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Arabic Speakers in the U.S.: Friends or Foes?

If you speak Arabic, Uncle Sam would like to speak to you!

Arabic Speakers in the U.S.: Friends or Foes?


By Aladdin Elaasar  

   Few years ago, I was struck with awe when I read an ad in the American Translators Association’s magazine that read: If you speak Arabic, the FBI would like to speak to you! On the next page, there was another ad by none but the CIA. Yes, the Central Intelligence agency. That was way before 9/11. I was flattered to read those ads to know that speakers of my native tongue, Arabic, have been in need and the federal government wanted to hire them. The need for Arabic speakers by the federal government and private companies, especially after 9/11, has skyrocketed, for good reasons of course. The 9/11 Commission, in its voluminous report, had concluded that the U.S. government has been in dire need of Arabic speakers to fill in the ranks of law enforcement, intelligence operatives, translators, cultural advisors, Arabic language instructors, and many related capacities. But why is the federal government still looking, desperately apparently, for Arabic speakers here to fill in those jobs!


Surfing through the net, one would find that many federal agencies are desperately looking for those well sought after candidates: the Coast Guard, the Army and its reserve, the Navy, the FBI, Homeland Security, the CIA, the NSA, the State Dept., and many others. But, a casual look into these ads that have been posted on the web reveal many eyebrow raising facts.
For starters, the military are asking young candidates who speak Arabic to enlist for an annual salary of about $18,000, plus benefits of course. But on the same page, you see other ads that offer a six figure salary, plus many other incentives! So you do the math: Who would a candidate who speaks Arabic go for? The private contractor or the military?

Looking into other ads that seek highly proficient Arabic speakers; they require that you would pass the DLPT5 test (a very tough one even for natives) with a score of at least 4 out of 5, be a U.S. citizen, and have a security clearance to begin with, a great health condition, pass security background test, a polygraph test, and of course having a great credit history. What are the odds that anybody would find a candidate with all of these requirements? Maybe OO7 would fit.


There are about three million Arab Americans in the U.S. So why has not Uncle Sam found those needed candidates? Well, there are Arab-Americans who do not speak Arabic to begin with. By no fault of theirs, they are second or third generation born in the U.S.A., and like other Americans, are not interested to learn any foreign language, not the least Arabic- one of the most difficult to learn- even it was their heritage language. Even, my own kids who were born and raised in Chicago do not know more than few words in Arabic.

Then, there is the first generation of immigrants who possibly studied in Arab countries and moved here, became U.S. citizen, or maybe waiting. That could be a possible pool of candidates for those jobs. But wait, those jobs do not only need fluent native speakers of Arabic, but they need people who are equally fluent in English, and capable of translating, advising, interrogating, instructing, etc.; skills that need extensive training in the field and expert knowledge, that not even the highly educated native of Arabic can perform. So, how many of those people could possibly pass all of these tests and requirements? You do the math.


But the facts are: Arab Americans are willing to serve and would love to. They actually have been serving in the military, law enforcement and other places in the federal government. Remember General Abizaid, the former Commander of American troops in Iraq: he is an Arab-American who is fluent in Arabic.

But other than all of those incredible requirements for candidates to fill these needed capacities; there is one important element. The government has managed in alienating a large segment of Arab and Muslim Americans since and before 9/11. These communities have been hearing about the Secret Evidence, the Patriot Act, selective interviews and secret deportation of young Arabs and Muslims in thousands, about possible domestic eavesdropping on their calls, snooping into their mail, bank accounts, emails, and library records, etc. Should not these efforts been focused on chasing bin Laden in Afghanistan instead of targeting the wrong victims and rounding up the usual suspects?


People who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat the same mistakes again. After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government interned about 120,000 Japanese Americans for the duration of the World War II. Nevertheless, many brave Japanese Americans from the internment camps volunteered and served in the U.S. military. Their bravery and courage helped us win the war. They served mainly in military intelligence and the first military intelligence school in the Presidio of San Francisco was erected for them. Nowadays, the Defense Language Institute in Monterey is a testament to those brave young souls. Many buildings are dedicated to those brave Japanese-American fighters, Nesei Hall, Aiso Library and Nakamura Hall, and other facilities. Today, on the same facility, there are three Mid-Eastern Arabic language schools with few hundred Arabic teachers. So, would we be acknowledging the efforts of these dedicated Arab Americans few decades later?

Would history reveal the efforts of Arab Americans helping the U.S. win the War on Terror? Would it also reveal that so many of them were wrongfully targeted by the same government, or sometimes, by fellow citizens?!




I am a green card holder ...

I am a green card holder ... I speak Arabic and English ... Thanks