Recap: Panel Discussion on Arab Uprisings and Our Community's Role

Washington, DC | | October 12, 2011 -- Last week, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) welcomed guests to the ADC Heritage Center for the first event of the 2011-2012 Arabesque Lecture Series, a panel discussion entitled, “Arab Uprisings: Our Community’s Role.” Moderated by ADC Legal Director Abed Ayoub, the panel included Ambassador Clovis Maksoud, Dr. Bassam Haddad, and Dr. Adel Iskandar. Addressing a packed room of students and community professionals, the speakers each reflected on the nature and meaning of the uprisings in the various Arab countries and on the involvement of Arab Americans.

In his remarks on the uprisings, Dr. Maksoud began by saying, “self-empowerment on the part of the Arab masses has become self-evident.” He described the movements as “vitality in search of a direction.” Referencing the spark that lit the Arab World, he said, “when an educated worker was slapped because he sought redemption of his rights, it encapsulated a collective humiliation of Arabs.”  Therefore, he argued, while there is division among Arab governments, there is far more unity among Arabs themselves.  Dr. Maksoud focused on this theme of unity, emphasizing the need to establish a sense of common citizenship among Arabs. Dismissing what he termed as the “neo-conservative form of democracy” imposed in Iraq, which highlights sectarian and ethnic differences between groups, he called for unity of people as citizens with equal rights in all aspects of life. He suggested that Yemen’s transformation through achieving a social revolution in which Yemenis of feuding tribes transcended their boundaries and came together exemplified this notion of unity of equals. Touching on Libya and the NATO intervention, Syria and the “bloodbath that takes place every day,” the plight of the Palestinians under the brutal occupation of Israel, Maksoud exhibited how when divides are drawn and the rights of some are greater than the rights of others in their midst, the imbalance inevitably leads to injustice and instability. “Be proud of your diversity,” he said, “but never allow diversity to collapse into pluralism.”

Dr. Haddad invited the audience to step back and consider how we ought to view the uprisings before exploring the role of the community. In reference to the uprisings, he made two key points: (1) they do not represent real revolutions, nor even regime change, but merely a change of the top political figures without true shifts in policy, and (2) that they demonstrate the “start of the unraveling of the consequences of post-colonial development.” In response, Haddad suggested, the role of the Arab American community involves influencing U.S. foreign policy and asking ourselves what we can do to support the movements in the region. The second of these is particularly challenging, Dr. Haddad noted, given the division among the community along political and generational lines. In describing the generational differences, Haddad pointed out the nostalgia that those in the older Arab American generation seem to have and the trepidation they experience when witnessing media footage of bloodshed on Arab streets and ask “is this the chaos you want?” Haddad’s response: “After 40 or 50 years of repression and no means to recourse, what do you expect? Either we view this now, or wait and witness the same thing later.” Haddad concluded that the community should be firmly behind the changes happening.

Dr. Iskandar focused on the broad political perspectives among Arab Americans on the Arab Spring. He stressed that, although Arab Americans are often regarded as having a unanimous stance on issues, there are, in fact, divergent views among the community. In the context of the Arab Spring, Iskandar argued, the Arab American community seemed bifurcated between those who are largely supportive of the movements and seek political transformation and those who, though not necessarily content with the status quo, seek to protect it for fear of the unknown. Nevertheless, he identified one common denominator that seems to unite all Arab Americans, and that is their having the hope that the direction of the Arab Spring brings about better scenarios for their respective communities.

During the Q&A session, there was further discussion on the generational differences among Arab Americans, and in particular, how the Arab American youth have responded to this wave of uprisings with a sense of hope and newfound pride of their Arab identity. More was said on the need to support the movements in the Arab World, and not to denounce the entire transformative process because of imperfections along the way. The specific role of ADC was also explored, with Legal Director Ayoub mentioning a number of actions taken to help protect Arabs in America who feared persecution at home. Dr. Maksoud encapsulated the evening’s discussions when he said that society naturally progresses through a kind of inevitable evolution, and that when this evolution has been forcibly disrupted, revolution comes about to restore it. “The Arab Spring,” he concluded, “is a continuum and is irreversible.”

Light refreshments were served during a brief rec