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(& Smartest) Arab
July 29th, 2013 (5 Comments)
Last week, President Obama hosted an Iftar at the White House. “Iftar” is the nightly breaking of the fast during Ramadan, the holy month during which Muslims abstain from food and drink during daylight hours. The president has hosted an Iftar dinner for five years now. Mr. Obama is, of course, very familiar with Ramadan. His father was a Muslim, his stepfather was a Muslim, and he spent some of his childhood years in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country. Barack Obama is the most Muslim Christian president we have ever had.
Just about every Muslim ambassador from every country that has any Muslims was invited to the Iftar. So were a senator and two congressman from Michigan (home to the largest concentration of Arabs in America), the two Muslim representatives of Congress, the Muslim-American mayor of Paris, TX, and a Muslim-American state congresswoman from Detroit. Finally, in addition to elected officials, many prominent and successful Muslim-Americans from the private sector were invited as well.
A debate in the Muslim and Arab American communities ensued. Should we attend an event like this, at a time when this administration is in the midst of a years-long bombing campaign in Muslim countries? Should we break fast with a president who has still not closed Guantanamo Bay, despite his repeated promises to do so? Should we celebrate with Barack Obama, who has been more pro-Israel than perhaps any president in history? Now, this debate could have happened in any year before this one, and with other presidents. But it is happening now because Arabs and Muslims are starting to ask an important introspective question: When do we become comfortable in our own skin?
There is nothing that scares our community more than being seen as unpatriotic. That’s why we sing the Star Spangled Banner at every one of our events. That’s why we were the first ones to raise American flags after 9/11. And that’s why no one who received an invitation to the White House Iftar would even think about declining. We are not comfortable enough yet to decline. We are not mature enough yet. We are not strong enough yet.
We still seek acceptance. And somehow, when the White House holds an Iftar and invites us, we feel accepted, included, incorporated. We feel like we’re finally a thread in that beautiful thing we all call the “fabric of America.” But see, that’s where the problem lies. As long as we keep seeking approval, we are never going to get it. As long as we keep chasing the carrot on the stick, they will keep dangling it.
It may be true that the best way to affect change is to “work within the system.” But that doesn’t mean simply groveling and being subservient to politicians. Why are we the only ones that still think that we should work for the benefit of the politicians, instead of the other way around? Why do we still think that we should define our power in terms of how politicians view us, instead of making them define their power in terms of how we view them? And why do we still think that simply having our picture taken with an elected official means that we have “made it”?
“Working within the system” can also mean standing up for justice and speaking truth to power. It doesn’t have to mean selling out.
We have been here for generations. We have built communities. We have educated ourselves and started successful companies. We work hard and we love football. We have put up mosques and churches in every state (I don’t know about Alaska and Hawaii, but I’m assuming). We might celebrate Ramadan, but we celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas too. And we can be found in every corner of this country.
We’re achieving the “American Dream.” And we might be doing it better than anyone else.
So why can’t we feel comfortable in our own skin? Because right after 9/11, George W Bush told all Americans, “Either you are with us, or you’re with the terrorists.” But we are somewhere in between, and we still haven’t learned how to tell everyone that.
We can’t speak up until we grow up.