Tuesday, October 29, 2013

ADC: An Institution in Turmoil or a Community in Turmoil? Beydoun et al. Write about the community organization without writing about the community

HelenThomas  
 
 

President Clinton addressing the ADC Convention






ADC: An Institution in Turmoil or a Community in Turmoil?

Beydoun et al. Write about the community organization without writing about the community

 

            Every community and every organization deals with challenges. This is part of the community and organizational growth process.

 

ADC is not an exception.

 

            ADC is an organization that that the “revolutionary” members of the Arab American community simply hate. They hate ADC because they want/ed ADC to be more radical, more controversial, and yes, more divisive.

 

They failed.

 

            As an organization that represents Arab Americans of all national, religious, political, and ideological backgrounds, ADC has tried to focus on what can unite all Arab Americans of all backgrounds: The civil rights of Arab Americans. Many wanted ADC to be more and when that did not happen they left. They left and ADC continued to exist.

 

            I have been involved with ADC since 2001 in different capacities. I am a member, a former ADC Michigan chapter board chair, a former chair of the ADC advisory board, and a current member of the advisory board of the ADC Michigan office.

 

            Over the years I have met all kinds of people who were part of ADC.  Some of them are not part of ADC anymore. Some left because they got busy with other things such as a job and a family, new endeavors, new interests, and/or had their ambitions for power in the organization stifled, etc.

 

Writing without History or Context

 

            It is not possible to make meaningful commentary about ADC as the premier Arab American organization without studying and commenting about the Arab American community itself. The Arab American community has changed tremendously over the years since Senator James Abu Rizk formed the organization. The community has numerically grown and has seen an increase in the number of community organizations that are formed on the basis of nationality and/or religion.  These organizations have greatly reduced the pool of membership available for ADC.

 

International changes and the Arab-Israeli Conflict

            Major changes on the community level began with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Iraq invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent war to get Iraq out of Kuwait and the Israeli-Palestinian Oslo peace process. Many Palestinian nationalists, leftists and leftist- leaning members got discouraged and left the organization. Oslo was seen as a “major disaster” and signaled for many the perceived bankruptcy of the Arab national project and the need for a better avenue for organizing- that is along religious lines. While religion based organizations are flush with money, secular organizations across the board, with notable exceptions, are starved for money.

The Arab Spring, the Syria Conflict and Sectarian Tensions

 

            More recently there is the issue of the Arab spring and the Syria conflict and sectarian tensions that have further weakened and divided the Arab American community. This division is reflected in all aspects of Arab American life including institutions. As to Syria- There are those who strongly support Assad. There are those who strongly oppose Assad. Both groups exist in ADC. The challenge for ADC as an organization is how to keep both in the fold. The perceived dis-invitation of Syrian pianist Jandali is a result of the attempt of ADC to navigate the treacherous waters of that conflict and the hard feelings it has engendered in the community.

Hostility to Arab Gulf States

 

            There is also major controversy over the belligerence and hostility of some members of the Arab American community, especially the radical activists, to the Gulf Arab states. This belligerence is a function of many factors some ideological. Many Arab communists and other leftists have not forgiven the government of Saudi Arabia for contributing to the collapse of the Soviet Union and communism by providing 50 cents of every dollar the U.S. spent funding the Afghani Jihad against the Soviet Union. Also, the fact remains that many “revolutionaries” and “critical thinkers” in the Arab American community consider hostility to the Arab Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia, as an important part of their identity and being and an important part of their “progressive” bona fides. While there are/were members of ADC who were hostile to the Arab Gulf countries, others in the community and in ADC aren’t/ weren’t. This division came to the surface when ADC took the major donation from the Saudi prince Al Walid Bin Talal. I was there at the banquet when the prince declared his major donation. I also recall that faced with a major nonstop applause he said he will increase the donation that he intended for ADC.

 

Government engagement v. Government Confrontation

 

            There is also the issue of ADC- U.S. government engagement. Many Arab American activists are left- wingers who see the U.S. government and its policies as the root of all evil in the world in general and in the Arab world in particular. They want ADC to be hostile to US government foreign policy. They want confrontation, not engagement. They believe that ADC needs to take an adversarial position as to the U.S. government and not a partnership role on issues of importance to Arab Americans. The  institution of BRIDGES, formed by the former regional director of ADC with the former FBI Detroit agent in Charge John Bell is Exhibit 1 in what those activists hate/dislike about ADC. Many of the advocates of the adversarial role and the hostility left. They are the minority viewpoint in the Arab American community. Most Arab Americans do not want a confrontational and adversarial relationship with the U.S. government. They are American citizens and they want to change the behavior of the government not alienate themselves from it.

 

The Salience of Religious identity and the Rise of Religious Mobilization

            It is not only the lack of history and context that stands out in the piece by Beydoun et al. Those who stayed with ADC know that the biggest challenge today facing Arabs and Arab Americans is the salience of the religious identity and the rise of religion as a mobilizing factor. That is not inherently good or bad as a historical development but its impact on ADC is indisputable. Religious mobilization is gaining, pan Arab mobilizing is losing and this reflects on the resources and membership of ADC.

 

The National Trend of the Decline of Associational membership

             

            Nationally, there is a trend of decline in associational membership. Google "decline in voluntary associational membership" and you will see all kind of material on this national phenomenon. The American Sociological Association issued a press release entitled “Active Participation in Voluntary Organizations Declining Faster Than Checkbooks Can Keep Up,” on the subject in 2011 that read in part:  “The decline in active memberships in civic groups, fraternal organizations, and other local associations is greater than the increase in checkbook memberships, according to new research to be presented at the 106th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.” Harvard professor Robert Putnam wrote about this in Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, a book published in 2000. ADC is not unique in the sense of experiencing membership decline.  

 

Disconnected from Reality

 

            The changes and the challenges facing ADC are real. The sexual harassment claim is a footnote in this picture and is not relevant or helpful in understanding the changes that have altered Arab American reality and naturally had an impact on ADC. Those who manage and direct ADC have to deal with them every day. Beydoun et al’s piece shows that the writers, as to voluntary associational membership,  are disconnected not only from ADC reality but from the reality of American society at large.

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