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Arab American Women: Representation and Refusal

Arab American Women: Representation and Refusal

Автор Jess Bier, Amy Rowe, Gregory Orfalea и

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Arab American Women: Representation and Refusal

Автор Jess Bier, Amy Rowe, Gregory Orfalea и

768 страниц
11 часов
1 дек. 2021 г.


Arab American women have played an essential role in shaping their homes, their communities, and their country for centuries. Their contributions, often marginalized academically and culturally, are receiving long- overdue attention with the emerging interdisciplinary field of Arab American women’s studies. The collected essays in this volume capture the history and significance of Arab American women, addressing issues of migration, transformation, and reformation as these women invented occupations, politics, philosophies, scholarship, literature, arts, and, ultimately, themselves. Arab American women brought culture and absorbed culture; they brought relationships and created relationships; they brought skills and talents and developed skills and talents. They resisted inequities, refused compliance, and challenged representation. They engaged in politics, civil society, the arts, education, the market, and business. And they told their own stories. These histories, these genealogies, these narrations that are so much a part of the American experiment are chronicled in this volume, providing an indispensable resource for scholars and activists.
1 дек. 2021 г.

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Arab American Women - Jess Bier

Preface II

Enduring Commitment to Arab American Studies

Michael W. Suleiman

I HAVE BEEN DOING RESEARCH and writing on (and have been a participant observer of) the Arab American community for well more than four decades, and I am committed to a comprehensive study of that community. Part of that commitment is reflected in the thirty-year project that resulted in the volume The Arab-American Experience in the United States and Canada: A Classified, Annotated Bibliography (Ann Arbor, MI: Pierian Press, 2006). I completed that project to provide a comprehensive reference for scholars and the general public about a neglected and often maligned community. But I also did it to facilitate and encourage further research on the subject and to preserve and build up our archives on the Arab American community.

After publishing the bibliography, I began to consider what areas of research on Arab Americans needed further study. One such topic was and is Arab American women. I sought, therefore, to arrange for a conference that would be comprehensive and would cover the much-neglected early historical period. The call for papers that I put out in April 2008 was quite specific as to the issues to be covered, clearly indicating the parameters for the conference. Somewhat surprisingly, about eighty scholars asked to participate, and I ended up accepting presentations from a little less than half that number.

I asked the participants to send me their papers (at least first drafts) by the conference date (March 12–15, 2009). I then critically edited the papers to determine the possible need for revisions before they were deemed ready to include in the manuscript to be forwarded to the publisher. Virtually every paper went through at least one revision. My own chapter provides a historical background that includes coverage of the early Arab American women pioneers. Also included in this chapter are translations of excerpts from publications by those early pioneers to provide a flavor of their writings and to fill gaps in our knowledge and understanding of that early period.

This exercise has been uplifting and energizing, producing a much needed collection of research and writing on a greatly neglected topic.


Tribute to Michael W. Suleiman

Suad Joseph

THIS TRIBUTE TO MICHAEL W. SULEIMAN was first presented at Contemporary Research in Arab American Studies: New Trends and Critical Perspectives. A Conference in Honor of Michael W. Suleiman, which in the days just before his death he had asked Elaine Hagopian, Lisa Suhair Majaj, and me to organize. We invited Nadine Naber to join us on the planning committee. The conference was held at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, on November 4–6, 2011.

It is a privilege and an honor to be giving this tribute to a life of engaged scholarship, a tribute to our friend, Michael Suleiman. Before I begin, I would like to thank our co-organizers—Elaine Hagopian, who could not be with us, Lisa Majaj, and Nadine Naber for the year-long work in putting this conference together and the whole Arab American National Museum, who kindly agreed to Michael’s wish to have this conference here. Especially, I would like to thank Anan Ameri, who had planned another conference and generously invited us to team up to put the two conferences together into one and worked hard to make the planning go as smoothly as possible. I also want to thank Penny Suleiman for her support as we needed to turn to her a number of times for guidance and input.

When Michael asked us to organize this conference, I began thinking about how one would summarize the breath of scholarship of Michael Suleiman. Michael was an ecumenical and engaged scholar. He thought, read, and wrote broadly. He cared about the impact of scholarship and worked to take scholarship into the public domain to achieve social goods. As a result of his commitments as a public intellectual, he was often called upon by the media, professional associations, and the lay community.

Consultant Public Intellectual

He was a special consultant to the Arab American National Museum. He served on many advisory boards: to the Lebanese Emigration Research Center of Notre Dame University in Lebanon, the H-Mideast Politics online group, the Tides Democratic Justice Fund, the Census Information Center, the Center for Arab American Studies at the University of Michigan, the Federation of Arab Entities in the Americas, the Arab World and Islamic Resources group (AWAIR) (Audrey Shabbas), the News Circle (Arab American magazine), and for several film productions.

Board of Directors

He served on boards of directors: Palestine American Research Center (PARC); Working Group on Ancestry in the US Census (National Committee); the Arab Sociological Association; the American Research Center in Cairo (ARC); the American Institute of Maghribi Studies (AIMS); the American Ethnic Studies Program, Kansas State; the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), North Central Region; the Honorary Committee for Bridges of Civilizations: Arab Contributions to the West; the Public Affairs Television for programs on the Arab world; and the Working Party on the Image of Arabs.

Professional Associations

He was very active in academic professional organizations, especially if he could use that bully pulpit to get scholarship into the public arena. He was a cofounder of the Arab American University Graduates Association and served as one of its early presidents. He was on the board of directors of the Middle East Studies Association of America and used that platform to work on the MESA Committee on Pre-Collegiate Education and the MESA Committee on Middle East Imagined in Secondary School Texts—both to try to educate the general public about the Middle East and the Arab world.

Editorial Boards

He served on the editorial boards of a number of journals: H-Mideast Politics; International Journal of Middle East Studies, where he was the book review editor for the social sciences; the Arab Studies Quarterly; the Maghreb Review; the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs; the Journal of Arab Affairs; the Arab Journal of International Studies (in Arabic). He guest-edited special issues of these and other journals and magazines.


