Kerry Drew Disenchanted Arabs in Bay Ridge
As the presidential election grew near, Linda Sarsour sat in her small office at the Arab-American Association in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, looking at the photos of two thickly bearded young Arabs on the front page of an Arabic-language newspaper.
The paper carried fervent slogans calling on young people to become martyrs in the conflict with Israel.
Sarsour, a 24-year-old Palestinian-American, sighed. One of the men, she said, was a cousin who has been in Israeli jails for 25 years. The other man, she said, was a family friend serving a 99-year prison sentence in Israel.
Her brother-in-law, she said, is also serving a 12-year sentence, accused of being an activist in the Hamas, the religious militant group, though, she said, he was secular in his beliefs.
Despite those concerns, she said, she was more worried these days about her own future in America, She said she had been questioned by U.S. authorities, and her Palestinian husband, after seven years in America, faced deportation proceedings. So, like many Arab-Americans in the Bay Ridge area, she had hoped that Tuesday's election would end the presidency of Republican George Bush. With that goal in minx, she worked to turn out voters for Democratic challenger John Kerry as part of a broader effort led by the Arab-Muslim American Federation and the Salam Arabic Lutheran Church, two major centers for Arab life in the neighborhood.
"I'll never lose this chance to vote Bush out," Sarsour said before the election. "Bush has long been backing Israel with cash and weapons against my own people."
Although the Arab population in New York is not as large as it is in other states in the country, the Arab-American vote was still regarded as significant.
Bush contended during the campaign that his war in Iraq and his widespread campaign against terrorism were spreading freedom and making the United States safer. He also argued that ultimately his strategy would bring greater stability to the Middle East.
However, Arab-Americans in Bay Ridge often saw his record differently.
"Bush is the source of our present troubles so I don't think any honest Arab will vote for him," said Abdel Kareem Al-Qawass, 48, a Jordanian calling cards vendor.
Many blamed Bush and his foreign policy for what they regarded as a growing feeling of insecurity around the globe.
"When Bush declared the war on terrorism, he, in fact, expanded the arena of threats all over the world," said Al-Qawass. "Now Italy is a target because it has illegal military presence in Iraq as well as Spain and many other countries."
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, many Arab-Americans also have complained about being unfairly treated by suspicious government officials.
"As Arabs, we've suffered a lot under Bush's rule," said Khader El-Yateem, 35, pastor of the Salam Arabic Lutheran Church. "Many Arabs were interrogated by the FBI and the police for no obvious reason just because they are Arabs." He said that while older Arab-American immigrants sometimes leaned toward the Republican Party, recent immigrants were "all Democrat."
Citing the Democratic Party's stances on the Iraq war and the Palestinian issue, El-Yateem echoed the view of many Bay Ridge Arabs that the Democratic Party had a better understanding of the thorniest problems the Arabs have with the West.
El-Yateem said that former Democratic President Bill Clinton met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and invited him several times to the White House to discuss the Palestinian issue whereas Bush has neglected the Palestinian problem.
"Bush is more concerned about Israel than the Arabs in Palestine," El-Yateem said.
Still, Kerry sometimes lacked personal appeal among Bay Ridge Arabs. Kerry was "another alternative, but not necessarily better," said Hussain Al-Massoudi, a 40-year-old Iraqi cab driver.
"Maybe Kerry and Bush are two faces for the same coin," he said. "The idea is we've tried Bush and we've seen what he did, so let's try someone else. He might be better."