Yes, things were pretty bright, and for Arab-Americans things were more than bright. Our community was beginning to make inroads both politically and culturally. We were courted by presidential candidates. Hell, one of them — Ralph Nader — was actually an Arab-American himself. ACCESS and its work were growing by leaps and bounds. Along with New Detroit and the cultural exchange committee, ACCESS had launched the largest world music festival in the country "The Concert of Colors." ACCESS was also about to announce a $15 million capital campaign to build the first Arab-American museum in the country as well as several other institutions. This kind of growth was taking place throughout the community, with expanded mosques and churches, new schools and other buildings. The only dark spot during this time was the deteriorating relationship with the African-American community and Arab and Chaldean store owners, a situation that members of both communities hoped would be resolved by people of good will.
Then on Sept. 11 it all went bad, terribly bad! Thousand died in the World Trade Center bombing, including 800 Arabs and Arab-Americans. Then, like an atomic bomb, the ripple effects of the bombings began. In the first wave came shock and accusations. Then the backlash, attacks on Arabs and Muslims and anyone who looked like them. Then came the "Ashcroft effect," an intense deconstruction of civil rights for all Americans via the "U.S.A. Patriot Act" and several other pieces of legislation. In one fell swoop, we Americans suffered an unprecedented loss of civil liberties that now allows the government almost unlimited entry into our private lives. Immigrants, however, and Arab-Americans in particular were singled out for the worst of these laws. They now can be arrested, deported, and held without ever seeing their accuser or ever knowing what they have been charged with.
Yes, this truly is the season of the witch. All, however, is not lost. There are groups like the ACLU and young anti-war marchers and a growing sense in America that something is not right. There also is a growing sense in the Arab-American community that we can persevere
And this gives me hope. That's how any new year should begin--with a bit of hope. Ismael Ahmed is executive director of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social