The Sami Merhi controversy and its aftermath

Here is an exchange between myself and a reporter from one of the pre-eminent papers covering Passaic County, NJ, where I live. It is also the county wherein Sami Merhi had originally earned backing of Democratic leaders to run for office after 26 years of devotion to their party, before they pulled the plug on him.

I was quoted here

1. Have you found it difficult to run for office as an Arab American in New Jersey?

No, I didn't find it difficult at all, and I found that the Republican Party was happy to have an Arab-American perspective. Of course, running for US Congress you have to take positions on some emotional international issues; and you're never going to please everyone. However, those who disagreed with me from all sides engaged me on the issues, which is a healthy part of the Democratic process. I was fortunate to have, in addition to an outflow of support from the Arab-American community, Jewish supporters that helped me reach out to their community as well. The idea that candidates have to choose between pleasing Arab Americans and pleasing the American Jewish community is ludicrous. First of all, we're all Americans, and second of all, all reasonable people agree that the end goal is peace and coexistence.

2. Would you say that the Sami Merhi situation is one that is unique to how the Democratic Party treats Arab Americans? Or do you see this as symptomatic of a larger trend?

Each ethnic community in the Republican Party is an important pillar holding up the 'big tent'. The GOP unites us because of our common goals as Americans, without creating futile divisions along ethnic or religious lines like the Democrats did concerning Sami Merhi's candidacy.

3. Do you think this could become a national election issue in November for Democrats?

This; combined with the shameful behavior regarding the Dubai Ports deal are going to hurt the Democrats nationally, and not only with Arab Americans. Their credentials as so-called defenders of the disenfranchized are rapidly fading. Other ethnic communities will begin to realize that the Democrats will backstab them too, if it is popular on the street corner that week.

4. How important a role do you think Arab Americans will play in the election in NJ and nationwide?

Arab Americans increase their clout with each passing election. Aside from the sheer numbers; especially in New Jersey, it is a community confronted by unique, emotional issues that captivate America's attention because of their connection to the volatility in the Middle East and America's role there. For American policy to succeed in the Arab World; and it must; elected officials from both parties must rely upon the knowledge and advice of the Arab American community in devising sensible policies.

Another reporter asked:
Can you comment on whether you think Arab-American would-be politicians are facing simple discrimination these days, that makes it tougher to get elected? Is support of Palestine becoming a litmus test for candidacy?

Certainly, all reasonable people from both political parties recognize that progress in the Middle East will require the Palestinians to have self-determination and their own state. So in general, I reject the idea that "support for Palestine" is a litmus test. Rejecting violence however is indeed a litmus test, and a valid one. President Bush has clearly articulated on many occassions, a vision of "2 states living side by side providing self-determination for Palestinians and security for Israelis." We need to stop splitting people into categories like "Arabs" and "Jews" and judge people by their ideology, supporting those who work for peace and coexistence.

Secondly, as far as discrimination of Arab-American candidates, there will always be bigots out there. Party leadership on either side should condemn those individuals.

People treasure their ethnic identities, including myself. But we are all Americans. However, the Democratic Party, particularly in urban areas, tends to split people and explicitly identify them by ethnic and/or religious orientation, whereas the GOP is much more egalitarian in this regard. People of ethnic communities should beware of these tactics used by the Democrats: if they love you for your ethnicity or religion or skin color today, they can just as easily hate you for it tomorrow.

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