The Visibly Forgotten Minority

It isn’t every day that a community can be ubiquitous and invisible at the same time. Arab Americans, however, have achieved this paradoxical status. We achieved this status by playing a crucial role in the recent presidential election without having been properly acknowledged by the candidates or by an increasingly compliant progressive media.

Most Americans are familiar with the verbal infelicities involving Arabs that became common as Election Day approached. The most notorious of these infelicities entailed a flabbergasted John McCain taking the microphone from a concerned spectator accusing Barack Obama of being “an Arab.” McCain promptly issued a defense of Obama that reinforced the spectator’s notion that being Arab is inherently bad: “No, ma’am, he’s a decent family man.”

In fact, Americans heard the same tacit message repeatedly during the general election campaign, particularly from Obama and his supporters: being called Arab or Muslim constitutes a smear because apparently being Arab or Muslim is objectionable in itself. Obama inspired a nation. In the meantime, Arab and Muslim Americans solidified our standing as the quintessential domestic stranger. Obama wouldn’t have accepted anything less. He didn’t need to, in any case, because Arab and Muslim Americans supported him despite his constant insults, both tacit and explicit. Those of us untaken by Obama were deemed idealists or even heartless. As Obama’s hawkish and neoliberal Cabinet selections thus far indicate, it wasn’t Obama’s skeptics who were being idealistic. And the Palestinians who always suffer the brutal aftermath of liberal pragmatism can explain better than I exactly who is being heartless.

The problem is not that fear-baiting tactics around Arab ethnicity went uncontested. They were condemned widely. The problem is that they were rarely contested beyond their effect on Obama’s candidacy. Everybody was so focused on how the so-called smear of being Arab or Muslim unfairly represented Obama they forgot to mention that over a billion people were also being smeared, including millions of Americans.

As a child of Arab immigrants, I found this election remarkably difficult to follow. Obama was somebody easy to be excited about for a person of my background. We are both ethnic minorities. We both have funny names. He is young and eloquent, and looks much more like the Americans of my generation than do typical politicians. Obama has that effect on others. I was happily surprised to see so many young people mobilizing and participating actively in American political discourse.

On the other hand, I was disappointed that Obama never stood up for Arab and Muslim Americans. I often found myself feeling betrayed that he didn’t use his influential position to improve the situation of Arab and Muslim Americans dealing with the slander of being deemed terrorists, enemies, and fifth columns. Instead, it was another supposedly transcendent figure, Colin Powell, who came to our defense: “Is there something wrong with being Muslim in this country? The answer’s no.”

The imaginary Arabs and Muslims from whom Obama constantly distanced himself don’t at all resemble actual Arabs and Muslims. The Arabs I know, including those who raised me, are peaceable, honest people who participate in American cultural, economic, and political life in various ways. It would have been appropriate, and it certainly was necessary, for one of the candidates to have mentioned this fact. Such an omission was expected from the dreadful McCain. From Obama—the racial healer, the steadfast hoper, the heavenly dreamer—that omission was unconscionable.

In a historic election that is widely believed to have mitigated or even ended racism, it is ironic that racism against Arabs and Muslims constituted its most important rhetorical feature. This racism has been overlooked in the euphoria of Obama’s victory, but for many Arab and Muslim Americans the merriment of 2008 is premature. We are aware that the candidate supposedly representing the demise of racism achieved victory in an election that reinforced Islamophobia and relegated Arabs to the status of an absurd ethnic spectacle. The sort of racism engendered by the election is now omnipresent but somehow forgotten.

