Sunday, September 27, 2009
Arab delegates of the Olympic Committee can begin change in anti-Arab American foreign policies
Hanania column on International Olympics and American Arab empowerment
Arab World has opportunity to confront bigotry in America
By Ray Hanania
This week, the Arab World will be participating in a vote that on its face may seem insignificant to the many problems that plague the Middle East but could begin a process of changing the United States.
The vote will take place Friday in Copenhagen where the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will decide which of four cities between Madrid, Tokyo, Rio and Chicago will win the right to host the Olympics in 2016.
Compared to the votes in the United Nations where the pro-Israel bloc continues to block peace, hold back the advances of the Arab World and continues to denigrate the rights of Islamic countries, the IOC vote Friday may seem insignificant.
In fact, though, the vote could begin a process not of changing the United Nations, but rather creating an opportunity to enact change in the United States, the one nation that holds the key to the future of the Middle East.
The IOC consists of 111 members, 12 of whom representative the Arab World from Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, UAE, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Each country has one member on the IOC except Egypt and Morocco, which have participated the longest and most successful in past Olympic competitions, each have two members.
Those 12 Arab delegates can be the deciding factor in awarding the Olympics to Chicago.
Why is Chicago important? Unlike other nation’s competing for the Olympics, Chicago’s presentation is made by the city, not the country. Chicago officials beginning with its Mayor Richard M. Daley, have been lobbying to get President Barack Obama to make an appearance in Copenhagen to help swing the vote in Chicago’s favor.
As an American, I want the IOC to grant the 2016 Olympics to Chicago. But, as An American of Arab heritage, I also want the United States and Chicago to recognize their failure in respecting not only the principles of justice and fairness in the Middle East, but to end the practice and reality of the city’s discrimination against it’s citizens who are of Arab heritage.
In voting this week, the 12-member Arab delegation should use its power to condition their decision on how the winning city will respect its expatriate citizens.
That is a difficult thing to ask since none of the countries of the Arab World have ever recognized the real potential and the value that Americans of Arab heritage represent. The Arab World has always acted in a vacuum on Middle East issues believing that the decision-making process in American begins at the top levels of government.
The truth is, American power begins at the grassroots level. The “trenches” where American Arabs have been waging a long and difficult fight against discrimination for most of their existence in this nation.
Particularly in Chicago, one of three American cities with the largest population of Arabs, the American Arab community has been the most abused.
Local government officials like Mayor Daley have played a game with a double-edged sword. On the political level, Chicago has played a major role in strengthening the hand of the pro-Israel community in America giving them considerable voice in local and regional government.
At the same time, Chicago has gone out of its way to undermine the power of American Arabs who have been as much or even more American than their counterparts supporting Israel.
This vote Friday in Copenhagen can either permit the status quo where Arabs are disenfranchised in the American political system, or it can begin a new initiative to force American governments like Chicago to recognize and respect the rights of American Arabs.
Arabs in America have served in this nation’s military from the first day that they came to this country in the mid-19th Century. They have been loyal American citizens and also loyal to their heritage.
Yet, they have been disrespected by this country and victimized by American racism, fueled by the politics of the Middle East.
Worse, they have been abandoned by the Arab World. Their ability to help the Arab World counter the discriminatory policies in the United States has never been recognized by the Arab World.
When Arab delegates vote this Friday, they should keep in mind that if they support awarding the 2016 Olympics to Chicago, they should view this as an opportunity to demand that Chicago’s Mayor Daley end his discriminatory practices against Chicago’s Arab citizens and treat them as equals.
That means that Chicago should empower American Arabs the same way Chicago has empowered other citizens of other ethnic, religious and racial backgrounds.
Chicago has been deficient in giving jobs to American Arabs. There are 230,000 Arabs living in Chicago – according to Mayor Daley speech to the Ruler of Dubai earlier this year. That is 7.6 percent of the city’s population. Yet, Arabs have less than 1 percent of the thousands of jobs in city government. They have been patronized disrespectfully by politicians like Mayor Daley who want our votes but do not want to jeopardize their ties to other groups like the powerful pro-Israel lobby in Chicago and America.
The Arab delegates at the IOC can force Mayor Daley to do what is right and put ethics and principle above partisan politics.
Mayor Daley should be told he must do more to empower American Arabs in his city. Mayor Daley must be told he must do more to empower American Arabs in Illinois, the state in Which Chicago resides which is a powerful state among the country’s 50 states.
Mayor Daley must be told that the campaign to undermine American Arabs in his city must end.
If that happens, we will see the voices and empowerment of American Arabs rise in the United States, and in turn give the Arab World a greater voice in helping this country develop foreign policies that are based on the rule of law, ethics, principle and morality, rather than on partisan politics driven by the pro-Israel lobby and its extremist leaders.
It’s an easy price to exact from the United States. The question is, do the Arab delegates and the Arab World recognize that influencing American foreign policy through Americans of Arab heritage is far more beneficial and rewarding than trying to lobby this country from their far away Arab capitols?
(Ray Hanania is an award winning American Arab journalist, author and Chicago radio talk show host. He can be reached at www.TheMediaOasis.com.)