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Hussein Ibish

Arab-Americans must embrace success over victimhood

Commissars of Arab-American political correctness want the community powerless

Mr. Salameh, a prominent Palestinian-American.

The soul of the Arab-American community is currently being pulled in two separate directions simultaneously.

One is optimistic and uplifting. It wants to assert its full rights as citizens, engage the system, and enthusiastically embrace what the United States has to offer.

The other is bitter and enraged. It celebrates and revels in Arab-American marginalization and self-marginalization. It lashes out at any Arab-American who successfully engages mainstream American society and consciously seeks to suppress the community's maturation and empowerment.

This oppressive political correctness that insists on sticking resolutely to the fringes is a deliberate tactic by vocal enforcers of communal orthodoxy. They clearly understand their own influence depends on Arab-Americans seeing themselves as powerless.

 

The commissars can then assume the authority of victimhood, and pretend to speak on behalf of a supposedly besieged and beleaguered people who have no other voice but their shrill cries of rage.

The depths to which the self-appointed Arab-American political thought police, and their minions, will sink was dramatically demonstrated recently on Twitter.

 

Asa Winstanley, an associate editor at Ali Abunimah's Electronic Intifada online news publication, angrily condemned the American Task Force on Palestine for honoring a successful Palestinian-American, Ghassan Salameh.

 

Winstanley tweeted, "ATFP celebrates NSA spying w award 2 Booz Alan CEO: contractor Snowden leaked frm."

This typical calumnious effort to smear ATFP and a prominent Palestinian-American is vicious and utterly misleading. Salameh was never CEO of Booz Allen Hamilton. He was a Senior Vice President until his retirement in 2011. He never had any form of security clearance and was never involved in any kind of intelligence work. His work was devoted entirely to civilian clients in the transportation sector.

Moreover, the ATFP award to Salameh was in 2010. The suggestion Salameh or the award could, in any way at all, be linked to the Snowden affair is absurd. Winstanley certainly knew this, but didn't care. He saw a chance to trick gullible people into seeing ATFP as a nefarious organization.

Moreover, the man Winstanley was attacking for his success is a Palestinian refugee born in Lebanon into the most grinding poverty imaginable. After two tragic accidents, his father became blind in both eyes, and his mother eked out the most hardscrabble living possible as a seamstress.

 

Eventually, and through enormous grit, determination, and pluck, Salameh made it out of his refugee camp in Lebanon and achieved an American education, finally rising to the position of senior vice president at a major American corporation.

In his acceptance speech, Mr. Salameh spoke about how proud he was to be an American and how he was sure that no other country in the world could afford "the son of Palestinian refugees growing up below the poverty line" to achieve such a success.

His success in itself must be derided, because it threatens both the anti-American narrative and the political clout of the extremists behind Winstanley. Worse, he was being honored by ATFP, an organization which, because of its dedication to celebrating Palestinian-American achievements and successes and to working within the American system, is seen as the ultimate threat.

Indeed, in 2010, Mr. Salameh thanked ATFP and its president, Dr. Ziad Asali, for giving him the courage to embrace his Palestinian identity and his American success story simultaneously.

 

"Six years ago, after 32 years in this country and only after I made Sr. Partner," he said, "I finally got the courage to publicly admit that I am Palestinian-American. The fear of being labeled [or] of being stereotyped, the fear for my kids, and the fear for my job stopped me from coming out – and for years I was tormented by it."

"I want to thank Ziad and the work he and many of you are doing to give people like me the courage to be unafraid, to be proud to be Palestinian-American, to be able to openly speak about the suffering of Palestinians, and at the same time be a loyal US citizen who cares deeply about this great country," he continued.

The enforcers of Arab-American political correctness are consciously and systematically trying to reinforce that fear, not hesitating to savage a Palestinian refugee who achieved American success. They personally and viciously attack any Arab-American who is perceived as embracing the full scope of their US citizenship and successfully engaging with American society. They often do so anonymously, and dishonestly.

 

Time and again I have met young Arab-Americans who want to engage and succeed culturally and politically in the mainstream, but shrink back because of intimidation by such bullies. But there are growing signs that increasing numbers are fed up with self-imposed marginalization and defeatism.

 

There is a battle over the Arab-American soul between the hollow satisfaction of angry victimhood versus the real promise of hope and success.

Mr. Salameh at the ATFP. (ATFP photo)

"Time and again I have met young Arab-Americans who want to engage and succeed culturally and politically in the mainstream, but shrink back because of intimidation by such bullies."

  • GOTC

    Hanibaal, You make great points about our identity. "Arabs" from Lebanon were generically referred to as "Syrians" in the early 20th century. Which as you no referred to the general region we came from. Franck Salameh of Boston College has done great work on why Lebanese should have a distinct identity. I have a copy of an early 20th century article in the Detroit News describing a Syrian colony in Detroit which was made up of immigrants in Lebanon. In that same Detroit neighborhood, In 1966, St. Maron Maronite Church was elevated to the first Maronite Cathedral in the United States with the establishment of the first Maronite Exarchate and appointment of His Excellency, Bishop Francis Zayek, the first Maronite Bishop to shepherd the Maronite flock in the USA. The eparchy was eventually transferred to Brooklyn, NY.

