Permanent Move to Dreamwidth

I'm permanently moving this blog to DreamWidth, since it's a platform I'm more willing to have my professional face on (given the lack of ads, etc). If you're interested in following me on LJ, you may be able to create a feed, if you have a paid or permanent account. Or, if you'd like to start a DW account, I can certainly give you an invite code!

So, go visit me at:

Ajnabieh - The Foreigner

Three Arab Diasporic Authors You Should Read

My reading habits are funny. It comes down to two major categories, generally: genre fiction, in particular mystery novels, by white Anglo/American authors, and literary fiction written by Middle Easterners or South Asians, or folks from those diasporas. It's just the way I've been grabbing books lo this past decade. I'm making an effort to branch out, to read more widely; it's not easy, once you get in a rut. I think a lot of people are doing this lately.

So, when talking about this with [personal profile] holyschist, it occurred to me that lots of other people probably shared my desire to read more diversely, but that they probably have their own fixations on certain communities and genres. I thought that I'd make a post, rec some authors I love, and try to encourage more people in their direction. These are all authors I feel passionate about, authors I'd make a point of going to see read, authors whose books I buy when I've got money. They all tell amazing stories, and do it with powerful language and at least a little political edge.

In writing this, I've deliberately left off authors that you probably know of already: Diana Abu Jabber, Naomi Shihab Nye. I've also not mentioned famous Arab authors who don't live in the West: Naguib Mahfouz, Nawal al-Sadaawi, Nizar Qabbani, Salwa Bakr. And I've stuck to Arabs, which means this isn't the place to sing my love of everything that Marjane Satrapi has ever done. Every list has its limits. (But you should feel free to rec authors that you love in the comments! And I may write another post later on another theme.)

Hanan al-Shaykh

During the PEN Festival one year, I saw that Hanan al-Shaykh was on the program, in a 'dialogue' with Salman Rushdie. I squeed like a fangirl, roped my roommate into coming with me, schlepped from Brooklyn to a hotel in Midtown. Rushdie interviewed al-Shaykh, and then chatted about writing and politics. (Both of them are London-based.)

All the audience questions were for Rushdie. After the event, there was a long line of people to get him to sign their books. I was the only person who wanted al-Shaykh to sign something (my copy of The Story of Zahra). She was lovely and polite to a fangirl who couldn't manage a coherent sentence. I was livid on her behalf.

al-Shaykh is one of the many Lebanese authors who began as a novelist of the Civil War; her first novel, The Story of Zahra, focuses on the damage the war did to women's lives in Beirut, and was acclaimed as a seminal feminist novel in the region. Since then, she's consistently pushed boundaries, writing about homosexuality, migration, and always about the complicated and nuanced emotional lives of women.

She's also unique among authors whose work appears in translation in that she works with her translators, at least on her more recent books, to re-edit them in English and make sure that they meet her standards. Arabic to English translations are generally appalling, and frequently cut out huge amounts of text; Ghada Samman's Beirut Nightmares is about 33% longer in Arabic than in English, for instance, and when I did a close-reading retranslation of a section of Story of Zahra my senior year in college for a lit paper, I found that huge chunks of the original text were just...missing. (Note to translators: if you're translating a seminal feminist novel, and a male, misogynist narrator speaks the words "Do you think this makes me a girl?" THAT'S PROBABLY IMPORTANT AND YOU SHOULDN'T CUT IT OUT. F-Y-I.) Even titles change: The book published in English as The Golden Chariot, and which ends with the madwomen from the asylum in the story ascending to heaven in said chariot, is actually called in Arabic al-’Araba al-dhahabiyya la Tas’ad ila-l-Sama, The Golden Chariot Does Not Ascend to Heaven, which IS KIND OF AN IMPORTANT CHANGE. Sorry to go all caps on you, but this is a subject that makes me ranty, given that I'm someone who's major argument is that it's very important to listen, very closely, to what Arabs and Arab-Americans are actually saying, to undo discursive injustices against them. HARD TO DO THAT WHEN THE TRANSLATORS DON'T TRANSLATE RIGHT, Y/N? Anyway, what this means is that al-Shaykh's books are well-translated, and that the language in them is beautiful--and author-approved.

al-Shaykh's most recent book is nonfiction, a biography of her mother. Here is an excerpt from it in the Guardian, and here's a video of her reading from it.

