eyes on the U.S.

Trump Or Clinton? Arab-Americans’ Surprising Ambivalence

At an anti Donald Trump protest in Albuquerque, New Mexico
At an anti Donald Trump protest in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Philippe Gélie

The navy blue Porsche, casual clothes and sparkling eyes of Fady Chamoun scream: "American Dream." He came from Lebanon in 1972 to study engineering at the University of Michigan and stayed after the outbreak of civil war in 1975 in his homeland. He wouldn't trade the life he's built in Cleveland for anything.

Over the years, some 160 of his family members have arrived on the shores of the Great Lakes, working with him to build a regional empire of 75 restaurants. After becoming a citizen in 1979, Chamoun has regularly voted for Republican candidates, with the only exception for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996. He won't be voting Clinton again. "I have confidence in Donald Trump," he says. "He is a businessman, I see what he built, it’s what we need. Someone who takes care of the national debt, the deficit, and of immigration. We cannot leave the Democrats to turn us into a socialist country. I want to stay capitalist."

Dr. Fadi Bashour came from Syria in 1989 to complete his residency in gastroenterology in Cleveland, one of hundreds of doctors who arrived at the time from the Middle East, becoming a second family to each other here, where Arab immigration began to revolutionize the medical industry. Rising to an executive position at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic, he has never voted in political elections. "It was not in my Syrian habits," he confesses. Until today. "I am 100% for Trump. I believe we have a corrupt government. Clinton’s blindness disgusts me. Even though I think Trump is pathologically egocentric, he is a better option than her."

Without knowing it, Chamoun and Bashour have nearly the same words to describe their attachment to their adopted country. "I love American civility," says the former. Bashour adds: "What makes America beautiful is the equal treatment that everyone is entitled to, regardless of their origins or beliefs." They also appreciate the system of checks and balances that limits the power of the leader, even if they are curious to see how a Trump presidency would "shake up" the status quo.

One Syrian-born colleague and friend of Dr. Bashour, Dr. Nizar Zein is a leading expert in hepatology. Since his arrival in 1988, he has voted for both Democrats and Republicans. Donald Trump is not his cup of tea. "I watched all the debates, I read his book. For me, Trump is a racist, he is only worried about himself and his owns interests. His position on immigration is "terrifying," he said, noting in particular the calls for a ban on Muslims coming in to the country.

What he says is meaningless

After the attacks in San Bernardino, Orlando, and New York, all carried out by Muslim-Americans of Pakistani and Afghan origin, Trump also expressed support for police profiling in some communities. This rhetoric does not make him popular with Muslims, nor among the small Arab-American minorities. The former are estimated to total 3.3 million, the latter â€" Christians and Muslims â€" at around 2 million. Their concentration in certain key "swing states" gives Arab-Americans a significant voting influence, notably in Ohio and Michigan.

Zahid al-Siddiqi, the president of the Cleveland Islamic Center, with golden domes and minarets pointing up towards the city sky, says that, Trump is not popular among his followers, "but does not scare them."

Some 80 incidents targeting mosques since the San Bernardino killing at the end of 2015 have been recorded in the region. "The choice of Clinton is essential for immigrants," Siddiqi adds. "Sometimes without enthusiasm." According to polls, the Democrat will get 72% of the Muslim vote and 60% of the Arab-American vote. Their concerns tend to be less about fears of racial profiling and more about employment and the economy, just like the rest of the population.

Cleveland’s Syrians have become so American that they can even debate the welcoming of Syrian refugees. "I am absolutely against it," said Bashour. "If one of them commits an attack, our reputation will be completely ruined." Zein disagrees, saying, "The human issue must take precedence over our concerns. We will see if it happens." But they agree to submit to rigorous control â€" both Trump and Clinton agree on that.

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Why Saving The Planet Is Really A Question Of Dopamine

Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.

Ad scuba-diver and brain coral

Stefano Lupieri

PARIS — Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Addictions to sex and social media

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the 'pleasure hormone.'

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

Transverse section of striatum from a structural MRI image

Lindsay Hanford and Geoff B Hall via Wikipedia

Tweaking genetics 

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Les Echos
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