    November 12, 2013

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    I do take issue with your equating Lebanese identity with the Maronite Church. I also reject your statement that "Lebanese SHOULD have a distinct identity". There IS a Lebanese identity that goes back to antiquity times, just as there is a Greek one, a Celtic one, a Hebrew one, etc. That identity has changed in language, religion, and other attributes over time, but it has not disappeared. Finally, just as Islam and Judaism today subjugate national and ethnic identities under their own religious one, Christianity (i.e. the Church) did that for most of its history. It is only recently (with the renaissance and the enlightenment) that religious identity in the West has taken second place behind national and other identities. However, in the case of Lebanon, the Christian Church (Maronite and otherwise) killed our national and ethnic identity (Phoenician, Aramaic, Syrian, etc...) when the Roman Empire became Christian. All these peoples were forced to abandon their own traditions and histories to become Christians - except the Jewish people who, by rejecting Christianity, maintained their identity. But in Lebanon, by becoming Maronites, among other Christian sects, we lost our pre-Christian identities. In other words, I blame religion for having killed our sense of nationhood, and the Maronite Church continues to do so. Unless we separate the two identities (as the Europeans have done), we are doomed to disappear and ultimately lose everything. I do not subscribe to the notion that many Lebanese "Christian" nationalists promote, namely that to stand up to the Islamic onslaught, we have to brandish our own "Christian" national identity. The course of history is to move away from barbaric religious beliefs that are incompatible with scientific and technological advances. As Lebanese, we have to abandon our religious identities and adopt a national identity that transcends our even changing religious identities.

    November 13, 2013

  • GOTC

    I pretty much agree with your post, I think we would be just arguing semantics with my use of should. Lebanese do have a separate identity. I never meant to equate Lebanese with Maronite just that the term "arab" for lebanese in the United States wasn't used the generic "syrian" was used at least in these early 20th century Detroit News articles.

    November 13, 2013

  • Larrysturn

    It is difficult to stand up and stand out. There is much disaffection with those who challenge the generally accepted cliche of victim hood as individuals and organizations and reach toward/work for a better future. In many ways it is more beneficial to carry the cross of victim hood whatever your background as a vehicle providing inoculation, separation and a justification for all that is wrong in ones life. It is tough to overcome the odds and then stand up overcome them again and make a difference.

    November 12, 2013

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    ... "Muslim-Americans", alongside every Muslim immigrant from Indonesia to Morocco. I have never heard of Libyan-Americans or Saudi-Americans, or Jordanian-Americans...

    November 12, 2013

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    4) A case in point: While the Arabs and Muslims, Palestinians and Syrians and others, were burning Lebanon to the ground betwen the 1970s and 1990s, and well into the 1990s, the Arab-Americans not once did uphold Lebanon's sovereign rights under the Syrian occupation. They constantly and consistently lobbied, rightfully or wrongfully, against Lebanon, and for Syria and Palestine, whenever the interests of Lebanon clashed with those of those two other entities. They worked very hard to defeat the Syria Accountability Act of 2003 which would have helped Lebanon shake off the Syrian occupation and held the Assad regime accountable for the crimes it was committing. Of course, that was before Assad turned against them, killed Hariri and others... and now they too are against Assad, after defending him and his dictatorship for 40 years. 5) The "Arab-American notion is also artificially made to clone other such ethnic groupings in the US, such as Asian-American, African-American, etc... But unlike these, the Arab-American narrative has historically denied the real identities that lay beneath the name. These descendants of 19th century immigrants were raised by parents who considered themselves Turks under their Ottoman rulers. Once the Ottoman Empire collapsed, they had to invent another identity for themselves, and they built up the "Arab" identity out of nothing. They, in fact, decried the birth of countries like Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Jordan and Iraq as some sort of colonialist conspiracy aimed at breaking apart an "Arab" entity that, truth be said, had never existed except in their totalitarian repressive mindsets. Mr. Ibish: Your call for Arab-Americans to embrace success is a lonely call in the wilderness. There are no "real" Arab-Americans except in the cigar-smoking, backroom-dealing elite clubs you have created for yourselves. Out in the real American streets and life, there are only Lebanese-Americans, and all the others are grouped as "Muslim-Americans", along

    November 12, 2013

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    The whole concept of "Arab-American" is a fallacy that needs to be debunked: 1) More than 95% of so-called "Arab-Americans" are the descendants of the late 19th- and early 20th century immigrants from Lebanon. They are in their vast majority Christians whose ancestors fled the pogroms and massacres by Muslims and Arabs. 2) The idea of an "Arab-American" identity is the immigrant clone of the equally fallacious concept of "Arab" identity that sprung out after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, took shape under Baath Party ideologies, and was imposed by force on a number of ethnicities and communities in the Near East whose only connection to "Arab" is that they had to abandon their native languages and adopt Arabic, the language of their conquerors from the Arabian Peninsula. (just like the Irish were made to forgo their Celtic identity and speak English by their English conqueors; this does not make them Englishmen, does it?) 3) The disconnect, however, between the Near East and America is that while "Arabness" is equated with Islam (any non-Muslim Arab is de facto a Dhimmi, a second class citizen, throughout the Near East), there are very few Muslims within the ranks of the self-declared Arab-Americans in the United States.

    November 12, 2013