Louise Cainkar

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Senior Research Fellow, Great Cities Institute

Louise CainkarWe don’t know what the impact is. It is so deeply inside people. Obviously people live in great fear — of deportation, internment, revocation of citizenship.

There is a fear that something will be done en masse. It is fed by programs like special registration or proposals like Patriot II. The fear is deep inside. Most people don’t have an overview. People are living in their own worlds of fear. It wasn’t like that before.

I get e-mails from students — “my scarf was pulled off,” or “I’m scared of deportation.” They don’t know who to call. It’s terrible if I am their only outlet.

Individually or in small groups, people are bearing experiences that there is no way to generalize…

There is a hidden grief, a fear of what may be coming.

There is a hidden grief, a fear of what may be coming. I also suspect that the political situation creates a drag on family reunification, which is one of my research queries.

There is anecdotal evidence that people are returning to the Middle East. Pakistanis are moving to Canada; many have fled there. When special registration was announced, many houses in Rogers Park went up for sale overnight. In certain blocks half the houses were for sale. Businesses were sold very cheaply. There is a new targeting of the Pakistani community…

People who study Muslims start history in the 1990s, with the first World Trade Center bombing. I see a longer history because I am studying Arabs. It’s all about US foreign policy and who is allowed to have a voice in this country.

My research assistant is Pakistani — now it’s just like being an Arab.

In twenty years of this work there have been five wars, two sets of sanctions, 15 US bombings of Arab countries. For Americans, 9/11 was a big deal. For Arabs, it is one event in a long series.

Post-9/11 policies (more than laws) have targeted Muslims, including non-Arabs, so for the first time Pakistanis are included. The communities are converging more — maybe not socially, but in terms of what the community is facing — among Arabs, Pakistanis, Iranians. It is something that I never saw before.

For a long time Arabs have been bashed and dehumanized in the media, but had no voice. Scholars like Elaine Hagopian, Naseer Aruri, and Edward Said formed the Association of Arab American University Graduates to get the Arab perspective out, but they were silenced. … They don’t get any airtime. This community is supposed to be voiceless.

FBI raids began as far back as Operation Boulder, in 1970 in Dearborn, Michigan. Then there was Abscam in 1980. Campaign donations from Arabs began being returned. These are all interrelated pieces of the same fabric.

It’s a new era. My research assistant is Pakistani — now it’s just like being an Arab. There is a convergence of interests and concerns. I question whether a Pakistani would have seen the first Gulf War in the same way. Before, they were similar to other immigrant groups. They were not targeted for silencing or religious persecution.

The Maze of Fear: Security and Migration After 9/11The mainstream theory is that the challenge of Islam is a challenge brought by immigrants, similar to the challenge once posed by Catholics. Eventually they were assimilated. This view sees the challenge as surfaced by new waves of immigration, for example by Bangladeshis.

There is also a theory that the Saudis financed mosques to send imams, as part of a global conspiracy. This is a common idea among journalists.

For twenty years, I’ve seen a complete resistance to anything about Arabs. The voicelessness is seamless from top to bottom. There is no funding for research. I couldn’t get my research published in mainstream journals. Academia, foundations were no different from the rest of society.

There has been an opening of civil society to Arabs and Muslims. People want to learn.

Now, in the post-9/11 climate, there is more openness. For the first time the scholarly world is recognizing the relationship between foreign policy and domestic concerns…

The image is that Arabs are a mob of fanatics who hate Westerners. They are excluded from textbooks. There are no chapters in books on racial or ethnic studies. Scholarly studies of Arabs as diverse and complex human beings do not exist in the United States. In 1982, when I decided to study Arab immigration for my Ph.D., my advisor told me that I would never get a job.

If it’s not studied you cannot teach it to people.

With media and think tanks, fellowships don’t get funded, unless you hate Arabs — then you can get a position. The media, academia, government, foundations — these are the gate-keepers of society. Corporate America is less so. The government is the worst now.

The foundations are beginning to change — and changes in academia will follow. Now there are programs on Arabs and Muslims in many civil society institutions. There is a lot more repression and discrimination by government, but there has been an opening of civil society to Arabs and Muslims. People wanted to learn.

Eighty percent of the population has been blocked from learning. Most people have no access to knowledge or contact. Civil society has responded by wanting to know more about, have more contact with the community — that’s a healthy thing about our society.

The community cannot identify for itself the extent of the repression it is undergoing because the channels of internal communication don’t exist. Because of the FBI, people don’t feel safe sharing their experience. But anyone you talk with talks about their fear of what is coming next. People still have to get up everyday and go to work — and live with the widespread fear that today may not have a tomorrow.

People still have to get up every day and go to work — and live with the fear that today may not have a tomorrow.

There is an impact on the organizational development of community institutions. Some have better access to funding, but everything goes into defending the community — teaching people about their rights, supporting people to deal with special registration. Instead of promoting civic participation or artistic expression, which are normal parts of the growth and development of any community.

Many institutions are closing down. Charitable donations are way down.

On the other hand, people are not crushed. There are more religious institutions. They are bearing more of the brunt because government is more focused on targeting this community. Today, more Arab Americans are willing to work in nonprofits. This was previously difficult to find, because people had more opportunities to work in business or the professions.

Most people are not leaving. They will find their way. You cannot silence people forever. Sooner or later, people will be deported, put into camps, killed, or allowed to speak.

Eventually, “allowed to speak” will win. But that will be down the road.

The “clash of civilizations” is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Media stereotypes of Arabs, the one-way presentation of Middle East issues, is determined by US foreign policy. Human details are presented only when the government begins making some movement toward a political resolution. …

I think eventually we will come out of this ahead. It will be a different country ... There is a lot of resistance to accepting different styles of dress, as “non-Western.”

Demography will lead us there. It cannot be extinguished, the blend will occur.

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.

You cannot silence people forever.

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 a very strong hand in determining what the government does.

The pushing out of Arabs has occurred while I have watched it.

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.