He was an external reviewer for three-dozen professional presses and journals and a grant reviewer for a dozen different granting agencies.


He served as a consultant for major mainstream media: ABC’s Nightline, CBS TV, the Associated Press, CNN, PBS’s McNeil/Lehrer News Hour, National Public Radio, and Time magazine.

In addition to acting as an adviser to these news media, he contributed by giving interviews to National Public Radio, the New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Washington Post, Washington Star, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Houston Chronicle, the St. Petersburgh Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, the Miami Herald, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Kansas City Star, and al-Majalla from London.

He undertook interviews for the Library of Congress Information Bulletin Public Radio International, the BBC program The World, Arab Network of American, CBS TV Night Watch, PBS, C-Span TV, CNN TV, the Associated Press, WNPR, Scrips-Howard News Service—and a dozen or so more.


He was an advocate for students, especially those who wanted to study Arab Americans. He served on over a dozen committees of students doing projects on Arab Americans, including Sarah Gualtieri and Nathalie Handal—distinguished scholars of Arab American studies.

Papers and Talks

He was a prodigious public intellectual in other ways, giving talks, presenting papers in a variety of venues. Between 1967 and 2003, he gave 150 public talks in such places as University of Oxford; University of Leeds; Marrakech, Morocco; Mexico City, Mexico; Osaka, Japan; Tangier, Morocco; Berlin, Germany; Algiers, Algeria; Margarita Island, Venezuela; Quito, Ecuador; Hammamet, Tunisia; Beirut, Lebanon; San Pedro Sula, Honduras; Tunis, Tunisia; Salzburg, Austria; Al Hoceima, Morocco; Santiago, Chile; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Havana, Cuba; Paris, France; Uppsala, Sweden; Rabat, Morocco; Tokyo/Kyoto, Japan; Bangkok, Thailand; Seoul, Korea; Bellagio, Italy; Juba, Sudan; Caracas, Venezuela; Baghdad, Iraq; Bloudan, Syria; and Topeka, Kansas. He was truly a man of the world. He was in demand worldwide, and he demanded to know the world worldwide.

Research Regions

He carried out research in Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Boston, Detroit, Washington, DC, Minneapolis, San Antonio, Texas, Jordan, Syria, Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon, and England—going to most of those sites multiple times. He was funded by over two dozen research grants from national and international foundations.

He brought to each of these sites his dynamic capacity to see continuities in political and social processes and his sensitivity to locally situated cultural practices. In each site, he was not only a researcher of that site but an educator bringing knowledge from other sites to local scholars, students, and the lay public. He is listed in three dozen different directories of Who’s Who.

Scholarly Contributions

Michael’s scholarly contributions are deep and enduring. Indeed, I knew and relied on his work while I was a graduate student, before I had even met him. He wrote, edited, or coedited eight books, special journal issues, and special booklet publications. He was concerned to make sure that knowledge was disseminated, so two of his books were translated into Arabic. He wrote around seventy-five journal articles and book chapters, many of which were reprinted in different venues.

Among his early work that was very formative for me was his 1967 book Political Parties in Lebanon: The Challenge of a Fragmented Political Culture. In the late 1960s, I had begun working on a critique of the pluralism model of Lebanese political culture. Michael’s book was like a bible to me. I read it and reread it to make sure I understood all the parties, their genealogies, their relationships with each other, and especially their personnel (their zuama’). It was my guidepost as I tried to map out the political landscape of Lebanon before going to do my fieldwork. I returned to it many times over the years as one of the most solid references to the party system of Lebanon during that period. Indeed, a close reading of Michael’s book helps us understand much of the subsequent unsettling political turmoil of Lebanon.

He was keen to understand Palestine and edited a special issue of Journal of Arab Affairs on the first Intifada in 1989. He was concerned about American policy in the Middle East. By 1995, he had edited U.S. Policy on Palestine from Wilson to Clinton. Within a year, it had been translated into Arabic and distributed as a classic text throughout the Arab world.

For most of us, especially gathered here today at the Arab American National Museum, for which he was an adviser, it is Michael Suleiman’s enduring work founding the field of Arab American studies that has touched us most profoundly. He started as early as 1975: American Images of Middle East Peoples: Impact of the High School (published by MESA). Long before most scholars were working on the representation of the Middle East in America, Michael was already doing this work in 1977, a year before Edward Said’s famous Orientalism. By 1988, he had published Arabs in the Mind of America, which was immediately translated into Arabic. These were lighthouses to guide the way of a generation of scholars who were yet to be born to follow his guiding light. Shortly thereafter, in 1989, he followed with his coedited book Arab Americans: Continuity and Change.

For a number of us here, it was his edited book Arabs in America: Building a New Future (1999) that hooked us into the project he had done so much work to found—the field of Arab American studies. He had diligently co-organized the AAUG [Association of Arab American University Graduates] conference, held in Anaheim, California, in 1996, with a focus on Arab Americans. He actively solicited a number of people to give papers and talks on Arab Americans. He called me and pushed me to give a paper. I had done only one paper on Arab Americans prior to that—as a sophomore in college, which was sent off by my professor to be published in the New York Folklore Quarterly. I did not think of myself as a scholar of Arab American studies, but Michael had phoned me and pressed me and insisted that I had something to say. I was deeply engaged in theories of citizenship at the time and finally agreed to work some of those ideas into a paper on Arab American citizenship. I am sure many other scholars were cajoled and persuaded by Michael to try out their ideas, to think about Arab American studies, and to work with him to broaden the scope of the field.

Michael secured promises from those he had cajoled to give him the papers to produce the book Arabs in America—the first edited book to launch a new field on highly theoretical and scholarly grounds. It included chapters by May Seikaly, Richard Antoun, Linda Walbridge, Fatima Agha Al-Hayani, Kathleen Moore, Mohamed Mattar, Sharon McIrvin Abu-Laban and Baha Abu-Laban, Kristine Ajrouch, Rosina Hassoun, Barbara Aswad, Louise Cainkar, Helen Hatab Samhan, Lawrence Davidson, Janice Terry, Lori Anne Salem, Ibrahim Hayani, Therese Saliba, Lisa Suhair Majaj, and Suad Joseph. With these scholars, under the robust leadership of Michael Suleiman, it was clear that the field of Arab American studies was not only well launched, but it was moving full-steam ahead.

