DEARBORN (AP) – Arab Americans are gaining political muscle,
with issues of relevance to them ones that should be equally
important to Americans as a whole, a leading Arab American leader
said yesterday.

The Sept. 11 attacks “had a terrible impact on the (Arab
American) community. But it has not had an impact on our
empowerment,” said James Zogby, president of the Arab American
Institute.

“There’s no doubt we’re on the radar screen more than before,”
he said.

Zogby’s comments came as he announced a national Arab American
community leadership conference to be held in Dearborn in
October.

Four Democratic presidential candidates – Howard Dean, Dennis
Kucinich, Richard Gephardt and Joseph Lieberman – are scheduled to
speak at the three-day event that will group hundreds of community
leaders. Organizers hope to draw at least two other candidates.

The aim of the conference, which will be bipartisan, is to allow
Arab American leaders to talk with the candidates on key issues
like U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, civil rights and
immigration. A Bush Administration representative has not yet been
determined.

Of particular concern is launching a meaningful and substantive
debate on Middle East policy – discussions Zogby says have been
missing in the United States for decades.

“In the 30 years since the end of (the Vietnam War), we have
sent more money, sent more weapons, sent more troops … lost more
American lives and invested more political capital in the Middle
East, and (there has been) no real debate about the policy,” Zogby
said. “And the policy has been a dismal failure.”

Community leaders say the upcoming conference will provide
representatives of the nation’s more than 3 million Arab Americans
with a chance to drive home the message that these issues affect
Americans as a whole.

Similarly, that four candidates have committed to attending
reflects “the growing strength of the Arab American political
presence,” said Ismael Ahmed, executive director of the
Dearborn-based Arab Community Center for Economic and Social
Services.

He recalled there “were times when Arab American contributions
were returned,” and the community was ignored by both Democrats and
Republicans.

The last time a presidential candidate came to address the
community specifically was in the 1984 and 1988 when Jesse Jackson
reached out to Arab voters, Ahmed said.

, adding that Al Gore and John McCain also sought to win support
during speeches at a 1999 Arab American Institute conference.

On the agenda for the conference, which is entitled “VOTE 2004:
An Agenda for Peace and Justice” are workshops on reaching Arab
American voters, building bridges with law enforcement, campus
activism and civil liberties, as well as talks on U.S. foreign
policy in the Middle East.

Zogby said two thirds of Arab Americans are concentrated in 10
states, with one third of the total alone in California, Michigan
and New York, key states in presidential races.

The Washington-based AAI and the other groups have pulled
together a voter guide to the Democratic primary candidates and
posts on its Web site frequent updates on the candidates’ positions
and speeches.

“This is a community that’s up for grabs,” Zogby said.

“We can spell the margin of victory and defeat.”

 

 

 

 

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