The Invisible American Half:
Arab American(1) Hybridity and Feminist Discourses in the 1990s
Mervat F. Hatem, 1998
1. I have consciously not used a hyphen in Arab American to underline the existing tension between these two cultural sources of their identity. One of the goals of this article is to develop an appreciation for this tension. Then, one can proceed to examine the existence and the implications of this hyphenated identity. If the hyphen implies a well-formulated and/or a single synthesis of the Arab and American identities, then nothing can be further from the complex cultural realities ofthe community where endless permutations are developed. Religion (including the different denominations of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism), geographic roots (both in the Arab world and in the U.S.), sexuality (heterosexual men, heterosexual women, gays, and lesbians) and language (Arabic, English, Berber) are only some of the factors that will determine these different articulations of Arab-Americaness.
2. The incident was reported by Zana Macki, who took part in it, as part of her contribution to an Arab American feminist anthology. See Zana Macki, "Pulled," in Joanna Kadi, ed., Food for Our Grandmothers: Writings by Arab-American and Arab-Canadian Feminists (Boston: South End Press, 1994), 212.
3. When Arab immigrants arrived in the U.S. in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the Arab world was a culturally diverse region inhabited by Muslim, Christians, and Jews. Underlining this religious and ethnic diversity further, Arab "Muslims," "Christians," and "Jews" were differentiated by religious denomination and culture into complex groups. For example, while Islam was the religion of the majority, Arab Muslims were divided into Sunnis, Shia, Druze, and Alawites. Arab Christians belonged to indigenous and non-indigenous denominations including the Maronite, Chaldean, Coptic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Protestant, and Catholic churches. Arab Jews added to the complex religious fabric of the region in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, and Yemen. Finally, the indigenous African religions of Southern Sudan were part of the religious map of the region.
While Arabic was the dominant language of these different religious groups, there were many linguistic minorities within Arab societies like the Kurds, the Turkmen, the Kabayle and the African populations of Southern Sudan. The literature that discusses the ethnic (religious and linguistic) characteristics of "Arab Americans" simplifies the above cultural diversity by relying on the generic categories of "Christian" and "Muslim" to explain the cultural makeup of the community. An equally serious distortion involved dropping any reference to Arab Jews as part of the past and present of the region and its immigrant communities. For a discussion of this Eurocentric view and disciplinary approach to the history of Arab Jews, see Ella Shohat, "Sephardim in Israel: Zionism from the Standpoint of Its Jewish Victims," Social Text 19/20 (Fall 1988), 1-35; Shohat, "Dislocated Identities: Reflections of an Arab Jew," in Movement Research: Performance Journal 5 (Fall-Winter, 1992), 8; and Amitav Ghosh, In an Antique Land (New York: Vintage Books, 1994), chapter 10.
The reader is asked to keep the limitations of this literature in mind. Whenever possible the author has attempted to include these differentiations into the discussion of the community.
4. Michael Suleiman and Baha Abu-Luban, "Introduction," in Arab Americans: Continuity and Change (Belmont, Mass.: Association of Arab-American University Graduates, 1989), 6.
7. Carol Haddad, "In Search of Home," 220; and Azizah al-Hibri, "Tear Off Your Western Veil," 163, both in Food For Our Grandmothers.
8. See Letty Cottin Progrebin, MS. (June 1982).
9. As Ella Shohat points out, within an American context only a single (European/Ashkenazi) Jewish memory exists and/or is allowed. Not only is the Middle Eastern /Arab/ Sephardic history (and memory) repressed, but the hegemonic discourse presented it as an oxymoron. Yet it is important to make such a distinction for an understanding of the distinct perspectives that exist within the U.S. Jewish community. See Shohat, "Dislocated Identities: Reflections of an Arab Jew," op. cit.
10. Haddad, 221.
11. Al-Hibri, 162.
12. "Statement of Purpose," Feminist Arab-American Network News, 1.
13. Haddad, 221, 223.
14. Nabeel Abraham, "The Arab-American Marginality: Mythos and Praxis," in Arab Americans: Continnity and Change, 19.
16. The Arab American Institute, Ending the Deadly Silence (Washington, D.C.: Arab American Institute, n.d.), 9,
17. Ibid., 12-13.
18. Even though the Gulf War was identified in the U.S. as simply the Gulf War, it was more accurate to describe it as the second Gulf War. The first Gulf War was between Iraq and Iran. It lasted for nine years (1979-1988) without a clear winner. The second Gulf War took place in January 1991 to liberate Kuwait from the Iraqi invasion and occupation that began in August 1990.
19. Tom Wicker, New York Times, April 3, 1991, p. 1.
20. Roger Owen, "Reflections on the Meaning and Consequences of the Gulf Crisis," in Dan Tschirgi, ed., The Arab World Today (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1994), 16-17; Hosam El-Tawil, "The United States and the Arab World After the Gulf Crisis," in The Arab World Today, 231-232.
