American Arabs: History, Identity, Assimilation, Participation
November 1, 2001

Summary of a meeting with Michael Suleiman, Distinguished University Prof. of Pol. Sci., Kansas State U.; Yvonne Haddad Prof. of History, Georgetown U.; Barbara Aswad, Prof. Emerita of Anthropology, Wayne State U.; Hussein Ibish, Communications Director, American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee; Anton Hajjar, Partner, O'Donnell, Schwartz & Anderson

American Arabs and their ancestors came to the United States in two waves: pre-World War II, when most were Christian, lower middle class migrants who came for economic reasons and initially considered themselves sojourners who would return to the Ottoman Empire countries from which they came; post-World War II, when the group was both Christian and Moslem, more secular, better educated, more familiar with the idea of democracy, frequently refugees from the various conflicts in the Middle East, and determined to become Americans. The first group de-emphasized its communal identity even after it was assimilated – an identity that was confused by the inability of the American legal system to decide to which group of people (white, non-white) Arabs belonged. The second group, with a better sense of identity, found it unexpectedly enhanced by what it considered biased media coverage of the 1967. It began creating institutions of civil society such as the Association of Arab-American University Graduates (1967), the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (1980), and the Arab American Institute (1985), designed to affect scholarly discourse, make Arab-Americans and their concerns more visible, and enable them to participate more actively in the political process. Organizational efforts have been impeded by the religious and national schisms within the community and by lack of acceptance by the non-Arab community (e.g., candidates' unwillingness to accept contributions from Arab organizations). The community still lacks a coherent lobbying arm in Washington. In addition, American law has impacted disparately on Arab-Americans; e.g., of the 25 federal cases that have relied on secret evidence unavailable to defendants and their lawyers, at least 23 have involved Arab-Americans. That is partial explanation for the limited use of the courts by Arab-Americans to challenge such phenomena as employment discrimination and racial profiling. Organizing may have suffered a setback in the events of Sept. 11, which has led much of the 2/3 of the American Arab community that is Christian to distance itself from the 1/3 that is Moslem.