The voices of Arab Americans must be heard

Rather than interpret the value of the Arab American vote through the community’s vulnerability and divisions, politicians ought to win votes by promoting its strengths

epa08771052 Voters wait in line to vote early in the US presidential elections in a Community Center in Brooklyn, New York, USA, 23 October 2020. US President Donald J. Trump will face Democratic candidate Joe Biden in the US elections on 03 November.  EPA/Alba Vigaray
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In one week, Americans will complete casting their votes for their preferred presidential candidate. Whether the winner is incumbent US President Donald Trump or his Democratic opponent Joe Biden, the result of the election will mark the beginning of a new era for US and world politics.

US voters submit their ballots in their home states, and their votes determine which way the state as a whole votes in the election for president. As with any other voting bloc, ethnic and religious minorities can sometimes make a great difference in the outcome of the ballot in a given state.

The Arab-American community is no exception. Their voices are rarely heard, and the community is often misunderstood. Arab Americans are often stigmatised, particularly in the two decades that have passed since 9/11. Meanwhile, their struggles are too frequently used to score political points by prominent politicians in both of the main US parties, the Democrats and the Republicans.

Arab Americans, of course, are not a homogenous group with a monolithic identity or ideology. Their roots and stories are diverse. Some have been in the US for generations; migration to the Americas from Lebanon and Syria began as early as the 19th century. Others have become US citizens more recently, sometimes arriving as refugees fleeing war or persecution. They include Muslims, Christians, Jews and a multitude of other religious groups, as well as those who do not subscribe to a given faith.

Their expectations from America’s next president differ depending on their personal experiences and their goals. But their experience as Arab Americans is shared. The broader context of their culture and heritage, and their trials in America, are often shared. American politicians would do well to acknowledge that, and to speak to those common ideals and struggles in this election.

The incumbent administration’s policies, at home and abroad, have had an outsized impact Arab Americans. For many Muslims, Mr Trump’s Muslim travel ban and the islamophobic rhetoric espoused by many of his supporters have been damaging. Many of those who recently came to the country as refugees or migrants have suffered because of these policies.

Some of the current administration’s supporters have also stoked Islamophobia or exploited the damage caused by Islamists in an attempt to win over members of other religious groups. This strategy, for instance, played a role in securing votes for Mr Trump from within Michigan’s Iraqi Christian community in the last election. That community was subsequently targeted by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, with many of its members telling The National they felt betrayed and disappointed.

The identitarian politics of the American far-left has been damaging in its own way, too. The left-most fringes of the Democratic Party have exploited the fear among Muslim groups in post-9/11 America, as well as emotive issues like the Palestine-Israel conflict, in an effort to convince Arab Americans that they are doomed to victimhood, and do not belong.

There is no coherent 'Arab American vote' but there is still a strong sentiment of what it means to be an Arab in America

Rather than interpret the value of the Arab American vote through the community’s vulnerability and divisions, politicians ought to win votes by promoting its strengths. Arab Americans have been some of their country’s most successful businesspeople, artists, poets, academics and community leaders. They have been as fundamental a building block in shaping American values as any of their compatriots, and their experiences merit consideration from both of America’s major parties.

There is no coherent ‘Arab American vote’. But there is still a strong sentiment of what it means to be an Arab in America. It is a feeling of seeing one’s ancestral homeland tied in, for better or worse, with one’s country of citizenship. In this election and those to come, America’s politicians have a duty to resolve continued apprehensions, and to emphasise to America’s Arab community that it matters and is valued.