Washington Report on Middle East Affairs
September 30, 1999 | H, Richard
Muslim Americans and Arab Americans took a major step toward putting themselves indelibly on the political map of the United States July 5 with issuance of what they called a “landmark joint statement” on three issues of mutual concern. The statement was signed by Dr. Agha Saeed, chairman of the American Muslim Political Coordination Council, and Dr. Hala Maksoud, chair of the Council of Presidents of Arab-American Organizations. The two councils include most major national political organizations of the two overlapping communities.

“As a first step,” the statement reads, “the two councils have agreed to cooperate with respect to three important issues.” These, the statement explains, are Jerusalem, the upcoming year 2000 U.S. national elections, and the currently pending bill in the House of Representatives (HR 2121) called “the Secret Evidence Repeal Act of 1999.” The statement reports that “the two councils have also agreed to develop a more comprehensive framework for mutual cooperation by no later than Dec. 31, 1999.”
Because the Islamic community in the United States is variously estimated at between five and eight million people, and the Arab-American community is about equally divided between Muslims and an additional 1.5 to 2 million Christian Arab Americans, concerted action by leaders of the organizations could have a significant impact on U.S. politics. This is especially true since members of both communities are particularly concentrated in key industrial states which, together, command a very large share of U.S. electoral votes. These states include California, Michigan, Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Florida, among others.
The four groups which comprise the executive committee of the Council of Presidents of Arab American Organizations, in the order of their founding, are the Arab American University Graduates (AAUG), founded in 1967; the National Association of Arab Americans (NAAA), founded in 1972; the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, a grassroots organization headquartered in Washington, DC with chapters all over the U.S. founded in 1980; and the Arab American Institute (AAI), founded in 1985.
Initially, and even after 1983, when the Council of Presidents of Arab American Organizations was founded, however, sporadic personal differences hampered effective cooperation among leaders of these four major groups and several smaller regional or more specialized Arab-American organizations. At present, however, rank-and-file Arab Americans often belong to two, three or more of the national organizations and cooperation among them has become routine.
Major American Muslim political groups have a briefer history, but clearly learned from the initial disunity of the Arab-American groups, in which some of the Muslim leaders have been active. Many of the Muslim-American political leaders also have been affiliated with the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), a nonpolitical roof organization which provides instructional materials and services to between 1,100 and 1,200 of the approximately 1,500 mosques in North America, and with another nationwide nonpolitical organization, the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA).
From such nonpolitical American Islamic organizations and mosques have risen the four major national political groups that in late 1997 formed the American Muslim Political Coordination Council (AMPCC). They are the American Muslim Council (AMC), a membership and lobbying organization based in Washington, DC which was founded in 1990; the American Muslim Alliance (AMA), which has more than 80 chapters throughout the United States and Canada and was founded in 1992; the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has offices in Washington, DC and California and works with the media and advises Muslims on how to deal with discrimination, founded in 1994; and the Muslim Political Action Council (MPAC), which was founded in 1988 in populous Southern California and which recently opened an office in the U.S. national capital.
Discussing Jerusalem, which it described as “a unique city, holy to three faiths,” the joint Arab-American and Muslim-American statement says bluntly that “any solution that leaves Jerusalem as `the undivided and eternal capital’ of Israel will not foster lasting peace. Along with the critical issue of sovereignty, a lasting solution must ensure the rights of all religious groups to free access to their holy sites, freedom of worship, and guarantee respect for the sanctity of holy places, secure the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination, require the right of return and compensation for refugees and demand an end to the construction and expansion of settlements in occupied territory.”
Regarding the year 2000 elections, the statement describes them as “a significant opportunity to increase Arab-American and Muslim-American political power” and says the two councils will give “top priority” to voter registration and “will actively endeavor to educate our communities about the political system and issues of particular concern to our constituencies.”
The statement also called upon “Arab Americans and Muslim Americans to run for political office and to become active in the presidential, congressional and state campaigns in 2000” and said “the two councils pledge to assist them in these efforts.” The statement also called upon local Arab and Muslim communities and organizations “to use this accord as a basis for cooperation and coordination at the city level.”
The pending Secret Evidence Repeal Act of 1999, which the statement pledges to support, was introduced in the House of Representatives on June 10 by Representatives Bob Barr (R-GA), David Bonior (D-MI), Tom Campbell (R-CA) and John Conyers (D-MI). Since then it has picked up eight additional co-sponsors in the House, including Arab-American Congressmen Ray LaHood (R-IL) and Nick Rahall (D-WV). Comparable legislation has not yet been introduced in the Senate.
HR 2121 would outlaw the withholding of evidence for national security or other reasons from persons accused of a crime or facing deportation from the U.S. based upon such evidence. At present more than 20 Muslim Arabs are being detained in various parts of the U.S. on the basis of secret evidence, pending deportation hearings. In many cases the “secret evidence” upon which they are being held apparently amounts to little more than accusations from Israeli or other foreign intelligence agencies against which the accused persons cannot defend themselves because neither they nor their lawyers have been allowed to see it.
Discussing the joint statement, ADC President Dr. Hala Maksoud, who holds the rotating chair of the Conference of Presidents of Arab American Organizations, called it “a very important step toward coordination with other organizations in developing and implementing a common agenda to empower our communities.”
AMA President Dr. Agha Saeed, who is the first AMPCC chairman, called the statement “the much-needed link which will enable us to act effectively upon our common concerns.” The joint statement, he told the Washington Report, “reflects the widest consensus among the major Arab and Muslim political organizations, establishes a network of community outreach and mobilization, and provides an action plan that involves every Arab American and Muslim American. It actually delineates a process that will enhance our influence and effectiveness as American citizens.”
Article Courtesy: wrmea.com

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