Scholarly and literary works about Middle Eastern Americans are transforming the way we look at this diverse and multiethnic immigrant community in American society. This section features three recent works, authored by Mehdi Bozorgmehr and Anny Bakalian (Backlash 9/11: Middle Eastern and Muslim Americans Respond, University of California Press), Sarah Gualtieri (Between Arab and White: Race and Ethnicity in the Early Syrian American Diaspora, University of California Press), and Gregory Orfalea (Angeleno Days: An Arab American Writer on Family, Place, and Politics, University of Arizona Press). All three were published in 2009. Several hundred additional works are listed and annotated in the Bibliography section (forthcoming).
Anny Bakalian and Mehdi Bozorgmehr
University of California Press
Almost immediately after September 11th, we began receiving calls asking us about the backlash against Middle Eastern communities. We were both troubled by the violence being committed, even against people whose origins weren’t remotely similar to those of the hijackers. The government loudly proclaimed that violence against Muslim and Middle Eastern Americans would not be tolerated. However, for the communities affected, the actions of the government and fellow Americans spoke louder than words. Unfortunately, many men from these communities were deported, detained without charges, and required to register with authorities. Profiling was widespread and “flying while Muslim” became a liability.
About a week after the attacks, there was a request from the National Science Foundation for research proposals regarding any aspect of 9/11. We applied within a week, and 24 hours later we received a grant. As anyone who has ever applied for any sort of funding knows, that sort of fast turnaround is unheard of.
After considering our options, we decided the best way to study the backlash would be to talk with the leaders of community organizations, many of whom had become representatives of their populations in the local and national media. We interviewed 75 leaders across the country. While we had set out to study a backlash, something that has sadly happened at various times in our nation’s history, we began to find that the targeted communities were responding in unprecedented ways.
Instead of hiding from public attention, organizations representing Middle Eastern and Muslim Americans mobilized to demonstrate their commitment to the United States while defending their rights. They distanced themselves from the terrorists and condemned their actions. They educated the public about the Middle East and the Muslim faith through the media, books and pamphlets, and presentations in churches, synagogues and colleges. They actively involved their constituents in voter-registration, know-your-rights forums, and civic and political integration activities.
Our book tells a story, part of which we didn’t initially expect to be writing. In addition to the backlash committed by both the U.S. government and ordinary citizens, we found ourselves also telling a story of resistance on the part of Middle Eastern and Muslim Americans. In comparison to the treatment of the Germans during WWI and the Japanese during WWII, the post-9/11 backlash was tempered. We believe that the existence of Civil Rights laws and advocates were critical to this outcome. The lesson we wish to draw from our work is that Civil Rights Laws must not be compromised but strengthened to prevent profiling and scapegoating in the future.
University of California Press
This multifaceted study of Syrian immigration to the United States places Syrians— and Arabs more generally—at the center of discussions about race and racial formation from which they have long been marginalized. Between Arab and White focuses on the first wave of Arab immigration and settlement in the United States in the years before World War II, but also continues the story up to the present. It presents an original analysis of the ways in which people mainly from current day Lebanon and Syria—the largest group of Arabic-speaking immigrants before World War II—came to view themselves in racial terms and position themselves within racial hierarchies as part of a broader process of ethnic identity formation.
University of Arizona Press
Though he has spent half of his life elsewhere, Gregory Orfalea has remained obsessed with Los Angeles. That “brutal, beautiful city along the Pacific sea” shaped him and led to a series of essays originally published in the Los Angeles Times Magazine. These deeply moving pieces are gathered here together for the first time. Populated with fascinating characters—the Angelenos of Orfalea’s life—these essays tell the story of the author’s trials. He returns to Los Angeles to teach, trying to reconcile the LA of his childhood with the city he now faces. He takes on progressively more difficult and painful subjects, finally confronting the memories of the shocking tragedy that took the lives of his father and sister. With more than 400,000 Arab Americans in Los Angeles—probably surpassing Detroit as the largest contingent in America—Orfalea also explores his own community and its political and social concerns. He agonizes over another destruction of Lebanon and examines in searing detail a massacre of civilians in Iraq. Angeleno Days takes the memoir and personal essay to rare heights. Orfalea is a deeply human writer who reveals not only what it means to be human in America now, but also what it will take to remain human in the days to come. These essays soar, confound, reveal, and strike at our senses and sensibilities, forcing us to think and feel in new ways.
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