Under the Clinton Administration, the enactment of immigration laws in 1996 led to bulk deportations of Arabs and Muslims. The Bush Administration signed the Patriot Act, enabling heavy surveillance of Arab and Muslim populations in America. The Obama administration aided in the Yemen Civil War, which is now “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world,” according to Human Rights Watch, (and in 2016, the administration dropped 26,000 bombs in the Middle East). The Trump administration led a drone strike that killed Iran’s general, Qassem Soleimani. And the United States has been a longstanding supporter of Israel throughout the ongoing conflict in Israel-Palestine, just recently opposing the International Criminal Court’s decision to open a war crimes investigation in Palestinian territories. Both Republicans and Democrats pass and enforce domestic and foreign policy that threaten the well-being of Arab and Muslims communities both in America and the Middle East.
On Thursday, Feb. 25 the Biden administration ordered a military air-strike on Syria in retaliation for a recent attack on American personnel in Iraq. The attack garnered criticism from top officials in Congress, with several senators claiming it was not constitutional. As well, some of the general public expressed frustration regarding the prioritization of a foreign missile strike before passing a COVID-19 relief bill. The greatest wrongdoing was the attack of an already grief-stricken Syria for an event that took place in Iraq.
The Biden administration’s military attack makes him the fifth consecutive president to order strikes in the Middle East and demonstrates the United States’ relentless and bipartisan militant involvement. Before a new COVID-19 relief bill was passed, before student loan forgiveness was issued, before minimum wage legislation, the United States made an attack in the Middle East. Instead of prioritizing legislation to aid people struggling in America, the administration chose to inflict suffering upon Syria’s already vulnerable people, highlighting a pattern of disdain for human life — specifically Arab lives. This unwavering U.S. interference in Middle Eastern politics ultimately inspires an internal struggle for Arab and Muslim Americans concerning American elections. Arab-American voters are constantly asked to vote for politicians that will ultimately disappoint them when handling both domestic and foreign policies affecting their community.
During the 2016 election cycle, Trump was extremely outspoken in his disdain for Muslim and Arab people, stating in 2015 that the United States needs a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Simultaneously, his opponent Hilary Clinton had an ongoing history of support for the expansionist policies into Middle East conflicts and the war in Iraq. Both of these opponents’ platforms put Arab Americans in a hostile situation, asking them to choose between two candidates who both stood to cause them harm.
Ultimately, under the Trump Administration, anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rehotric came to the front of the threshold in 2017 when Trump signed an executive order enforcing the “Muslim ban” –– an act that placed restrictions on travel to the U.S. from majority Muslim countries in the Middle East.
Though the Trump administration brought much of their anti-Muslim and Arab rhetoric to the forefront of their campaign, United States politicians and policy have had negative impacts on Arab and Muslim American communities long before Trump’s opinions gained traction.
The continued negligence of Arab and Muslim people is further demonstrated through the way politicians take advantage of community organizers. In the documentary “Holding Fire,” Somia Elrowmeim, a Yemeni-Muslim immigrant living in a Republican district in South Brooklyn, N.Y., worked to mobilize Arab voters in her community. It was grassroots organizing by individuals, such as Elrowmeim, that enabled Democratic candidate Max Rose’s victory by a slim margin. Despite the support from the Arab and Muslim community in his district, Rose was an early and public critic of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., for a speech she gave at the Council of American and Islamic Relations gala regarding 9/11’s impact on Muslim civil liberties. Elrowmeim in the documentary discussed how she was deeply pained and felt betrayed by Rose’s acts, as she, along with the Arab and Muslim community, worked hard to vote and campaign for him.
Arab and Muslim American voters are discredited and disrespected in their activism, then asked to make sacrifices come election time. Regardless of political identity, families in the Middle East will be affected, surveillance on Muslims and Arabs will continue and Western intervention will prevent peace in the region.
When Biden announced in his presidential campaign that Kamala Harris would be on the ticket as his vice president, I cried twice. The first cry was for the first Black, Indian and woman Vice President of the United States. The second cry was because I was voting for Biden and Harris, aware of their long-standing imperialist and violent history with the Middle East.
As a “hyphenated” American, I am made up of both my American identity and the identity of my place of origin –– the culmination of my ancestors. I listen to stories from grandparents recounting their childhood in the homes they were born in. I spend summers with cousins running on those same streets or dinners eating meals with the spices and aromas of my heritage. Belonging is never a singular place. As an Arab and Muslim American voting, I am asked to pick one place to which I belong, to let go of a part of my home –– I cast a vote, knowing a piece of me will be hurt and scarred –– while still hoping for something better to come.
I know I vote in hopes for access to health care, prison reform, women’s bodily autonomy and equality. I know I vote in hopes that one day, candidates and politicians will implore America to have honest conversations regarding the abhorrent impacts of United States foreign affairs –– for the hope that the interest of humanity will be held above the interest of oil — and for a better future for both of my homes. The places to which I belong.
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