti-Asian sentiments.
Which brings me to the Arabs in America. You talk to the old timers about
how it was in the 1920s and 1930s and they will spin you tales of how they
struggled and triumphed as immigrants. But they will never complain of
having suffered what other minorities suffered. Indeed, they basked in
the full glory of American democracy. The average white American did not
make too great a distinction between a Lebanese, a Syrian, a Greek, an
Armenian, a Palestinian, a Slav or a Maltese. Una Faca, Una Rasa. Wave
after wave of Arab immigrants from the 1860s to the 1950s was made to feel
as welcome as other immigrants from the Eastern Mediterranean.
Things have certainly changed in the last half-century. Americans of
Arab descent or Islamic faith are now a politically quarantined community.
Our children are constantly bombarded by negative images of the 'old country'
culture. The Democratic and Republican Party shun us and discourage our
political participation, led by a presiding First Lady.
As a community we are a barely visible phantom minority made up of professionals,
small businessmen and strong families. We rarely cluster into ethnic neighborhoods.
I have never heard of an Arab street gang in any American City. The percentage
of our kids who complete high school and continue to college is among the
highest in the land. We have readily integrated, inter-married and settled
in every corner of every state in the union.
My point is that the scorn heaped on us as Arabs or Muslims or Persians
is a unique form of bigotry. Most Arabs will tell you that they have encountered
few acts of overt bigotry from individuals or in housing or at work. Certainly
nothing comparable to what African-Americans or Asian-Americans have experienced
or continue to experience. The bigotry against Arabs and Muslims does not
originate from the American heartland. It is trickle down bigotry manufactured
by special interest groups for the singular purpose of marketing a bizarre
Middle East foreign policy that can only stand on legs of ethnic bias and
The 'manufactured disdain' of Arabs and Muslims seems to flow unchecked
from major newspapers, movies, media companies and Hollywood. Added into
this volatile mix is the unfortunate tendency of many American politicians
to demean one ethnic constituency to carry favor with another. Pandering
to the ethnic vote is one thing. But Hillary Clinton did not stop at pandering
to the Jewish vote to become New York's junior Senator. She went one step
further and defamed every Arab and Muslim citizen in America.
There is a common thread binding those who labor at the task of 'manufacturing
disdain' for everything Arab or Muslim. They all seem to have a single
item agenda. It is an agenda of bashing the Arabs for the greater glory
of Israel. So, in essence, Arab-Americans are not just a minority in America.
We are a minority's minority. The larger more influential and politically
savvy Jewish minority has taken it upon itself to construct an American
Foreign Policy that favors the Jews in the Middle East over the Arabs in
the Middle East. An essential component of that policy is that America
must officially match Israel's chauvinistic hostility against all Arabs,
including American citizens of Arab descent.
By the same token, America is also forced to construct its policies for
the region based on Israel's mythological history. Candidates running for
the Senate have to pledge allegiance to Israel, a pledge they never make
to England or Sweden or Canada. This monopoly over Middle Eastern policy
effectively freezes Arab-Americans from acting as a bridge between America
and the Middle East.
Nathan Chofshi, an Israeli writer, came to the following conclusion about
Israel's attitude towards Palestinians in the 1950s "We came and turned
the native Arabs into tragic refugees. And still we dare to slander and
malign them, to besmirch their name. Instead of being deeply ashamed of
what we did and trying to undo some of the evil we committed… We justify
our terrible act and even attempt to glorify them".
Fifty years later, the disdain and bigotry are now manufactured to target
Arab-Americans along with the Palestinian. That matters have escalated
to this level of vulgarity is a testament to an American political process
that can be persuaded via special interest money to shun a whole ethnic