Rabih Alameddine

"I come from the lands of Scheherazade, who could not afford to be dull. Had she not dressed her tales in fineries — oy, vey. In the Lebanese dialect, to embellish is to “salt and pepper” a story, to add spice, so to speak, to make less bland. Without it, one might as well eat Kraft Singles."

--Rabih Alameddine

I will admit that my aesthetic and cultural groundings are in contemporary urban American queer culture; it's where I became an adult, it's where I became an organizer, it's where I mentally locate myself. I think part of my love for Rabih Alameddine is that he shares some of this grounding. I first read his novel Kool-AIDS: The Art of War my freshman year in college, as I worked on a paper about homosexuality and politics in the Middle East. It's a breathtaking, semi-experimental novel about AIDS and the Lebanese Civl War. From that moment, I was hooked. Alameddine is that rare writer who brings together a clear sense of humor, feet very firmly planted in multiple places, and a wonderful sense of language. When he writes about Lebanon, it feels like a Lebanese novel. When he writes about the US, it feels like an American novel. The hybridization that he pulls off is really stunning.

I've read everything of his but The Perv, and I recommend them all without reservation. Each is very different. KoolAIDS is very much an AIDS novel, one firmly located in the art scene of the 80s and 90s, as well as in civil war era Beirut. An image from it has always stuck with me: the HIV+ and very famous artist protagonist has sex with a one night stand; in the morning, the guy is freaked out that he had sex with someone who was positive, even though the protagonist had disclosed last night, and they had had safe sex. So the protagonist goes out and gets HIV+ tattooed on his chest...and then an art magazine wants to do a story about it. It's such a realistic story, and so incredibly communicative about the character in question. (Whose name I have forgotten. Dammit.)

I, the Divine is a novel in first chapters. Literally: the narrator, Sarah, keeps trying to write her memoir, and never gets further than the first chapter. She tells stories, sometimes over and over again, revealing more and more about herself each time; there's a chapter she tries to write when she's drunk and weepy; there's her constant redefinition of herself in each iteration. It's a novel about trying to find your authentic self, in a world where authenticity isn't really possible. It's a novel where the last first chapter really has taken you somewhere--and also feels like it needs a chapter two to follow it. It's a mindblowing technical feat. And a brilliant novel. It's probably the most accessible of his works; I recommended it to my mother for her book group, for instance.

The Hakawati, his most recent novel, is...epic. There's no word but epic. There's no concept other than epicness that covers this. The only book I can think of to compare it to is The Satanic Verses; both of them feature a modern-day story interlocked with a rearticulation of mythological story. As I said when I reviewed it for 50_books_poc, "This is a book where you realize, seven hundred pages in, that the major features of one of its central plot lines has been used to set up, of all things, a Heather Has Two Mommies joke, set in medieval Baghdad. It's a book where there are rainbow colored imps named after the major prophets of the Bible, who turn into extremely gay parrots and bother the royal classes in the interest of demonry everywhere. It's a book of prostitutes who find their husbands at shrines and then go on to conquer cities, basically for fun. And it's a book about Osama al-Kharrat, successful architecht, flying back to Beirut from his home in Los Angeles to visit his father as he is dying, the story of his grandfather, a hakawati (storyteller), and of his childhood. It is all of these things, and I cannot tell you which one of these is most important, because it is sometimes all of them on a single page."

I'd probably say, if pressed, that Rabih Alameddine is my favorite writer. His works are very close to my heart.

This site supposedly contains a reading Alameddine did from The Hakawati, but I can't get it to play. In the meantime, here he is in a clip from an interview:

You can read at least part of The Hakawati at Random House's page for it. And several of his books have previews on Google Books.

Mohja Kahf

Marshmallows are banned
from my little mosque
because they might
contain gelatin derived from pork enzymes
but banality is not banned,
and yet verily,
banality is worse than marshmallows

--Little Mosque Poems

Mohja Kahf is a brilliant writer. She's a
sex-positive angry feminist muhajjaba English professor, which is one of those word-jumbles most people think is impossible. Her poems are breathtaking; her prose is moving. She is also--and you can't discount this--hilarious. I saw her perform at a conference once, and she brought down the house, between a supremely dirty poem about dishwashing and the story of a young Egyptian con woman extorting hundreds of dollars from a secular humanist meeting in the Midwest.