22 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. N James said on December 1st, 2008 at 2:26pm #

    My thoughts exactly.
    It bothers me that anti-Arab racism is so ingrained in our culture that people don’t even notice it. Or if it is a problem, it’s because it’s not right to call Obama a terrorist.
    As far as those who say America is now post-racial, get real. The US is involved in 2 racist wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) and igniting a third and fourth possibly (Pakistan and Syria). They wouldn’t be able to conduct these wars if the victims were white Anglos. The Western World would condemn them, just like Russia was condemned for invading Georgia.
    Obama may represent a new page in blacks overcoming obstacles, but he’s also promoting a racist ideology and calling it the greatest nation on earth, that the US ought to be leading the rest of the world. And it’s disgraceful, absolutely disgraceful he didn’t step up and counter the racist and prejudice accusations against him by defending muslims.
    Just thinking about this makes it hard to swallow that Obama’s presidency is somehow a step forward in the struggle against racism. Maybe it’ll inspire people, but what are they being inspired by? That now a black man can be racist mass murderer in chief too?

  2. Ramsefall said on December 2nd, 2008 at 8:25am #


    the marginalization of Arabs, while unfortunate is not a surprise. Powell was able to state the obvious only because he wasn’t running for office, Obama would have jeopardized his Anglo support base. Politics.

    While it may be a widely held belief that racism was mitigated or dissolved by this election, reports show that racism has isolated cases of intensification following Obama´s victory. The South is experiencing a resurrection of activism within the Klan, and many who aren’t supporters are astonished to see that these groups have sprung from dormancy. Beatings, lynchings and other forms of racial aggression have been on the rise with more than 200 documented cases since Nov 4. As unfortunate as this behavior is, it confirms that racism continues to be a hideous blemish on US society.

    Best to you.

  3. bozh said on December 2nd, 2008 at 9:22am #

    now and for many moons to come, it’s not advisable for an arab to say, let alone shout, I’m in the land of the free and the brave.
    indigenes have learned that long time ago.
    but, ask i, don’t arabs like it that way? thnx

  4. Deadbeat said on December 2nd, 2008 at 10:44am #

    Anti-Arab racism is the result of the grip that Zionism has on U.S. political economy and culture. What is necessary for Arabs in the U.S. is to frame Zionism as a racist ideology that grips U.S. Foreign Policy. I believe that educating and building solidarity with people of color who has been at the forefront in the U.S. of challenging White Supremacy are natural allies for Arabs and Muslims.

    It is clear that Zionists desire and this is especially true among “progressives” is to maintain Zionism as a “Middle East” problem. Do so means that Zionism remain “foreign” and detached from the same problems faced by Blacks and Latinos. Thus an Obama figure has the potential to obscure the reaction to Zionism under the “patriotic” banner of “War on Terrorism”. This is what the Obama cabinet portends.

    Therefore IMO it is extremely important that Arabs can find solidarity with Blacks and Latinos and help educate the masses about Zionism and its extreme influence throughout the United States political economy and culture.

  5. Disagreer said on December 2nd, 2008 at 11:36am #

    I have to disagree with you, Deadbeat. It’s true Zionism, like every other kind of fundamentalism, stokes the fires of racism and group hatred. But we can’t lay all the blame for racism towards Arabs on Zionism. That’s like saying the problems facing black Americans stem from the KKK. It’s true the KKK are responsible for a heinous ideology and instigating horrendous racist crimes, but it’s not true to say the KKK causes all the racism in America.

    If our attitudes in general were more open and anti-racist, then the efforts of Zionists (or whoever is pushing racism) would fall flat. We need to cut racism off from where it feeds. It’s a massive, multifaceted problem, and it begins with us.

  6. Brian Koontz said on December 2nd, 2008 at 1:45pm #

    “That now a black man can be racist mass murderer in chief too?”

    Exactly. That’s the whole point of the integration of blacks into white America – that they too can enslave the world – becoming the master while their relatives they supposedly care about in Africa are now enslaved by them as well as by American whites.

    That’s exactly what an “end to racism in America” means – that American blacks will become the soulless imperialists that American whites always were. Farrakhan and Malcolm X are the leaders white America and integrationist blacks deny – while they laud Martin Luther King Jr.

    Why join the monstrous American elite? Why else – money. That those imperial benefits are coated in layers of blood is of no concern to them whatsoever.

