Thursday, June 14, 2007

Galling Flexibility

The American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee just met in Washington D.C. for their annual convention. I had never been to an ADC meeting before and went through the cultural shock of realizing that I was in Washington D.C. and that the federal government is "there" and a major employer. More than just recognizing the difference between living in geographic proximity to the government I also recognized how much ADC's agenda depended on the idea that gaining access to the government by placing Arab Americans in it.

At the ADC Convention, there was a table at all awards dinners for Arab American Marines. This table was recognized by Mary Rose Okar, the President of ADC, at an awards dinner and luncheon. The FBI paid $10,000 to sponsor an event, an Axis of Evil comedy tour performance; this was the first time they tried to "reach out" to the Arab American community through sponsoring an event such as this. The National Guard and FBI were both recruiting at the convention; my students and I picked up many FBI pens. The PLO rep. called upon Arab Americans to gain positions as staffers in Congressional offices. He said that Dianne Feinstein had eighty staffers in her office and he thought Arab Americans deserved at least two of three of them. Then he noted, "think what a difference it would make if we had 80 Arab Americans who had been to "good" universities as Congressional staffers. I thought he was overstating the "difference" it would make to U.S. policy on Israel, but I think his joining his agenda to that of ADC's was obviously an important alliance building act. Also, ADC is a national civil rights organization, and has a greater impact on domestic issues than foreign relations.

ADC was founded by former Sen. James Abour, and Mary Okar is a former Congressional rep. from Ohio, so the organization emerged out of Arab Americans working in the federal government. Still I was continually struck by the number of calls at the convention for gaining positions in the federal government, the number of Arab Americans in the federal government who were called on to represent Arab America to itself at the convention, when it is this federal government that is targeting Arab and Muslim Americans domestically, has brought us the Iraq war, Israel's war in Lebanon last summer (conceived six months in advance in Washington D.C.) and has embarked on a policy of starving the Palestinians after they exercised the vote in 2006 and brought Hamas into legislative power. This federal government is alienating Arab Americans from their own citizenship, even though it employs Arab Americans.

The effort to me an example of one kind of galling flexibility--where a community targeted by the government, media, educational system, and popular culture, negotiates the U.S. political system by moving into places such as the Marine Corps where it is harder to target them as enemies of the nation-state. In addition, it does strike me as more hopeful to think of the federal government as not a monolith when it comes to Arab Americans, particularly Palestinian Americans.

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