Being Arab American Four Years After 9/11
Four years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the impact of these incidents has become clearer regarding its impact on the U.S.’s Arab community. Surprisingly, instead of just focusing on the negative effects of the terrorist attacks on the civil rights of Arab Americans, some began to realize the positive aspects and results that deserve consideration. In this article, the Washington Report attempts to describe the state of the U.S.’s Arab community on the fourth anniversary of this tragedy while monitoring the recurrent negative effects but focusing on the growing number of positive results.
The Ongoing Civil Rights Violations
No doubt, Arab Americans still suffer from the negative results of the 9/11 attacks and many civil rights organizations responsible for defending the rights of Muslims and Arabs still monitor hundreds of cases of violations and discrimination against Arabs or citizens of Arab origin across the U.S. today. This takes many forms such as hostile statements by politician or religious figures (from other faith communities) or through the extension of the Patriot Act that has restricted freedoms and supported precautionary procedures that contradict the basic values and culture of American society. These types of procedures include targeting Arabs and Muslims at airports including invasive personal searches or placing them in holding area for a number of hours all based on their physical features, clothing, or names. While the number of these violations has decreased over time, they continue to escalate whenever similar attacks take place in pro-Washington European capitals or after warnings are released by the American administration regarding probably terrorist attacks or rise is issued in the security alert degrees from one color to another.
Shawn Lemenager, an American citizen who has studied Arabic for thirteen years, agreed that violations committed against Arabs and Muslims witness phases of increase and decline according to the size and nature of terrorist attacks. Lemenager points to the danger of coupling these threats with the negative stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims. Indeed, the most common, dominant view among Americans is that the root of the evil menace that is targeting U.S. interests and the American nation is Arabs and Muslims.
9/11 Attacks Didn’t Cool Down the Melting Pot
Despite the continued violations and discrimination targeting Arabs since the 9/11 attacks, the situation is not as negative if we view all its dimensions. Alaa Bayoumi who is Director of Arab Relations at the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) which is in charge of defending the rights of Muslims in the U.S. assured the Washington Report that now after four years it seems that the tragedy of 9/11 did not stop the long and difficult march of the Arab community to blend into American society and its institutions. Bayoumi added that on the contrary, the accusations and blaming of the Arab community by some Americans only increased their desire to open up and be more receptive to new ideas—taking part in all its institutions and organizations. Also, many polls conducted by the Zogby International Foundation after the 9/11 attacks showed that Arab Americans or American Arabs are committed more than ever to their civil duties and responsibilities, especially pertaining to safeguarding their rights.
As for Sobhi Ghandour, the Director of the Center for Arab Dialogue and Culture in Washington, D.C., he believes that despite the negative effects and loss suffered by all Americans and notably Arab Americans as a result of the 9/11 attacks, positive results do exist. Moreover, while it provided an opportunity for rightwing groups and organizations to attack Arab and Muslim culture, it also provided equal opportunity for the Arab community to answer many questions and clarify the facts concerning its public image.
Farewell to Negativity
Prior to the 9/11 attacks, the Arab community in the United States was known for its disinterest in politics and its inaction in American civil institutions, as most were merely technocrats. Yet, the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the times of crisis and suffering which followed has generated a great deal of energy in the Arab community, according to Bayoumi’s description, which has helped spread a culture of civil rights awareness and public participation. One indication of this is that many students of Arab origins have chosen to study law and there has been a noticeable increase in the number of Arab civil rights organizations. Also, it has become rare to encounter speeches by negative groups among the Arab community’s sons and daughters. Also, activists have rushed to Arab American organizations to communicate with other minorities.
Farewell to Duality
In the past, Arab Americans faced a dilemma when defining their identities because of their dual background and participation in two cultures and societies. This was a dilemma that was encountered by not only the immigrant generations but also their sons and daughters who were born on U.S. soil due to a variety of reasons. One is that parents feared that their children would completely assimilate into Western culture and forget their roots. Indeed, this duality deeply affected all their values and their understanding of concepts such as “the homeland”. But, as Ghandour commented, after 9/11, things were more simple: Belong and become part of this country or else---there is no longer any room for the negative effects of duality.