Arab American Women’s Studies

But Michael was a pioneer who could not rest. There always were new frontiers, new paths to carve out. It is not an accident that it was Michael again who in 2009 organized the first major academic conference on Arab American women and put together the book from that conference. The conference was dazzling. Those of us who had the good luck to be there felt at the end we did not want to leave. In typical Michael fashion, he had gathered us together to help foster another field—Arab American women’s studies. The participants included Yasmin Kronfli, Therese Saliba, Shamira Ahmed, Sarah Gualtieri, Salma Abugideiri, Rita Stephan, Nahla Al-Huraibi, Mohja Kahf, Louise Cainkar, Lisa Suhair Majaj, Kristine Ajrouch, Jen’nan Read, Helen Samhan, Gregory Orfalea, Emily Wills, Carol Haddad, Bridget Blomfield, Amy Rowe, Jess Bier, Eric Love, Garbi Schmidt, and Suad Joseph.

His book from the conference was submitted to Syracuse University Press. He did not have time to finish it before he passed. One of his two last requests of me was that I finish the editing of the book for him. The other request was to co-organize the 2011 conference in his honor at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

Arab American Studies Bibliography

Michael was a tireless scholar and public intellectual. He was working on an annotated bibliography of Arab Americans, and he left no stone unturned to build the most exhaustive bibliography possible on Arab Americans. He called me some years ago and asked me about the paper I had written as a sophomore in college on the Lebanese of Cortland County, New York. No one knew about that undergraduate paper, which my professor sent off for publication without telling me. I had even forgotten about it myself. Yet Michael dug it up and insisted on having a copy. Then a year or so before his death, somehow he found out that a cousin of mine had written two self-published books about his family history. He wanted the phone number. He called Norm Hobbie, obtained copies, and added the books to his annotated bibliography. There is probably not a word that has been published in the last one hundred years on Arab Americans that Michael did not unearth somewhere and collect in his pathbreaking annotated bibliography.

A Leader, Scholar, Teacher, Public Intellectual, Friend

Michael was a leader in every field in which he worked: education in the Arab world, politics in the Arab world, US policy, international relations, Arab American studies, and Arab American scholarly activism. He was a mentor and a friend to us all. His keen insights, sharp mind, and ever-present humor inspired us to do more and do better. He was an intellectual of the highest rigor, a person of the highest integrity, and a friend of the highest honor.

Arab studies, Middle East studies, Arab American studies, Arab American women’s studies, and the related fields of public outreach owe much to this founding figure, this ecumenical and engaged researcher, this scholar, teacher, public intellectual, colleague, and friend. We miss him dearly, even as we can hear his robust laughter ringing in this hall. His legacy is with us. It was for this reason that he asked for no flowers, no mementos. Rather, he asked that in his memory we work to continue to build the field of Arab American studies, to which he was so devoted. We gather here, Michael, our friend, to carry on with your legacy. I can see you smiling now.


Arab American Women

Intersectional Genealogies and Trajectories

Suad Joseph

ARAB AMERICAN WOMEN’S STUDIES is a relatively new interdisciplinary field engaging gender and women’s studies, Arab American studies, American studies, and Middle East studies. Although work on and by Arab American women emerged in the last quarter of the twentieth century, it is more distinctively a twenty-first-century field. Books such as Arab and Arab American Feminisms: On Gender, Violence, and Belonging (Abdulhadi, Alsultany, and Naber 2011), originally published in 2005 as the special issue Gender, Nation, and Belonging: Arab and Arab American Feminist Perspectives in the MIT Electronic Journal of Middle East Studies (Abdulhadi, Naber, and Alsultany 2005), and Arab America: Gender, Cultural Politics, and Activism (Naber 2012) broke open the scholarly field dramatically, though its roots are deep and complex. Arab American women’s studies has a genealogy in Arab American studies, in women-of-color studies within American studies, and in Arab/Middle East women’s studies. This genealogy reflects the centrality of intersectionality in the field of Arab American women’s studies.

Homogenizing Diversity

The emergence of the field of Arab American studies is as complex as the major fields of Asian American studies, African American studies, Native American studies, and Chicano/a studies. Like these other ethnic studies, Arab American studies encompasses a broad array of peoples from different countries and with different religions, different races, different ethnicities, and even different languages. Diversity in the Arab region has thousands of years of history. Some people(s) in America from the Arab region did/do not identify as Arab or Arab Americans. When the first major waves of migration from the region came to the Americas, they were generally referred to as Turks or Ottomans—as were Greeks and Albanians and others from the Ottoman Empire. After World War I and the formation of the Lebanese and Syrian mandates under the French, they were often referred to as Syrian/Lebanese. A study of the New York Times from 1850 to the present that I have been carrying out for more than a decade reveals rare uses of the term Arab in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Although the majority of Arabs are Muslim, there are large minorities of Christians, Jews, and adherents of other religions. Islam itself is highly diverse, with numerous theological, historical, and cultural differences among Sunni, Shi‘a, Druze, and smaller sects of Islam. The Arab League boasts twenty-two countries. National differences among the countries are sharp and wide ranging. Each country has large numbers of ethnic, religious, and tribal minorities for whom subnational identities are important. The colonial histories of the Arab countries were highly variable, fostering enduring cultural differences. The Ottoman Turks, governing most of the region for four hundred years until right after World War I, left indelible traces in the political, legal, and cultural terrain of the Arab countries. The British and French divided the Ottoman Empire’s extended reach in the region between themselves and promoted their own languages, histories, economies, governing structures, constitutions, cultures, fashions, educational systems—all of which continue to contribute to differences among the Arab countries more than half a century after the last of them gained independence. The British and French not only divided the region into countries but also invented countries and borders that had never existed before the twentieth century, leaving the invented states with the task of creating nations. Within and between countries, class differences add layers of inequality to these differences—including very different forms of gender inequality. Even the language, Arabic, is spoken in so many different local dialects that Arabs from one country might find it hard to understand the spoken Arabic of another Arab country. To define what/who is an Arab is an exercise in complexity and nuance. To define what/who is an Arab American woman must also account for the migration history, religion, class, nationality, ethnicity, and rainbow of American identity politics—signaling again the necessity of intersectional approaches to the study of Arab American women.

