It was an honor to attend the the annual banquet of the Arab American Political Action Committee (AAPAC) at Bint Jebail Cultural Center on Miller Road in Dearborn, Friday, 24 October 2008. I was there as a volunteer representative of the John McCain/Sarah Palin Campaign for President and Vice President of the United States.
Everyone â€“ sponsors, members, guests â€“ was most gracious and polite to me, as I have always found over the years as a guest of many Arab hosts, both in the Middle East and in America. But, it became clear soon after my arrival at the Center that Barack Obama was the favored candidate of the crowd.
Why? The economy, taxes, war? Change? In part, all of these issues seemed to be important to the people I met. But, it was still puzzling to me why the sentiment for Obama was so strong.
People sat at their assigned tables and the first speaker ascended to the podium to announce AAPAC’s endorsements for political office. They didn’t include a preference for President and Vice President. AAPAC’s President, Osama Siblani, subsequently explained his organization did not endorse candidates unless they request such endorsement in writing. Apparently, neither presidential candidate had.
In spite of this â€œnon-endorsement,â€ speakers at the podium that night left little doubt. Obama was the man for the hour, and for the next four years. Cheers rang from the audience. The choice was popular.
After these speeches I asked for equal time, a few minutes to address the folks there that night on the merits of John McCain being the man for the next four years. I was told the people there wouldn’t stand for it. They were bitter and hostile towards the man, John McCain.
I was told Arab Americans were outraged when they saw John McCain on television respond to a woman at a McCain event who said Obama was an Arab. Senator McCain’s response, I was told, was, â€œNo, Barack Obama is a decent American.â€ The impression left was John McCain was saying Arab Americans and decency were incompatible.
Well, I didn’t see this exchange on television. But, I do know John McCain is a decent American. And, it is hard to imagine John McCain suggesting Arabs cannot be decent Americans. That could not have been his intent. Why would a candidate seeking the votes of all Americans disparage some Americans, those of Arab descent?
I can only guess, but in the heat of a campaign John McCain may have thought the lady who said Obama was an Arab actually said, â€œArab terrorist.â€ Unfortunately, in today’s troubling and often violent world, that is a term not uncommonly used. In his mind, Senator McCain was defending his colleague, Senator Obama, against an absurd charge, not at all intending to insult every Arab American.
In any event, that is what I would have told the audience if I had been permitted to speak.
As I left that night, I was struck by the kindness and gentle hospitality of so many people I had met at the banquet. That same kindness and hospitality I have been fortunate enough to experience in Lebanon, Iraq, America, everywhere I have gone in this world where I have met Arabs. In spite of the fact most of these folks I talked with and in some cases debated with were clearly opposed to the candidates for President and Vice President I support and whose names I carried on my lapel as I circulated among the tables that evening, always always were they gracious.
Arab Americans want a voice in American politics. More than once that night I heard Arab Americans complain that U.S. lawmakers listen only to the Jewish lobby in America and ignore opposing views. Arab Americans want to be heard not only in their communities but across America.
That left me with my second major impression of the evening: Arab Americans need to engage in some smart politics. Instead of dwelling on what was an obvious miscommunication on the part of John McCain or on the predominance of the Jewish lobby in this country, draw up a manifesto for successful politics in America.
May we suggest the following as a starter:
Stop complaining about the Jewish lobby. Emulate it by savvy politicking that carries the message of Arab Americans to both major political parties.
Learn from the success of the African American community that persistence and just plain old intestinal fortitude can achieve political milestones while earning admiration across all ethnic and racial lines in America.
Avoid the mistake of the African American community that retarded the progress it should have achieved long before this: too close an identification with one major political party. When it comes to those all important elections, Republicans ignore the African American voters they know they cannot win over while Democrats take them for granted.
Do not identify too closely with one political party (see #1 and #3).
Encourage the airing of opposing views on issues. At meetings and banquets give spokespeople on both sides of an issue the chance to tell their side. It makes for a more informed community.
Maybe, then, in the next campaign for the presidency, the candidates for both major political parties will put that request in writing for an endorsement from AAPAC.
Patricia L. Mosure is president and Stephen G. Patten is Director of Education of Lee & Grant Company, an education and information company headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org