Why would a majority of Americans from Middle Eastern ancestry prefer the policies of the Bush administration over a potential Kerry ticket? First, let’s define them and their priorities.
About 4.8 million U.S. citizens originate from the Middle East, from Morocco to Iran. They are as diverse as the American society. The Lebanese-Americans, who landed at of the end of the 19th century, number about 1.8 million. The Chaldo-Assyrians from Iraq, are about 300,000. Other significant communities are the Arab Muslims, both Shiites and Sunnis, with around the same numbers. They come from different countries in the Arab world: Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Sudan, the Arabian Peninsula.
The Christian Copts of Egypt count more than a quarter of a million people. Iranians count above 200,000, and all others ranging from Turks, Kurds and North Africans may number around 150,000. A Zogby poll in Newsweek found 76 percent of these communities to be Christian, while 24 percent are Muslim. We’re not counting the Asian and other African Muslims.
The most visible segment of this community until about 2001 was the dominant Arab-American and the Islamist lobbies. They claimed to represent all Middle Eastern Americans. A major shift has occurred since. Most Christian groups reaffirmed their representation and agenda, while a rising number of anti-terrorist and reformist organizations are now challenging the dominant Wahabi and Pan-Arabist leadership.
Their latest expression was the Middle Eastern American Convention held in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 1, with 750 delegates and 30 organizations.
Christians and Muslims who reject the jihadists found more of their concerns being addressed by Bush than his opponent. While they, like other immigrants, have traditionally leaned Democratic, they are trending toward greater support for the president in his approach to issues important to their mother countries.
The traditional Arabist-Wahabi associations have increasingly shifted to Kerry, to signal their frustration with the White House on the Palestinian question and the invasion of Iraq. But numbers wise, a numeric majority of more than 85 percent has moved to support Bush on the following points.
Terrorism: They support the campaign against al-Qaida and Hezbollah and their ideologies. They don’t see the war as just eliminating terrorists, but as creating changes in the regions that produce terrorism.
Iraq: They thank the U.S. Congress and the president for freeing 24 million Iraqis from a genocidal dictator. The removal of Saddam is a central part of the war against terror. They support the democratic process in Iraq and seek international support for an Iraqi democracy.
Democracy and Human Rights: They back the campaign to spread democracy and freedom in the Middle East.
Lebanon: Evidently, Lebanese-Americans support the Syria Accountability and Lebanon Sovereignty Act of 2003 and U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 calling for the end of the Syrian occupation of Lebanon.
Sudan and Mauritania: Black Sudanese are grateful that Secretary of State Colin Powell declared the current crisis in Sudan “genocide” and for calling on Khartoum’s regime to end the 21-year civil war that has claimed more than 2.5 million lives in southern Sudan.
Minorities: Americans with roots in endangered minorities such as the Chaldo-Assyrians in Iraq and Syria and the Copts in Egypt believe a Bush administration will lead to greater autonomy and human rights in those regions.
Libya: Libyan-Americans are satisfied with the disarming of the regime of Col. Moammar Gadhafi and feel a Bush second term will press the regime to further reform.
Afghanistan: Most Middle East Americans applaud the removal of the Taliban and the establishment of a democratic government in Afghanistan.
Israel-Palestinian conflict: Moderate Arab-Americans support Bush’s call for a two-state solution with a secure Israel and a democratic Palestinian state existing side by side.
Homeland Security: Finally, most Middle East Americans support a Patriot Act that concentrates on the jihadists and their ideologies. They believe diversity and tolerance are deeply rooted in the American culture. When 9/11 struck, they saw themselves as Americans first and will continue to do so.
The author, Walid Phares, is a professor of Middle East Studies and a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C.