Yet the diverse communities from that region were historically glossed as Arab in the American context. Particularly after 1967, they became Arab Americans in the context of US state politics and social organizational dynamics. The homogenizing done under the sign Arab is complicated by the fact that the majority of Arab Americans until the decades after the Arab–Israeli War of 1967 and perhaps even now were and are Arab Christians from Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine—many of whom do not consider themselves Arab. Arab American studies as a scholarly endeavor is constantly inventing a people and deconstructing its own invention. This is as true or even more true of African American studies and Asian American studies, in which whole continents were blended into essentializing ethnic categories in the American sociopolitical cauldron. Arab American women’s studies folds yet another layer of diversity into the medley of difference.

Arab American Studies

Arab American studies is a mid-twentieth-century development, primarily since the 1960s. Alixa A. Naff is widely credited as the leading scholar in the founding of the field. Beginning in the early 1960s, she carried out research (Naff 1985), collected photographs and letters, and built an archive matched by none. Her archive is housed at the Smithsonian Museum as the Faris and Yamna Naff Arab American Collection. The founding of the Association of Arab American University Graduates (AAUG) in 1967 (disbanded in 2007), right after the Arab–Israeli War and only one year after the founding of the Middle East Studies Association in 1966, signaled another launching of scholarly organizing by Arab Americans (Michael Suleiman was a founding member of the AAUG). The AAUG founded the Arab Studies Quarterly in 1979, the first such journal. Although the focus of the AAUG and the quarterly was overwhelmingly the Arab region, especially Palestine and Israel, a number of articles over the years, especially beginning in the early twenty-first century, addressed Arab Americans and Arab women. The annual AAUG conferences similarly focused primarily on the Arab region.

AAUG was nevertheless interested in Arab Americans as a field of study. It brought together Arab Americans, who enthusiastically engaged each other in scholarly enterprises. Its first annual conference was entitled The Arab American Community: Its Contributions and Role, which resulted in the first major collected book on Arab Americans, edited by Elaine Hagopian and Ann Paden, The Arab Americans: Studies in Assimilation (1969). Barbara Aswad’s work Arabic Speaking Communities in American Cities (1974), Baha Abu-Laban and Faith Zeadey’s coedited book Arabs in America: Myths and Realities (1975), and Nabeel Abraham and Sameer Abraham’s collection The Arab World and Arab-Americans: Understanding a Neglected Minority (1981) built on this momentum, followed by works by Jack Shaheen (1984), Gregory Orfalea (1988), Yvonne Haddad (Haddad and Smith 1994), and Ernest McCarus (1994). Michael Suleiman’s coedited book Arab Americans: Continuity and Change (1989) added depth with case studies, as did research by Eric Hooglund (1985, 1987) published by the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s research institute. Barbara Aswad and Barbara Bilge published Family and Gender among American Muslims: Issues Facing Middle Eastern Immigrants and Their Descendants (1996), which applied a gendered analysis to Arab American communities as well as to communities of Muslims from the larger region. It was, however, the AAUG conference Dr. Suleiman organized on Arab American studies in Anaheim, California, in 1996, resulting in the collection Arabs in America: Building a Future (Suleiman 1999), that inspired a more recent generation of research. Andrew Shyrock and Nabeel Abraham’s book Arab Detroit: From Margin to Mainstream (2000) followed shortly thereafter. Elaine Hagopian’s edited book Civil Rights in Peril: The Targeting of Arabs and Muslims (2004) and Louise Cainkar’s work Homeland Insecurity: The Arab/Muslim American Experience after 9/11 (2009) drew critical attention to the increased discrimination against and demonizing of Arabs in the United States in the political climate after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 (9/11). Cainkar’s chapter in this book discusses the gendered impacts of 9/11 and explains why women were the primary targets of public rage. Michael Suleiman devoted a quarter of a century to compiling every bit of research that had been done on Arab Americans into an unmatched resource: The Arab-American Experience in the United States and Canada: A Classified, Annotated Bibliography (2006). As the titles of the research from the 1960s into the early twenty-first century indicate, much of the research was ethnographic and descriptive, focusing on the process of becoming American. Although most of these books contained chapters on women and gender, their larger focus was on the American experience.

The Arab American Studies Association was founded by Rita Stephan, Randa Kayyali, Pauline Homsi Vinson, and Suad Joseph following the conference in honor of Michael Suleiman in 2011. That conference and the subsequent conferences on Arab American studies were densely populated with Arab American feminist scholars and research on Arab American women. Syracuse University Press (SUP) took a critical step in establishing the field of scholarship when in the first decade of the twenty-first century executive editor Mary Selden Evans enthusiastically embraced my idea of an Arab American studies book series. SUP had long offered one of the best series on Middle East women’s studies. In 2015, Suzanne Guiod, Seldan’s replacement at SUP, had another conversation with me about an SUP series on Arab American studies. I once again endorsed the idea and suggested some rising scholars. SUP launched the Critical Arab American Studies series, with Syracuse University professor Carol Fadda as its editor (see Syracuse University Press n.d.a). This marked the coming of age of Arab American studies.

