SAMHSA/CMHS Listening Session on the Current Mental Health Service Needs of Arab Americans and American Muslims
November 12, 2001
Hyatt Regency, Bethesda, Maryland

1) Introduction:
I was the only Arab-American Christian Religious Leader to be present at this Listening Session in Washington. I am sure that they invited other Christian Leaders, that perhaps could not come.

I was invited by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration) from CMHS (Center for Mental Health Services) of President Bush Administration.

I came to Washington, because they told me that we want you to come and listen to what you can tell us about the situation of the Arab-Americans. Do not prepare anything, just we want to listen to your wisdom. We need to present recommendations to President Bush on how to deal with things dealing with the Arab-Americans.

I do not know why they chose me. But I came to Washington with great love and pride. I was honored to be one of the 15 personalities (From Arab-Countries, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India ...) invited to be listened to and present recommendations to President Bush Adminstration.

In fact around 78% of Arab-Americans are Christians: 40% Catholics, 22% Orthodox, 16% Protestants. The Arab-American Muslims form around 22%. Arab-Americans are around 3-4 millions.
American-Muslims are around 8 millions: 40-50% African-Americans, 30% Muslims from different countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, Iran ...) 20% Arabs.

On this my report after I came back, I will respond to a question and then give the recommendations I proposed.

I hope that my contribution will help my country, the USA, to deal in a better way  to things dealing with Arab-Americans and American Muslims and build better bridges for cooperation, sharing, and help the many Arab Americans and the Muslims Americans who suffer innocently after September 11.

Sorry I do not pretend to be perfect on my analysis, I tried to do my best to represent the community that I am serving at least, the Arab-American Roman Catholics in North California
 

2) The question:
 What seems to be the most frequent presenting problems on the issue of the Current Mental Health of the Arab-Americans and Muslim Americans?

A. Just inviting different kind of people to come to Washington is a proof that the USA wants to understand, find out, look for a better ways to help our American people.
We as Arab Americans appreciate very much this invitation and feel proud to be Americans. In fact we see on this that the USA wants to look on our long loyalty to America and that we are not different from any Irish, English, Spanish, Italian, Chinese...American. We are Arab Americans who have fought for America during the 1st and second WW, in Vietnam, Korea, Japan and every where. Our Arab Americans as well the Muslim American are in the Marines fighting as Americans for America against Terrorism.

B. The USA have lived similar situations of racial profiling against different ethnic Americans groups. How much the USA was prepared and will be prepared in the future against injustices toward loyal Americans?

C. The mistakes in addressing the American Public Opinion after 9/11 by President Bush and the Administration, speaking about Crusades, Arabs, Muslims, Terrorism, self defense gave a wrong message at the very beginning. We are happy that since then President Bush has corrected it. But did the racial profiling decreased? I am so not sure.

D. In today Media and on some of the Bush Administration talks there is a great deal of failure to address the American Public Opinion on the issue of Arabs and Muslims.

Speaking about Arab or Muslims is like accusing all the LATINOS or CATHOLICS for something that one country or one group of South America have done to the USA. Using the word LATINOS is accusing all people of Honduras, Peru, Argentine, Colombia, Chili, Brazil ... as they are all Latinos will be unfair. In fact Arabs stands for Latinos, as well Muslims stands for Catholics, or Anglicans, or Baptists ... but all those are from different countries, most of them allies of the USA.  We prefer that they do not address the Terrorists as Arabs or Muslims but as people of this single country, or single group.

E. With the Hollywood racial profiling of the Arabs, as a strategy taken by the producers, the American Public opinion found a fertile ground to target the Arabs. In fact only two Hollywood films of the thousand of films that mention the Arabs give a kind of fair treatment of who are the Arabs.

F. The ignorance of the American public opinion on who are the Arabs or the Muslims confused them and made them to see a suspect. They forgot many of the Arab-American and Muslim celebrities who have given a lot to this our wonderful country.

G. The above mentioned points can tell about the current feelings of the Arab-American and American Muslims. THEY REALLY FEEL HURT AND SHOCKED in their essence as Americans.
They feel betrayed because they feel that being Americans for generations and generations did not change the attitude of the Media, the Administration, the public Opinion about who really they are.
They do not want this to happen to any ethnic group. Never again.

H. The failure of the different American Administration to address a just and fair foreign policy towards the country of origin of the Arab-American and Muslim Americans made it difficult for these different ethnic people to feel respected, appreciated, loved for what they have given to the USA for generations and generations. This contributed to the deterioration of the mental health of these communities.

