While the previous Open Letters on LRC were addressed to a particular religious denomination, I offer this one on the basis of ethnicity. Arab-Americans need to hear Ron Paul’s message, because serious concerns about the fate of US foreign policy and civil liberties captivate the minds of Arab-American Muslims, as well as Arab-American Christians, who actually comprise more than half of the community. My Open Letter will therefore be inclusive in nature and address all denominations.
It is interesting to note that those who advocate this unifying approach have been disparaged by the wedge-driving, divide-and-conquer neocons as "dhimmis" or "Islamo-Christians" — or whatever today’s new vocabulary is on the Word-a-Day calendar of the American Enterprise Institute (a.k.a. the Supreme Soviet of Neoconservatism) — for not accepting their erroneous worldview, in which Semitic people (and by Semitic, I mean Semitic) are mindless sectarian robots genetically programmed to kill each other and incapable of peaceful co-existence.
I suppose this letter will also cause some consternation for the likes of my fellow Melkite Catholic, Deacon Robert Spencer, who recently wrote two unflattering articles about the Arab American Institute (AAI) Leadership conference, at which Ron Paul was the only Republican candidate to speak — he dazzled the crowd last month in Dearborn, Michigan, as I will discuss below. I am pleased to report that Spencer did not directly attack Ron Paul in his criticisms of the event, one of which was published on the ever-beloved FrontPageMag.
Now, we most certainly recognize the danger posed to all of us by the fear-mongering approach to governing practiced by the current ruling elite in DC, which is why we support our courageous "Champion of the Constitution," Congressman Ron Paul. But I personally make particular note of the predicament faced by Muslims in America. Why? Well, my last name, Ajjan, is Arabic — my ancestors came to the United States from Syria nearly a century ago. The name means “mixer,” as in someone who prepares dough or cement, and it bears no religious significance. Thus, one can find Ajjan families with sons called George and Elias (common Christian first names in the Middle East) as well as genealogies full of Muslim names like Mohamed or Ali.
In that vein: suppose, if we do not succeed in getting Ron Paul elected, that some shady bureaucrats in Washington decide to advance their own political objectives by casting a very wide net for "Islamofascists" on American soil, i.e. every Muslim, for starters. Will they bother to distinguish one Ajjan from another? Should I trust the Federal Government to omit me from their list of terror suspects to round up? After all, someone who has taken vacation in Syria (a country, which unlike Saudi Arabia, is classified as a "state sponsor of terrorism"), and who writes for a website proudly identified as "anti-state," must be a threat! Dare I argue with the Blackwater-esque thugs they likely will send door-to-door to impound me and others with the "wrong" last names? (Note to self: prepare an "Open Letter to Arab-Americans on Behalf of the 2nd Amendment" to educate the community on provisions afforded by the US Constitution for dealing with such circumstances.)
No, we will all suffer together. But aside from that unpleasant line of thought, I am pleased to write this Open Letter, because one of the most appealing and refreshing elements of Ron Paul’s campaign is his insistence on the power of his message to unite Americans of all races, colors, creeds, socio-economic backgrounds, occupations, etc. Dr. Paul campaigns in a non-discriminatory manner almost to a fault. As cited by Thomas Woods in his Open Letter to the Catholic Community, Ron Paul began his speech at the AAI conference by bluntly stating that he would not be pandering, and that he would address Arab-Americans just as he would any other assembly of voters he might encounter on the campaign trail. That is indeed worthy of admiration, but as Walter Block correctly states:
"There are a lot of people who view the election not from [the] general perspective of the public good, but rather on the basis of their own more narrow interests. Forget whether or not this is a good thing; it is part of reality that we supporters of Ron need to take into account."
Accordingly, I recently received an email from a die-hard Ron Paul supporter that I met at the AAI conference. She had noticed the "Home Schoolers for Ron Paul" link on www.ronpaul2008.com and suggested that we petition the Ron Paul campaign to add a link on their homepage entitled "Arab-Americans for Ron Paul." I argued that this approach, if originating from the campaign itself, would too closely resemble the divide-and-conquer tactics used by all the other candidates. Regardless of one’s ethnic origin, one could always be a "gun owner for Ron Paul" — that is an inclusive demographic. But for Ron Paul to solicit supporters based upon definitively exclusive subsets of the population would contradict his philosophy. That is why Walter Block is spot-on when he advocates that we as Ron Paul supporters must independently reach out with more specific agendas.
