The Term Arab American Cultural Studies Essay

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By studying Arab Americans and using this term, this research will not assume that all people from this region consider themselves Arab, or that Arab or Arab American signifies a cohesive and homogenous community. In fact, this is a highly mixed ethnic group both in terms of religion and country of origin. [3] In addition, this study does not suggest that there is a single unifying Arab identity, but to draw attention to the shared linguistic-cultural base of the different groups involved. There are multiple forms of "Arabness," as it is not felt and experienced in the same way by all Arab Americans, and its meaning may differ from one Arab to another living in the United States. For some, it is a very important part of their identities and they hold such an identity proudly, while for others it does not mean much because they do not care about their ethnic origins. For other Arabs, it is impossible to escape from the past so they are first Arabs, and then Americans. In addition, the meaning of being Arab is not static for all Arabs at all times and places, thus it can differ from generation to generation and from place to place.

The term "Arab American" itself, did not find a common usage until recently, since especially during the early phase of immigration, members of this community referred to themselves as Syrians or Syrian Lebanese. [4] In other words, the label Arab American was essentially formed in the aftermath of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. By then, the third generation of the early Arab immigrants had started to awaken to their own identity not as "Syrian" in the old sense of the term but rather as Arab. This has sparked their fight for a collective identity, and for the political mobilization of the group. Therefore, the coining of this term underwent the same phases of the formation of the community itself.

However, one sociologist that did not share the prevailing view that says Arabness became visible only after 1967 is Evelyn Shakir. According to her, Arabness has always marked Arabs in America. Shakir pointed out that everyone in the community is recognized as being ibn (son of), or bint (daughter of) an Arab, implying acceptance of a cultural sense of identity and heritage. Indeed, being the "son/daughter of an Arab" is a cultural stance, whereas the admission "ana Arabi" (I am Arab) is a political declaration, asserting a nationality that exists in ideology, if not in state or legal terms. Therefore, in the absence of any collective Arab state that can bring together various cultural Arabs under one law and nationality, the only venue that had been available historically to declare this Arabity is through cultural attestation of belonging to something bigger and larger than parochial subdivisions. Thus, being ibn/bint Arab is a form or cultural nationalism that has existed in America long before the political and ideological nationalism of the latter half of the 20th Century Arab World. [5] 

In terms of historiography and social science research, the examinations of Arab immigration that appeared in the 1920 had two main concerns: description and assimilation. The same themes were typical of the research of the 1930s and 1940s as well. Yet the political tension in the Middle East, which led to the Six-Day War of 1967, awakened the community and sparked two trends in research. First, it initiated a tradition of markedly political studies and works defending the Arab community against the American bias, as a response to the Arab defeat in the Arab Israeli war. Second, this tension gave rise to a genre of research devoted to the stereotyped image of Arabs in the various media. These two trends would prove to be of great significance in the coming decades. [6] Despite their divergent approaches, Arab American scholars mostly agreed that their activism is a way to oppose racism in the U.S and abroad, since they would have viewed American support of Israel as a form of anti-Arab racism. Certainly, the second half of the twentieth century made researchers give more attention to studying Arab Americans. Literature about Arab Americans evolved around their history and identity, its politics and multiplicity, on their stereotyped image in the western media and the Palestinian Israeli conflict. In addition, a few studies published after the 9/11 attacks on the United States focused on the effect of these attacks on Arab Americans. As a result, numerous articles, journals, and books on the topic have been published to fill a visible gap in ethnic studies.

The collection of various resources drawn upon for this study can be classified according to two major schools of thought. The first is the classic assimilationist trend. The Assimilationist perspective is used against the biological perspective on ethnicity during the mid-twentieth century. Assimilationists commonly assume that ethnicity would disappear overtime, as multi-ethnic societies became less multi and less ethnic. By going through phases of contact, competition, conflict, and accommodation, different ethnicities would finally be assimilated, and one homogenous nation would be achieved. They believe that America's ethnic and racial groups must abandon their cultural identities and assimilate to the Anglo-Saxon tradition under the pretext that such differences may possibly lead to ethnic and religious wars.

A prominent advocate of the Assimilationist trend is the historian Philip Hitti. As early as 1923, about 50 years after the first documented Arab immigrant settled in the U.S., his famous book Syrians in America is the first academic study devoted to Syrian immigration to the United States. It provides an estimated number of Syrian immigrants to be about 200,000, most of whom were Christians. [7] Although those immigrants are concentrated in certain states more than others, they are dispersed throughout the country. He addresses the causes of the early Syrian immigration to the United States, which seem to be a mixture of economic, social and political factors. He does not only provide a historical overview of the social, economic, and geographical characteristics of the Syrians, as Arab Americans were referred to at that time, but also depicts their status in America. He explicitly declares that individuals are more inclined toward the patriotism that takes the form of love for family, sect, and geography of homeland. He also talks about leadership, education, culture, religion, and language. [8] 