    Roots? Roots my ass. That tree has been wholly neglected by American blacks, and it’s withering and close to death.

    I’d rather be OPPRESSED by a monster than BE a monster. Once one becomes a monster one can no longer kill monsters.

  7. Max Shields said on December 2nd, 2008 at 2:05pm #

    “That now a black man can be racist mass murderer in chief too?”

    Yes, in fact, this is why, during the primaries I stated time and again, that Obama would undermine racism in America. He would represent and in his actions (as someone who must prove a point to the white power elite) that those who suffered the most would feel the pang even more of “benign” neglect, to quote the uber-neoliberialist, Patrick Moynihan.

  8. Ramsefall said on December 2nd, 2008 at 2:25pm #


    You say, “Farrakhan and Malcolm X are the leaders white America and integrationist blacks deny – while they laud Martin Luther King Jr.”

    I would contribute this tendency to the differences between the men. The ones they reject are the radicals who advocate(d) separation, and the one (X) whose ideology relied on any means necessary. Ideologies as such will not lead to integration and harmony, and are therefore rejected. Isn’t that the rhetoric always used to sell another war? We want to spread freedom and democracy, blah, blah, blah, and the people always buy it, at least at the beginning. As a fellow Omahan who always admired Malcolm for a withstanding commitment to his beliefs and burning desire to free his fellow black brothers and sisters, I’ve never lauded violence as it only begets itself and the perpetuation thereof. There are often other more intelligent means to a desired end.

    As you undoubtedly already know, King on the other hand embraced the pragmatic need for desegregation and held that the subsequent ‘‘integration is recognition of the solidarity for the human family.’’ He understood the importance of thinking holistically and not atomistically. Common rationale easily distinguishes the overall effect of these two extremes, and hence public perception.

    As for the remainder of your comment, I couldn’t agree with you more.

    Best to you.

  9. Max Shields said on December 2nd, 2008 at 3:51pm #

    To put a point to the comparisons of M X and MLK, I think they represent the dialect (an incredibly powerful and fruitful one) between two methods of confrontation.

    Looking back and listening to both men (after all these were quite young men at the time) and one outliving by several years the other, it’s clear their clarity converged. I cannot believe that either regardless their differences had any intention of a black commander in chief. While they may have had their moments of contemplation (reflecting on a black face in the white house, can bring a tear to the eye of even the most clearheaded imperialist critics), the movment was not about putting a black face as head of the imperial empire – one which has made clear its aggressive intentions.

    I cannot believe that either man would ever tolerate the duplicity of an Obama. I think they would have interjected themselves and said, “but this does not represent the kind of transformational change we gave our lives for!!”

    This is not so much speculation as a simple and straightforward reading of both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. At the time of their death, they were utterly clear. Theirs was not a statement of equivocation or simply wanting a black man in high office. Theirs was much deeper and broader. It as not just about black. It included brown, muslims, as well as Asian and indigenous people the world-over. I cannot but hear them rejoice with the Presidency of Evo Morales. What a triumph!

  10. Max Shields said on December 2nd, 2008 at 4:00pm #

    Let’s not forget, regardless of the talk today, both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were murdered, they were dangerous men. It is the highest complement I can give both. They endangered the status quo, the empire and its military industrial complex.

    Make no doubt, these were honorable, and dangerous men.

  11. Ramsefall said on December 2nd, 2008 at 4:58pm #


    Although we’ll never know with certainty, I also believe that their exclamations on transformational change would be mutual. Obama’s victory through coalescence with the duopolistic elite would be interpreted as selling himself to the highest corporate bidder, not honorable by any comparison.

    As for Evo, that has been a social/electoral victory worth celebration and emulation ever since. To have finally witnessed the indigenous people of Bolivia collectively overturn that entrenched governing plutocracy of oppression that I saw five years ago, I also rejoiced with them. Solidarity gave them the power they needed to conquer the indefatigable power of the elite. It would satisfy any principled person.

