The writer of the recent article titled “Confronting the Needless Hostility Within” which first appeared on the Arab-American website Kabobfest is the media coordinator at James Zogby’s outfit, the Arab American Institute (AAI). Although the vitriolic attack piece was aimed at Ikhras it can only be received and understood as an attempt by a Zogby team member to defend and justify continuing the repeatedly and demonstrably failed approach to political “activism” pursued for decades by the AAI, its president, and the cliquish cast of characters that comprise the mythical Arab-American Lobby in Washington.
We at Ikhras have always recognized the right of all Arab-Americans to engage in any form of political activism they choose, but we do not recognize a right for any single individual or empty shell organization whose board members outnumber their grassroots membership to speak in the name of the entire Arab-American community. What appears to have riled up Zogby’s toady is that we have exercised our own right to criticize the exploitation of our ethnicity and heritage by unprincipled careerists, and condemned their routine and callous disregard of the US government’s purveying of violence in the Arab world in consideration of personal or “organizational” interests in Washington.
If this handful of individuals is truly interested in engaging the political establishment, a futile approach in our opinion, rather than launching vicious attacks on a long overdue, sorely needed Arab-American voice criticizing their opportunism and decades old record of continuous failure, they should allocate their time to building authentic, national political organizations that actually have a grassroots membership base with internal democratic mechanisms that ensure the members’ views are represented. This would be a worthy objective which, even if achieved, would allow them to legitimately claim to speak only for the members of the organization. (For an alternative approach see Ikhras FAQs #3 and #9)
As long as any individual or empty shell organization with an air-conditioned, K-Street office are appointing themselves representatives of an entire community, any member of the group they falsely claim to represent is entitled to criticize their activities, highlight their lack of support, disassociate from their publicly expressed political views, and condemn the careerism and reprehensible behavior pursued in the appropriated name of the collective community.
It is both ironic and appropriate that such an article would be written by one of Zogby’s employees. As the highest profile Arab-American “activist” cocooned up in Washington since the 1970s, Zogby has long ago become the poster child for all that is wrong for what passes as an “Arab Lobby” in the United States. This quintessential opportunist enamored with US officials, Arab oil-“Shakes”, and Lisa Halaby (we decline to call her Queen Noor) can count more supporters among the staff at the embassies of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, where he receives his support, financial and otherwise, than the entire Arab-American community from coast to coast. His annual “Gibran Gala” earlier this month was underwritten by the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia and Saudi Aramco, with each contributing a minimum of $100,000 according to the AAI website.
Despite the author’s disclaimer at the end of the article, it’s highly unlikely the person in charge of communications at the AAI would have written this article without the prior knowledge and approval of Zogby. Even if the writer was not directly tasked with this assignment, he would be well aware of the political environment at the AAI, and the limits of acceptable public discourse for any of its employees. Given the decades he’s spent carefully refining his “mainstream message” and assiduously cultivating his image as a “respectable Arab”, it is unimaginable Zogby or any of his assistants would employ the tone or language of this article in the context of describing members of racist Zionist groups like AIPAC or J-Street, anti-Arab fanatics and Islamophobes in the American media, any US official (including war criminals responsible for the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Arabs in Iraq), or even the terrorist, Zionist state’s representatives and propagandists in the US. In the event anyone at the AAI would commit such a serious lapse in judgment Zogby would immediately dismiss him/her from the outfit, call a press conference to repudiate the “inflammatory language”, and issue a series of public apologies.
We reprinted the article as a helpful illustration of the extent to which the political culture and exigencies of Washington have been fully internalized by these so called “activists” and self-appointed representatives of our community. It also serves as an example of the narratives, yardsticks, attitudes, and behavior that must inevitably be adopted by anyone opting for a strategy of slavishly appealing to Washington officialdom. Ignoring the lies and mischaracterizations, and putting aside the ad hominem attacks and hyperbole that characterized this article, the few issues raised have already been addressed in our Mission Statement, FAQs, and numerous articles, and we will continue to address them in the future.
P.S. Unlike Zogby who does not speak, read, or write Arabic, the author of the article speaks Arabic with native ability and is an English-Arabic translator. We trust he will translate and explain the poem that appears at the top of this article for his employer.