Concerning politics, Hitti stated that Syrians were almost absent from the political scene, except for one attempt of a Syrian who ran for a senatorial position as a Republican in New York but was defeated. However, he uncovers the ignorance of the American public about these immigrants and the public's extreme bigotry and intolerance toward them. He asserted that, "the colossal ignorance and prejudice, on the part of some, is amazing and constitutes the chief obstacle in the way of better understanding." [9] 

As far as assimilation is concerned, Hitti said, "far from being a melting pot, assimilation is…more of a weaving process-weaving according to the old and slow hand-loom system by which each contributes his share toward the production of the final fabric." [10] However, Hitti mentioned that American mainstream refused to accept the contributions of the 'Syrian' into this new process and was unwilling to accept their assimilation neglecting the various services these immigrants provided to their host country especially during the years of WWI when about 7% of the Syrian community served in the U.S. army. Hitti also put into focus the religious status of the immigrant community saying that the majority of the immigrants were Christians, who just as the Muslims and Druze among them retained their faith. He also recognized the role of the American churches in "Americanizing" and "Christianizing" the Syrians, but argued against the violation their sense of dignity. [11] 

In the same vein and in her book Becoming American: the Early Arab Immigrant Experience; social historian Alixa Naff espouses an assimilationist perspective. Naff's book becomes a turning point in the history of Arab Americans in their new American home. Through a collection of different primary sources, mainly interviews, she traces back the history and early experiences of the pioneer Arab immigrants, particularly from the Levant, or what she calls greater Syria. Her book focuses on the assimilation of early Arab immigrants to the United States and the role of peddling in that process. [12] She presents an historical overview of the Arabs' immigration to the U.S., which started in the 19th century. Naff mentions that the early immigrants came with the idea to better their economic status and return within two or three years to their country with wealth and prestige, whereas the later immigrants came with the idea of making America their home without cutting off their cultural roots. Settling in and setting up businesses was a landmark in the assimilation process of these immigrants into the American new home. [13] Alexia Naff's work on early Arab immigrant experience excessively utilizes personal interviews and memoirs in its methodology. Thus her interpretations have been dominated by an internal approach meaning the focus on the experiences only from the point of view of the immigrants themselves.

The assimilationist trend was ferociously attacked by proponents of the Nationalist school of thought. This trend advocates cultural pluralism [14] , as individual ethnic groups have a right to exist on their own terms within the larger society while retaining their unique cultural heritage. The Nationalist historians believe that assimilation can hurt minority cultures by stripping away their distinctive feature thus the idea of complete assimilation of immigrants no longer seems relevant in the United States. They argued that assimilationist acts proved to be counterproductive throughout history. This emerging political trend had one fundamental theme which is the 1967 Six-Day War on behalf of what could be termed as "Arab causes." [15] 

A prominent advocate of the Nationalist trend is Michael Suleiman, a political scientist. His works provided a vast amount of information on the history of the community and a major scholarly contribution to the increasing number of studies of Arab Americans. For instance, Arabs in America: Building a New Future, is an edited chapter in The Development of Arab-American Identity by Earnest McCarus, Micheal Suleiman espouses the Nationalist trend in which he is in favor of the survival of Arab identity. The researcher devoted a whole chapter entitled "Arab-Americans and the Political Process" in which he asserted that being sick of "the outsiders" image, Arab Americans started to assimilate more into the American way of life during and after WWI when they started joining the army and fighting on behalf of the United States. [16] 

Following WWII and realizing that America was their permanent home, those immigrants started to develop an Arab-American community. They started to be more united by engaging themselves in campaigns to better inform the American citizens about their Arab heritage. [17] Suleiman argues that after WWII, Arab American communities nearly assimilated fully and almost lost their Arab identity but this identity loss was reversed because of the Palestinian issue and the highly educated and politicized individuals and professionals of the post WWII Arab immigration wave. Those immigrants were looking for a better life for themselves and for their home countries as well; thus, they started working in the political arena in their newfound home. [18] 

Nationalists believe that the identity awakening of the third generation of the early Arab immigrants and the 1967 Arab Israeli war, all, contributed to the emergence of an Arab identity rather than just a national one and led to the formation of some Arab American organizations. Yet most of Nationalists ignored the fact that this political awakening has its roots in discrimination and hate against Arabs in the U.S. even before the war created the need for organized hyphenated Arab politicized organizations to defend them.

Another book used in this research is Gregory Orfalea's the Arab American: a History. [19] It gives a detailed and highly readable account of the three major waves of Arab immigration to America providing a deep description of their coming and settling in their new homeland. [20] Orfalea also states that the Arab Israeli War was a major turning point for the awakening of the community. He discusses the country's principal Arab American organizations and examined the effects of post-9/11 attacks. This book is essential to go beyond the media stereotypes of Arab Americans and provided an incisive rendition of the community's problems of challenges during and after World War II in the early attempt to eliminate Arab aspirations and fears.