Women-of-Color Studies in American Studies

The 1980s and in particular the 1990s saw a flourishing of what came to be read as scholarship by and about women of color in America. Until then, the majority of Arab Americans (mostly Christians) would have seen themselves as white, and there was a historical legal basis for this assumption. Some Syrian, Lebanese, and Palestinians of the early twentieth century were initially denied citizenship on the assumption that they were not free white persons. In 1915, an appellate court reversed that decision in the case of a person named George Dow, who was finally granted citizenship on the rationale that Syrians belonged to the Semitic branch of the Caucasian race and therefore were white persons (Joseph 1999, 257). This case as well as the rights and privileges that accrued to whiteness set a social and political mandate for Arabs from the Levant to consider themselves white. The first generations of Arab Americans worked hard to assimilate into white culture and identify as white, although Charlotte Karem Albrecht’s chapter in this book reveals that they were nonetheless often treated as nonwhite others.

The academic branding of Arab Americans as people of color was led by young Arab American feminists in the 1990s, who were nurtured largely in the matrices of women-of-color research and activism and found intellectual and political homes in the landscape of multiculturalism, reflexive anthropology, and cultural studies. Notable here is Carol Haddad’s work founding the Feminist Arab-American Network in the 1980s (a small group, including me, organized chapters across the country). The collective interventions of Carol Haddad, Leila Ahmed, Azziza al-Hibri, and Evelyn Shakir at the National Women’s Studies Association conferences in 1981 and 1982 clearly situated Arab Americans and Arab American women as people of color. They worked to create alliances between Arab American feminists and the association’s Third World Women’s Caucus (see Haddad’s chapter in this volume). The works of Gloria Anzaldúa (1987; Moraga and Anzaldúa 1981), Chandra Mohanty (1984), Patricia Hill Collins (1991), and Edward Said (1978) were formatively engaged in the development of Arab American women-of-color feminism. Similarly, in the 1980s key Arab American political organizations situated themselves as part of Reverend Jesse Jackson’s rainbow coalition.

In some sense, the discourse around Arabs as people of color has a long history, with Franz Fanon’s work A Dying Colonialism (1959, translated 1965) on Algeria acting as a cornerstone. The first book to fully locate Arab Americans and Arab American studies within US race theory was published in 2008, Amaney Jamal and Nadine Naber’s collected volume Race and Arab Americans before and after 9/11: From Invisible Citizens to Visible Subjects. It was a theoretical milestone, squarely situating Arab American studies within American studies and American critical race theory as well as signaling key political and theoretical shifts. The newly formed Arab American Studies Association, initially affiliated with the Middle East Studies Association, took an important decision in 2017 to alternate its annual meetings between the Middle East Studies Association of North America and the American Studies Association. Arab American studies had become a part of American studies—via the route of the studies of people of color, in particular the foundational scholarship of American women of color. A notable shift occurred at the Middle East Studies Association meeting in 2018, which had a record number of panels that broadly engaged Arab American studies. Many of these panels had a transnational focus and conjoined Arab American experiences with race in the United States and Arab experiences with empire in the Arab world. As Naber points out in her chapter in this book, they were taking seriously how US ‘domestic’ politics and US ‘foreign’ politics exist within a similar historical and political frame.

Women’s Studies and Middle East Women’s Studies

Middle East feminists had earlier made interventions in the emergent field of domestic women’s studies. Several feminists organizing the first international conference on women and development at Wellesley College in 1975 found themselves deluged with applications from women around the world. The conference, although overwhelmingly attended by white women, also hosted a number of Middle Eastern women. Notable among them were Fatema Mernissi (Morocco) and Deniz Kandiyoti (Turkey) as well as a few emergent Arab American feminists (May Rihani and I). Mernissi’s powerful argument that feminists outside the white liberalist core were being sidelined led to a special issue of the still relatively young feminist journal Signs and the inclusion of Kandiyoti on its international board of advisers. Those of us privileged to engage with Mernissi and Kandiyoti in those conversations in 1975 found this conference to be a turning point for feminism in general and for Arab American feminism in particular (Joseph 2016). Also important was the first United Nations Decade for Women, its launch held in Mexico City in 1975 and attended by many Arab feminists and Arab American feminists. Those of us participating in such efforts that year thus had yet another opportunity to locate Arab American feminism in a global context—fully engaged with women of the global South and women of color internationally. It was for me and for many Arab American feminists based in the United States yet another intellectual and political turning point.

Yet, like feminism in Europe and the United States, feminist activism and scholarship in the Arab region and in the Middle East had emerged much earlier, in the nineteenth century (Badran 1995). Arab feminist activists and scholars mobilized across the region in the early twentieth century for voting and civil rights, just as European and American feminist activists did, and were connected with global feminist networks (Baron and Keddie 1993). The second wave of feminism, starting in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was fully engaged by feminists in the Arab region. Fatema Mernissi followed her early book Beyond the Veil: Male–Female Dynamics in a Modern Muslim Society (1975) with a stream of articles and books (e.g., Mernissi 1991, [1987] 1992), triggering dialogue internationally on the location of Arab feminism within global feminism. Works by Arab feminists were published as American and European feminists were simultaneously launching their interrogations of patriarchy and gender inequality. Nawal El Saadawi (1972, 1980, 1982) was among the most prolific of Arab feminist writers in the early second wave of feminism. She, like many Arab feminists, spent time in American and European universities. As early as 1973, the first institute for women’s studies in the Arab region was founded—long before there were formal institutes and women’s studies programs in most European and American universities and before many universities even had courses on women’s studies. The Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World (renamed the Arab Institute for Women) was founded at the Lebanese American University (originally a women’s college) in Beirut in 1973. Very quickly after its founding, in 1976, the institute established al-Raida, which, although initially more like a newsletter or bulletin, developed into a leading peer-reviewed interdisciplinary journal for Arab women’s studies.

