MSU School of Journalism
As the election grows nearer and the uprisings in the Middle East simultaneously increase, Arab-American student voters, some with family members still living in the volatile region, are caught between their familial identity and their American individuality.
The anti-American uprisings that began in Libya and Egypt, on the eleventh anniversary of the September 11th attacks, have since carried over to Morocco, Yemen, Sudan, Tunisia, Lebanon, Palestine, Afghanistan, and Iran according to the New York Times. Each of the protests has been lead by Islamic demonstrators, allegedly in response to a YouTube video portraying the prophet Mohammed in an offensive, anti-Muslim light.
Beyond the images of overturned cars, chanting crowds, and burned American flags Yasmeen Abdulhamid, a Libyan American student at Michigan State University, sees a direct threat to friends and family in her homeland.
“Instability has become some kind of a norm in their lives unfortunately,” says Abdulhamid of her extended family members back in Libya.
According to Abdulhamid, there is a large movement in Libya that counters what the voices of this movement call senseless anti-American violence, however it is overlooked by the media, that focuses on the violent, extreme Anti-American movement.
“Thousands of people rallied against the violent actions last week in Benghazi and [my family] was a part of it. They said it was inspiring to see so many people come out against irrational violence,” said Abdulhamid.
Abdulhamid says come November, foreign policy will probably weigh more heavily on her mind than for most other student voters. She says the winner of the election will have a hand in the development of the newly formed Libyan government.
“I’m worried that the government won’t be able to handle the concerns of the country and neglect developing Benghazi,” said Abdulhamid.
Likewise, she is also concerned about an anti-Islamic sentiment here in the United States, as she painfully described an instance in which her sister was the victim of harassment at school.
“She had some fellow students ask her some fairly ignorant questions,” Abdulhamid said, “Like why do we live here if our countries hate America so much.”
Abdulhamid says that she appreciates the fact that the Obama administration has come out and made a clear distinction between American ideals and the anti-Islamic sentiment portrayed in the infamous YouTube video.
Anan Abubaker, a Palestinian student who spent 17 years of his life in Libya, has similar concerns to those of Abdulhamid about the upcoming presidential election, and says his vote will depend heavily upon each candidate’s foreign policy preferences.
“What happened or what’s happening now doesn’t represent our religion, doesn’t represent everybody in the country,” Abubaker said, “I hope whoever our president is understands that.”
Abubaker says that though a minority of radical Islam exists in the Middle East, he believes the presidential administration should be willing to work with the more moderate Islamic regimes throughout the Arab world, which he says is the majority.
“Every religion, every nation, every kind of people you’ll find extremes, but that doesn’t mean everybody is like that.”
Abubaker says that though the violence against U.S. embassies was senseless, any portrayal of the prophet Mohammed is nonetheless, extremely offensive. Like Abdulhamid, he too was pleased with the president’s decision to publicly dismiss the infamous YouTube film.
International Relations professor from the James Madison School of Public Policy and coordinator of the Muslim Studies Program Mohammed Ayoob says, in an article submitted to Foreign Policy, an online scholarly journal, that in the year that has followed the Arab Spring, Libya in particular, is in a difficult state of transition because of the differing sects, core beliefs and varying opinions concerning the future of the presidential seat.
“Regional and tribal rivalries exacerbated by the chaos accompanying the fall of the Qaddafi regime threaten to tear Libya apart. The writ of what passes for the central government does not run too far and already voices have been raised in the eastern part of the country demanding autonomy, a possible code word for independence,” Ayoob said.
As uprisings continue spread and intensify, the gap in the differences among the regional and tribal sects seems to widen, according to Ayoob. The ideological split between pro-American and anti-American seems to be a bit more complex, according to Abdulhamid, which will pose great challenges to whomever comes out on the winning end of the election.
“Whether these people in Libya are supporters of the American government, the large majority are not for violence,” said Abdulhamid.