Assessing readiness for an uphill civil rights battle
| Friday, 12.16.2016, 02:34 AM

ADC national President Samer Khalaf speaks at a regional event - Photo by Bill Chapman

It has been said that silence in the face of persecution is submission to it.

That has invariably held true among minorities throughout history. From anti-slavery to suffrage and LGBT movements, the champions of civil liberties have held one secret that leads to transformations in the social and political zeitgeist: A clever ability to stand together and organize.

Arab Americans are not strangers to similar systemic mistreatments. They have been surveilled and harassed by federal agencies since the 1960s and many outstanding individuals continue to find themselves on the so-called "Terrorist Watch Lists" or "No Fly List."

Fortunately, entrenched national civil rights organizations like the ACLU have protected ethnic groups against discriminatory policies and Arab Americans have subsequently formed their own institutions.

However, despite great strides, the tides have turned against our community once again.

As local, state and federal right-wing politicians push for anti-Muslim, anti-Arab and anti-immigrant legislation, the battle for civil liberties requires Arab and Muslim organizations to take an honest look at their presence, achievements and effectiveness.

Following Donald Trump's election, many have stressed the importance of mobilizing the Arab and Muslim communities – but vague ambitions will lead us nowhere.

It is time to get serious.

As all great movements achieve goals, struggles lie ahead. Ours seem to be persistent social divisions, sectarianism, identity crises, monetary shortages and apathy.

Organizations like The Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR), The Arab American Civil Rights League (ACRL) and The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and other groups continue to fight undoubtedly difficult and complex organized bigotry.

Yet, some flaws expose serious shortcomings.

The larger community has not yet recognized a unified mission or formed influential national entities with substantial financial backing.

On the national level, CAIR seems to have taken charge in the fight against the rise of Islamophobia, but in Metro Detroit, home to a robust population of Arab American residents, the premier civil rights organization has appeared unusually quiet as of late.

ADC's Michigan Regional Office has become unreachable to those in the community seeking its help. The leadership seems to be defunct and even the website, on which you could submit claims, is currently non-functional.

Almost three months after ADC Michigan Director Fatina Abdrabboh sent out a letter via email criticizing the national office for lack of support, there have been no further statements or actions from either the local or national office. When The AANews reached out to them, we were pointed in multiple directions and asked to "wait patiently."

We have yet to receive an answer from either party, and the local office remains in limbo.

As talks of "Muslim registries" and "surveillance at mosques" appear on the national radar, now is not the time for the ADC to be silent or to have gone AWOL. It is also not the time to sit on the sidelines. History teaches us that civil rights are earned, not given.

But we aren't only pointing out the ADC's underwhelming presence.

Other community civil rights organizations are almost bankrupt and barely functioning, only to routinely host annual galas in an effort to raise money to sustain a minimal presence.

While demanding accountability and transparency of organizations, Arab and Muslim Americans have a duty to keep them afloat through financial support, keeping them strong and independent.

It is encouraging that many allies have firmly stood by our side, but they cannot help the cause when we are unable to organize and join the fight.

As Martin Luther King Jr. eloquently said, "There is no noise as powerful as the sound of the marching feet of a determined people."

Arab Americans must become sincere and deliberate in their efforts, lest ineptitude be our demise. 

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