The study of women in the Middle East rapidly took shape in the Middle East, Europe, and the United States. Early edited books included Elizabeth Fernea and Basima Bezirgan’s Middle Eastern Muslim Women Speak (1977) as well as Lois Beck and Nikki Keddie’s Women in the Muslim World (1978). By 1988, Middle Eastern women were reflecting on the process of studying themselves in Soraya Altorki and Camillia El Solh’s Studying Your Own Society: Arab Women in the Field. As early as 1984, I made an effort to establish a scholarly association for research on Middle East women, which came together in 1985 as the Association for Middle East Women’s Studies. It established its own peer-reviewed journal, Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies (cofounded by me, miriam cooke, and Sondra Hale). With the first issue published in 2005, it became the leading journal in its field, covering women in the Middle East and the diaspora. Syracuse University Press founded what has become the leading series on women in the Middle East in 1995, Gender, Culture, and Politics in the Middle East (see Syracuse University Press n.d.b), initially edited by miriam cooke, Simona Sharoni, and Leila Ahmed. I joined cooke and Sharoni as coeditor in 2000 when Ahmed stepped down. Further cementing the creation of the field of Middle East and Muslim women’s studies was the launching of the Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures, a global project published by Brill. Editorial work on the encyclopedia started in 1998, with the first volume published in 2003. (I am its founding and current general editor.)

Arab American Women’s Studies

Arab American women’s studies was launched in parallel with the development of Arab American studies, women’s studies, women-of-color studies, and Middle East women’s activism and scholarship. Joanna Kadi’s book Food for Our Grandmothers: Writings by Arab-American and Arab-Canadian Feminists (1994) was an early collection inaugurating a field of Arab American women’s studies. In 1997, Evelyn Shakir published Bint Arab: Arab and Arab American Women in the United States. Arab American feminists were engaged in AAUG from its founding in 1967, with several becoming leaders of that organization (including Elaine Hagopian, whose interview by Umayyah Cable is in this text, as well as Yvonne Haddad and Hala Maksoud). They were also active in Arab American issue-based organizations, such as the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (founded in 1980). Arab American women engaged in feminist organizations in their own disciplines and fields and were early participants in all aspects of American feminist activism, from scholarly to civil society organizations. It is not an accident that all of the founders of the Arab American Studies Association (founded in 2012) were women and feminists (Rita Stephan, Randa Kayyali, Pauline Homsi Vinson, and me). It is also not an accident that they all had participated in the conference on Arab American women that Michael Suleiman organized in 2009, from which a significant portion of this book emerged.

The first decade of the twenty-first century witnessed a profusion of books on Arab Americans with women as both authors and subjects, signaling the coming of age of a major interdisciplinary field of Arab American studies. The interweaving of that work with women’s studies, American studies, and Middle East/Middle East women’s studies produced the field of Arab American women’s studies. These publications include such books as Amaney Jamal and Nadine Naber’s edited volume Race and Arab Americans before and after 9/11 (2008); Sarah Gualtieri’s Between Arab and White: Race and Ethnicity in the Early Syrian-American Diaspora (2009); Louise Cainkar’s Homeland Insecurity (2009); Abdulhadi, Alsultany, and Naber’s volume Arab and Arab American Feminism (2010); Naber’s Arab America (2012); and Evelyn Alsultany’s Arabs and Muslims in the Media: Race and Representation after 9/11 (2012).

Much of this book emerges from the conference organized in 2009 by Michael W. Suleiman, augmented by material reflecting new perspectives in the field of women, gender, and sexuality studies. The articles range from the historical and archival to the ethnographic and sociological, the creative, and the activist.

The first part begins with a history of Arab American women from the 1890s to World War II written by Michael Suleiman in his last year of life, just after the conference in 2009. He documents the major concerns of and about Arab women expressed in the Arab American press and paints a portrait of the lives and viewpoints of some prominent Arab American women.

In the second part, articles by Jess Bier, Amy Rowe, Gregory Orfalea, and Charlotte Karem Albrecht further document the early period of Arab American women in the United States from the late nineteenth century to the mid–twentieth century. Bier provides a discursive and visual map of Arab American archives, a Foucauldian field of documentation, for practices considered under the heading Arab American women’s labor. She covers peddling, piecework, shopkeeping, and performing. She demonstrates how and why women’s labor was rendered invisible during the period from 1880 to 1930 because it exceeded the bounds of restrictive conceptions of gender, class, nation, economy, and ancestry. Bier’s chapter is also an analysis of what can be known from the archive, given the dynamics of power that shape what ends up in an archive. She is concerned to document how archival forms and content are shaped by circuits of power.

Rowe focuses on the daily work of never-married, second-generation Lebanese Maronite women in New England. There are far more unmarried second-generation Lebanese women in that region than unmarried second-generation men. She examines why they never married—an outcome related in part to the cultural pressures around intermarriage with non-Lebanese. She argues that a sort of division of labor emerged in the Lebanese American families and the communities. The never-married women maintain, manufacture, represent, and pass on Lebanese culture through their advice, caregiving, food ways, and community leadership. What counts as authentic Lebanese culture, she discovered, is reproduced in the behavior and beliefs of these unmarried women, who serve the function of keeping the families and community Lebanese.

Orfalea speaks through the lens of family by focusing on his mother and her four sisters-in-law, each of whom was yet another mother to him. Together the five women chronical the twentieth century. Orfalea, a leading Arab American writer, journeys with his aunts through their Americanization, their youth and adulthood in an America that required assimilation, and then their senescence when their sister-in-law, Orfalea’s mother, the most conservative and Arab of the five, cared for all four childless women. Through the five women, Orfalea captures stories of migration, family and orphans, independence and dependence, and the social transformation of Arab American women over the better part of a century.

Karem Albrecht’s critical gaze explores the ways in which social welfare workers of the period from 1880 to 1935 looked askance at Arab American women peddlers. Peddling was a very common occupation for both men and women immigrants from the Arab region during that period. Most Arab Americans who migrated in that time had someone in their families who peddled goods. The approach of welfare workers to Arab American women peddlers, Karem Albrecht argues, enforced dominant ideas about gender and sexuality that tethered Arab Americans to racialized others. The welfare workers regarded peddling as a threat to family structure; they feared that female peddlers neglected their children; they feared that male peddlers abandoned their families. By stigmatizing peddling as an occupation, Albrecht contends, the welfare workers reinforced hegemonic notions of family, gender, and sexuality, thereby stigmatizing the whole Arab American community. Such stigmatization of work and class position, Karem Albrecht finds, is at the root of racialization in America.