Moreover, another writer who shares the same perspective is sociologist Gary David. In his article "The Creation of "Arab American": Political Activism and Ethnic (Dis) Unity," he studies how the Arab American identity was first shaped, then continues to change over time. He discusses the different phases of the evolution of the term 'Arab American.' Earlier Middle Eastern and North African migrants were mostly to be Christians, and made large efforts to blend in with "average" Americans by adopting their ethnic dominant culture and background. David addresses the changing priorities of the immigrants by mentioning that earlier groups would tend to immigrate because of financial reasons, and therefore have lower socioeconomic status (SES). [21] Later groups were moving to escape political turmoil, and violence.

Yvonne Haddad, a professor of the History of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations at Georgetown University Haddad's book Muslim Communities in North America Albany outlined the religious composition and affiliation of the Arab American immigrants. She did not ignore the role of the 1967 war in reawaking the Arab identity among the various religious groups and gaining more power over the national identity (e.g. Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian…). Moreover, Haddad provided a detailed view of the different religious sects making up the Arab American community: Christians, Muslims, and Druze. Then, she examined the history of establishing their roots in the United States. She also brought into focus Islam in the US and its different nature as Arab American Muslims are assimilating and integrating into the American society. However, Haddad acknowledged that, "the Arab American community is changing and will continue to change "in constituency and in its forms of self identification in the years to come." [22] In addition, she pointed out that the new immigrants with their ideologies and commitments in addition to the U.S. tolerance or intolerance of the aspirations of this community will have a great impact on how this identity will be shaped. Another recent book of hers is Becoming American?: the Forging of Arab and Muslim Identity in Pluralist America in which the American historian Yvonne Haddad argues that American Muslim identity is as uniquely American it is for as any other race, nationality, or religion in a time when Muslims are often pictured with the brush of "terrorism." [23] 

In his Arab-Americans in the 1990s: What Next for the Diaspora?, Political scientist Shain Yossi evaluated the challenges facing the Arab American community in the United States. He put a major focus on the actions and rhetoric of some Arab American groups, mainly the leftist activists and the Islamic groups. His study was, in fact, an echo of what others said about the invisibility of Arab Americans before the 1967 Arab Israeli war, which pertained to provide an ideological core and a national political agenda for Arab Americans. Shain classified Arab Americans into two groups, the isolationists and the integrationists. While the isolationists tend to resist what he calls a "powerful assimilation vision found in America," the integrationists resist total assimilation into the U.S mainstream and call for cultural and political recognition. The integrationists identify themselves as Americans, and supporters of American values and a vision of pluralist democracy. The author views that the way the Arab Americans will face these diasporic challenges will depend on the different political events within the U.S and in the countries of origin. [24] 

In the same vein, Shain declares that the Palestinian Cause and many other events that took place in the Middle East such as the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 provided a unified ground for the differently oriented Arab Americans. Nonetheless, Shain saw that the political events that took place within the Arab countries or between Israel and some Arab countries, and the Palestinian Israeli agreements of the 1990s overall have pulled the rug from under these differently oriented groups and created a new challenge for Arab Americans in redefining their identity and agenda. [25] 

The Arab Israeli conflict, which started in 1948 and reached its peak in 1967, precipitated a new mood among Arab Americans characterized by frustration, anger, defiance, and ethnic pride, provided also a terrain to unite Arabs on one cause and to revive the national identity of Arab Americans. It led to a rising activism and to more expressions of pride in their cultural heritage. Years later and within few weeks of the "terrorist" attacks of 9/11, a large number of books and articles were published that reflected a renewed interest in political activism and in the processes for their national visibility. These histories formed the backbone for a geographically distinct "Arab American historiography" that would be characterized by the same trends in the research of the coming decade. [26] 

  This study will be descriptive based on a combination of primary and secondary resources. More specifically, I will adhere to the Nationalist school of thought and I will undergird this study with social construction approach that theorizes any discriminatory treatment or pressure from outside the group, causes group solidarity and pushes people to identify themselves more strongly with their group. As this approach suggests, the more Arab Americans group perceives negative out-group attitudes, the stronger the in-group identification will be. I will consider two major turning points: the 1967 Arab- Israeli War and the 9/11 attacks. Most noticeably, in the latter period, the emergence of many negative media portrayals of Middle Easterners in news reports and movies led to discrimination against Arabs and labeling them as "Terrorists". It gave them an unwelcome but shared historical experience. It is important to question the extent of perceived discrimination against Arab Americans because this might affect their activism patterns.

