At Al-Hewar Center
ADC President Mary Rose Oakar
Stresses Importance of Political Participation

On September 22, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) President Mary Rose Oakar spoke at Al-Hewar Center in metropolitan Washington, D.C., about the importance of safeguarding Arab-American civil liberties and communities.  The event was moderated by political analyst Dr. Mounzer Sleiman.

President Oakar urged attendees to be politically active and join organizations such as ADC, which is committed to defending the rights of people of Arab descent and promoting their rich cultural heritage.  She also emphasized that “Al-Hewar”, which means “dialogue,” is extremely important. “If we had more dialogue, we’d have peace in the world.  We need more dialogue; we need to talk to people,” she stated.

President Oakar outlined why it is vital for Arab Americans to participate in the upcoming elections, whether by participating in the campaigns, or more imperatively, by voting. She pointed to the increasing number of hate crimes against the community, for example, the drunk man who drove into a mosque and proclaimed in reference to Arabs,  “I hate those people, look what they did.” 

“400 Arab Americans and Arabs died in the twin towers and in the other catastrophe at the Pentagon,” President Oakar responded.  “Arab-American fire fighters died trying to save lives…”  She continued, “we abhor the actions of Osama Bin Laden. I don’t know anybody that is in any way related to ADC that thinks that was a good thing.  I think he sent our people back a million years. However, we did not cloak everyone in the same manner. When Timothy McVeigh, who committed the second worse hate crime in the United States, the terrorist crime of the Oklahoma City bombing, did we say that all blond-haired, blue-eyed men are terrorists? Of course we didn’t do that. We shouldn’t do that.  We shouldn’t stereotype any ethnic background.  But our country has done that, towards the Japanese, towards African Americans, and the list goes on.”

Beyond individual attitudes and a common misunderstanding of Arab culture, the laws and regulations have changed dramatically to target anyone perceived as Arab. President Oakar cited the example of a five-year-old boy who was not allowed to board a plane because he shared a name with a terrorist and was deemed a threat to national security.  Discrimination in the work place is also rampant, said Oakar, who pointed to the case of an Arab-American pilot who was fired due to his ethnicity.  Fortunately, ADC complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and the man was reinstated to his job.  

Oakar emphasized that Arab Americans must rush to the polls because of continuing racial profiling and discrimination . “…We can make a difference in every state in the union, if our people register to vote and get involved,” Oakar insisted.  She noted that a common analysis within Congress is that for every letter sent to a Representative, three hundred people feel the same way as the sender. In the case of a letter to a Senator, it is estimated that about one thousand individuals would support the points of the correspondent.  Perhaps the most empowering statistic is that every piece of mail sent to the President equates to the opinion of one hundred thousand constituents. The ADC website, which contains press releases, initiatives, and action alerts, will even write and send letters for those willing to get involved. 

Ultimately, President Oakar declared, Arab Americans must vote as part of a larger America that is participating in the electoral process and making their voice heard “because the values that we have as a people, and the people who love our culture know what our values are. They are love of God, love of country, love of our family; do you know anybody who doesn’t love their family?” She added, “love of our roots, love of our church or mosque, and those values are what the United States of America needs now more than ever before.” Those values are so simple, yet so very important.

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