But the non-pandering approach favored by Ron Paul does not at all suggest that he lacks acute awareness of Arab-Americans’ and Muslims’ specific concerns. That is why he told the AAI assembly:
"The freedom message brings all of us together, whatever our religion is, or whatever our beliefs are, and wherever we came from, because freedom is not judgmental. It allows people to make their own choices as long as they don’t use force to impose their will on us. So this brings people together, and this is what has been happening in this campaign. People from all walks of life are coming together."
and defined his campaign as one that is:
"…merely standing up for our Constitution, and we stand for our Constitution as it protects ALL Americans."
He closed by describing what he called "the essence of what America is all about":
"We don’t have rights because we belong to a group. We don’t have rights because we’re women, or belong to an ethnic group, or a religious group. We have rights because we are individuals and we should be treated as individuals and we should never get special benefits. But we should NEVER have punishments because we belong to a particular group either."
A cynical individual might not be impressed with mere words. But Ron Paul’s voting record more than backs up his egalitarian principles, as he was one of only 3 Republicans to vote "no" on the USA PATRIOT Act. Many of its opponents are well acquainted with Sections 213, 215, 216, and 505, but perhaps not with Section 102, which is supposedly designed to protect the civil rights of Muslims and Arab-Americans specifically. But as Gary North has warned LRC readers, "When you see a high-falutin’ title like this, you can be certain of one thing: Its promoters intend the opposite." In any case, Ron Paul voted against the Patriot Act because, in his words:
"The Act contains over 500 pages of detailed legalese, the full text of which was neither read nor made available to Congress in a reasonable time before it was voted on — which by itself should have convinced members to vote against it. Many of the surveillance powers authorized in the Act are not clearly defined and have not yet been tested. When they are tested, court challenges are sure to follow. It is precisely because we cannot predict how the PATRIOT Act will be interpreted and used in future decades that we should question it today."
(Incidentally, what many people may not realize is that this law’s title is an Orwellian acronym for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. I wonder if perhaps its backers would also approve of legislation aimed at Maintaining Obsessive Hatred Against Muslim Extremist Detainees, in which case they’d be voting for the MOHAMED Act.)
And don’t forget Ron Paul’s absolute rejection of a national ID card, or any other kind of government spying on its own citizens. Those who shudder to think that one day their US passports will have an embedded green crescent, or that their emails will be tagged with the letter "M," owe it to themselves and their posterity to vote for Ron Paul.
In addition to his devotion to civil liberties, the dramatic foreign policy changes brought about by a Ron Paul Presidency would also be welcomed by the Arab-American community. Naturally, the US invasion and occupation of Iraq — not to mention the possibility of war with 70 million Iranians — has left a very bad taste in the mouth of Arab-Americans and American Muslims. Ron Paul, of course, opposed this ill-fated military boondoggle since before its inception, and makes it clear that he would also strongly oppose a war with Iran. Again, he told the AAI audience:
"For us to be so fearful and so intimidated from a country, whether it’s Iraq or Iran, that they might attack us? How are they going to attack us, even if they had a nuclear weapon? How or why would they attack us? This whole thought that all of a sudden Iran is the Hitler of the day and that we have to orient ourselves and do everything in attacking this country — that is not for me to defend that country or their leadership, there’s a lot of bad people over there, but my concern is making sure that we don’t have bad POLICY in this country, that’s our responsibility."
Likening his platform to that of then-Governor George W. Bush when it comes to a non-interventionist foreign policy should also attract Arab-Americans, as Bush did very well among that demographic in the 2000 presidential election. Additionally, the explicit blame Ron Paul places on the neoconservatives will win him many fans — as members of the community are well aware of the role that small cadre played in setting this whole Iraq debacle in motion.
"Just think, our current President, in the year 2000, ran on a program of no nation building, a humble foreign policy, diplomacy and talking to people. And yet what has happened? Exactly the opposite. And now we’re engaged because of the advice of the neoconservatives who have hijacked our foreign policy — that we as Americans are expected that we are so good and so wonderful and so perfect that we have the responsibility of forcing our way on other people, even if it takes killing them to make them live like we do. I think that’s an INSANE foreign policy."
