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Folly of Arab-American Heritage month
America's Arabic speakers are not a monolithic bloc. Democrats want them to be
Democrats and President Joe Biden use hyphenated labels on Americans and delineate them into blocs. April is now the Arab-American Heritage month, according to the Department of State.
But arguing that Arab-Americans have a common heritage is like saying that former Congressman Justin Amash and incumbent Congresswoman Ilhan Omar share the same roots. They don’t. Amash and Omar only share their Americanness. Otherwise, the two are as different as a Scandinavian and a Japanese.
Amash hails from a Levantine Christian family that migrated from Palestine to America. He supports liberty and small government. Omar comes from a Muslim family from the Horn of Africa. Her family migrated from Somalia to America. She supports big and intrusive government.
Neither Amash nor Omar are fluent in Arabic. He is white and Christian and she is black and Muslim. The only thing in common between the two is that they are both American. So why insist that Amash and Omar share a common Arab heritage instead?
Since the 1800s, Arab-speaking migrants have been relocating to America from a wide geographic region that includes West Asia and North Africa. These immigrants hail from ethnically, religiously and culturally different backgrounds, and because their migration has been an ongoing process, the various generations of Americans from Arab-speaking lands have had different experiences and today share only two things: That most of their ancestors spoke Arabic, and that they became American. Otherwise, there is hardly much in common between these generations of Arab-American immigrants.
But it gets worse. According to CNN, two Arab-American organizations — known for their ardent support of Syria’s dictator Bashar Assad, who uses chemical weapons on his people — demand that “Arabs” be assigned an ethnic category on the US census.
“Arab Americans still don't have a racial or ethnic identifier on forms like the Census, forcing members of the community to tick White or other,” CNN reports. For decades, the two Arab-American organizations have “been pushing for a Middle East and North Africa (MENA) categorization, which is a geographic designation that includes ethnic and racial options, to be adopted by the US government.” This is a horrible idea.
First, the Arabs are not an ethnicity or a race. While Arabic is a Semitic language, the Arabs today hail from different roots including African, Indo-European Turkic and Iranian, in addition to various groups that got Arabized with the advent of Islam, but were never ethnically Arab — such as Copts in Egypt, Berber in Morocco and Algeria and Kurds, Assyrians and others in Syria and Iraq. There are black Arabs, white Arabs, Circassian Arabs and so on. To lump them all into one ethnic or racial category is absurd.
Second, given how “progressive” Democrats are up in arms against everything White Man and colonial, it is ironic that they seek — for their racial classification — a term that was invented by Europeans to describe West Asia: The Middle East. If anything, a category on the census could be Afro-Asiatic Semites, and these have to include Jews, who form the majority in Israel, which is in MENA. Arab American organizations have certainly not thought that they and the Jews would go under the same ethnic category on the census.
Delineating Arab-Americans as a monolithic cultural and ethnic bloc, and giving them a month, is neither diversity nor tolerance. It is cheap politicking and identity politics that highlight the intellectual shallowness of both the Biden Administration and Arab-Americans who seek an ethnic shop of their own.
As an American who is proud of my Arab heritage, I have passed this heritage to my children, who — unlike me — were born and raised in America. My children are fluent Arabic speakers, have a taste for Lebanese and Iraqi music and cuisine, and awareness of the history of these two countries. They certainly do not need the government to remind them of their Arab heritage. If anything, my family and I want the Biden Administration to look at us and see only Americans.
Heritage is like religion: We celebrate it with those we share it with, and mostly in our private spaces. America was founded on freedom of religion, but not on religion. Similarly, America can enjoy its ethnic and cultural diversity, while remaining blind toward identity. America should see its citizens as Americans only, no hyphenation needed.