This is an excerpt from the newly published book,"Citizenship and Crisis: Arab Detroit After 9/11," by the Detroit Arab American Study Research Team, of the University of Michigan. The team conducted in-depth interviews with a scientific sample of 1,016 Arab Americans and Chaldeans from southeast Michigan in 2003. Ron Stockton is a member of that team. He is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and was formerly head of the Center for Arab American Studies. His email is Rstock@Umich.edu
Arab Americans do not form their foreign policy opinions like other Americans, but neither are they entirely different. To emphasize the similarities would deny the uniqueness of the group just as emphasizing the differences would take the group out of history, as if nothing in the American experience had an impact. In reality, Arab-Americans live on both sides of the hyphen.
Professor Ronald Stockton
They are also unique in a second way. Arabs and Muslims are the only groups in the country singled out for systematic monitoring and even harassment. Not only do security forces have them under surveillance but private organizations attempt to reduce their involvement in politics. The stories are endless: persons appointed to advisory committees or staff positions or granted public service awards have their appointments and honors challenged. Political candidates return donations from Arab Americans, both Christians and Muslims. Often the grounds are vague. Individuals are said to have made a loosely-defined "anti-Israeli" or "pro-terrorism" statement or are linked to someone with such views. These rejections involve the very nature of citizenship. Citizenship is not just a passport and the right to vote. It involves the right to full political engagement, including the right to assemble in organizations that disagree with public policy, the right to petition for redress of grievance through challenges to authority, and the right to participate in the political process. As Haddad notes about returned campaign donations, "many in the community feel disenfranchised, given the importance of donations in providing access to elected officials and determining American policies." In this sense, there is a convergence of civil liberties issues and foreign policy expression, and many Arab Americans see them as two dimensions of the same issue.
President Bush may have contributed to the problem. After September 11, Bush drew a distinction between radical and mainstream Muslims. This qualification was beneficial at the time, protecting a vulnerable minority, but it contained a trap not immediately obvious. It compelled Muslims to claim the mantle of moderation. Put bluntly, they were presumed guilty unless they distanced themselves from Islamic militancy. Muslims could theoretically be accepted as individuals if they proved by words and expressions of patriotism to be "moderate" rather than "radical." But even then, there were limits. Leaders were repeatedly subjected to accusatory statements such as, "Why do you not renounce terrorism?" This question doubles as a non-falsifiable accusation without an acceptable answer. When a high-profile Muslim group organized a mass petition against terrorism entitled "Not in the name of Islam" and put together a coalition of religious leaders to issue a fatwa (religious opinion) declaring attacks on civilians to be a violation of Islamic law, it was still continually attacked for not renouncing terrorism. The technique was disturbingly reminiscent of the McCarthy-era query, "Are you now or have you ever been a Communist?" Such questions are designed to besmirch. They imply that the person asking them has knowledge of misconduct and the moral authority to demand an answer. Any answer — an affirmation of innocence or a contemptuous refusal to respond — is considered evidence of guilt or deceit.
But even when individuals are accepted, the community is still at risk. As Professor Michael Suleiman put it, "Arabs are doing fine as individuals, but not as a community. The whole community is suspect." Suleiman's observation echoes what Sartre wrote about the French Jews. The view of Jewish rights dating to the French Revolution had always been "everything for the Jew as an individual, nothing for the Jews as a community." This put Jews into a dilemma of being accepted only if they were not Jews: "The perpetual obligation to prove that he is French puts the Jew in a situation of guilt. If on every occasion he does not do more than everybody else, much more than anybody else, he is guilty, he is a dirty Jew—and one might say: To judge by the qualities we demand of a Jew if he is to be assimilated as a 'true' Frenchman, how many Frenchmen would be found worthy of being Jews in their own country?" A similar predicament is pressing upon Arab Americans today, especially Muslims.
Most Arab Americans also see the idea of a clash of civilizations as threatening. If the public came to think in terms of fundamental conflict, that would be dangerous for those with an Arab world heritage, even the 58% who are Christians. The rhetoric around this doctrine has more to do with mobilizing popular support for controversial foreign policies than with an analysis of international relations. While the idea is often presented as a description of how they see us, it is more accurately a description of how we see them, and how we plan to treat those who resist our politics. For this reason, it is ultimately a domestic political debate over influence and status. As such, most Arab Americans, especially Muslims, see it as coming from elements not friendly to their welfare.
The data illustrate the difficulty of making generalizations about Arab Americans. For any pattern there is an exception. What stands out, however, is how foreign policy attitudes have a clear civil liberties dimension. Foreign policy issues are not simply an array of topics on which people can adopt and freely debate points of view. For some Americans, issues of foreign policy become difficult tests of citizenship, and certain points of view cannot be fully or frankly debated. The post-9/11 crisis challenged American society in diverse ways; it challenged Arab Americans by making their political views central to the way others view them both as members of American society and as potential threats to it.