Changing Visions of Ourselves > Between Two Worlds

Chicago

Louise Cainkar

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Senior Research Fellow, Great Cities Institute

I began studying the experience of Arabs in America over the past century. I realized that people are becoming less assimilated. Previously, Arab immigrants were accepted as white. There were high rates of intermarriage.

The pushing out of Arabs has occurred while I have watched it. People who were born in the 1950s and grew up here — or who immigrated in the 1950s and 1960s — it is the testimony of their lives.

It is rooted in the geopolitical/foreign policy imperatives of the US. … This geopolitical hypothesis has emerged from seeing people become less “American.” The dehumanization of Arabs in the media began after 1967. Orientalism existed before that, but not the demonization.

It’s also related to the ascendancy of Christian fundamentalism — that’s an integral piece of the phenomenon. For example, the contracting of Grace Ministries for satellite programming in the Arab world.

Christian fundamentalists have always been anti-Islam — now they are venting it openly. They also seem to be running the government, or at least they have very strong hand in determining what the government does.

The Bush Administration wants a “new Middle East” — it is opening training schools for imams, because it wants a new, more compliant Islam. Al-Arabiyya in the United Arab Emirates is a new satellite station that is now rising in the Middle East, as a counterweight to Al-Jazeera. …

The Black-Arab problem needs to be addressed, it is a big problem. Nobody in the Muslim community wants to talk about it. You can’t even talk about solidarity between African Americans and Arabs because of this issue.

Selling liquor is against Islam. But every liquor store in the Black community is owned by Arab shopkeepers — who make money by selling liquor to poor Blacks.

Some own dollar stores or gas stations, but many more own liquor stores. The African American population is largely pro-Palestinian, but this other issue is blocking the solidarity that could be there. The two communities can’t join together until this issue is dealt with.