One of the Arab Community’s most effective organizations
Hassan Nijem of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce has saved 22 Hookah lounges from being closed, helped to force Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to stop her racist closures and discriminatory targeting of Arab store owners, and now has helped Arab American collect property tax refunds of nearly $500,000. That was just in the past year, more than other do-nothing Arab business associations have achieved in their 30-plus years of existence.
By Ray Hanania
Someone asked me the other day why I was writing so much about the American Arab Chamber of Commerce and its founder and president Hassan Nijem.
I told them the answer was very simple.
The Chamber and Nijem work. They are unlike most of the other organizations in the Arab American community. Most of the other organizations elect their president, name their board members, collect a lot of money, host a dinner and give themselves awards. Awards for what? I don’t know. They don’t do anything.
There are only two other Arab organizations beside the American Arab Chamber that really work hard in the Chicagoland area. That’s ADC, the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and AADC, the Arab American Democratic Club headed by Samir Khalil.
The rest of them, well, they love to eat, dance the Debka, play Arabic music and sing ala delouna … and of course, brag about how great they are. They also spend a lot of their time, money and efforts working against other people in their own community and preventing the community from rising.
The other so-called chamber has been around 30 years. What did it do? I was there when it was founded and worked closely with the principle involved, Professor M. Cherif Bassiouni. Bassiouni was a powerhouse of activism. He got things done. But once he moved on and handed the organization over to a controversial lackey, the group basically became a meme of itself. Till this day, besides raising money and planning “awards” ceremonies, what did they do?
It’s a sickness in the Arab American community. We have some activists who want to be elected to every possible political office. They want to be the presidents of all oft he organizations. They ant to give themselves awards. And, they want to be praised.
People who fail often try to compensate by creating situations in which they orchestrate their own praise. But in the end, they really do nothing for the community. Imagine a political candidate who raises more than $850,000 for an election campaign for congress and yet fails to get more than 6,351 of the 110,852 votes cast? Is that a hero, or a selfish activist who refuses to listen to the community?
Or, imagine the activist whose business were forced closed by the city but for two months who couldn’t figure out a way to protest against the racist targeting of their stores and the stores of hundreds of other Arab Americans. His store remained closed.
That changed, of course, when Hassan Nijem and the American Arab Chamber of Commerce got involved and organized a press conference — a real press conference with real news media that included eight TV cameras, five newspapers and two radio stations on Sept. 13. The press conference embarrassed Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who tried to silence the Arab store owners beforehand by using her friendship with one of those do-nothing “president’s for life” to quell the anger by hosting a meeting where the store owners were lectured, not listened too.
Nijem’s press conference shook City Hall. It shook up Mayor Lightfoot and resulted in several Chicago Aldermen like Ald. Ray Lopez to publicly stand up and condemn the mayor’s racist actions. It resulted in the Inspector General of the City of Chicago launching an investigation into the misconduct of the inspectors and the so-called “Task Force” members who would go to an Arab store and order the stores closed, and then find alleged code violations to justify the closings.
Many of the stores were closed more than tow months, and the “other” do-nothing Arab business organization, which was not so professional, did nothing about it at all. Except, of course, to organize a meeting afterwards and raise money for their budget.
Nijem’s action for the city to back down. It embarrassed Lightfoot, exposing her as a racist hypocrite. She complains about racism and yet uses racism to pretend like she is doing something about street gang violence. Lightfoot has done nothing for the Arab American and Muslim community, and her “friends” in the Arab community — who organized a meeting with her staff to bully the store owners into silence — are quislings who betrayed the community. They’re not heroes.
I met Nijem last year when 22 Hookah store owners feared they would be forced to shut down if an ordinance prohibiting the sale and use of flavored tobacco was passed by the City Council. Nijem reached out to the sponsors of the ordinance, which legitimately sought to protect young people and prevent them from being exposed to flavored tobacco.
Nijem explained that the Arab community supported the flavored tobacco ban on sales to people under the age of 21. But Nijem also explained to Ald. Silvana Tabares and others that the ordinances would also have an unintended consequence of forcing 22 Hookah stores to close. The Hookah lounges only serve people 21 years of age and older. Tabares and Ald. Matt O’Shea immediately amended their ordinance to achieve its goal of protecting the young people from the harms of flavored tobacco, while also protecting the business owners.
