Letter to Barack Obama from an Arab-American Democrat: On Rahm Emanuel and More


The road to the White House has been extremely long and highly entertaining.

Thank you Sarah Palin for showcasing Tina Fey’s comic genius. Thank you Barack Obama for showcasing American meritocracy at work.

You ran an impeccable campaign and I am proud to have a President who knows what the word impeccable means. But most of all thank you for inspiring us to get involved in politics. It has meant the world to me and to many Arab-American democrats.

Let me share with you what I saw:

I saw Arab-Americans young and old volunteer their time. They donated money like many other Americans who responded to your message of hope. They urged their friends and families to become registered voters. Many voted for the first time in their lives.

On election day I saw young kids with loud speakers cheer for Obama on the streets of Paterson, New Jersey. I honked my horn and was happy as a lark. It felt good to be on the winning side for a change. It feels good to be an American. I know this isn’t possible in Europe.

But don’t get me wrong. It hasn’t been all good:

There were trying moments us well when it felt awkward to be an Arab-American democrat.

Remember when that lady called you an Arab and McCain set the record straight?

It made you respectable and reminded us that our donations were solicited but our associations shunned.

I learned the hard way that respectable still meant non-Arab in an election that promised change. mIt hurt us terribly as Arab-American democrats to think that we were a liability.

But many of us reached into our better selves for we were inspired by your gracious example to put our differences aside and persevere. I refused to become a single issue voter.

We would transform our anger into disciplined action.

We forgave you for not speaking out. We understood. We wanted you to win.

It felt good to transcend the cynicism that pits one community against another.

This is a hard thing to say but at times we swallowed our pride and gave you the benefit of the doubt. It gave us some solace to think that Powell endorsed you and came to our defense. He reminded America that there is nothing wrong with being an Arab.

Our euphoria has been cut short by an unsolicited communal insult. Yet again we are reminded that Arabs can be insulted with impunity. The costs are infinitesimal.

That is what it means to have no respect in the post-election world.

I know you are not responsible for what Rahm Emmanuel’s father
said to an Israeli newspaper. But in case you haven’t heard, let me include the quotation:

“Obviously he will influence the president to be pro-Israel. Why wouldn’t he be? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to clean the floors of the White House.”

I find it deeply offensive that Mr. Emanuel would use an image of laborer to hurl a racial slur.

What is wrong with being a floor cleaner? Aren’t floor cleaners the people who keep our homes and public buildings clean?

Today I have no desire to discuss the Arab-Israeli conflict. There will be plenty of time to address that protracted situation.

Our job is to create an atmosphere in which respectful dialogue is a real possibility.

I am, therefore, eager to hear you make a public statement about this unsolicited insult. It would mean the world to me and to those Arab-American kids who cheered you on.

What a gesture of goodwill that would be!

Sincerely yours,
Ginan Rauf

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  1. Posted November 13, 2008 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful. I’ve felt the same way even though this election has charged me with hope. If we can look past the skin color of one, then surely we’ll be able to look past the skin color of another. Right?

    Good words. Happy to read them.

  2. rima khalidi
    Posted November 14, 2008 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    Way to go Ginan! Thank you for your intelligent and thoughtful letter..you makes us proud!

  3. Samir Rauf
    Posted November 17, 2008 at 12:14 am | Permalink

    Great job. We need people like like you who are willing to take action! This issue is not yet resolved as far as I’m concerned. Mr. Obama’s silence on this matter and others that have preceded it are still disturbing.

  4. Posted December 22, 2008 at 12:56 am | Permalink

    Nice letter, but honestly, do you expect Obama to dissociate himself from the comments made by the father of someone on his staff? Comments I haven’t even seen published anywhere? (I’m sure they occurred, they just didn’t get much if any MSM coverage).

    Sure the comments are insulting (Though not surprising considering the source) but I think you expect too much, at least for now.

    It’s true, Arab Americans are probably the most despised minority in the country. And I’m sad for that. But Obama can’t change that. It’s going to take time and a lot of work by a lot of us, most especially the Arab American community. It’s not fair that Arab Americans should have to be more law-abiding, do more outreach, do more community work than other people, but that’s the truth. It’s been the same for every new, unpopular minority in this country.

    Rightly or wrongly, Arabs are held in contempt by most Americans. Overcoming that is going to be hard, especially since many (most?)Americans can’t even tell the difference between Arab and Persian, or Arab and Afghani. Every time anyone supposedly Muslim does anything bad it gets front-page coverage. (And in most American’s minds Muslim=Arab).

    I wish I had answers. I don’t. But I think you’re expectation in this instance is unrealistic. Sure, Obama is liberal. But he’s also a realist. Give him time. If any politician can improve public perception of Arabs, it’s Obama. But starting off by blasting someone’s father….It’s not his style and never was.

  5. Haifa
    Posted January 3, 2009 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    I voted for Obama and love his way of thinking very much. I am hesitance by now from the way he is starting to show some change while he did’nt started his job yet. As an arab, I want him to have some sullution for our problem in Palestine and Gazza. May be he did get many letters regarding this matter. We’ll see how good he’ll do for us. Do’nt be soft in your writting, it’s better to open the world eyes and let them see what’s going on back home. We deserve to live as any good nation out there.