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VOA-TV Interview with Jean AbiNader - 2003-04-04

VOA-TV’s David Borgida talks with Jean AbiNader, the Managing Director of the Arab American Institute about the mood of Arab Americans. MR. BORGIDA
And now joining us to discuss the mood of the Arab American community, Jean AbiNader of the Arab American Institute.

The Arab American community, much like the rest of the American community, has some mixed feelings about the war, I assume?


Yes. As you know, today the President met with a group of Iraqi Americans. We helped arrange that visit with the White House.

It was interesting that, for the last two months, the Chaldean community, in particular in Detroit, have been trying to see the White House, but because of all the planning that was going on, it was hard for them to get here.

Now, instead of having a lower-level State Department visit, they get to meet the President. So, they were very pleased with that. The Iraqi community has been very positive about overthrowing the regime. And it has been a real problem for them, because every one of them has a horror story.

And in general, the breakdown in the Arab American community is very similar to the American community.

About 60 percent are for the war, about 40 percent are against the war, but about 75 percent are definitely committed to regime change. So, it wasn't really a question of the end but the means.

The law enforcement community vis-ŕ-vis the Arab American community, how is that relationship going? How would you characterize it?

Well, you know there is always the difficulty we've had since 9/11 of the balance between protecting the civil liberties of Arab Americans and increasing our national security.

I have to say that FBI Director Robert Mueller has gone out of his way to really show the Arab American and the American Muslim community that the FBI is committed to respecting the community and drawing them in as partners in terms of isolating people who might cause problems for this country.

We had a very good meeting with him on February 28th. And the outcome of that was a very positive program going out to the Iraqi American community, explaining what the interviews were going to be about.

And we got feedback this week. We had our first meeting with the Arab American Advisory Committee to the Washington field office of the FBI, and they said, out of the 800 interviews they have done with Iraqi Americans, they actually have come up with 50 to 60 specific bits of information that have been very helpful to General Franks, because of people who had worked in the government, who had been engineers, or others who were able to give the FBI some good information.

Nerves were rather raw after 9/11, for obvious reasons, within the Arab American community.

Things appear to have settled down a bit after that. But now the war.

Trace for us for just a moment how you think the average, if there is an average, Arab American on the streets of America is feeling now, embattled? Discriminated against? Proud that something is being done in Iraq?

I think for those of us who were born in this country or whose parents were born in this country, it's very much an American perspective.

We're very proud of this country. We want regime change to happen. We support the troops, because many of them are our family members and friends. And we want it to be over as quickly as possible.

I think for those who are more recent immigrants, they have a real problem with seeing their Arab brethren attacked.

Not, as I said, that they support the regime, but they have this problem of seeing, on satellite television for example, all the civilian casualties.

And of course the story being told from the Arab side is very one-sided. And so they have been getting a lot of one-sided information.

But I think ultimately what's going to make a difference is how we handle the post-Saddam era, whether or not we internationalize the solutions. I think it's critical to follow Prime Minister Tony Blair's lead and not have a high American visibility in Iraq afterwards.

I think it's absolutely essential we go with the President and follow the roadmap, and set down conditions that the Palestinians and Israelis have to follow in order to come to negotiations.

I think those kinds of rules will create much more credibility and therefore much more security on the part of the Arab American community.

Well, Jean AbiNader, of the Arab American Institute here in Washington, giving us the sense of the feeling in the Arab American community, thanks so much for joining us.

Thank you.