I usually define
myself as, first, a human being and a global citizen, committed
to human rights for all. Second, a Palestinian Arab with American
attributes. And third, a woman, conscious of that additional layer
of discrimination with which women struggle, whatever their race,
creed, or economic status.
The president-electís unfolding
appointments to the cabinet and other top posts have turned these
self-definitions upside down. The human rights advocate in me should
be focused on how to make a strong case for the application of international
law at home and abroad to counter the pragmatic approach that seems
to be the new teamís common bond.
Yet I canít help relating to
the emerging Obama team in ethnic, gender, and cultural terms -
even though I take issue with organizations that promote members
of their ethnic group, religion or gender irrespective of whether
or not those membersí politics promote human rights.
For example, I feel a deep sense
of pride and joy at the fact that three black Americans have been
appointed out of the 13 cabinet and top posts announced by mid week.
Black Americans have taught me - and the world - so much about how
to work for peace and justice, and it feels good to see them well
And two of the three black Americans
are women, which also feels good. Although, speaking of women, I
canít help noticing women appointees remain a minority so far, albeit
a large one. Is half still too much to hope for?
But hereís my main concern.
Maybe Iíve missed something, and of course heís not done yet, but
I havenít seen an Arab American appointee on Obamaís team - not
even a hint of one on the horizon. Ditto for Muslim Americans.
The Latino community - whose
votes delivered key states to the Democrats - just got their cabinet-level
appointee, for whom they lobbied hard. Like the Latinos, the Arab
and Muslim American communities turned out in record numbers and
helped swing key states Obamaís way, including Michigan, Virginia,
performance of American Muslims was especially striking during this
election. Muslim Americans number more than seven million, while
Arab Americans number around three million. (Most Arab Americans
are Christians, although Islam is a major component of Arab culture
whatever the religious background). An unprecedented 95% of eligible
Muslim American voters turned out, with around 89% voting for Obama.
Perhaps Arab American and Muslim American organizations did not
lobby hard enough post-election? Or perhaps politicians still prefer
to tiptoe around both communities?
In recent years, a few Arab Americans have made it to the top tier
- energy secretary during George W. Bushís first term, secretary
of health and human services during the Clinton
years, and chief of staff during Bush seniorís term.
Maybe itís unrealistic
to expect that an Arab American would make it into every cabinet.
It is a relatively small community. And, although there is a large
pool of highly qualified professionals, the pool of those engaged
in politics is much smaller.
But the top tier of government is what most represents the face
of America to the world and to
other Americans, giving them models to emulate and a stake in the
is one of the few countries where diversity can - and, increasingly,
does - go all the way to the top. In spite of my affinity for Europe,
I cannot imagine a person of color leading any European country,
at least not in my lifetime.
The human rights piece of me is focused on promoting a more progressive
agenda for America.
it is with a sense of wistfulness, not to say exclusion, that I
follow the news about the top appointments. Doubtless some Arab
Americans and/or Muslim Americans will be appointed as assistant
secretaries and department directors. But itís not the same as being
part of the most visible face of America.
Guest Commentator. Nadia Hijab, is a Senior Fellow at the Institute
for Palestine Studies.
This commentary was syndicated by Agence Global and distributed by the Institute for Palestine Studies. The Institute has produced
authoritative studies on Palestinian affairs and the Arab-Israeli
conflict since 1963. Its flagship Journal of Palestine
Studies is published by the University
of California Press. Click here
to contact Nadia Hijab.