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Arab Americans to 112th Congress: Tone of Campaign Must Not Enter Government

By Omar Tewfik

Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, November 15, 2010


As expected, last week's midterm elections yielded major gains to the Republican Party in both the House and Senate.  Republicans have won control of the House of Representatives with a net gain of 60 seats thus far and Democrats barely retained control of the Senate. Current Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) will be Speaker of the House and his Republican colleagues will become committee chairmen, able to chart their own course on issues they define as priorities.  As it moves forward, we urge the new Congress to continue to seek the input of Arab Americans in addressing key foreign and domestic policy problems of important to all Americans, not just our community. 

Last month, at a D.C. summit of nearly 100 community leaders, the Arab American Institute and five co-convening Arab American and American Muslim organizations produced a consensus statement on priority issues. As many of these issues, particularly a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, play a vital role in U.S. national security interest, we encourage all members of Congress to review the statement on AAI's website. 

Engaging the Arab American community is particularly important given the tenor of the political discourse leading up to the midterm elections. Starting with the controversy surrounding the Park 51 development near Ground Zero, candidates went on record with statements that demonstrated a lack of awareness of both the Arab American and American Muslim communities. Some even saw political gain in singling out our community and going so far as to engage in Islamophobic rhetoric.

Take Spike Maynard's campaign against highly respected Arab American Congressman Nick Rahall (D-West Virginia).  Congressman Rahall has served his district for 34 years with distinction.  However, resorting to ugly campaigning, Maynard used shameful TV spots highlighting Congressman Rahall's Arab heritage and asserting that Rahall is "Good for the Middle East, Good for Obama, and Bad for America."  Thankfully, Maynard's disgraceful effort at Arab-baiting failed, with Congressman Rahall solidly winning his reelection bid. 

In North Carolina and Florida, the result was less favorable.  Two Tea Party-favored candidates won their election bids and will be sworn in as new members in January. 

Florida's 22nd District elected Republican Allen West. West, who while serving in Iraq was charged with violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice and later fined for misconduct and assault for firing a gun near a detainee's head, has made some fairly alarming statements on Islam, including: "Islam is a totalitarian, theocratic, political ideology. It is not a religion." He also stated, "Mahmoud Abbas isn't the leader of anything else than a gang."

While a recount is scheduled, North Carolina's 2nd District seat will go to Renee Ellmers.  Her campaign language included using "Muslim" and "terrorist" interchangeably in an anti-Park 51 ad. She stated, "The terrorists haven't won, and we should tell them in plain English: NO! There will never be a mosque at Ground Zero. " 

In response to CNN's Anderson Cooper saying the people building Park 51 were not terrorists, Ellmers answered: "Do you know that sir? Do you know that sir?" She added, "I am running for the people of District 2 NC, who are good, hardworking Christian people."

Engaging in this kind of discourse against any ethnic or religious community is shameful - more so when it is for political gain.  However, now that these candidates will become members of Congress charged with serving all of their constituents, the tone and substance of their campaign rhetoric must not play a role in how they govern. 

"Whether it be policy questions or political rhetoric, we expect our elected officials to adopt a zero tolerance policy on anti-Arab and anti-Muslim rhetoric," stated AAI President James Zogby.  


The Arab American Institute (AAI), a Washington, D.C.-based organization, serves as the political and policy research arm of the Arab American community.





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