News / Middle East

Muslim, Arab-American Youths Emerge as Social Activists

Campus Progress National Conference in July, organized by the Center for American Progress based in Washington, DC
Campus Progress National Conference in July, organized by the Center for American Progress based in Washington, DC

When you think of Arab or Muslim political activists, you likely imagine flag-waving, fist-pumping protesters demanding rapid political reform.  However, in the United States, Muslim political activism seems to take on a different meaning.

Glancing at Wiaam Yasin, you wouldn't immediately assume she’s an activist with a passion for immigration reform.  A petite 20-year-old who wears the Muslim headscarf, the Sudanese American native of Reston, Virginia, speaks Spanish, is passionate about immigration reform and hopes to volunteer abroad.

Yasin is just one of many Muslim and Arab-American youths who are seeking social change in their local communities by focusing their efforts on minority rights, immigration reform and racial equality.  Her interest in social justice compelled her to attend the Campus Progress National Conference in July, organized by the Center for American Progress. The liberal Washington, D.C.-based think tank oversees Campus Progress - a nonprofit that supports student activists and journalists in colleges across the United States.

The conference focused on a wide variety of issues, including youth voter turnout, media justice and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights.  However, it was clear that the Arab and Muslim American youth in attendance had a particular focus: learning how to address issues of equity and breaking down stereotypes of minority communities.

Immigration reform

Sandra Khalifa, a summer advocacy intern with Campus Progress who also attended the conference, says her identity as an Arab American shapes the kind of activism she chooses to participate in. The daughter of Egyptian immigrants and a native of southern California, Khalifa says she felt isolated growing up in her non-diverse neighborhood as a child.

That changed however, once she started attending the University of California, Berkeley - now her alma mater - which she says has an active Arab American community on campus.  There, she discovered organizations such as the Muslim Students Association and Students for Justice in Palestine, both of which work to break down stereotypes.

“People are misinformed in general or ignorant of Arab American culture. And the media fuels all these negative stereotypes,” Khalifa says. “And so I think ... it fits in with a lot of progressive campaigns, because progressivism is all about acceptance and equality and justice for everyone…everyone should have fair access to civil rights.”

Khalifa is particularly passionate about immigration reform.  As a summer Advocacy Intern for Campus Progress, she works to raise awareness about the struggles of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. and the importance of the DREAM Act. Short for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, the Act would, if passed, provide conditional permanent U.S. residency to some undocumented students, allowing them to pursue a higher education. Khalifa helped organize the first Senate hearing on the Act, which took place in June and hopes to study public policy in the future.

“I think it’s important for any movement … or justice issues in general, [to get] everyone involved and mobilized,” she says. “If you pose things as an issue of social justice in general, rather than an Arab American issue or a Latino issue, I think that’s a strong way of getting people motivated.”

Breaking stereotypes

There is a common perception that only Latinos care about immigration policy.  “Not so,” says Yasin, which is why she decided to double major in international affairs and Spanish at the University of Mary Washington. As an intern with the Minority Community Outreach Office at the National Education Association, she has attended briefings on immigration reform in an effort to educate herself about political issues important to the Latino community.  

“By embracing the culture, I should be concerned about issues that other Hispanics are also worried about,” Yasin said. “There’s a misconception that Muslims are always worried about Muslim issues and I’m hoping to break that stereotype and show that … it’s not weird to find Muslims that speak Spanish in America or care about those kinds of issues.”

Yasin is also concerned about racial discrimination. “[Discrimination] just really irks me, that we live in America and these issues still exist,” she says. “And the conference … really struck me that you really can do things about it. You can’t just sit back … There’s a lot we can do about it especially as youth, we have a lot of power.”

Yasin has already looked into study abroad options in Spain and volunteering in Latin America to engage with different cultures. She hopes that after her trips abroad, she will have greater motivation to do more for the Latino community in America.

Minority within a minority

The speakers and panel discussions at the Campus Progress National Conference gravitated strongly toward civil rights, racial justice, welfare and other issues typically associated with the Democratic Party. The common perception that the Democratic Party platform is mainly concerned with these social issues is apparent in a 2008 study on American Muslim Voters commissioned by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. According to the study, 37 percent of respondents perceived Democrats as more likely to be favorable to Muslim Americans and their political concerns, while eight percent said that of Republicans. Nearly half of Muslim Americans identify as Democrats, while only eight percent are Republicans, according to the study.

Louay Youssef, a 33-year-old member of the DC Young Republicans and senior technology consultant for the US government, said he thinks Muslim Americans hold negative stereotypes about his party’s platform.    

“The images liberals get is that we’re against human rights. [They think we’re] only about money and keeping the rich and the poor where they are,” said the Brooklyn native. “But it’s a stereotype.”

Youssef volunteered for the McCain campaign in the 2008 US presidential election and hopes to run for office one day. He cares about social issues and foreign policy, but he joined the Republican party because the Republican emphasis on fiscal responsibility and less government regulation in business resonated with him.

Dr. Mohammed Alo, 35, a Chicago activist, strategist and physician, echoed similar sentiments. He is editor and founder of MuslimRepublicans.net, a website that gives politically conservative Muslim Americans a venue to express their views and network with one another.

He says in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, U.S. Muslims felt ostracized by American interventions in the Middle East and racial profiling under the Patriot Act.  American politicians realized the need for outreach, and local policy makers in his hometown of Toledo, Ohio, asked him to write  speeches addressing the Muslim community.   

Alo denies a common perception that Republican values are incompatible with Muslim lifestyles.  “Muslim Americans identify with conservative values when it comes to religious beliefs, social values and fiscal policy,” he says.  However, he admitted that when it comes to politics, they gravitate toward typically ‘liberal’ issues like minority rights and immigration reform because it resonates with their identities.

Young Muslim American conservatives and liberals may not agree on fiscal policy, the health care debate and immigration reform. However, they do agree it’s time for Muslim Americans to focus their efforts on addressing local community issues instead of foreign affairs.

“Muslims don’t get involved in politics unless there’s some foreign going on… We need to stop doing that,” said Alo.

Yasin and Khalifa agree. Both say they hope to use their college education to pave the way for the future of activism in the young, Muslim American community.

You May Like

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid