Monthly Archives: November 2012

Response to Jadaliyya’s “Tradition and the Anti-Politics Machine,” article re: DAM’s new video

Tonight, I came across this article by Lila Abu Lughod and Maya Mikdashi on Jadaliyya. It is entitled, “Tradition and the Anti-Politics Machine: DAM Seduced by the ‘Honor Crime.'” The article expresses disappointment with DAM’s latest video condemning honor killings. I would advise the reader to read the Jadaliyya article and watch the video prior to reading my response.

I was excited to read an article from two of my favorite Arab scholars. Yet, slowly – I couldn’t help but disagree with almost every claim made in the article, and reject nearly all premises that their arguments were founded upon. Below is a point by point summary of my thoughts. Excuse the poor grammar and writing style, I really was writing in a hurry.

…not freedom from the state or from the violence of settler colonialism that shape her community, but freedom from her family’s decisions about her marriage.

Yes. Freedom from her family’s decisions – true, real freedom starts in the household. If we cannot achieve that first, what makes us think that we can attain freedom from anything else? We live in ecosystems, and the ecosystem closest to us is that of the household. It affects us in the most direct manner. Yes, she protests and fights this type of ignorance first – it is only then that she can partake in broader struggles healthily and fully.

…Young Palestinian women do all of these, every day, in particular places, under specific historical conditions.

In producing this video, I don’t think DAM’s goal is to highlight (the very admirable, strong) women of Palestine. Rather, they were shedding light on a very important issue that some women suffer. Further – the video is about violence against women, not settler colonialism. You can only address so much in 4 minutes.

…What solution is this?

The scene represented a “heaven” of sorts where women who suffered domestic violence, or who died because of an honor killing, go. Not a solution. I think the purpose of this scene is to bring some sort of comfort to the woman who was killed. As in – “Many women suffered your fate.” This is what these women would have liked to be, see, or do in their living days. But instead, they all ended up dying because their father/brother/uncle/cousin killed them.

DAM ignores the committed Palestinian feminist activists who have been working for decades on the various forms of violence Palestinian women suffer.

Dude, really? How? How can the (+) positive addition of one video condemning violence to a wealth of activist expressions against violence insinuate an ignorance of all other efforts? This statement is so unfair.

They have been analyzing what comes together to produce familial violence: economic strangulation; the frustration of occupation and unemployment; the militarization of society; the physical barriers that disrupt movement and police life; the lack of legitimacy of laws and authorities.

Sure. But have all those things ALWAYS existed? Honor killings have been happening for quite some time all over the world. I think of all the factors listed above, the following holds the most merit: lack of legitimate laws and authorities. This factor holds true across several generations and political atmospheres.

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How Gaza is putting the “Arab Spring” to the test

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Many in the Arab world argued that the power transitions taking place within the framework of the so-called Arab Spring will only help Palestinian efforts of self-determination. The logic is as follows: former authoritarian regime protected US and Israeli interests by suppressing the will of the people. By robbing the people of personal freedoms, human rights, and economic flexibility, these regimes have effectively diminished any chance the people had to act in defense of Palestine. Today, citizens can follow through with their own initiatives – to raise awareness or campaign for the Palestinian cause or otherwise.

More importantly, it is argued, the countries that have disposed of their former dictators (notably Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt) have elected representatives that are a genuine sample of the the people’s will and desires. While this is far from being a fully accurate statement, one cannot deny that these new governments are a drastic improvement from those that preceded them.

The latest escalation of violence in Gaza has undoubtedly created outrage within the Arab world. According to the Palestinian ministry of health in Gaza, 24 Palestinians have been killed so far, including 8 children, 4 women, 3 elderly. Over 280 Palestinians have been injured. Demonstrations have been held all across MENA in protest of Israel’s attacks.

A Tunisian delegation, including Tunisia’s foreign minister Rafik Abdessalem and the director of President Marzouki’s cabinet, will visit Gaza on Saturday to offer “all political support” to Hamas and increase Arab pressure on Israel.

Egypt also made an appearance – prime minister Hisham Kandil visited Gaza earlier today to show support for the Palestinian people as well.

What do these visits mean – and what real impact, if any, do they have on stopping Israeli airstrikes?

Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt, are mired in tricky and messy transition periods. The real question that should be asked is whether these countries have the institutional and political capacity to leverage influence on the situation.

The Arab League announced that it would be holding an “emergency meeting” for Gaza… on Saturday. This of course, is days after the aggression first begun. Today, the Iraqi representative to the League denied the existence of an Iraqi proposal to “look into” the aggressions. Best case scenario, the league will decide to simply denounce the attacks on a piece of paper. Few take the League seriously anymore, and its reputation has eroded decades ago. This leaves willing countries to take matters into their own hands and bypass the League altogether. But what can they do?

While Tunisia and Egypt’s efforts are certainly noncommittal, they demonstrate a goodwill attempt to do something. However, to actually have any sort of impact, greater coordination and strategy is necessary.

I leave this article open-ended for one reason: I want to hear back from any readers who may have thoughts on this. I have yet to articulate a clear vision as to what the next steps should be for Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya on this issue – and I will surely be writing on this once again in the very near future. Stay tuned.