Had those hookah lounges closed, more than 250 Chicago residents would have lost their jobs. Chicago would have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales taxes. And 22 businesses would have closed down. Had the Chamber not acted, and the city continued to close Arab owner gas stations and grocery stores, more than 350 others would have lost their jobs, too.
All it took was just little effort, something that Nijem pursued but the other business groups and professional associations failed to do.
The others have no agenda. They have no goals. They talk a lot and they pat themselves on their backs. They attack others like Nijem in the hopes of bringing them down so that they can artificially elevate themselves.
Nijem and the American Arab Chamber of Commerce has done more in the past two years to protect and serve the Arab American community than the other Arab business and professional associations have done in 30 years.
Nijem’s achievements didn’t stop at saving the Arab gas station owners and grocery store owners from Mayor Lightfoot’s racist and discriminatory tactics that are under investigation by Chicago’s Inspector General, or save the 22 Hookah lounges from being closed in a divergently by a new law. He kept on going and this summer organized a campaign to help Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, one of the hardest working elected officials, not just in Cook County but in the Midwest, to save millions for property tax payers.
A study by Pappas determined that more than $100 million had been overpaid by property taxpayers she launched an effective public relations campaign o make the public aware of the problem and offer them a way to resolve it. Nijem saw the opportunity and reached out to Pappas to bring help to the Arab American community which is often ignored by our elected officials.
With Pappas, Nijem organized Property Tax Refund Workshops in the Arab American and Muslim Community. They did one at the Islamic Community Center of Illinois where they helped attendees there secure refunds of more than $36,000. They they organized another at the Orland Park Mosque which saved some $160,000 in property taxes. This weekend, Nijem helped organize another refund workshop at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church where parishioners saved more than $89,000.
That’s what I like about Nijem. He doesn’t just talk the talk. He walks the walk. He says Muslims and Christians are “brothers and sisters.” It’s not a slogan. It’s a fact of life for him. And he didn’t just appeal to Muslim Arabs. He appealed to Christian Arabs.
So far, the Pappas property tax refund campaign has refunded nearly $500,000 to Arab American and Muslim property owners in overpaid taxes and unclaimed tax credits.
That is the first time in the history of the Chicagoland Arab American community that anyone ever GAVE MONEY to the Arab community instead of hosting a do-nothing fundraiser exploiting some tragedy to raise money for themselves!
Nijem says he is not bothered by the personal attacks from other so-called “leaders” in the Arab American community. He doesn’t care about that. What he cares about, though, is working to help Arab Americans and Muslims to secure all of their rights as law-abiding American citizens and taxpayers. He gives a lot of credit to the support he gets from the Chamber’s board which includes: Aminah Adnan, Alder Tareq Al Biter, Hana Abudayyeh, Radi Abuhashish, Abed Ayash, Mazen Dola, Ibrahim Fattah, Mahar Khattab, Samer Khatib, Saad Malley, Lena Matariyeh, Amna Mustafa, Amir Nijem. Mustapha is the former and first ever member of the Chicago Board of Education.
It’s about time that someone in the Arab community made the Arab community their number one priority, instead of always using the community for their own selfish, fundraising self-aggrandizing goals.
Hassan Nijem is a breath of fresh air to a community that has been abused by everyone, including selfish do-nothing leaders.
Stop empowering the do-nothing losers. Hassan Nijem and the American Arab Chamber of Commerce not only deserve our support. He deserves our community gratitude. Hassan Nijem and the American Arab Chamber of Commerce deserves our support, too.
For more information on Maria Pappas’s tax refund program, visit www.cookcountytreasurer.com.
For information on the American Arab Chamber of Commerce, the only Arab Chamber in Chicagoland that actually works to help Arab businesses and has a track record of achievements to prove it, visit www.AACCUSA.org.
Click here to read more reports on the American Arab Chamber of Commerce campaign with Treasurer Maria Pappas to secure overpaid property taxes for Arab Americans.
Click here to read more on the refund campaign in the American Arab community.
Click here to read about how the American Arab Chamber fights for the rights of Arab businesses.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and political columnist. His mainstream political columns are published in the Southwest News Newspaper Group in the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News, The Reporter Newspapers. His Middle East columns are published in the Arab News. For more information on Ray Hanania visit www.Hanania.com or email him at email@example.com.)
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