The third part covers literary activism by Arab American women. Sarah Gualtieri explores the life of early Arab American novelist and essayist ‘Afifa Karam, who in multiple forums defended the rights of women to embrace their possibilities. Karam wrote three novels, contributed regularly to the leading Arab American newspaper al-Hoda, and was editor of the first Arab American women’s magazine published in Arabic. She also translated critical works of literature into Arabic, making them available to a wide regional audience. Gualtieri examines the question why a person of such literary accomplishments has not been part of the canon of diaspora Arab American literary figures and why this early leading Arab American feminist has not been recognized in the American feminist canon.

Lisa Suhair Majaj focuses on Arab American women’s literary engagements. She is concerned with the ways in which authors Mohja Kahf and Randa Jarrar address the apparent contradiction between feminist and ethnic self-assertion by depicting Arab American homespaces as space[s] to be claimed and refigured rather than escaped and where belonging and agency can coincide. Reimagining the homespace, these authors, Majaj contends, refute the assumptions of home as a singular geographical, cultural, or political location or orientation.

Mejdulene Shomali uses a queer-of-color and feminist intersectional approach to examine three Arab American texts featuring Scheherazade. She finds that authors use Scheherazade’s dually constituted femininity and normative sexuality to mitigate the increased queerness of the Arab body in the American public after 9/11. In the process, these texts implicitly exclude LGBTQ representation and bodies from their vision of Arab American identity.

The activism of Arab American women deepens through political commitments. The fourth part addresses a variety of political activism by Arab American women. Carol Haddad discusses the founding of the earliest Arab America feminist organization, the Feminist Arab-American Network, and details the struggles it faced for recognition within the National Women’s Studies Association and even among women of color. Haddad’s essay is particularly important as it situates Arab American feminism squarely in the origins of the early emergence of the scholarship and activism of women of color in the United States. Her engagements with other women of color at conferences and her organizational work put Arab American feminists at the table in critical conversations about America’s others, especially women of color.

Bridget Blomfield deftly deploys Saba Mahmoud’s notion of the politics of piety in her ethnographic study of Shi‘a Iraqi women in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Los Angeles, California. These women define[] themselves through their religious piety, performance, and activism. The majority of Muslims in the world are Sunni. Shi‘a Muslim American women have not been studied as often as other Arab Americans have. Blomfield investigates their religious practices, their piety, their sense of self, and their sense of community. She argues that their religious practices support a performance of both self and community that is agential and self-defining.

Writing from the perspective of anti-imperialist transnational feminist studies, Nadine Naber articulates the points of convergence in parallel conversations taking place within US women-of-color feminist studies and Middle East women’s studies. Decrying that these conversations are far too often conducted separately, she argues that recognizing their points of convergence is crucial to conceptualizing gender, sexuality, and US-led imperial war. As one of the key architects of racialization theory as it pertains to Muslim and Arab Americans, Naber brings her theoretical acumen to the study of the intersections of women-of-color studies and Middle Eastern feminist women’s studies.

In an interview by Umayyah Cable, prominent Arab American feminist Elaine Hagopian discusses her life as an activist and the conspicuous roles of women in Arab American formations. Hagopian’s efforts were critical in the establishment and subsequent leadership of the AAUG, becoming its president. As an activist on behalf of the civil rights of Arab and Muslim Americans, she played a key role in documenting the erosion of rights and liberties for Arabs and Muslims under several US administrations. She, along with a number of Arab American women leaders of the second half of the twentieth century, ensured that the community’s voices were heard in both governmental and nongovernmental circles.

In the fifth part, on representations, I provide a genealogy of the representation of Arab American women in the New York Times from 1851 to 1919. I explore the tensions and contradictions that lie in the narration and depictions of Arab American women. During that period, the majority of Arab American women in the United States were Christians from Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria. The New York Times found them to be either smart, hardworking, businesslike, and attractive or sequestered, unaccessible, passive, and dominated by the men of their families. This range of representations, I argue, indicates that the newspaper lacked a consolidated view of Arab American women during this formative time of migration in American history.

Evelyn Alsultany examines representations of Muslim women in the US news media in the critical period after 9/11. She focuses on how Muslim women became sites of both public sympathy and moral outrage. She contends that the logic of the War on Terror constructed Muslim women as deserving of and needing American sympathy but Muslim men as neither deserving nor needing the same. The War on Terror, she contends, produced affects that justified the discrimination, harassment, and mistreatment of Muslim men and Muslim communities.

Amira Jarmakani delves into the genre of desert romance novels, exploring the numerous dimensions of portrayals of liberated white women who traverse the desert. The white women, she reports, are always represented in contrast to oppressed Arabiastani women and promise to deliver to these oppressed women a new reality of liberation. In fiction writers’ hands, the white women enact empire’s alleged gift of freedom to Arab women. This, Jarmakani finds, is a classic literary take on the common mantra of whites rescuing women of color, especially rescuing women of color from men of color.

The final part addresses war and national security. It situates Arab American women in the global Middle East, reflecting on the impact of Middle East–related crises on Arab American women. Rita Stephan’s essay focuses on Lebanese American women in Lebanon during the Israeli military intervention there in 2006. At that point, at least twenty-five thousand Americans were resident in Lebanon. Israel sustained the military campaign for thirty-three days. The evacuation of Lebanese American women from Lebanon, Stephan argues, compelled these dual citizens to examine their claims to citizenship rights when the two sets of citizenship claims were in conflict with each other.

Louise Cainkar examines why women, in particular women in hijab, were the primary targets of hate acts and harassment after 9/11. She explores the relationship of these acts to race/racism and hegemonic notions of femininity. Contrary to oft-repeated ideas that hijabi women are attacked because they are hypervisible and presumed to be weaker than men, she argues that the danger to these women is in reaction to their presumed power.

