Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Bookshelf: Not Quite American? The Shaping of Arab and Muslim Identity by Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad

I selected Not Quite American?: The Shaping of Arab and Muslim Identity in the United States by Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad as the next of my assigned NEH readings  because it was short - just 51 pages. This booklet is the published version of Haddad's 2001-2002 Charles Edmondson Historical Lecture at Baylor University.

Despite its brevity, the lecture provides a concise overview of Arab and Muslim (the two are not always the same) immigration to the United States beginning in 1870. The work focuses on how Arab and Muslim vision of themselves evolved in tandem with the American stereotypes of the Middle East and US foreign policy in this region. Haddad points out that their experience in the United States until 2001 was, in a sense, similar to that of Jews and Catholics; they were members of a feared and distrusted religious group. Arabs and Muslims worked hard to overcome this opinion and seem to have been making some headway until September 2001. After this, Haddad argues, that their situation in the United States mirrored that of the German-Americans during World War I and Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Despite the difference in time and space between twentieth-century Arab immigrants and the Scottish immigrants  of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that I study, the volume under considerations did suggest some similarities and questions for research. Haddad points out circumstances in Arabia (broadly defined) and the United States were constantly changing and the experience of each generation of migrants was therefore different. I first became aware of this phenomenon when investigating the emigration of Scots to the Americas in the eighteenth century. Another difficulty found discussed in Haddad's occurred when mosques of long-established American Muslims were "taken over" by newer and more conservative immigrant groups. This led me to wonder if similar situations occurred in the various Presbyterian churches in the United States when new immigrants from Scotland started attending services. Although, the problem might have been more easily mitigated in these instances as Presbyterians in Scotland, and the United States, had a long-tradition of starting new churches when disagreements arose.

A note to family historians: This book does not provide much in the way of genealogical detail about Arab and Muslim communities as Haddad is mostly concerned with issues shaping Arab and Muslim identity in the United States, which is primarily an intellectual argument. However, the text is accessible to the average reader and there is an extensive bibliography.

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