THE ASSOCIATION OF ARAB-AMERICAN University Graduates (AAUG) is an organization to which I personally owe a great deal. The AAUG, in its heyday, represented the good and potential of the Arab-American community. Its membership and activists included some of this community's greatest individual contributors to academics, scholarship, and political activism in the latter half of the twentieth century. Names like Ibrahim Abu Lughod, Edward Said, Hisham Sharabi, Naseer Aruri, among many others offered a "third way" of thinking--neither exclusively Arab, nor American. Rather, they offered an "Arab-American" perspective on the condition of the issues that faced the Arabs and America. The perspective is best described as one steeped in the profound morality and justice of the Palestinian cause, coupled with democratic, humanistic ideals of democracy, social and economic justice, with a foundation of Arabism.
The Association's birth after the 1967 Israeli-Arab war was one of the first and most successful efforts of the Arab-American community to pick itself up from the rubble of the Arab defeat and present the correct perspective to the broader American and Western audience. The AAUG reached across oceans and became an essential part of the progressive community worldwide. AAUG conventions were awe-inspiring with regard to the perspectives presented and the personalities present. Attendees of conferences read like a "who's who" of the community. It was clearly al-nukhbah, or the elite, of the community and its early accomplishments were impressive. In the early 1970s membership was growing and the AAUG Press published numerous books, papers, and was financially solvent. However, after the October war and the subsequent Lebanese civil war, the conditions in the Arab world became progressively worse and the AAUG began what I now see as a gradual decline. The organization started to lose its focus-despite virtually every change being well intentioned. The overwhelming political events that the Arabs and the Arab-American community faced- the Lebanon conflagration, the Iran-Iraq war, the Western Sahara, Palestine, and Camp David called for action. The AAUG mobilized and started to diversify its activities.
One example of this was the establishment of the "Medical Section" and multiple other sections that represented the diversification of AAUG activities. The Medical Section was primarily comprised of physicians who engaged in humane and in-kind humanitarian assistance to medical institutions in the Arab World and to victims of crises in Lebanon and Palestine and later, Iraq. While clearly important and essential, the AAUG did not have the administrative capability to support such charitable and humanitarian work. Attention started to be shifted from discourse to action. At the time, most of us thought that this was progress. After all, talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words.
However, we unfortunately did not realize that the strength of the Association was being diluted and in the mid-70s the AAUG started to become reactive rather than set the tone and agenda of the debate. Perhaps we did not fully understand what we had stumbled onto in the late 1960s. The AAUG was, in many ways, a predecessor to modern-day "think tanks." Perhaps one element of positive diversification was the establishment of the "Youth Section." In the late 1970s and early 1980s, AAUG leadership recognized the need to refill the talent that had carried the community forward for the prior 10-15 years. The Youth Section was born, and I am honored to be a founding member of it and a past-president. The Youth Section began to establish sections at various campuses in the U.S., including the University of Michigan, and the Ohio State University, among several others. Our vision at that time was to create a "home" for Arab-American students on university campuses and function in many ways as B'nai B'rith Hillel does for Jewish students. We hoped to be a coordinated center for Arab-American student activism and an advocate for cultural and social purposes. The Youth Section the University of Michigan was very influential and vocal. Arab students held seats on the editorial board of the student newspaper and were successful in focusing attention on injustices in Palestine. I distinctly remember when we built a Palestinian refugee home in honor of the victims of the massacres of Sabra and Shatila on the campus's central square or "Diag." Pro-Israel students later built a "school bus"...