Ron Paul cuts right through the flowery rhetoric about spreading freedom and democracy, and his words on that topic ring true to many in the Arab-American community, who know from their own personal experience that a Jeffersonian democracy does not spring up overnight anywhere in the world just because we wish it to be so. Unlike the neoconservatives, who claim to care deeply for peoples in Arab and Muslim lands, but insult them by advocating one-size-fits-all regime change, Ron Paul acknowledges that he is not at all an expert on foreign cultures and political attitudes. When I told him about my own trip to Baghdad in the aftermath of the US invasion, and my observation of the adverse impact that a military occupation had on the Iraqis’ collective dignity, he humbly inquired, "Isn’t that really important to people over there?" When I validated his supposition, he added, "well, just think how we’d feel if China invaded us…" A Ron Paul foreign policy would be based upon common sense, and focused on the only thing we possess sufficient and trustworthy knowledge to determine: what is good for the American people themselves.
Those interested in Ron Paul should also closely consider the hands-off approach to Israel that he advocates. At first glance, those against US military aid to Israel, which includes most in the Arab-American community, would be delighted. But Ron Paul’s policy is also a double-edged sword, as Walter Block explained in his Open Letter to the Jewish Community:
"There are numerous cases where the U.S. has obviously handcuffed the Israelis, not to the benefit of the latter…"
Does this mean that one should equate Ron Paul’s non-interventionist policy with turning loose a pit bull? I offer a resounding NO. A dramatic change in the client-state relationship between the US and Israel would radically alter internal Israeli politics and foreign policy. Knowing that special interests would no longer dictate their country’s destiny, the silent majority of Israelis wishing to terminate the conflict definitively on the basis of land-for-peace would be emboldened. Contrarily, the bellicose elements of Israeli society, without the US Armed Forces at their beck and call, would be cast to the political margins. No wonder a Meetup group for Ron Paul has sprung up in Israel itself!
Is this to suggest that America would isolate itself from the Middle East? Not at all. Ron Paul told the AAI crowd:
"We do not have to be isolationists. That’s a false charge when they say, ‘oh, isolationism — we want to withdraw’. And I don’t want to, as a matter of fact I don’t like protectionism, I like trade, I like low tariffs — tariffs are taxes. We want to trade with the world and talk with the world."
During a question-answer section, he was further pressed by those who fear that America would be totally diplomatically withdrawn, sparked by Ron Paul’s criticism of the UN, an institution that many Arab-Americans view favorably. Dr. Paul wisely explained that his concerns were not based upon a desire to ignore the views of others, but rather a belief that America need not abdicate its sovereignty to the UN in order to engage diplomatically.
"Does that mean that we want to be isolationists and not talk to people? No, it’s actually the opposite. It’s just that we don’t want to force our way on people. In Washington, too often we only have only 2 choices: we either bomb people and tell them they’ll do as we tell them, or we have to subsidize them and give them all the foreign aid they want. I would say that there’s a third option, and that is to talk to people, trade with people, be friends with people — try to influence the world through involuntary means, set good examples."
So let it never be said that Ron Paul is ambivalent about peace in the Middle East. He made it clear when addressing our group that he would be happy to invite other nations, such as Israel and her Arab neighbors, to use the United States as neutral territory where they could talk through their differences, with the caveat that the United States not mandate and subsidize the outcome. That would be a foreign policy in which we could all take pride. Ron Paul’s views fascinated a staffer of the Egyptian embassy who observed the conference, even after I reminded him that "no more foreign aid" cuts both ways — Egypt, too, would lose its annual 10-figure stipend.
In closing, I am reminded of a famous and beloved Arabic slogan:
al-din lilah, wa al-watan liljamia
"Religion is for God, the nation is for everyone"
The idea expressed therein is certainly not unique to Arabic culture, but the underlying concept has inspired many leaders and statesmen throughout the centuries. That includes a group of revolutionary late-18th-century former Englishmen, who expressed it as such: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
I was reminded of the connection two years ago, at the Arab American Institute’s annual banquet, called the Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Awards, at which Mustapha Akkad received a posthumous honor. Akkad, who perished alongside his daughter in a terrorist bombing in 2005, was a Syrian-American film director who created the Halloween horror movies, in addition to The Message, an acclaimed film about the prophet Mohamed. When Akkad’s son Malek accepted the award on behalf of his late father, he told the audience that his father had felt more free to practice Islam in the United States than he had ever felt anywhere in the Muslim world.
Anyone who believes that America must stand for the free practice of religion, be he Muslim, Christian, Jewish, etc., knows that the 1st Amendment and the Bill of Rights must be defended vigorously and unequivocally. Only one candidate for President has spent his entire career as a citizen-statesman doing exactly that: Dr. Ron Paul.
November 26, 2007