Ethnic Politicking Up Close In Chicago
September 25, 2000, 05:00 PM
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Previous Buchanan Diaries and VDARE Invitation to Other Campaigns

Scott McConnell's Buchanan Diary - September 25, 2000

Spoke last night at a candidate forum put on jointly by the Arab American Institute and the American Muslim Council, in Bridgeview, IL, a suburb of Chicago. About five hundred people turned out in a Muslim school basement on a Sunday evening - just to hear local candidates speak, without any campaign hooplah. An enormously impressive and serious group; they weren't watching football, or zoned out in front of the tube. The women (about a third of the crowd) dressed traditionally, though not veiled. The men wore jackets and ties.

This is a rapidly growing community - half a million in the Chicago area according to some claims, the fastest-growing ethnic group in the city. The program consisted of a long list of local candidates, and a rousing address from Jim Zogby, chairman of the Arab American Institute - and a former co-chair of the Jesse Jackson campaign. Zogby, who has been a Palestinian activist since the mid-1970s, told the crowd of a local American official from Dearborn, MI who used to complain that all these Arab immigrants were coming in and ruining - here he mimicked in perfect pitch a flat Midwestern accent - "our darn good way of life." Now, Zogby claimed, this same man passes out not keys to the city but a xxx - using an Arabic word I was not familiar - to Arab-American dignitaries all the time, and often commences city and festivals with readings from the Koran.

Zogby touched on another issue, which has become extremely important to this community - the "secret evidence" imprisonments, by which various Arab activists have been jailed without knowing the charges against them. (Several have been released, after months of imprisonment and no charges ever filed.) There is a bipartisan bill in Congress - supported by PJB - against this practice.

My talk - though I am less than a practiced speaker - could not have been better received.

I would have been ready to field questions about PJB's immigration policy - "we need a slow-down to assimilate the new immigrants" - if asked. But the interest was elsewhere.

The meeting broke in the middle for Muslim prayer - about two-thirds of the crowd split into men and women and gathered in separate corners of the school basement, while the rest of us made small talk.

It was an altogether impressive and serious gathering - the audience not interested in what the candidates could deliver in terms of goods, service, bribes, but more in the larger and abstract issues of foreign policy, and their own civil rights. A notable number of young men and women in attendance were doing graduate university work. I was struck particularly by one young graduate political scientist from the University of Chicago who described the American Muslim community as a potential beacon for the entire Islamic world. He was more than ready to acknowledge that all the states, so rarely democratic, needed such a beacon. This was, I thought, in the very scope of its reach and ambition, a kind of beautiful thought.

But of course one can't experience something like this without mixed feelings. Clearly the organizers of such gatherings are right - Arabs and Muslims will soon become an important ethnic constituency in the United States, and will steer American policy away from its knee-jerk hostility towards the Arab and Muslim nations. As someone who is increasingly uncomfortable with that policy, I cannot feel this is anything but a welcome development. And I welcome of course their readiness to appreciate Pat Buchanan. They have no trouble whatsoever understanding the price he has paid for calling for a more, if you will, moral American view toward Palestinian aspirations and the Arab world in general.

At the same time, it is always a bit disquieting to see ethnic politics up close, the focused energy of a community whose bedrock attitude is, invariably, "our people, right or wrong." In an age of burgeoning multiculturalism, this is the American future, ready or not.

P.S. The Bush representative, a nice guy who gave me a ride back to my hotel, said, if I'm not mistaken, (when he spoke, right after I had left the podium, I was exchanging phone numbers) that George W. Bush did not consider illegal immigration much of a problem.

P.P.S. It would have been instructive to attend such a gathering with some of my old neocon friends - the same folks who worked so hard to take immigration reform off the conservative agenda, and even to banish from their jobs in journalism those conservatives who felt that the United States needed to slow immigration down. In ten years or so, they will see the implications of their policies play out in Congressional votes about aid to Israel, etc. Somehow, I don't think they'll like the results very much.

And another thing: Since I last did a VDARE diary, (September 10 /scott_mcconnell's_
buchanan_diary,_september_10,_2000.htm
) everything has changed. Pat has risen from his sickbed, put the three hospitalizations behind him, spent last week campaigning in South Carolina, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, will hit the South this week, has done a million TV and radio interviews. We have gotten the $12.6 million from the FEC, have begun producing TV ads, and already have radio ads running in about half the country. By mid-week, we should be running ads on language and immigration issues in about 60 markets. We have caught up to Ralph Nader [!] in recent polls - the first time since March.

My belief is that, if the Bush collapse continues, more and more conservatives will vote their convictions. And Pat will do very well.