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Op-Ed: Dial 3 for Public Assistance in Arabic in Michigan, USA

Will Arabic-speaking immigrants identify with the American ethos if they can do without English?
Published: Friday, August 16, 2013 4:22 PM


“Give me your tired and your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

These immortal words were written by a Jewish-American woman, Emma Lazarus, whose roots are Sephardic; her words are inscribed on the American Statue of Liberty and have welcomed countless immigrants as they arrived at these shores in flight from persecution and in search of a better life. Most were poor, illiterate, traumatized, and could speak no English. The impoverished needed to pass a medical exam and were sent back if they failed it. They also needed someone to vouch for them in terms of housing or employment.

Thereafter, if they worked hard (six or even seven days a week for subsistence wages), they could and did become American citizens. Their children would receive an American education—more priceless than the gold that was said to pave the streets.

The earliest immigrants to America came from northern, southern, and eastern Europe, from England, Holland, Germany, Scandinavia, Italy, Spain, Greece, and Eastern Europe, as far as blood-soaked Armenia. Chinese and Japanese immigrants also came, but in lesser numbers. The masses yearned for the American Dream.

Other than the atheists and the political activists, immigrants wanted to keep their religious and ethnic customs--and did so. Churches, synagogues, Buddhist, Sikh, and Hindu temples flourished precisely because America was founded on religious tolerance and this meant a separation of religion and state.

Late nineteenth century and early twentieth century immigrants wanted to assimilate. They could not and did not turn to the government for help. Many feared and mistrusted governments. They turned to charities and to self-help associations based on their ethnicity or religion. Most manifested dignity and stubborn pride in the face of adversity—and prospered or floundered along with the rest of the country.

The early north and east European Jewish immigrants did not expect public schools and government offices to speak to them in Yiddish. Non-Jewish Italians, Greeks, Scandinavians, Armenians, and Poles did not demand that their languages be used as primary or secondary languages.

The subject of the advantages and disadvantages of bi-lingual education remains hotly unresolved. Some believe that bi-lingual education and official communication constitutes the milk of human kindness and allows people to understand and obtain the services to which they are entitled.

Thus, NYC 311 offers assistance in 170 languages. In 1964, the American government passed the Federal Bilingual Education Act which offers basic education in other languages. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires that voting materials be provided in native language where the population in a district is 10,000 and/or 5% of the total.

One wonders how anyone can cast an informed vote if they do not understand what the candidates are saying in English--but I quibble.

However, many people believe that bi-lingual public education for the children of immigrants will condemn non-English speakers to an inferior education and to a lesser future of separate and unequal employment. If new immigrants and their children do not learn English, they cannot become “Americans” as previous immigrant generations have done.

Their opponents insist that non-English speaking children cannot learn arithmetic or history in English which is, after all, a foreign language to them. They hope that with time and English language instruction, this situation will improve.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, nearly 16% of Americans are now Hispanic-Americans. Thus, Spanish is available in a variety of settings: on the phone, at the post office, in voting booths, and in limited ways in some public school classrooms.

According to The Pew Research Center, as of 2011, 2.7 million Muslims, (native-born, converts, immigrants) were living in America. Thus, Muslims from the Middle East, Southeast and Central Asia, and North Africa, comprise less than 1 % (.87 %) of our population of 313.9 million Americans.

But guess what? America may just have joined Europe in welcoming a new kind of immigrant. If you dial the following number in Michigan: 1-888-678-8914, you will be dialing the Public Assistance Office. You will be told to “Press 1 for English. Press 2 for Spanish. Press 3 for Arabic. Call, test this for yourself.

This is interesting, since Arabic-only speakers comprise a small percentage of Americans, and Arabic-only speakers comprise a small (but growing) percentage of Michigan residents. While it is true that some Christians, mainly from Lebanon, also speak Arabic and have also immigrated to America, I doubt that they live in Michigan or in Dearborn, which is a magnet for Muslims.

Nevertheless, magically, mysteriously, Arabic-speakers in Michigan have just gotten their own fast-tracked special “hot line” for public assistance. Interestingly enough, the majority of Arabic-only speakers in Michigan are Muslims. Similarly expanding Muslim (but not necessarily Arabic- speaking) populations exist in about twenty states, including New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Florida, Texas, and California. Such immigrants also speak Pashtu, Urdu, Dari, Bengali, Turkish, Persian, Hindustani, Tamil, and Somali as well as Arabic.

The need for Arabic as a second language in order to obtain public assistance might increase if the Arab Christians who are being ruthlessly persecuted by Arab Muslims in the MIddle East seek and are granted asylum in America.

Am I an “Islamophobe” for raising these questions? I think not. I am concerned with the willingness and ability of a tribal culture to modernize and assimilate to western values if they continue speaking only in their native-language and listening only to native-language broadcasts. I am worried about Americans-turned-Jihadist because their main frame of reference remains the Islamic ummah and not their American adopted country.

I am worried about the girls and women who may not wish to face-veil, who want to dress in a modern way, have non-Arabic speaking friends, obtain an advanced education, and choose their own marriage partners. I am worried that they might be honor killed on American soil for such desires, just as they have been in Europe where the Muslim population has reached a point of no return.

I am even more afraid that Arabic-speaking Muslim girls and women may not have such desires—not even in America—if they remain surrounded by Arabic-only words, ideas, and customs.

I am a strong advocate for political asylum to be granted to Muslim and ex-Muslim dissidents and women, especially to individuals who are persecuted and even murdered by their own cultures because they have dared to critique or to leave that culture. Thus, I have submitted affidavits on behalf of (mainly) Muslim women in flight from being honor killed. I welcome them to America.


I have submitted affidavits on behalf of (mainly) Muslim women in flight from being honor killed. I welcome them to America. I do not welcome their persecutors.
I do not welcome their persecutors—male or female.

I fear that it will prove unwise—possibly our undoing if, like Europe, America welcomes those who wish to live here on government handouts with no intention of assimilating and leading productive lives; who refuse to speak our language, in every sense of the word.

In the name of tolerance and political correctness, guilty, but still racist Europeans have allowed a second-class, hostile, and parasitic population to flourish, one which does not wish to become “European.”

America should not repeat Europe’s tragic mistake I would hope that the majority of Muslims in America are not busily face veiling their women, genitally mutilating their daughters, secretly engaging in polygamy, and forcing their children into arranged marriages with uneducated first cousins from the home country.

But I fear that this is precisely what is happening.

Recently, during the Eid festival, at the end of Ramadan, a close friend was visiting the beach community of Coney Island, in Brooklyn, New York. She saw women wearing heavy burqas (head, face, and body covering) in the heat; their male escorts were wearing summery, western clothing, including jeans; their very young daughters were wearing high heels, makeup, and sparkly, eroticized clothing. This last feature was new to me. I will have to think about what this means.

Whatever I conclude, this emerging picture is worrisome.

Note: P.S. According to the U.S. English Foundation, Inc., as of 2013, the state of Michigan (population 9,938,444) has 8,487,400 English speakers; 246,680 Spanish speakers (2.9%); and 75,410 Arabic speakers (.088%). Other residents or citizens speak 47 other languages including German, Polish, French, Italian, Syriac, Chinese, Korean, Albanian, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Macedonian, Finnish, etc. The Foundation does not clarify whether German or Polish speakers speak German-only or Polish-only. My point: Someone should review how many of the relatively small number of Arabic-only speakers are on public assistance and what the likelihood is that they and their families will remain there.