This study examines the political experience of Arab American from 1967 onwards. It firstly traces the process of their unity with reference to their historical political contribution before 1967 that has been ignored by most researchers. Secondly, it shows that many factors behind their isolation from the American socio-political arena are at the same time the triggers that fostered their mobilization. More specifically stated, these elements are political events (such as Six-Day War [27] or the 9/11 attacks [28] ) and immigration policies (such as NSEER [29] or the PATRIOT Act [30] ). Thirdly, it accesses the community's success in gaining a political voice in the United States with reference to the attitude of the Arab community towards the 2012 U.S. elections according to a study published in the magazines Tunisia Live and L'economiste Maghrebin.

The historical data on which the study is based includes primary and secondary sources. We referred to the archival data or primary resources to look for official governmental documents (the American Constitution) to access what is written and practiced in reality regarding the rights of the immigrants; while the running records of various non-profit organizations established by the Arab American community to refer to reports published by the U.S. Census Bureau for specific data about the community. Added to that, we relied heavily on secondary sources; we used books and articles that investigate the settling of the Arab American immigrants. Books/eBooks and periodicals accessed through the online Libraries Questia and Jstor were written by historians who analyzed primary sources, studied others' arguments, and then formed their own understanding and conclusions of a historical question. Secondary sources were vital in shaping the different perspective of this study.

The significance of the period of this study is that 1967 represents a turning point in the history of Arab Americans. It marks the beginning of the turmoil between the U.S. and Israel on the one side and the Arab world on the other. As the turmoil ended up with the Arab defeat and the creation of the state of Israel, this period ushered the coming of a huge wave of Arab immigrants to the American soil, a wave that significantly differed from the early already assimilated comers. This wave has more pride in its ethnic heritage and was willing to challenge the assimilation process. Moreover, since the US intensified its alliance with Israel and did not show any attempt to change its policies in the Middle East, 1967 marked the beginning of the adoption of Arab Nationalism. It represented the starting point for the creation of the Arab American ethnic identity. Furthermore, 1967 witnessed the emergence of the stereotyped image of the Arabs as they were seen as villains and savages in the American media. The same image is intensified after the 9/11 attacks, another critical event in this study. Finally 1967 war serves as the event that set the foundation for the establishment of various Arab American organizations such as the Arab American University Graduates (AAUG)...etc

Despite the fact that Arab Americans make up a growing diverse minority population in the United States, the topic has not been sufficiently addressed in research regarding the first steps of their participation in the political life. There are some objectives behind this research. In fact the historiography of the Arab American political activism has been minimal until recent years. Most studies have been written about the contemporary issues of the community than on the earlier historical period. [31] Firstly, this is due to the diversity of the Arab American community and the high degree of misconceptions regarding their classification. Secondly and most importantly; because of the belief that Arab Americans became involved in politics only after the mid-1960s. Thirdly, only recently Muslim Americans began serious involvement in the political scene. [32] Therefore, it is important to realize that our knowledge of the political orientation and participation patterns of early Arab immigrants is incomplete due to lack or serious research on the subject. The vast majority of research completed on their activism concentrated on what I would like to call 'internal' factors. The parts dealing with the early immigration in Georgy Orfalea's volume is highly based on personal interviews. Alexia Naff's work on early Arab immigrant experience similarly utilizes personal interviews and memoirs in its methodology. Thus the historiography of this ethnic group has been dominated by an internal approach meaning the focus on the experiences from the point of view of the immigrants themselves. Studies have ignored the external factors that led to the isolation of the community. Thus this research intends to bridge the gap in Arab American historiography by connecting the internal to the external factors of isolation which are in turn the same factors of mobilization. Thus, the first objective is to show that the causes of isolation are in turn factors of mobilization. In other words, any discriminatory treatment causes group solidarity and people to identify themselves more strongly with their group. The second objective is to alter the traditional narrative that says Arab Americans were not politically active when they first settled on the American soil and give evidence of their political contribution that paved the way for later on activism. The final objective is to access Arab American success in U.S politics.

This work is divided into three chapters: The first chapter describes the historical experiences of the three waves of Arab American immigrants. This description consists of immigration data, the socio-religious profile of the immigrants, and the causes for immigration. Most specifically, a heavy focus will be put upon the third wave, which is of great relevance to the building and sustenance of ethnic cohesion, efficient political activism, and stability.

The second chapter explores the factors responsible for the existence of political isolation of Arab Americans, the challenges facing the community ranging from discrimination and policies to pro-Israeli lobbies that, all, reduce possibilities of access of Arab Americans into politics.

The third chapter studies the history of the political activism of Arab Americans, the various pro-Arab organizations they created. This chapter argues that the 1967 Six-Days War sparked processes of unity for Arab Americans. It also sheds light on their success throughout their journey on the American soil with reference to the attitude of the Arab community towards the 2012 U.S. elections according to a study published in the magazines Tunisia Live and L'economiste Maghrebin.