I. The above points are only some of the many points that came from facts on the ground on how Arab-Americans and American Muslims have lived on the ground since 9/11.

Many examples of facts on the ground have been mentioned during the listening session with some statistics that I do not mention here in my report

3) Recommendations

A. Inside: I mean by that to speak about what we need to change within the Arab-American and American Muslims.

1) We need to change our strategy: The 9/11 horrible terrorist attack against our country the USA should help churches, Mosques, temples, Synagogues to open their barriers to each other.
Knowing each other, understanding each other is the KEY to change ATTITUDES towards each other.
We need as Christians and I start with myself to address in our churches the different traditions, history, believes, background of other religions and work better on the INTERFAITH relations.
Our USA is a cosmopolitan society but one family because of the same constitution and civil rights. We need to work hard for that.
The 9/11 tragedy revealed that we know very little about each other's geography, history, religion, traditions.
We need to change or strategy in opening our churches, schools, groups, association to be educated about others. The failure to do that in the past, created the confusion of many misunderstandings and misinformation and racial profiling.
The USA should help us to do that for the best.

2) We as religious Leaders of different religions in the USA and faith-based institutions need to work on effective strategy of outreach to others in our schools, synagogues, Churches, Mosques, temples and groups.

3) The CMHS or any specific governmental service should help to fund for educative videos and introduce programs in schools, universities ....

4) The Religious Leaders and faith-based institutions should educate their groups to LOVE THE USA not as Americans of this or that faith or group, but as one USA people. The failure to educate our people as Americans without reference to any group is also part of the mental health problems of our different communities. They feel that they are part of this or that group and not part of the USA people as a whole.

5) A research on what we are called to do after 9/11 should start immediately in every single religious and faith-based group. And an immediate reach to others should immediately start to help others to feel loved, accepted, appreciated and cared for.

6) The CMHS or any governmental group should help on this research This work will minimize immediately the fears from others or the fears of others and will help the mental health not only of the Arab-Americans and Muslims Americans but of each American in the USA and out side the USA.

B. Outside: I mean the immediate things that we need to do to reach out to others and where SAMHSA/CMHS or any other specialized government committee can help

 The common denominator issue of the Arab-American and American Muslims as mentioned above is that they feel HURT and SOCKED in their AMERICAN LIFE. This is the source of their psychic-trauma and current Mental heath. Are we really Americans? Are we different from others? What did we do to deserve to be treated like that? A change of attitude toward them should be addressed in public and become a repeated USA policy of civil rights.

2) For this I recommend immediately:
a) To change the way the Media reports on the events. We should not call the terrorists as Arabs or Muslims. But people of this or that group. The title Arab or Muslims belong to many different wonderful countries and a beautiful religion, 98% are allies of the USA for years.

b) To introduce programs on the national TVs and CNN and adds on Newspapers that show Arab-American and Muslim American as good people. In fact interviews with many different Arab-Americans and Muslims Americans CELEBRITIES and their accomplishment for the USA, and they are a lot will help the mental health and minimize the dangers.

c) Work on commercials and ads that can show Arab or Muslims men and women in their traditional costumes as good and part of American population. We do not find any commercial that show a beautiful Arab or Muslim Women (the veil is not a shameful thing, but a sign of faith and tradition, we should respect that and have commercials that bring women in veil) and a strong beautiful Atrab or Muslims men. The power of the COMMERCIALS is important and great to improve the mental health of people of different ethnic traditions.

d) That the Government use its good offices to stop immediately certain strategy worked by Hollywood to racial profile the Arabs and the Muslims. Racial profiling is a crime against the civil rights of the people in America. A lot of hate crimes started with certain films. We call on a society that respect all people of different traditions, religions, history, way of life .. This is how we DREAM the USA.

e) I call on training videos in schools, universities, and workshops here and there to give the good sides of every single ethnic groups that form the USA, with a special look on the Arabs and Muslims because of the situation created after 9/11. Knowing the other will help the mental health of others.

f) Help the already and fund programs of existing organizations that provide services like the NIMH, (the National Institute of Mental Health), specially to help  those more vulnerable than other and the sick people.

g) Stop profiling at the Airports or public places and suspect all Arab-American or Muslims Americans emigrants or with green cards as suspects.

I am sure that others have a lot to give and to say.
I hope that I have contributed on helping the USA to see better the needs of our Arab-American and American Muslims.

Father Labib Kobti
Arab-American Catholic priest,
San Francisco
www.Al-Bushra.org