Arabs Barack-ing the Vote Next Week

According to the Arab-American Institute, there are now nearly 3.5 million Arab-Americans in the United States – up from a total of 1.5 million in 2000, and around 1 per cent of the US population. A whopping 94 per cent reside in metropolitan areas of major cities, while 48 per cent reside in California, Michigan, New York, New Jersey and Florida. The Arab vote has largely gone unnoticed in US elections due to its heavy concentration in mostly Democratic cities and due to their tendency to lean democrat. However, this has not always been the case. For example in 1996, exit polls reported 54 per cent of Arab-Americans voting for Bill Clinton, 38 per cent for Bob Dole and 7.7 per cent for independent candidate H. Ross Perot.

Since the 1996 elections though, Arab-Americans have become more prominent and homogeneous of a voting block. In a close election such as this year’s, Arab-Americans may just tip the balance – especially in contentious states like Virginia and Michigan, and of course Ohio. According to Zogby, there are 135,000 and 185,000 Arab-Americans in Virginia and Ohio alone, respectively. Maximizing Arab-American turn-out becomes increasingly important, particularly for Democrats working on critical swing states.

The think-tank TUNESS conducted a survey between October 20 and October 26 examining the opinion of the Arab community in the US towards the 2012 elections. The survey included 222 respondents from 26 states, and representing 15 Arab countries. The sample was evenly divided amongst US citizens and those who are not eligible to vote (permanent residents or on visa).  75 per cent of sample’s respondents were of North African descent, and 70 per cent resided in the North East. Weights were applied to map back to the distribution of Arab-Americans by state, as per the 2009 American Community Survey by the Census Bureau.

The survey revealed overwhelming support for Democratic candidate Barack Obama, with 84 per cent saying they would vote for him, and only 5 per cent voting for Republican candidate Mitt Romney. The remaining 11 per cent is undecided or would vote for another party. Similar to other voting groups, the majority of women intend to vote for Obama (87 per cent women said they would vote for him, as opposed to 82 per cent of men).

Demographic divides also echo the views of the rest of the population. Respondents over the age of forty are less likely to vote or choose Obama (82 per cent vs. 87 per cent). Responders who are eligible to vote show lower support for Obama (90 per cent vs 79 per cent), while there is a larger proportion of undecided voters amongst responders who do not follow the elections closely. We observe similar trends when we look at the favorability of the candidates.

Why Do Arabs Like Obama?

The key factors influencing Arab-American voters are, in descending order of importance, foreign policy (24 per cent), the economy (19 per cent), and political program (16 per cent). Surprisingly, only 6 per cent listed the candidate’s likability or affiliation with a political party as key factors in choosing a candidate.

Rating President Obama’s Performance 

61 per cent of respondents rated Obama’s performance as either “good” or “excellent” during his presidency. Obama received the best marks on health care (73 per cent) and education. However, Obama scored low amongst the Arab-American population in regards to Middle East policies, US national debt and immigration. More importantly, only 43 per cent of respondents viewed Obama’s performance on the economy – a key issue in the elections – as good or excellent.

The Arab Spring 

Although Obama is the overwhelming favorite in the Arab community, the response to his performance with respect to the Arab spring is a mixed bag. Obama gets good marks for his intervention and response in Tunisia and Egypt, and to a lesser extent Libya. Yet, he scores very poorly in regards to his response in Bahrain and Yemen. Some respondents feel that, “A tougher hand on the Syrian regime is evidently needed. In Bahrain, some more democracy won’t hurt.” Another comment was that “Obama’s trademark ‘Wait and See’ when it comes to foreign policy. He has failed miserably when it comes to tectonic changes such as those in the Middle East.”

Respondents were also asked which candidate would be more likely to bring a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. About 45 per cent of the sample said that neither candidate is likely to succeed and another 38 per cent said that Obama is more likely to succeed. An Obama presidency is also considered to be a better for the Arab world for the majority of the sample (72 per cent, as opposed to Mitt Romney, receiving only 2 per cent). A significant 17 per cent of the sample feels that neither presidency would be good for the Arab-World.

Implications 

The Arab community believes that Obama’s strengths lie in healthcare and education, while his handling of the Arab Spring, the economy, immigration, and the US national debt are highly criticized. Yet, 82 per cent intend to or would vote for him, and his favorability rating exceeds 80 per cent. As such, despite a mixed bag review with respect to his performance in the office and his handling of the Arab revolutions, Obama enjoys the overwhelming support of the Arab population residing in the United States. This seems tied to the antagonism between the Arabs in the US and the republican party which kept growing since 9/11. A recent survey by the American Arab Institute revealed that 57 per cent of republicans had unfavorable views about Arabs.

Obama and the Democratic Party seem thus to dominate this electoral segment without really having worked hard for it as the Republican party seem to have ceded totally ceded the ‘Arab’ and ‘the muslim’ vote. It would seem a rather risky bet especially in an election that will be decided on the margins.

Survey Methodology

Results for this TUNESS poll were collected on-line and through live in-person  interviews conducted Oct. 20-26, 2012, with a random sample of 220 registered voters, aged 18 and older, living in the United States. For results based on the total sample of Individual of Arab descent, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ± 6.58% percentage points.

Samples are weighted by country of origin and state of residence mapping back to the 2009 US Census data and the JZ Analytics estimates for the population of Arab-Americans

For more details on the polling methodology, please contact: moez_hababou@yahoo.com