Monday, July 24, 2006

Arab American anger runs up against fear

Lebanese protesters hold anti-American and Israeli banners, during a protest against the visit of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Beirut, Lebanon, Monday July 24, 2006. Some places in the United States, this demonstration might seem a dangerous action. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Remi Kanazi wrote in yesterday's Middle East North Africa Financial Network News:

In the US, the sense of outrage from the Lebanese and Arab community has been unlike anything I've ever seen. People are angry, disgusted, and enraged by these recent events. Over time, many Arab-Americans became desensitized to the violence engulfing Iraq and the Occupied Territories. The events in Lebanon, however, have politically energized many Arab-Americans generally disinterested in the "politics" of the Middle East.

[What are the reasons for this?] First, the US is home to a large Lebanese population. ... Second, in the minds of many Arab-Americans, Beirut -- once considered the "Paris of the Middle East" -- was nearing that status again.

Third, many Lebanese and Arab-Americans I've spoken with were stunned by what's seen as an attack on the Lebanese government, the indiscriminate bombing of Beirut, the striking of both Christian and Muslim neighborhoods and interests, and the expansive attack on the civilian population and infrastructure. Many Lebanese believed that after a 15 year civil war, the calming of inter-religious tensions, and an end to the Israeli occupation, that they were on a better footing.

If Kanazi is right, the newly galvanized Lebanese American, Arab American, and Muslim opposition to U.S. slavish support for Israel runs smack into the other reality of post-9/11 America: suppression of the civil liberties of the same communities.

In liberal strongholds like Northern California, repression has not yet worked. I just got a notice from the American Arab Anti Discrimination Committee about a protest against Senator Diane Feinstein's blanket support for Israel. And Arab Americans in Michigan turned out in huge numbers last week to register their dissent.

But many places in the United States don't feel so safe. A really disturbing article from South Florida tells a story of fear:

While Israel's offensive against Hezbollah in Lebanon, which has killed over 350 Lebanese and 34 Israelis, has sparked protests in parts of the United States and Europe, Arab-American reaction in South Florida has been muted....

"People feel that they're being watched, that they're being placed on terrorist lists," said Roraima Aisha Kanar, 52, a customer service representative who lives in Miami. "So instead of getting involved they retract into their shell and walk in the other direction." ...

The relative absence of large, organized rallies in much of the United States reflects a sense of resignation among Arabs living in a country that is Israel's staunchest ally, said Salam Al-Marayati, director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

"The political tradition here has always been one-sided. Many Muslims feel that their perspectives are not respected, or that nobody is listening to them. You have Congress passing resolutions that are pro-Israel with no consideration for the loss of Lebanese life," Al-Marayati said from Los Angeles.

The awareness of being watched extends even to relief efforts for the victims of the Israeli assault on Lebanon. The Council on American-Islamic Relations sent out a special plea today for donations to help displaced, homeless Lebanese. In all international relief work, it is established wisdom that the best donation any of us can make is cash. Our money can then be used in ways that fit the needs on the ground and often can benefit the economy of the suffering area. But, because since 2001 Islamic charities are routinely charged with passing money to "terrorists" and sometimes have assets frozen, CAIR doesn't urge money donations.

CAIR is asking that actual relief supplies be collected because of the severe restrictions currently placed on financial aid by the U.S. government.

They carefully list the supplies needed and how to pack them, urging that they be sent through the USAID-approved charity LIFE. Politically motivated "security theater," meaningless restrictions that don't make us safer but do get in the way of ordinary humanity, here is forcing well-meaning people to build their relief efforts with one hand tied behind their backs.

As Katrina showed, this government doesn't give a damn about arrangements to help suffering people. Not too surprising, since our rulers don't do ceasefires either...

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