US Arab and Muslim communities embrace democracy for greater safety

On April 25, millions of Arabs and Muslims in the United States and abroad will turn their attention to the U.S. Supreme Court as it hears arguments for and against President Trump’s third attempt at a Muslim travel ban. The court will consider the legality of the ban after allowing the Trump administration last fall to restrict travel from six Muslim-majority countries. 

This fiasco has been a learning experience for Arab-Americans new to U.S. democracy and the rights this country affords its residents. They are rising to meet the challenge a hundred times over.

{mosads}The initial ban, announced on Jan. 28, 2017, has not been fully implemented and may never pass the legal muster to be enforced. But it has inspired activism in Arab and Muslim communities across the country.


On the day that the president enacted the ban, immigrant rights advocates — thousands of them Arabs, Muslims and others of Middle Eastern descent — arrived at airports in cities including New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Chicago. The following week, hundreds of Yemeni-owned bodegas closed their doors throughout New York City, as thousands went on strike, opting instead to say prayers en masse in front of the Federal Court Building.

But these examples are only the most publicized. Arabs and Muslims are uniting, mobilizing and organizing in communities, participating in a democratic process that has omitted and dismissed us.

Palos Township, a suburb of Chicago, long has been a Republican stronghold, but in recent years, the community’s population has become one-third Arab or Muslim. So last summer, when Sharon Brannigan, a member of the township’s board of trustees, made comments on social media about Arab and Muslim immigrants, it was not surprising that thousands of Palos’ Arab and Muslim community members joined demonstrations at board meetings, calling for her resignation. Brannigan later stepped down from Cook County’s Commission on Women’s Issues; she apologized for her comments but refused to resign as a township trustee.

People whose greatest involvement in democracy previously may have been voting now are learning how to knock on doors, talk to strangers, put up yard signs, collect signatures and not only try to win elections but also to unseat elected officials who don’t represent their interests. Over the past few years, community members from Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, and other parts of the Arab world, have become some of the U.S.’s newest and proudest champions of democracy.

Today, a new wave of first-time Arab activists is organizing communities on the ground against similar instances of anti-Arab/anti-Muslim bigotry in New York, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco and other cities. Groups such as the national Campaign to TAKE ON HATE, the Arab American Action Network (AAAN) in Chicago and the U.S. Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) see the parallels this racism shares with that experienced by black, Latinx and other communities of color across the United States.

We are helping to form coalitions across racial, ethnic, national and religious lines to build safer communities and hold law enforcement and elected officials accountable.

No matter how the Supreme Court rules on Muslim travel ban, we know the Arab-American community will be there, present, in protest, making its voice heard and strengthening U.S. democracy. We can rest assured that these attacks only make us firmer in our commitment to fighting back and building healthier communities for all people.

And in the process, more and more of us will enter our country’s city councils, state legislatures and Congress. Arab-Americans will be a beacon at a time when we are needed like never before.

Bassem Kawar is the National Campaign Coordinator of the Campaign to TAKE ON HATE. Follow him on Twitter @Kawarb1988.

Tags Anti-Arabism Arabs Discrimination Donald Trump Islam in the United States Racism

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