Leadership Void a Problem for Arab Americans

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), November 20, 2006 | Go to article overview

Leadership Void a Problem for Arab Americans


Byline: Ray Hanania

Recent headlines are filled with stories about Arab Americans involved in allegations of corruption and unethical conduct.

The 24-count indictment of Arab businessman Tony Rezko and firing of his close political associate Khalil Shalabi from a state job are just the tip of the iceberg in an expanding scandal that is embracing other prominent Arab Americans.

The headline behind the headline, however, is failed community empowerment.

Rezko, Shalabi and others have become community leaders by default, not through community empowerment. Tragically, the Arab American community is largely powerless and leaderless. The majority of the most recent immigrants fled religious and political oppressive and conflict. Many are here physically but are in mental bondage with news events "back home."

This wasn't the way it began when the first wave of immigrants arrived following the alluring appeal of economic success broadcast to the Arab World during the 1893 World Columbian Exposition, which featured three major Arab World exhibitions including the most popular at the festival, Cairo Street.

The Arab population grew during a second wave of immigrants who followed through the first half of the 20th Century. Politics in the Middle East and the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict politically charged the immigrants who followed in the third major immigration during the last half of the 20th Century, and those world events kept most Arab Americans from completing the process of assimilation.

In fact, the Arab American community is engaged in an internal struggle between those of us who are pushing toward assimilation and those who believe they will, one day, return. The rise of religious politics has only tightened the bonds with the Islamic world.

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