Friday, June 30, 2006

ADC – The Arab Discrimination Committee!

Hardly a day goes by in Syria these days without new arrests taking place or activists getting banned from traveling or sentenced to long prison terms on some idiotic trumped up charges that only diseased minds can conjure. This is what happened when the Assads regime is in a defiant mode, and this is what will keep on happening when the world remains silent.

But the problem is the world is not just being silent, the world is cooperating. By continuing to grant access and visas to Syrian officials to go to other countries and continue to intimidate the expatriate communities who live there, vilify the opposition, and criticize the unfair policies of the international community, as if policies of the Arab states vis-à-vis each other and their own people is fair, is nothing less than an act of duplicity in the ongoing suppression of liberty in the Arab World.

But recently, the Arab expatriate communities in the US demonstrated how duplicitous they, too, could be. I am referring here to the recent conference organized by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) which was attended by the Syrian Ambassador, Imad Moustapha, and the Syria Minister of Expatriate Affairs, Bouthaina Shaaban.

During her presentation, the Minister had the audacity to criticize the current US administration policies while simultaneously justifying the crackdown against all dissidents and activists in Syria. She even responded angrily to one local journalist of Syrian descentwho pointed out the contradictions in her stand, and went on to accuse Michel Kilo of all different sorts of crimes, including stamping on the Syrian flag!!

Now considering the fact that the basic mission of the ADC is to seek to protect the basic rights of Arab Americans by reporting instances of abuse and lobbying against the passing of any anti-Arab legislation or to work to revoke those that have already been passed, is it by any means reasonable and/or consistent of them to invite such characters to speak at their functions? Is it reasonable for a rights organization to commiserate and empower some of the worst abusers of human rights in the world?

Arab Americans are completely free to disagree with the policies of the Bush Administration in the region, but does rejecting Bush necessarily entail embracing Bashar? Is there something wrong with the Arab gene that makes our imagination so limited? Or is someone just being an idiot or, worse, a hypocrite?

Indeed, where does the ADC get its funding from? Is the Syrian government contributing anything to it? Is any Arab government contributing anything to it? Is that what’s it all about: money? Or is it just plain stupidity? Or, have the political calculations of the ADC got so intricate and complex that its administrators can no longer determine the proper balance that they need to strike between their focus on Arab American rights and the occasional need to maintain some form of contact with the states of origin?

Indeed, this is a bad time for the Arab activists wherever they happen to, I am definitely aware of that, and we all have to make some rather tough decisions and engage in the kind of politics that very few of us really like or appreciate. But, since the greatest abusers of Arab people’s rights are Arab governments, there should a limit on how “pragmatic” we can be vis-à-vis Arab regimes and officials, especially when we work in the field of human rights. Otherwise, we’ll end up discriminating against our own people by advocating the cause of their abusers. Arab national interests are not served in such a brazenly idiotic manner.

Inviting representatives of an Arab regime right at a time when it is actively cracking down on dissent in the country, and allowing its representatives to veto any active participation by opposition groups and independent dissidents, which they did, represent a very questionable call on part of ADC. Frankly, the people responsible for this decision should be ashamed of themselves, as I am indeed ashamed of them.

Someone could argue here that a guy like me who joins an institution like the NSF headed by someone like Khaddam should not be casting stones here. But, the two situations are not exactly alike: Khaddam has clearly broken with the regime and, this aside, the fate of an entire country is clearly at stake here. Can the ADC people make a similar argument to back their decision? Are Arab-Americans under such an existential threat, one that I am not aware of, that the ADC is forced into making such pragmatic alliances with Arab regimes, their human rights records notwithstanding?

The reality is Arab Americans have been quite lucky, relatively speaking. For despite all the stereotypes that exist about them in popular imagination and in the media and despite the acts of terror being perpetuated in their name, no matter how partially, they were never subjected to the kind of practical discrimination that other minority groups in this country have had to deal with, so far. We might indeed be able to make a good argument that this situation is rather tenuous, but that does not excuse or justify getting in bed with Arab regimes.