In the final chapter of this section and the book, Therese Saliba examines the increasing militarization of US national security policy, its gendered ideologies, and its impacts on Arab American communities. She pays particular attention to women detainees and to the impacts of national security policies on Arab American women, families, and communities. She contends that since 9/11 there has been an increase in surveillance, detentions, deportations, torture, and the use of security technologies to control and regulate Arab and Muslim American communities, including women. Saliba examines the gendered ideologies and the gendered impact of the increased militarization of American governance on the Arab and Muslim American communities.

This volume sweeps through decades, indeed centuries, of Arab and Muslim American existence in the United States. It covers historical, political, economic, social, cultural, and literary contexts of Arab and Muslim American women’s experience. It adds to Michael Suleiman’s enduring contributions to the multiple fields that converge in Arab American women’s studies. It builds on the utterly critical intersectional and transnational analyses inaugurated by a broad genealogy of scholars and activists decades ago. It continues to dissect, analyze, narrate, and represent the diversity, multiplicity, and complexity of these women we have broadly conceived and come to name as Arab American.


Abdulhadi, Rabab, Evelyn Alsultany, and Nadine Naber, eds. 2011. Arab and Arab American Feminisms: On Gender, Violence, and Belonging. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse Univ. Press.

Abdulhadi, Rabab, Nadine Naber, and Evelyn Alsultany, eds. 2005. Gender, Nation, and Belonging: Arab and Arab American Feminist Perspectives. Special issue of MIT Electronic Journal of Middle East Studies 5.

Abraham, Sameer Y., and Nabeel Abraham, eds. 1981. The Arab World and Arab-Americans: Understanding a Neglected Minority. Detroit: Center for Urban Studies, Wayne State Univ.

Abu-Laban, Baha, and Michael Suleiman. 1989. Arab Americans: Continuity and Change. Belmont, MA: Association of Arab American University Graduates.

Abu-Laban, Baha, and Faith Zeadey, eds. 1975. Arabs in America: Myths and Realities. Wilmette, IL: Medina Univ. Press International.

Alsultany, Evelyn. 2012. Arabs and Muslims in the Media: Race and Representation after 9/11. New York: New York Univ. Press.

Altorki, Soraya, and Camillia El Solh, eds. 1988. Studying Your Own Society: Arab Women in the Field. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse Univ. Press.

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Syracuse University Press. N.d.a. Critical Arab American Studies. Book series description. At https://press.syr.edu/supressbook-series/critical-arab-american-studies/.

———. N.d.b. Gender, Culture, and Politics in the Middle East. Book series description. At https://press.syr.edu/supressbook-series/gender-culture-and-politics-in-the-middle-east/.

I thank the manuscript reviewers for Syracuse University Press for their productive feedback on this chapter and the whole book. I thank Louise Cainkar for adding material on the new articles solicited in 2018 and excellent feedback on this chapter. I am indebted to her for her partnership and generosity.


Early History


A Brief History of Arab American Women, 1890s to World War II

Michael W. Suleiman

FOLLOWING EVELYN SHAKIR’S (1997) outstanding and pioneering study of Arab and Arab American women in the United States, this chapter is an attempt at writing a history of Arab American women in the early part of the twentieth century based on their writing.¹ It is worthwhile to report how I went about seeking resources as well as the difficulties I encountered in the process. To begin with, I had to rely almost solely on primary sources. This meant that I had to look for writings by and about Arab American women in the early and pioneering Arab American press. In addition, I sought to look for biographical information, especially concerning the more prolific of the early Arab American women writers. It is truly an understatement to report that the task was huge, frustrating, and almost daunting. However, it needed to be done and was facilitated by my earlier work in preparing the bibliography on Arab Americans (Suleiman 2006a). For biographical data on the main Arab American women writers, I researched any and all available sources. In addition, I looked up US census data whenever it was available.

The first thing to note about Arab American women is that they were present in the United States (albeit in small numbers) right from the beginning of the Arab arrival in the late nineteenth century.

The second thing to note is the fact that a fairly large number of Arab American women contributed to the Arabic press in the United States, where they expressed their views concerning the main issues of concern to women at the time.

A third item of note is the fairly constant and early dialogue on the main and pertinent issues between Arab American women and their counterparts in the former homeland. This dialogue took place through articles in the press as well as through visits by prominent women from the Arab region. Thus, ‘Afifa Karam, in particular, either had her articles for the Arab American press republished in the Arab world media or contributed original pieces to women’s journals back home.² As for visits by Arab women, among the earliest arrivals to the United States was Ms. Kasbani Korany, who came in the 1890s and gave a number of lectures, including ones in conjunction with the Columbian World Fair in Chicago in 1893.

Related to these points are the contrasting views of well-established, American-born women and of the more recent arrivals from the Arab homeland. As will become clear in this chapter, the new, more recent arrivals were much more conservative in their views.

Fourth, mirroring the well-established immigration trend by Arab Americans, the women involved in discussing their concerns came primarily from the Levant, especially the Mount Lebanon region.

As a corollary to the previous points, they were mainly Christian; there were relatively few Muslim immigrants to the United States, especially in the early period, and even fewer Muslim women. However, women’s immigration to the United States generated heated debates within the Druze American community. Thus, in early 1914 under the general heading The Emigration of the Druze Woman, a number of individuals, all of them men, expressed contrasting views on the advisability of Druze women immigrating to the United States. Apparently, this issue became such a major problem for the community that the editor of al-Bayan invited an article from a community member, who obliged but refused to identify himself and wrote under the pseudonym Hilal. Hilal argued that there was at first objection to male Druze immigration, which later faded because large numbers were already in the United States. These men, Hilal stated, emigrated and left behind thousands of wives, sisters and unmarried girls who, but for the emigration of men, would be housewives and mothers (al-Bayan 1914b).³ Hilal then argued that leaving even decent and chaste husbands and wives separated from each other would result in immoral acts by such people. Therefore, because it is not possible to stop the emigration of Druze men, then "the joining of the wife with her husband is essential, sooner or later, whether we agree to it or not; otherwise our diseases and social ills

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