Syrian American Contributions

Syrian Americans have been part of the rich fabric of American life for over a century. Syrian Americans include members of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions. Syrian Americans have contributed and elevated American politics, sports, popular and high culture, academia, industry, and civic life for generations.

If Paula was your favorite judge on American Idol in its heydey, you have danced along with a Syrian American.

If Jerry Seinfeld ever cracked you up, you have laughed alongside a Syrian American.

If you’ve used any Mac product, you can thank Steve Jobs, whose birth parents were from Syria.

If you’re a woman pursuing a career in law, you can look to the inspiring example of Rosemary Barkett, the first woman to serve on the Florida Supreme Court, and the first woman Chief Justice of that court, who has Syrian heritage.

If you live in Michigan or follow libertarian politics, you may have been represented in Washington by Justin Amash (R-MI-3), a Syrian American.

If you’ve been able to quickly and easily photocopy something, you can thank Paul Orfalea, the Syrian American who founded Kinkos.

If you attend Wofford College or Purdue University, your school is led by a Syrian American (Nayef Samhat and Mitch Daniels, respectively).

If you ever wanted to take up surfing because that Kelly Slater is just too darn gorgeous, that’s probably because he has Syrian heritage.

If you get your news from CNN, you may hear it from celebrated Syrian American journalist Hala Gorani.

If you’ve enjoyed watching Homeland, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Finding Forrester (etc.) then I’m sure you’ve recognized the acting talent of Syrian American F. Murray Abraham.

If you’re a big hockey fan, you are probably aware of former Blackhawk current Blue Jacket Brandon Saad’s talent on the ice– yes, Syrian Americans even play professional hockey.

If we want to ‪#‎makeamericagreat‬ again, how about we take in as many Syrians as possible, huh?



Note: This was originally posted to my personal Facebook page on 15 November, 2015. 


Mos Def YouTube Video Sheds Light on Inhumanity of Force-Feeding at Gitmo

This post was originally published on AAI’s newsblog.

Inhumane treatment continues at Guantanamo Bay, where over 100 of the 166 prisoners detained there are in the midst of a hunger strike. Some have been fasting for over 100 days. The number of those currently being force-fed has reached at least a quarter of the total population of the prison, over 40 people. A military spokesman recently claimed that there was no threat to the health of the prisoner population there, despite reports that many inmates now weigh less than 100 pounds.

Seeking to raise awareness about the plight of these prisoners, rapper and MC Yasiin Bey, aka Mos Def, underwent the standard operating procedure for force-feeding used in the detention center. This experience was made into a four-minute film through a partnership of the human rights organization Reprieve, Bafta award-winning director Asif Kapadia, and the Guardian. The procedure was carried out according to instructions in a leaked military document.

While Guantanamo officials insist that the procedure is, “humane, high-quality medical care to preserve life and health,” Guantanamo detainees themselves described the procedure as “extremely painful and the conditions … are abusive.” In an open letter to military doctors, the detainees wrote: “If you truly had my best medical interests at heart, you could have talked to me like a human being about my choices…” Force-feeding has been condemned by the Special Rapporteur on Health to the United Nations, who stated,

“Health care personnel may not apply undue pressure of any sort on individuals who have opted for the extreme recourse of a hunger strike, nor is it acceptable to use threats of forced feeding or other types of physical or psychological coercion against individuals who have voluntarily decided to go on a hunger strike.”

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Méndez re-emphasized the extent of the abuses, beyond the specific injustice of force-feeding:  “At Guantánamo, the indefinite detention of individuals, most of whom have not been charged, goes far beyond a minimally reasonable period of time and causes a state of suffering, stress, fear and anxiety, which in itself constitutes a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.”

Despite condemnation from the UN and other human rights organizations, authorities say the procedure will continue, though feedings will occur at night for the upcoming month to respect observances of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Arab American Women Mobilize in Michigan

This post was originally published on the Arab American Institute newsblog on July 10, 2012, and on the Yalla Change blog on July 11, 2012.

A group of Arab American women in Dearborn, Michigan are mobilizing get out the vote efforts in preparation for November’s presidential election. Founded by Jumana Judeh, Arab American Women for Obama (AAWO) has formed a committee of 20 members and is currently planning strategies and programs to increase voter participation amongst Arab American women this fall, including phone banking, canvassing, and outreach at community events.  Judeh is serving as a delegate to the Democratic Convention in Charlotte this summer, and is also the founder of the Arab American Women’s Business Council.

Arab Americans comprise a substantial percentage of the population in southeast Michigan, which is expected to be a highly contested swing state. Judeh criticized Romney’s dismissal of bailouts for the automotive industry, saying that he does not understand the economy in Michigan. Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s father served as Governor of the state from 1963-1969. While they acknowledged the importance of foreign policy, Judeh noted, ““the issues for us as Arab American women are jobs, our kids, education and opportunity.” She also highlighted immigration and health care reform, as well as the rising cost of higher education, as being key issues for members of AAWO.

AAWO’s efforts are intended to encourage the civic participation of its members as women, and as members of an immigrant community.  Judeh believes the organization will provide agency for its members, while counteracting negative portrayals of Arab women as represented by the media.

To join or get more information about Arab Women for Obama, contact Jumana Judeh ( or call:(313) 277-1986.

Asking the Right Questions

Just finished reading Yassin Alsalman’s “Diatribes of a Dying Tribe,” his master’s thesis and multimedia collaboration with Omar Offendum, Excentrik, and Ragtop in “Fear of an Arab Planet, also known as the Arab Summit. I thoroughly enjoyed his analyses of the interactions between hip hop, identity, cultural appropriation and the political realities of “Middle Westerners,” those of us of Middle Eastern descent living in the West who are faced with the types of questions that have risen to thematic ubiquity in my recent writings and musings. The questions of home and belonging, otherness and loyalty are important and contentious; i.e. what does it mean for me to have watched Egyptian police throw tear gas that was “Made in the USA“?

The book is academic poetry, and well worth the read. Download the Arab Summit or buy the book here.

“If the restaurant of life were an Arab establishment, dictators would be the waiters to a Capitalist chef.” (37)