World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th – 24th 2010

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Arab Americans (223) - Panel
 

· Date: WED, 21 / 11.30 am -1.30 pm

· Language: English

· Description:
Chair: Randa Kayyali (George Mason University)

Paper presenter: Lamees Sweis (Ethnographic Researcher, Wayne State University), “Technology and Ethnic Identity: an Ethnographic Study of Arab Satellite Programming and Arab American Identity in Metropolitan Detroit”
This 4 month study of technology and identity is designed to determine the role Arabic satellite programming has on first generation American citizen migrants to Metro Detroit from the Arab Middle East. The research aims are to identify and describe what people value about Arabic satellite programming; and determine why the topics they value are important to them. This ethnographic study is based on both qualitative and quantitative methods and analyses. It is designed to describe how technology in the post-electronic world is intimately a part of daily life. This research draws off of Appadurai, Wallerstein, Bourdieu, and Benedict Anderson; and from the field of communications out of the Toronto School, Marshal McLuhan and Robert Logan. The usage of digital media to convey information, images, and sentiment from Arab homelands to the Arab world at large via satellite play an important role in ethnic identity in our increasingly global world. This research argues that Arjun Appadurai’s work on globalization helps organize, determine, and theorize how digital mass-media such as Arab satellite programming influences identity by being an available resource for self-making, and fostering communities of sentiment (Appadurai 1996). Globalization offers an encompassing theoretical framework as a point of reference in tandem with world systems theory. Regardless of its criticism globalization is the most recent term to characterize a post digitally mediated world and its social impacts. It is also a theory that offers a different framework than that of world systems theory. The paper concludes with research findings that values the role of language and use of discourse to measure how Arab identity is strongly linked with the Arabic language, and the revival of a unified Arab identity regardless of one’s geographical location as a consequence digital technologies, i.e. satellite programming.

Paper presenter: Maria Bashshur Abunnasr (Doctoral Candidate, University of Massachusetts, Amherst), “Imagining New England in Ras Beirut: An Arab-American Landscape of Memory”
Mention of Beirut may conjure up images of civil war, on the one hand, or rose-tinted memories of the 'Paris of the Middle East' on the other, but probably not a New England landscape. Yet in the westernmost neighbourhood of Beirut, known as Ras Beirut, is a part of New England. Located there is the American University of Beirut (AUB), first established as the Syrian Protestant College (SPC) in 1866 by a handful of American Protestant missionaries from among the most prominent theological institutions in New England, such as Harvard, Yale, Andover Theological Seminary, and Amherst College. How these New England minds imagined, conceptualized, and built up Ras Beirut as a landscape of memory is the subject of this paper. I use landscape as a conceptual framework to temporalize and spatialize Ras Beirut and assume J.B. Jackson's premise that 'landscape is history made visible' to identify traces of New England made visible there in three significant and overlapping ways. First, the existing geography of Ras Beirut fired in the imagination of New England missionaries its spiritual and ideological potential to become their Eastern 'city upon a hill.' Second, this inspiration articulated New England points of reference by engineering an architectural landscape of power. Third, the physical reconfiguration of Ras Beirut by the SPC represented the 'city upon a hill' in spatial and temporal terms. This paper, part of a larger study on the several layers of history and memory comprising Ras Beirut, simultaneously frames a transnational and a shared history, Arab and American, of undeniable significance and pertinence to the present by rendering the 'power of place' that is Ras Beirut: a landscape of America for Beirutis and of Beirut for Americans. While the history of Beirut has been accorded much scholarly attention, Ras Beirut in its capacity as a hub of educational enterprise relevant to Beirut, Lebanon, and the region has barely been addressed. Further, Ras Beirut embodies enduring Arab-American memories which mark its landscape with multiple layers of meaning and bridge perceived cultural gaps between Arab and American worlds.

Paper presenter: Randa Kayyali (PhD Student, George Mason University), “Arab Americans and the Politics of Census Exclusion”
The former head of the Census Bureau wrote, “We count to get a count, but also to classify, to create categories and taxonomies” (Prewitt 2004, 145). So, if the multicultural state professes to the creation of taxonomies through the Census, then does an ethnicity potentially gain and lose legitimacy through the state? And does the omission of a group mean non-recognition by the state and by extension, the polity? These are the questions that many Arab Americans have as they approach the 2010 Census, knowing that they have two options: either check the “white” or the “Other” box, filling in an ethnicity or national origin that will be likely be re-classified as “white” in the published data aggregates. Here, ethnic identities are racialized by the state in unexpected ways. The non-counting and non-classification of Arab Americans in the 2010 Census will potentially be problematic for researchers, journalists and others who are interested in examining the situation of Arab Americans post 9/11 but this invisibility is not altogether unwelcome for Arab Americans. Indeed, the lack of a breakout of Arab or Middle Eastern heritage from the “white” category comes at a time when most observers would expect an increased counting, surveillance and monitoring of these populations by the state. This paper will explore the history and contemporary debates on this omission, as well as the possible ramifications of this significant and notable exclusion by the state.