    As this shift to the left and transition toward integration in Latin America continues, the Bolivian people and their elected-from-the-ranks Morales have set new precedents in defiance of Washington that compliment and strengthen the regional unity phenomena taking place as of late. After so many centuries of fragmentation, it’s hopeful that quality of life will continue to improve for the people of the region.

    Best to you.

  12. Jason Wallis said on December 3rd, 2008 at 12:12am #

    You know, the one thing that really bothers me, is that I look at the people Obama’s been surrounding himself with, I look at some of the things he’s said and done, and I got very discouraged by him as a candidate.

    When he won the election, people were so happy that the first black president got elected. I felt relieved that Obama won and not McCain, but I couldn’t be happy, because I felt fear for Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, that the telecommunications corporations taking over, and a whole other lot of issues. But it was odd to express this feeling, because of racism. Is it racist to not be overjoyed to see Obama elected? Is it racist to not feel right supporting the feelings of minorities across the country who felt inspired and that more doors were open to them? Was I being racist in not feeling that elation that there was finally a black president? I felt very much like, that’s good, but being president isn’t a good thing, it’s a bad thing. Like above, the president is a mass murderer. How can I cheer that on?

    So, if I say anything, people look askance at me, as if I’m some anti-black president scumbag. It’s hard to be happy when I know Obama’s going to be bombing people and perpetuating “American Exceptionalism”.

  13. Ramsefall said on December 3rd, 2008 at 4:08am #


    try not to let yourself get discouraged by Mr. Obama, as a contribution from the Establishment, he’s pretty much right on track with contemporary mindset and will likely serve his masters and their interests well. He’s just doing what he was put in place to do.

    Best to you.

  14. Brian Koontz said on December 3rd, 2008 at 7:20am #

    In reply to Ramsefall:


    You say, “Farrakhan and Malcolm X are the leaders white America and integrationist blacks deny – while they laud Martin Luther King Jr.”

    I would contribute this tendency to the differences between the men. The ones they reject are the radicals who advocate(d) separation, and the one (X) whose ideology relied on any means necessary. Ideologies as such will not lead to integration and harmony, and are therefore rejected.”

    When one lives in a hell created by an imperial society and capitalist civilization, one does not make the ridiculous statement that one *desires* integration or harmony with this hell.

    When in hell, one has options. Escaping hell is an option. There are several methods to escaping hell, suicide being one. Moving out of reach or to a place rarely reached by the empire is another. The culture of mass distraction, as found in addiction to television, or video games, or chemical substances – various *ascetic* lifestyle choices, are another method of escape. This latter method has the vast weakness of being an asceticism enabled and supported by hell itself.

    Another option, the best option in my view, is to transform hell into heaven. One notes that in hell there are mostly devils, devils who perceive themselves as “normal” or even “noble”. These creatures are useless to the project. One must seek out the corrupt, the half-formed, the devils with light shining through, to join the project as allies. This project will be troubled by the hellish aspect of even the best of us, but it must persevere.

    Once the project is organized and readied, it is unleashed. It’s war against hell itself. It’s utter violence and need not concern itself with whether devils live or die. It’s only goal is to transform hell into heaven. The devils have one way to ensure they live – don’t get in the way of the transformation.

    “Isn’t that the rhetoric always used to sell another war? We want to spread freedom and democracy, blah, blah, blah, and the people always buy it, at least at the beginning. As a fellow Omahan who always admired Malcolm for a withstanding commitment to his beliefs and burning desire to free his fellow black brothers and sisters, I’ve never lauded violence as it only begets itself and the perpetuation thereof. There are often other more intelligent means to a desired end.”

    All violence is is the deepest form of conflict. If someone steals your toothbrush you will likely not use violence to get it back, but if someone steals your life savings you will use violence to get it back (have the police use violence to get it back). You use violence whenever the situation calls for it. Anyone who believes otherwise is deluded to the point of insanity.

