Since September 11, 2001, a major question crossed the minds of many U.S. citizens: What would make 19 men from the Middle East hate us so much that they would massacre 3,000 Americans? Every anchor in every media had this question on his or her lips for weeks and months. Intellectuals debated what went wrong in the Muslim world. Academics continued with their rumblings about the so-called root causes, classically simmering with irrational self-guilt. Americans of all walks of life wanted and still want to know about the real feelings and aspirations of the vast Arab-Islamic world.
Despite the gigantic budgets spent on Middle East Studies and international reporting for decades, particularly in the 1990s, average Joes were still swimming in unknown seas of ignorance, having been poorly educated about its history and its political culture. “Are all Arabs Muslims? Do all Muslims follow Osama bin Laden? Why do they hate America so much?” they asked.
American politicians were no better, despite their supposedly savvy advisors. “Iraqis can’t produce a democracy,” shouted the doubters. “We can’t impose our ideals on them,” argued the suddenly turned experts. Bottom line: A gigantic lack of understanding of all that is Middle Eastern has been overshadowing the national debate.
In addition, with radical organizations grabbing the power to represent the mainstream institutions of Mideast-American communities, the American perception of these Arab immigrant communities got more complicated. Years before the Mohamemd Atta massacre in Manhattan, a network of political entities rose to claim the aspirations of immigrants from the Middle East. They hijacked all representation and excluded all others from White House visits and media dramatizations. The Arabist and Islamist lobbies took over Washington’s political space initially allocated to more than 4 million Americans from all Mideast descent.
With the smoke covering the ashes of the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a hillside in Pennsylvania, the temperature was rising over the “Mideast Question.” Are all peoples from that region enemies? Do we have friends among them? More pressing questions haunted the public: "What about Mideastern people living among us?" The issue became critical to most Americans as cells were dismantled, and terrorists were arrested, both inside the country and overseas. Are Jihadists infiltrating our Mideastern and Arab communities?
Unfortunately, not only have the Wahabbi lobbies been supportive of the ideologies of the perpetrators against America, but several Middle Eastern groups have acted against this nation. Dramatically, large segments of Americans started to lose trust in those originating east and south of the Mediterranean.
Mideast Americans needed to be freed from the chains of mistrust. They needed to be represented by new faces. The American public needed to hear a different message than the decades of anti-Americanism and pro-Jihadist sentiment prevalent among the aging Establishment -- which is mostly supported by totalitarians overseas.
Now, finally, after three years of hard work since the tragedy of 9/11, another face of Mideastern Americans is surging to the forefront. Slowly but surely, American groups from Mideastern descent, in disagreement with the established political elites of the 1980s and the 1990s, came to the surface. Four days after September 11, a powerful letter of support was sent by the World Lebanese Cultural Union (WLCU), a diaspora-based organization, to President Bush. "Millions of Lebanese around the world are standing with the United States against Terrorism," wrote the authors.
At a time when Washington-based Arabist groups were circulating analysis indicting America and its policies for the actions of al Qaeda, other Mideast-Americans took the fight to the public sphere. Lebanese-Americans were the first to break the wall of American Jihadism. With the longest standing historical experience in this regard, their community organizations pioneered all aspects of the efforts against Terror: translators, analysts, experts, poured into government agencies.
Next were the Chaldo-Assyrians, mostly concentrated in Chicago and Detroit, who were followed by the Copts from Egypt. These American groups had good reasons to join the campaign. For decades, their mother nationalities had been brutalized in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. Then came Muslim and Arab groups who rejected the diktat of the dominant Wahabbis and Ba’athists. Shiites who have suffered under Saddam and Sunnis who have suffered under Assad felt America was wounded by the same forces of Terror, which caused them and their communities great harm.
A new wave of Muslim groups against terror appeared. Isolated and constantly intimidated by well-financed radical Islamist lobbyists and organizations, American Muslims began to gather together in smaller associations. Syrian Reformists, Lybian democrats, Yemeni intellectuals, and Palestinian dissidents declared their own entities.
As the new anti-terror Arabs struggled to affirm themselves, Iranian-Americans and Kurds came to the front of the American debate to confirm the thesis that the peoples of the Middle East "want freedom and democracy."
Meanwhile, the African side of the Mideast communities of America rose to visibility. First Southern Sudanese, followed by Mauritanian and joined by the exiles from Darfur. This tiny African American immigrant community exposed the regime of horrors in North Africa. Berbers came to witness as well. Day after day, between 2002 and 2004, a new "community" of activists made it to the national media, the US Government and finally to the edges of the global debate.
Today in the United States, thousands of Americans of Middle East descent are joining forces to answer the anxious questions of their neighbors: "Yes we are fully Americans and we feel this is our country which we love and want to defend against Terrorists," said the organizers of a historic conference to take place in Washington DC on Friday October 1, 2004. "It is time for our communities to break the silence imposed by the oil backed elite," said Tom Harb, a member of the American Lebanese Coalition, a group that co-sponsored the event. John Michael, a medical doctor from Chicago revealed that, "tens of thousands of Assyrians and Chaldeans have sided since day one with the U.S. when it decided to liberate our mother country – Iraq – from the bloody Saddam."
