America’s Arab and Muslim leaders failing to produce change

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August 31, 2022

America’s Arab and Muslim leaders failing to produce change
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (L) at a campaign rally on July 29, 2022 in Pontiac, Michigan. (Getty Images/AFP)

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Arab and Muslim Americans tend to live in a fantasy land of their own creation, especially when it comes to US politics. They do not want to hear about it and they do not want to do anything about it.

For example, Arabs and Muslims are willing to accept the rhetoric of President Joe Biden and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the so-called leader of the Arab American community. But they do not care that their rhetoric is infertile and produces no actual results.

Biden says all the right things when it comes to the majority of Arab Americans. During his election campaign, Biden promised to address the community’s issues and to offer jobs to its members, ensuring that Arab and Muslim Americans would be a part of his administration. He also vowed to reverse some of the policies that his predecessor Donald Trump imposed, such as banning the citizens of many Muslim-majority states from entering the US. Many Arabs and Muslims cheered when Biden defeated Trump.

Trump started his presidency hoping to work with Arabs but was quickly attacked and vilified by Arabs in Congress, who put their partisan politics above the best interests of the community. Arab and Muslim Americans quickly attacked Trump, exaggerating his efforts to stop extremists from the Middle East from entering the country.

The reality often conflicted with the political goals of some Arab leaders, particularly Tlaib, who used profanity to pander to the emotions of the Arab American community. Tlaib does a great job of wearing Arab ethnic clothing, speaking out against injustice — when it comes from people she doesn’t like — and introducing legislation that fails to produce any results, other than making big headlines in the feeble Arab American news media.

Instead of fighting for effective results, like convincing 218 members of the House of Representatives (50 percent plus one) to support issues of justice, Tlaib and some of her supporters prefer to champion losing battles, such as introducing the Nakba resolution, which had a total of six co-sponsors. This high-sounding resolution will never get a hearing or enough votes to make a real statement.

That is our problem as Arab Americans. We tend to prefer emotion over achievement. Better to scream for justice, because it is easy, than to fight for justice, which is difficult and requires more strategic consensus-building. It is why many Arab Americans and Muslims are hesitant to openly criticize Biden, whose rhetoric and actions on Arab American and Muslim concerns are often in conflict.

As long as Tlaib says what we want to hear, why press her for more?

Ray Hanania

It does not help for Biden to appoint two dozen Arabs and Muslims to his administration and only put them in secondary roles. Or for him to restrict their public participation to prevent them from saying anything that might offend Israel.

In fact, while Biden promised to support their issues, apparently he was not talking about their concerns in the Middle East. The killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, the American Palestinian journalist shot dead by an Israeli sniper on May 10 in Jenin, is going the way of most injustices against Arabs — fading into the sunset unresolved and without ever seeing justice.

How is it possible for Congress to fail to speak out when an American citizen is murdered in cold blood? When it involves Israel’s military, which thrives on billions of dollars each year in American taxpayer funding, it is challenging. But Abu Akleh was an American citizen. She was killed, yet nothing. Her name is fading out of the headlines and into Arab and Muslim anger and emotion.

Tlaib may seem like a great voice for Arab and Muslim concerns, but she is not being held accountable for her actions. As long as she says what we want to hear, why press her for more?

For example, why doesn’t the Arab and Muslim community, with leadership from Tlaib, force U-turns from the 26 American states that have illegally adopted laws that undermine the fundamental free speech principles of the US Constitution by passing anti-Boycott Divestment and Sanctions laws?

The anti-BDS laws basically say that any American citizen who supports a boycott of Israel’s illegal and racist settler movement can be denied contracts and employment from the state because of that opinion. Their opponents contend that the laws are states’ rights issues and not federal, so they cannot do anything about them. But the reality is they do not want to because it requires too much work. Rhetoric, meanwhile, does not require much effort.

In reality, the anti-BDS laws are a federal issue because they violate the US Constitution. Arab American leaders should set aside their rhetoric and use politics to persuade 218 members of Congress to vote to prohibit states from denying Americans their constitutional right to free speech. But that would mean them having to step back from their policies of political polarization and instead find a consensus.

 Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached on his personal website at
Twitter: @RayHanania

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point of view


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