    Most people such as yourself rationalize violence, rationalizing it away. For example, calling the police and having them deal with a situation is not “violence” for two reasons – your “hands are clean” and “justice is being served”. By that definition killing a criminal is not “violence” – it’s “justice”.

    “As you undoubtedly already know, King on the other hand embraced the pragmatic need for desegregation and held that the subsequent ‘‘integration is recognition of the solidarity for the human family.’’ He understood the importance of thinking holistically and not atomistically. Common rationale easily distinguishes the overall effect of these two extremes, and hence public perception.”

    Hell should never be integrated with. If what is currently hell wants black people to integrate with it it must transform itself first.

    I fully support the Martin Luther King, Jr. that white America embraces – AFTER hell has been transformed into heaven.

  15. Ramsefall said on December 3rd, 2008 at 8:10am #

    Well, Brian, I suppose it depends on what one’s perspective is. I don’t see the world as hell, despite it’s imperfections, inequalities and struggles. If you see the world as hell, well, that’s your perception, not mine.

    I don’t see MLK as trying to integrate with hell, I see him as trying to integrate society in order to overcome its hellish characteristics that keep people separated.

    Hell and heaven are conceptual extremes, like black and white. Between those extremes are various colors and shades of gray. The idea of heaven on Earth is Utopian in nature. While I do acknowledge the need for a radical transformation, like the radical inner revolution that Krishnamurti proposed, it won’t involve moving from one end of the spectrum to the other, it involves finding a harmonic balance that oscillates around the mid-line of zero.

    As for your presumption that you understand me, caution. I don’t rationalize violence as you state, I simply don’t advocate it, and I do a thorough job of avoiding it at all costs. While I am perfectly capable of relying on violent tactics for self-defense, I still choose avoidance whenever possible. This isn’t to say that I’ll turn the other cheek, when confronted I do what is necessary to protect myself, but only as a last measure when all other options are exhausted. That’s being rational and principled, not insane. If you see value in violence, that’s your prerogative.

    Thanks for your input.

    Best to you.

  16. Brian Koontz said on December 3rd, 2008 at 5:26pm #

    “Inner revolution” is irrelevant. The problem is not inside us – it’s outside us – in the structures of imperial and capitalist society.

    The integration of races in America will have zero effect on the status of America as a imperial society. White Germans killed White Poles in WWII – Blacks kill blacks in Africa, and so on. Obama won’t hesitate to kill blacks wherever they might be regardless of his own race.

    According to the last several centuries of human existence, the color green (money) trumps all other issues – this is why American blacks want to join American whites in their exploitation of the world, including the exploitation of global blacks. Money is far thicker than blood.

    Heaven on earth is hardly utopian. We’ve achieved hell on earth, achieving heaven on earth is not any more difficult.

    As for perspective, the world would be a quite interesting place if corpses could speak, if corpses could fight, if corpses could vote. I wonder what someone who sees his family killed in imperial war thinks about the status of the world. Perhaps hell would be an improvement.

    In a hierarchical world, the majority of the population is poor and powerless. Anyone who cares about democracy cares about the *mass* of people, meaning the majority of people, meaning the poor and powerless, meaning the people who live under threat of violence, under threat of destruction of their lives by the state, under global economic machinations that perpetuate their poverty.

    To put it kindly, Americans have a “unique” perspective on the world. A more accurate word might be “deluded”.

    If an Asian two dollar-a-day laborer calls his life “normal”, it’s because he’s normalized it. Someone who has lived their entire life in hell no longer recognizes hell for what it is – they simply call it “the world”. Someone abused as a child who then becomes an abuser sees abuse itself as normal – it’s just the way things are.

    Once we achieve a better world, we’ll look back on the past centuries and say “What in the hell were we doing?”

    The problem with collective insanity is the remorse and regret felt after an end to it. Thus we continue to try to make something out of our insanity instead of putting an end to it.