Paper presenter: Mary Brinson (Doctoral Candidate, University of California, Santa Barbara), “Muslims in the Media: Social consequences for Muslims in America”
The U.S. media has consistently been shown to portray Muslims and other minorities with a negative bias, and considering the media's ability to shape views and attitudes of the public, we should not underestimate the power of this anti-Muslim media bias. This type of media can contribute to stigmatization and discrimination, and can begin to erode the identities of Muslim Americans and their group vitality. Feeling rejected by the dominant group, they will see intergroup boundaries as impenetratable, and alienation can follow. Recent research indicating that there is a new type of terrorist emerging, the 'terrorist of alienation,' is quite sobering and something that Americans should not ignore. Paz states that - another emerging development among Islamist groups is the radicalization brought on by social ills and alienation ' that is terrorism motivated primarily by elements such as xenophobia (both by and against Muslims), growing unemployment, economic circumstances, difficulties in coping with Western modernization, the changing and dismantling of traditional values and family ties, and so forth' (2002, p.6-7). Contrary to beliefs that homegrown terrorism is Europe's problem, the United States is becoming more and more vulnerable as Muslim Americans become angered at U.S. policies and feel alienated and rejected due to media portrayals (Paz, 2002). We are most recently seeing the existence of this problem in the U.S. as evidenced by the arrests of five American accused terrorists in Pakistan. This project explores media portrayals of Muslims in the United States, examining the impact it has on both Muslims and non-Muslims in these countries. It will investigate how negative versus positive media portrayals can alter identities and self-esteem of Muslim Americans, and subsequent shifts in socialization strategies. It also looks at the effect this same media has on Muslim attitudes towards Westerners, and their beliefs about extremism and terrorism. This study consists of online experimental designs, including both non-Muslim and Muslim samples. It engages manipulated video portrayals of Muslims, followed by self-report attitude measures. Preliminary results show that exposure to negative versus positive Muslim media portrayals result in significant differences in the following: Muslim Attitudes and trust of non-Muslim Americans; Muslim perceptions of social boundaries between themselves and other Americans; Muslim identification levels as Muslim-American versus Muslim versus human versus American; Muslim attitudes about the justification of political violence. Further, more in-depth regression analysis is currently being conducted. Paz, R. (2002, May). Global Jihad and the European arena. Presentation at the International conference on Intelligence and terrorism, Priverno, Italy.

Paper presenter: Silke Schmidt (Student, American Studies Department, Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz), “Arabian Dance in the Promised Land: Hyphenating Identity in Contemporary Arab(-)American Women's Literature”
Lascivious belly dancers in light costume, whirling dervishes in a state of exaltation: Arabian dance has become the epitome of Orientalist stereotypes in the West. Ever since Arab immigrants arrived in the Promised Land of America, these images have accompanied their exilic identity definition. Despite this Orientalist legacy, however, dance remains an integral part of Arab life in America. Especially in contemporary novels by Arab-American women writers, dance constitutes a decisive and multifaceted theme. In contrast to other common cultural markers like food rituals, songs and traditional dress, however, the topic of dance has mostly been neglected by literary scholars in the field of Arab-American Studies. The present study Arabian Dance in the Promised Land seeks to close this research gap by highlighting the significance of dance in Laila Halaby's West of the Jordan and Diana Abu-Jaber's Crescent. The paper argues that dance in the novels functions in a twofold way: First, on the textual level, the female protagonists employ dance as a means to come to terms with their fractured multi-ethnic identity. A special focus here rests on aspects of culture, gender and religion. Second, on a structural level, the patterns of identity-seeking are revealed to equal traditional choreographies of Arab dance. Hyphenated identity, often treated as a pregiven and mostly fixed state, is thus redefined as a dynamic process which multi-ethnic individuals constantly engage in to come to terms with their fractured identity. Dance in consequence not only functions as a method of identity negotiation for the fictional characters themselves, but also provides the structure for the literary work. Arabian Dance in the Promised Land therefore attemps to achieve more than exempting the theme of Arab Dance from its marginalized and highly Orientalized context. By drawing on theoretical findings from dance and identity theory, it carries out an interdisciplinary experiment. Instead of approaching the text from the traditional perspective of literary studies, the paper reverses the direction of research and turns dance as the object of literary analysis into its instrument. The disciplinary boundary between literary and dance studies is thus transcended, similar to the dancer who crosses the border between Arab and American identity components in order to hyphenate the two.(The paper is based on an M.A. thesis submitted to the American Studies Department, Johannes Gutenberg University, October 2009).