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Losing our Arabism at Washington’s Arab Festival

I must respect the persistence on Palestinians to remind us and the world of their plight. Unfortunately it is not resonating

Walid Jawad

Published: Updated:

Welcome to the Arab Festival of the Washington DC Area brought to you by the heirs of the former Turkish Empire. It is ironic that as soon as I walked through the gates into the festival grounds I see the main sponsor's logo all over: Turkish Airlines. It seems that the irony is lost on the organizers and the sponsors. The short-term memory loss of Arabs and Arab Americans is problematic, as they have lost the lesson of the brutality was the Ottoman Caliphate occupation of Arab lands.

With great anticipation I visited the one day festival towards the end of last month, checking out vendor tents void of any allure for only the handcrafted pottery vendor. I quickly became suspicious of the origin of the artwork. “This style doesn’t look Arabic,” I thought to myself when the gentleman manning the table started with his pitch. I quickly asked “where was this one made?” He paused for a second and said “Persia.” A smart attempt to avoid saying “Iran” identifying himself and the artwork in a less politically charged affiliation.

The score so far: festival 0 for 2. I followed my nose up the hill. I’ve planned my day as to eat my main meal at the festival imagining the numerous variety of traditional tasty Arabic cuisine in an afternoon of culinary bliss. My hopes were dashed realizing that none of the vendors were giving out samples of any long missed tasty Arabic foods.

Intriguing

The longest line was the one forming under the shade of some trees. I wanted to stand in line just to escape the glaring midday sun, but I was curious to check out the half dozen food stands, looking for the most intriguing menu items, including kebab on the grills of a couple of vendors with smoke that danced to a delicious beat of my hunger and growling stomach.

The only factor that brings Arab-Americans together is our shared grievances. And even that external negative unifier is now being lost

Walid Jawad

The first one was a Pakistani restaurant, the second was Afghani and the last was Indian. Only the first vendor was making Arabic cuisine. Was there anything Arabic about this “Arab Fest”?

Sure there was - the music echoing from the bottom of the hill was unequivocally Arabic. I approached the stage to get a glimpse of the band. It was Palestinian - made up of five family members of which an endearing little 8-year-old girl played the guitar and sang. Although singing Marcel Khalifa’s “Tifl we Teyara” was the antithesis of the festive vibe the gathering was anticipating.

A major disconnect

I must respect the persistence on Palestinians to remind us and the world of their plight. Unfortunately it is not resonating. There is a major disconnect between the Palestinian people and the land of Palestine. The Palestinians over the last few decades have been coming across in an unflattering way. The divide between Hamas and Fatah and the rift between the people of Gaza and the West Bank is a major conundrum. Unless the Palestinians find a way to unify and become again one people it will remain a challenge for them to gain any real international public support including that of the Arab world. Arabs are unified in their animosity toward Israel, but are by no means pro-Palestinian.

Back at the festival, I was ready to leave - my patience was running thin. In addition to its steep entry fee and its sponsorship by historic enemies, the festival was lacking in festivity, Arab kids were undisciplined and hijabs was overcasting an aura of Islamic tint over the afternoon.

Equating Arab culture solely with the Islamic faith is troubling but the outward appearance of the festival wasn’t visually religious. Never the less, the festival missed out on featuring celebrated Arabic signature items such as the Lute and Qanoon, Arab dresses and jewelry, Arab architectural achievement and arts, Arabic inventions and history, and Arabic language, poetry and literature.

No vacuum

The Arab Festival did not materialize in the way it did in a vacuum. It is a reflection of the Arab world; especially that more immigrants are flooding the U.S. bringing with them ingrained fears and desperation as well as memories of destruction and atrocities. But they also bring with them a more recent Arab experience, with dreams and hopes. I believe this is a good time to reflect on Arabhood and on our Arab-Americanism to examine what makes us Arabs. Muslim Americans are mostly non-Arabs, while being classified as white is a false classification, leading successive generations to lose their Arabism.

The only factor that brings Arab-Americans together is our shared grievances. And even that external negative unifier is now being lost seeing how dominant the Turkish and Iranian presence was at this festival. If the festival was in fact a celebration of Arab culture and not just a façade, this would have been an article that praises coexistence, forgiveness and tolerance.

Nevertheless, in typical Arab fashion we avoid abundant sunshine by seeking the reprieve of any shade. Although the historic Turkish clouds are dissipating, the Iranian skies are ominously darkening. Nevertheless, Arab Americans have found darker clouds for us to gather under; the NSA, FBI and CIA along with many local law enforcement agencies are resorting to failed profiling tactics. Without their biases and prejudice we would have lost our Arab-American identity.

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Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at U.S. Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (B.A) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. You can follow him @walidaj

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.