21. Owen, "Reflections on the Meaning and Consequences of the Gulf Crisis," 16-17.
22. These were also the most widely held American views of Arabs as an ethnic group. See Shelly Slade, "The Image of the Arab in America: Analysis of a Poll on American Attitudes," The Middle East Journal 35, no. 2 (Spring 1981): 149.
23. Quoted in Lisa Suhair Majaj, "Boundaries Arab /American," in Food for Our Grandmothers, 82.
24. L. J. Mahoul, "Battling Nationalisms to Salvage Her History," in Food for Our Grandmothers, 24.
25. Church Women United, Women and the Gulf War (New York: Church Women United, 1991), 5.
26. Ibid, 6.
27. Lisa Belkin, "Inquiries on Arab Americans by the F.B.I. Raise Concern," New York Times, January 12, 1991, 10.
28. Peter Applebome, "Arab Americans Fear a Land War's Backlash," New York Times February 20, 1991, A14.
29. Melinda Henneberger, "Bias Attacks: Muslims Continue to Feel Apprehensive," New York Times, April 24, 1995, B 10.
30. William Booth, "A Nightmare of a Stopover in London," Washington Post, April 24, 1995, A12.
31. Henneberger, B1O.
34. In this part of the discussion, I will provide nuanced descriptions of the diverse views held by Arab Americans, which were shaped by class, religion, gender, and generation. In developing an understanding of these different views, I have relied on the numerous articles that appeared in the Washington Post and the New York Times on how Arab Americans and/or American Muslims were dealing with the war and its aftermath.
35. Jay Mathews and Jill Walker, "For Iraqi Americans, Crisis is Emotional Mix of Dread, Disgust and Exasperation," Washington Post, August 25, 1990, A9.
36. Tim Golden, "For America's Jews and Arabs, the Pain of Divided Emotions," New York Times, January 19, 1991, Al 3.
37. Mathews and Walker, A9.
38. Belkin, 10.
39. Ibid.; Mathews and Walker, A9; Golden, 13.
40. Quoted in Peter Applebome, "Arabs in the U.S. Feel Separated by Other Gulfs," New York Times, February 10, 1991, p. A1.
41. Applebome, "Arab-Americans Fear a Land War's Backlash," A 14.
42. Ibid., A14.
43. Applebome, "Arabs in U.S. Feel Separated by Other Gulfs, " 30.
44. Golden, 13.
45. Ibid.; Applebome, "Arab-Americans Fear a Land War's Backlash," A14; Sanchez, B1, B7.
46. Applebome, "Arab-American's Fear a Land's War Backlash," A14.
47. Ruben Castaneda, "Muslims Hoping for Healing: Ramadan Expected to Mend War's Rifts," Washington Post, March 16, 1991, D 11.
48. Elmaz Abinader, Children of the Roojme, A Family's Journey (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1990).
49. Elmaz Abinader, "Here, I Am an Arab; There an American," New York Times, May 9, 1991, A25.
51. See, in particular, Michelle Sharif, "Global Sisterhood: Where Do We Fit In?," 151; L. J. Mahoul, "Battling Nationalisms to Salvage Her History," 24; and Lisa
Suhair Majaj, "Boundaries: Arab/American," 80, all in Food For Our Grandmothers.
52. Joanna Kadi, "Introduction," xvi; Therese Saliba, "Sittee (or Phantom Appearances of a Lebanese Grandmother)," 8; Majaj, "Boundaries," 66, in Food for our Grandmothers.
53. Majaj, "Boundaries," 80.
54. I base the discussion in this section on my own experiences and the numerous exchanges I have had as an Egyptian-American professor of political science with students and faculty at Howard University, one of the leading historically black colleges, where I have taught for the last fifteen years.
55. Diana Abu-Jaber, Arabian Jazz (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1993).
56. See the review by Elaine Hagopian, AMEWS Newsletter 9, 3 (September 1994): 1-3.
57. Ibid., 2.
58. Diana Abu-Jaber, "The Untitled and Hogtied," AMEWS Newsletter 8, 3 (October 1993): 7. To follow the debate, see Diana Abu-Jaber, "The Honeymooners, Growing Up Half Muslim in America," AMEWS Newsletter 8, 2 (May 1993): 7-9; also Mervat Hatem, "The 'Invisible' American Half in Arab American," AMEWS Newsletter (October 1993): 4-5.
60. Abu-Jaber, "The Untitled and Hogtied," 7.
62. Diana Abu-Jaber, review of Food For Our Grandmothers, Middle East Studies Association Bulletin 29, no. 1 (July 1995): 103-104.
63. See Abu-Jaber, "The Untitled and Hogtied," 6-7.
64. L. J. Mahoul, 28.
65. Kadi, xx.
66. Ghosh, 340.
67. Ella Shohat, "Staging the Quincentenary: The Middle East and the Americas," Third Text (Winter 1992-93): 98.
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