  17. Ramsefall said on December 3rd, 2008 at 7:00pm #

    Inner revolution irrelevant? Quite the contrary, Brian. 6.5 billion fragmented individuals in the world leads to a fragmented human society. Fragmented parents raise fragmented children, it’s just the way things are. The inner fragmentation results from influences such as religion and belief systems, governing powers, culture and most recently the media. External forces decomposing inner wholeness. The kind of decomposition that only sees earth as hell while missing an exponential amount of beauty all around us in nature, art, music and human interaction. Granted, the world often seems to be lacking in something as simple as kindness and beauty, but it is present and one doesn’t have to look very far if they want to experience it.

    Heaven is a concept invented by the church, and everyone’s definition/perception varies. Heaven on earth for the insane differs from that of the mentally healthy. Nonetheless, if achieving heaven on earth isn’t that difficult, as you claim, then why have we only achieved its opposite?

    I’m not arguing that the world isn’t in a very risky position or that inequality and human suffering aren’t exponentially beyond any sort of acceptable level, if there is such a thing as acceptable. Nor do I fail to see that the Empire and its global conquest through economic machinations has completely fucked the planet and a majority of its human inhabitants. No argument at all there, Brian.

    While for too long now I’ve been asking myself, “What the hell ARE we doing?, my greatest hope for the collective is that in the not very distant future we are asking ourselves just what you propose, “What in the hell WERE we doing?” That would be a welcome collective moment in our history. Cheers to that manifestation.

    Best to you.

  18. Jason Wallis said on December 3rd, 2008 at 9:57pm #

    Hi guys,

    Thanks for your answer.

    I’m still unsure. Is it racist to be dissatisfied with Obama? Is it racist to not be more encouraging and supportive?

  19. Ramsefall said on December 4th, 2008 at 5:57am #


    of course it isn’t racist to be dissatisfied with Obama, so long as your dissatisfaction isn’t based on his being black. Would it be racist to be disappointed with any of the past rulers? No, it has nothing to do with being black, white, red or yellow. It has to do with not having expectations met.

    Best to you.

  20. Jason Wallis said on December 4th, 2008 at 8:58am #

    Thanks Ramsefall.

    I really appreciate your response. This is an issue which has been causing me quite a bit of inner grief.

    I have no problem with Obama being black, or having a black president. I think there are also plenty of other black people who would be great presidents.

    But I have serious issues with Obama’s campaign positions. There are things he’s said that are just as bad as something GW Bush would say. I think we’re all familiar with them.

    I’ve heard that a majority of black people are very inspired by this moment and are very encouraged. To come down heavily on Obama for his positions, I think is the right thing to do; yet at the same time, should I be more positive about his election? I mean, for the sake of the people who are inspired by his election? Not just black people who feel their lives are a bit more free and open now, but for the fact that voters are now willing to elect a black president? To be against Obama means to undermine a moment where many black people feel included in the political system (not all, there are plenty who are opposed to Obama fro different reasons). To undermine this positive feeling among black people (and other minorities too) by criticising Obama – is that a racist act?

  21. Ramsefall said on December 4th, 2008 at 9:23am #


    if people, regardless of color, insist on believing in the illusory fantasy that Obama does indeed signify change, that’s their problem. Color is completely irrelevant, this is not a color issue. An anti-Obama, anti-Establishment position does not undermine his supporters. Their inflated hope, and most irrational in my view, on one man of the system undermines logic and sensibility, they essentially undermine themselves by believing that change will come from within the established power structure, a top down unrealistic expectation.

    Change will only come from the bottom up, Bolivia is the most relevant recent example. Very few want to take the time to organize and the sacrifice that comes with that. It’s easier just to vote on what the general consensus believes will bring change, then sit back and wait for change to come. It’s absurd thinking that will only perpetuate the elite’s control.

    Best to you.

  22. Jason Wallis said on December 4th, 2008 at 9:32am #

    Thanks Ramsefall, your words are much appreciated.