Neighbors or Enemies? > Living with Hate


Louise Cainkar

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Senior Research Fellow, Great Cities Institute

We don’t know what the impact is. It is so deeply inside people. Obviously people live in great fear — of deportation, internment, revocation of citizenship.

There is a fear that something will be done en masse. It is fed by programs like special registration or proposals like Patriot II. The fear is deep inside. Most people don’t have an overview. People are living in their own worlds of fear. It wasn’t like that before.

I get e-mails from students — “my scarf was pulled off,” or “I’m scared of deportation.” They don’t know who to call. It’s terrible if I am their only outlet.

Individually or in small groups, people are bearing experiences that there is no way to generalize.

There is a hidden grief, a fear of what may be coming. I also suspect that the political situation creates a drag on family reunification, which is one of my research queries.

There is anecdotal evidence that people are returning to the Middle East. Pakistanis are moving to Canada; many have fled there. When special registration was announced, many houses in Rogers Park went up for sale overnight. In certain blocks half the houses were for sale. Businesses were sold very cheaply. There is a new targeting of the Pakistani community.

The image is that Arabs are a mob of fanatics who hate Westerners. They are excluded from textbooks. There are no chapters in books on racial or ethnic studies. Scholarly studies of Arabs as diverse and complex human beings do not exist in the United States. In 1982, when I decided to study Arab immigration for my Ph.D., my advisor told me that I would never get a job.

If it’s not studied you cannot teach it to people.

With media and think tanks, fellowships don’t get funded, unless you hate Arabs — then you can get a position. The media, academia, government, foundations — these are the gate-keepers of society. Corporate America is less so. The government is the worst now.

The foundations are beginning to change — and changes in academia will follow. Now there are programs on Arabs and Muslims in many civil society institutions. There is a lot more repression and discrimination by government, but there has been an opening of civil society to Arabs and Muslims. People wanted to learn.

Eighty percent of the population has been blocked from learning. Most people have no access to knowledge or contact. Civil society has responded by wanting to know more about, have more contact with the community — that’s a healthy thing about our society.

The community cannot identify for itself the extent of the repression it is undergoing because the channels of internal communication don’t exist. Because of the FBI, people don’t feel safe sharing their experience. But anyone you talk with talks about their fear of what is coming next. People still have to get up everyday and go to work — and live with the widespread fear that today may not have a tomorrow.

There is an impact on the organizational development of community institutions. Some have better access to funding, but everything goes into defending the community — teaching people about their rights, supporting people to deal with special registration. Instead of promoting civic participation or artistic expression, which are normal parts of the growth and development of any community.

Many institutions are closing down. Charitable donations are way down.

On the other hand, people are not crushed. There are more religious institutions. They are bearing more of the brunt because government is more focused on targeting this community. Today, more Arab Americans are willing to work in nonprofits. This was previously difficult to find, because people had more opportunities to work in business or the professions.

Most people are not leaving. They will find their way. You cannot silence people forever. Sooner or later, people will be deported, put into camps, killed, or allowed to speak.

Eventually, “allowed to speak” will win. But that will be down the road.