Shedding Light on Arab-Americans and their Issues
After 9/11, one normal outcome was that American society along with the U.S. media showed more interest in Arab and Muslim Americans. The past few years have witnessed thousands of press articles and an unprecedented amount of media coverage of the affairs and situation of Arabs in the United States. Irrespective of any negative ******* in this coverage, there was definite focus on the Arab community which gave Arab Americans a sense of importance and inspired them to view themselves as meaningful parts of the spectrum of American society. Indeed, Arab Americans have become the center of attention and sparked the curiosity of other Americans. Now, it is common in the U.S. for other Americans to inquire about one’s Arab or Muslim culture when they know that this citizen descends from Arab origins. Also, issues that previously did not preoccupy the minds of most Americans prior to the 9/11 attacks have now been pushed to the forefront, such as U.S. foreign policy and the situation in the Middle East. As Ghandour commented, even the most controversial topic in the recent presidential elections in the U.S. was George W. Bush’s policy in Iraq.
Increase in Job Opportunities for Arab Americans
Another positive side effect of the 9/11 attacks for the Arab American community is the creation of a number of job opportunities and vocations fields for those who are fluent in the Arabic language. Moreover, advertisements for Arabic speakers to fulfill positions in educational, security, military, intelligence, or media institutions began appearing in newspapers or on electronic classifieds sites almost daily. Searching for job opportunities is now as simple as typing in the words “Arabic Language” or “Arabs” in a search engine to find hundreds of vacancies.
Increase in Americans Interested in Arabic and Arab Culture
Since the attacks of 9/11, the number of students interested in studying Arabic and Arab culture has dramatically increased. In the Department of Classical and Semitic Languages and Literatures at George Washington University alone, the number of students enrolled in Arabic language classes increased from a few dozens last year to almost three hundred. This increase has taken place in similar departments in American universities all across the country. These institutions have witnesses firsthand the phenomenon expressing the need and desire of American society to understand Arab culture which has resulted in the allocation of huge budgets to organize programs on the national level that offer full scholarships for intensive Arabic language study for interested students such as the National Flagship Language Program at the University of Maryland and the Center for Advanced Arabic Proficiency at Georgetown University.
In conclusion, the 9/11 tragedy and the hard times that followed for Arab Americans while difficult have led to some positive outcomes on the both the individual and collective levels.
Basic Facts and Figures about Arab Americans
• The population of Arab Americans in the U.S. varies from 1.25 to 3.5 million, which according to Dr. Munthar Soliman, may be attributed to the differences between the figures collected by Arab organizations and those by the U.S. Census Bureau.
• Arab Americans are demographically distributed in the following manner: 2/3 concentrated in 10 specific states while other 1/3 in the remaining states. One third of Arab Americans resides in California, New York, and Michigan with 94 percent settled in the suburbs of major U.S. cities like Los Angeles, Detroit, New York, and Washington, D.C.
• Arab Americans descend from all Arab regions but according to the Arab American Institute, the majority originates from the following countries: Lebanon (47%), Syria (15%), Egypt (9%), Palestine (6%), Iraq (3%), and a mix of other countries (18%).
• The majority of the members of the Arab American community are Christians due to the first wave of immigrants from Syrian and Lebanese Christians and the denominations are represented as follows: Catholic (42%), Orthodox (23%), Protestant (12%). As for Arab Muslims, they constitute 23 percent according to estimates made by the Arab American Institute.
• Based on the estimates of Arab American organizations, Dr. Soliman said that Arabs in the U.S. enjoy high educational completion rates in comparison to most Americans as approximately 40% of Arabs hold university degrees, which is double the percentage of average educated Americans in general. Moreover, 65 percent of Arabs hold administrative or technical jobs predominantly in the private or service sector. The per capita income of the average Arab American citizen is 8 percent higher than the average of about $57,000 annually