More than 30 organizations, from all ethnic and religious backgrounds, have been meeting and planning for what will become a "beginning for a new era in Mideast-American history" as qualified by Dr Zuhdi Jasser, a Muslim activist heading the American Muslim Forum for Democracy. "The mass graves in Iraq shook off the basis of our consciousness" said Zainab al Suwajj, the courageous Arab female leading the Islamic American Congress.
Walking hand in hand with Muslim moderates, Coptic groups are raising the issue of persecution of Christians in Egypt at the hands of fundamentalists. Michael Meunir, President of US Copts said "it will be interesting to see that this new wave of Americans from Mideast descent will show the world and the fanatics that Muslims would stand by Christians when persecuted and the other way around." Moyammed Yahia from Darfur's exiled community agrees: "We saw Christians coming to our help, when we Black Muslims were massacred by the Janjaweed.”
This talk wasn't politically correct a few years ago. Now it is out in the open. Soon, it will have a national umbrella. The "Middle Eastern American Convention for Freedom and Democracy" will hold its sessions on this first Friday of the Fall of 2004. According to the press release issued by these organizations, "Americans of Middle Eastern descent will gather in Washington, D.C., to show their support for the efforts to defeat terrorism and radicalism and to create a free and peaceful Middle East."
The forum will include speakers from different affiliations, a mosaic never seen before in Middle Eastern America. “At these dangerous and critical times, we want to provide a forum for all Middle Eastern Americans who support the United States in the war against terror and applaud the fact that the Middle East has one less tyrant after the fall of Saddam,” said Dr. Joseph Gebeily, the Convention’s executive director. “As primary victims of the prevailing intolerance in the Middle East, we strongly support the war on terrorism and efforts to promote democracy in all nations of the Middle East.”
This convention will allow participants to exchange views and ideas with longtime veterans of the struggle against terrorism and tyranny. Despite their diverse backgrounds, the participants share a historic and deeply motivated allegiance to the United States and aspire to see a free and peaceful Middle East.
The convention includes a discussion forum from 5 to 6:30 p.m. that will address U.S. foreign policy, Iraq, Afghanistan, al-Qaeda, the Arab-Israeli conflict, Syria’s occupation of Lebanon, the genocide in Darfur, women’s rights, and democracy. From 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., the discussion will continue over dinner. A representative from the Bush administration and Members of Congress have been invited to attend. The Convention is sponsored by American associations from Arab, Kurd, Chaldo-Assyrian, Iranian, Sunni, Shia, Christian, Sudanese, Maronites, Mauritanian, Berber, Aramaic, Jewish, and other backgrounds, including:
American Lebanese Coalition
Assyrian American National Federation
US Copts Association
Reform Party for Syria
Iraq America Freedom Alliance
American Islamic Congress
Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism
American Islamic Forum for Democracy
American Maronite Union
American Coptic Association
American Libyan Freedom Alliance
Assyrian Academic Society
Iranian American Coalition
Iranian American Coalition
Chaldean National Congress
Southern Sudanese Voice for Freedom
The Saudi Institute
Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Mauritania
JIMENA, Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa
Kabyle Berber Movement
Washington Kurdish Institute
American Lebanese Alliance
American Lebanese Coordination Council
American Middle-East Christian Association
Assembly for Lebanon
Lebanese Information Center
World Lebanese Cultural Union - USA
Forum speakers include:
Elie Khawand, Lebanese Information Center
Dr Ali Attar, Iraq America Freedom Alliance
Joseph Kassab, Chaldean National Congress
Farid Ghadri, Syrian Reform Party
Michael Meunir, US Copts Association
Dr Najmedine Karim, President of the Washington Kurdish Institute
Kamal Nawash, President, Free Muslims Coalition Against Terrorism
Dr Zuhdi Jasser, American Islamic Forum for Democracy
Ali Ahmad, the Saudi Institute
Barbara Anne Ferris, International Coalition for Women
Yahia Mohammed Adam, RMCE, Massaleit Community in Exile, Darfur
Jimmy Mulla, Southern Sudanese Voice for Freedom
Mohammed al Jahmi, American Lybian Freedom Alliance
Emmanuel Benhmou, JIMENA, Jews Indigenous from the Mideast and North Africa
Mansour Kane, President, Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Mauritania
Also, four heavyweight Human Rights and Democracy groups are coming to witness the speeches. They are Freedom House, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, the American Anti Slavery Group and Christian Solidarity International.
The Dinner speakers include:
Professor Walid Phares, General Coordinator of the National Committee of the Convention
Dr Joseph Gebeily, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Convention
Mrs. Zainab al-Suwaij, President, American Islamic Congress
Attorney Robert Dekelaita, Assyrian American National Federation
Walid Maalouf, USAID, Public Diplomacy, Middle East Office
Representative, US State Department
Representative, United States Mission at the United Nations
US Congress Messages
In sum, the alternative voice of Middle Eastern Americans is rising. Americans and others will at last be able to bear witness to a captivating and vital moment of post 9/11 history, where Middle Easterns of all walks of life come together to show their solidarity against terror.
When: Friday, October 1, 2004
Forum, 5-6:30 p.m.
Dinner, 7:30-9:30 p.m.
Where: Wardman Park Marriott Hotel
2660 Woodley Road, NW, Washington, DC 20008
Email at Mideastoctober1@aol.com