Trying to collect accurate information on Arabs and Muslims in America is very difficult. And there is a reason for it. When a government can suppress accurate information on the demographics of a community, the government can control and suppress that community. That’s why it is so important to get the U.S. Census to change its policies and either include all ethnic and racial groups, including Arabs, or include none.
By Ray Hanania
A few years back when I criticized the U.S. Census for failing to include Arabs on their Census form, they turned to an American Arab in California who worked for them to attack me.
The point I was making is that the Census is critical to a minority community’s ability to qualify for full government benefits and to fully engage in the election process. For years, the U.S. Census has showcased certain national and ethnic groups while excluding others.
The critic’s job as to marginalize the complaints of American Arabs and push the false claim that the Census cares about all of the variety of Americans. Diversity is important, but unreality diversity is not practiced.
I had been a longtime supporter of the U.S. Census efforts to engage American Arabs in the process and get them to fill out the Census forms. But after three decades of trying to help, I recognized that the Census was using us — American Arabs — to deny us our full rights. By getting us involved for 30 years, they were able to pretend to help while actually doing nothing.
I was never paid by the U.S. Census to help them. I did it out of allegiance to bettering America. They did give me a certificate to thank me for my “service.” But that was it. What they wouldn’t give me was what they denied to American Arabs, respect.
The concept of census and demographics is critical to American politics. When I was a student at the University of Illinois at Circle Campus (now the University of Illinois at Chicago), I studied under a brilliant professor and political scientist, Milton Rakove.
Rakove supervised a study that I did in 1976 that identified the settlement of Arabs in Chicagoland. I used the data in my book “Arabs of Chicagoland” which was finally published in 2005 — it took 30 years to get the information published in updated form.
This week, as I was writing an article for Al Jazeera on the hopes of American Christians for the visit of Pope Francis to the White House, New York and Philadelphia, I realized the extent of how difficult it is to convey the true needs and the importance of American Arabs and Muslims without a full census count, which we continue to lack.
How many Arabs are there in the United States? How many Muslims are in the United States? How many Muslims are Arabs? How many Arabs are Christian? How many non-Arab Christians are there in America from the United States?
There was no consistent data at all.
To compensate, we have been forced to use our abilities to make our best guess. I’ve always used the number that there are 4.5 million Arabs in America. It is based on an extrapolation of common sense using the limited statistics we have had.
The Census (long) forms officially ask Americans to identify themselves in 23 categories of national and ethnic people. Black. Hispanics. Asians. Native Americans. And many sub-groups. In the next Census, as a result of criticism from many American Arabs like me who believe that Arabs in America not only deserve but have earned the right to be treated equally.
American Arabs are as patriotic and even more than many of those who criticize us. We served in the military in every war, and continue to serve in the pursuit of making this a greater country than it is.
The problem of course is that despite years of struggling to force the U.S. Census to do its job and represent everyone — not just the 23 privileged minorities listed on the Census Long Form — things have not changed much.
But here is some information about American Arabs, Muslims and non-Arab Christians from the Middle East that might help present a more accurate picture of who we really are:
Here is an overview of the sources that exist that offer some insight into how many there are, although even these numbers are far from complete:
- America has a population of about 319 million (US Census)
- There are between 1.8 million and 4.2 million Arabs in America. (PEW Research Center uses unofficial Census Data, says there are only 1.8 million. The US Census estimated 511,000 Arab “households” in 2010. US National Arab American Museum and Arab American Institute estimate 4.2 million.)
- The number of non-Arab Middle East Christians in America varies widely. (Chaldean American Organizations estimate 150,000 Chaldeans just in Detroit alone, not including Phoenicians and Assyrians which could be as many as 750,000 more nationwide.)
- There are 2.6 million (US Census) to 7 million Muslims in America (about 22 percent are estimated to be Arab).
- There are between 51-million Roman Catholics in America (PEW Research Center, 2014)
- More than 70 percent or about 223 million Americans are Christian. (PEW Research Center 2014)
- Christian’s are 5 percent of the Middle East population (5 million of 141 million total in the Levant from Iraq to Egypt. PEW Research Center).
- 2 billion Catholics in the World (The Vatican, 2012 Anuario Pontifico)
- 40 percent of Iraqi Refugees are Christian, (US Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2014)
The U.S. Census published a paper in 2013 that expands the Arab population numbers to 1,866,851. So actually if you round out the number, you get 1.9 million American Arabs, not 1.8 million as is often cited. In 2010 the population estimate — and it is only still an estimate even if it was calculated by the U.S. Census — was 1.69 million. In 2000, the U.S. Census said the population of American Arabs was only 1.2 million.
More interesting facts, or estimates of note:
More than 70.6 percent of America’s 319 million population is Christian. American Roman Catholics, who look to the Pope for religious leadership, comprise the largest Christian denomination.
The Christian population in the Middle East has dwindled to about 5 percent (in the Levant area of Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel and Egypt).
How many Chaldeans, Phoenicians and Assyrians are there in America. Amir Denha, the brilliant publisher of the popular Chaldean Detroit Times newspaper estimates that there are 150,000 Chaldeans mainly in the Greater Detroit region. Chaldeans are Christians from Iraq and the Iraq region who do not consider themselves Arab, culturally, but do speak Arabic.
How many Assyrians are there? I used to work closely with an Assyrian newspaper publisher back in the 1980s and 1990s, Klamis Ganji. What a great person he was. Based on Gangji’s estimates, we figured there were as many as 100,000 Christian Assyrians from he Middle East living in Chicagoland, mainly in the northside of the city and the north and northwest suburbs.
Is there an official census on Assyrians? No.
What about Phoenicians, Christians from Lebanon who like Chaldeans and Assyrians do not consider themselves to be culturally Arab, although they speak Arabic and live in Arab countries, today. (Remember he Arab World originated from the ancient cultures of the Chaldeans, Assyrians and Phoenicians.)
That’s another statistic I just don’t have.
One day, American Arabs who have given so much to this great country of America, will be respected fully by this country. We will be included fully in the U.S. Census. And when we know our numbers, we can use that data to demand more in government services, more in political representation and more in terms of respect.