Naseer Aruri, chancellor professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, and a long-time member of Amnesty International, believes Arab Americans have not mapped out a political strategy that effectively voices their concerns.

Zogby International and the Arab American Institute conducted five polls that traced the voting trends of 500 Arab Americans in four swing states over a period of eight months.

 

Interviews showed an average 52% favoured Senator John Kerry while an average 29% opted for President George Bush. The figures marked a shift from the 2000 presidential election in which Bush won 46% of the Arab American vote.

"Now this is flip-flopping. Arab Americans did not have a clear
strategy in making sure their concerns were heard in either 2000 or 2004," Aruri told Aljazeera.net. "We have made the same mistake over and over."

Aruri says Bush won over Arab Americans when he promised during a presidential debate in 2000 that their civil rights would be protected. He was also the first US president to call for an independent Palestinian state.

Switching allegiances

 

The community made a similar mistake in 2004 when it switched its allegiance to Kerry on the basis of his pledge to revise parts of the USA Patriot (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act and his position that Bush had rushed to war in Iraq.

 

The Democrats won a majority of
the Arab American vote in 2004

Aruri believes this change of heart from the Republican candidate in 2000 to the Democratic challenger this year revealed a reactive strategy on the part of Arab Americans.

 

What they need is a pro-active strategy. They must decide now which party they will support, and stick with that party, Aruri said.

Such a strategy, Aruri says, requires a degree of homogeneity in the community's political views.

Middle East democracy?

 

But in reality, the community is divided.

 

US foreign policy towards the Middle East may be regarded as unfair by a majority of Arab Americans, but a minority still believes that Bush's policy will spread democracy throughout the region.

George Salem, chairman and co-founder of the Arab American Institute and a solicitor for the US Department of Labour during Ronald Reagan's administration, hopes Arab Americans who supported Kerry will keep an open mind and support Bush in coming years.

 

Kerry pledged to reform the US
Patriot Act

"We face many challenges in establishing a democracy in Iraq, but it will happen, and once it does, it will stand as a great model for the rest of the Middle East.

"We will withdraw from Iraq because we do not want to look like occupiers, and the president has insisted on doing that. It's not an easy task, but with perseverance we will all succeed and establish peace in the area and we will win the war on terror."

Others are sceptical.

 

Usama Siblani, treasurer of the Arab American Political Action Committee and publisher of the Arab American Weekly newspaper in Dearborn, Michigan is disturbed by the Bush administration's policies in the Middle East and the "war on terror".

"The Bush administration is spreading havoc in Iraq," Siblani says. "You call this spreading democracy by sending bombs to kill Iraqis every day, whether it's intentional or unintentional? I call this chaos."

Bedrock of America

 

Despite criticism Arab Americans may voice against the war in Iraq, civil rights remain at the forefront of their concerns.

 

"Our mission is civil rights, and discrimination [against the Arab
American community] is on the front burner," said Mary Rose Oakar, president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). "We are needed more than ever before."

 

Does the Patriot Act strip Arab
Americans of basic civil liberties?

Oakar places civil rights ahead of other issues important to Arab Americans because she believes they give citizens a voice.

 

Civil rights are the bedrock of America and our community must understand that they have civil rights on their side, she said.

Her colleague, Ban al-Wardi, an immigration attorney and chair of the Los Angeles/Orange County chapter of the ADC, agrees.

Al-Wardi says Arab Americans are being forced to face the issue of discrimination, because the "war on terror" has created a dangerous stereotype of Arabs.

"Our government has a history of policies that will target certain minorities throughout time, such as the Black, Asian and Latino communities," al-Wardi told Aljazeera.net. "Now we have to deal with it and people are taking power into their own hands."

She said the best way to reach out to Arab Americans who are wary of being vocal in their communities or openly supporting organisations such as the ADC, is to inform the community about its civil rights through grassroots movements, and open up to other communities so Arab Americans can be part of the broader picture.

"Policies like the USA Patriot Act, FBI raids, special registrations and racial profiling hurt our freedoms and are racist policies," al-Wardi said.

'Stop being emotional'

 

But, not all Arab Americans share her clear-cut views on this subject. Rhonda Hudome, who was assistant deputy secretary of energy in the Bush administration from 2001 to 2003, says her community needs to stop being emotional regarding Bush's policies, because they do not target innocent Arab Americans.

 

The DoJ found only 13 allegations
of rights abuses worth looking into

Before criticising the president, voters need to look at who supported the Patriot Act, Hudome says.

 

"Both Democrats and Republicans voted for this act because it helps our governments to fight this war on terror."

Her advice? Before Arab Americans blame the act as an infringement of their rights, they should take a deep breath and look at the facts:

According to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), an independent entity of the Department of Justice (DoJ), only 13 of 1613 complaints about alleged civil rights/liberties infractions from 16 December 2003 to 21 June 2004 were considered credible enough to investigate. None involved the Patriot Act.