I have her novel, Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, sitting on my to-read pile right now. I'm frustrated that Muslim WakeUp, home to her column, Sex and the Umma, which was mostly short fiction on sex in Muslim communities, appears to have disappeared off the internet, both because it was awesome as a site and because I wish I could link you to her prose. But here and here are some of her poems, and if you scroll down to the bottom of this column, there's the PDF of an interview with her that republishes one of her stories.

And this is her performing. OK, I wept like a baby watching it.

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Links in Lieu of a Real Post

It's been writing-time here at Beit al-Ajnabieh, so I've been a little absent. But here, while I work on that long post about online teaching, some links:

Nazia Doesn't Live Here Anymore - Muslimah Media Watch

An excellent essay on why the case of Nazia Quazi, an Indian-Canadian who is being held against her will by her family in Saudi Arabia, is attracting so little attention. (Answer: racism, most likely: there's no nice white lady to save here). Nazia's case is serious, and Canadians interested in supporting her can do so here. Those from other countries can write emails to the addresses listed here.

Size six: The Western women's harem

A provocative essay by Fatima Mernissi, one of the elder stateswomen of Arab feminism, on Western beauty ideals. Frankly, I like the ideal of my culture being looked at pityingly. We deserve it.

“Jersey Shore” Targets Iranians: Reaction and Concern

Apparently an Iranian Jersey Shore is in the works. It sounds, from the casting call, like it's going to be a disaster. Whoo-hoo! Part of the problem with this set of representations is that they're so LA-specific, as so much of Iranian-American life is. Anyway, if it gets made, I'll watch in horror, popcorn in hand.

Hunting for Hummus in Arab Brooklyn

Aisha Gawad mutters about the poor quality of the hummus in Bay Ridge.

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Does anyone read me on LJ anymore?

Just checking. I'm half considering doing the Three Weeks for Dreamwidth thing (which means not xposting), to try to get more followers, but if I have a critical mass of folks reading me over here then perhaps I won't. It's just that, well, I freakin' love DW, and I'm really mostly crossposting because I had this site on some old cover letters.

(If anyone's a paid user, perhaps a feed could be made, if there are folks still reading over here?)

(And if anyone needs some invite codes, I gots 'em...)
hot chick

Comparative Femininity Studies in Bay Ridge

(My iPod, which is my number-one research tool [I should write a post on this], recently had to be reformatted, so I sent myself a bunch of old notes off it. I found this draft blog post from September, was amused, and thought I should share. A little lighthearted note from the life of the ethnographer.)

I attended a screening of Bil'in Habibti/Bil'in My Love hosted by Adalah-NY and Salam Lutheran Arabic Church in Bay Ridge on Wednesday [September 30, 2009]. The film is very emotionally affecting; I certainly recommend it to anyone looking to spark a conversation about the wall Israel is building in the West Bank, variously called the separation fence, separation wall, security wall, or apartheid wall, depending on one's political preferences. Perhaps the film hit me particularly hard because it was filmed in 2005, which is when I attended an international protest in Bil'in. I kept half expecting to see our signs and flags; alas, we didn't make the cut.

But I want to comment on an amusing exchange in the film. Mohammad, one of the leaders of the popular committee against the wall [who I think, now, with more knowledge, is Mohammad Khatib] is speaking in a lighthearted moment to Shai, the filmmaker, who is a member of Anarchists against the Wall. "When you first came," he said in Hebrew, "we saw you anarchists. You seemed strange to us [strange was in English], you didn't seem to care about your clothes, your hair. But you've been coming here for a year, and, now, I'm with you. I haven't bathed in a week." He then turned to the organizer next to him, and said, "You're always wearing a new suit." The other man said, with great and slightly annoyed dignity, "I have to. I'm a teacher."

Now, this got laughs from the crowd, and probably anyone who has ever organized with anarchists or, really, young leftists anywhere. (Oh, college, I remember you well.) But what struck me, looking around the room at that moment, was that if you lined up all the women's purses and bags in a row, I'd be able to guess which belonged to white American leftists and which belonged to the Arab women activists. Is the bag in question metallic or patent leather, does it have rhinestones, is it a designer name, does it contain any makeup, and does it match the carriers' shoes? 'Arabi. Is it a backpack or canvas bag, could it use a wash, is a metal water bottle clipped to the outside with a carabiner, does it contain a Powerbar, a laptop, and/or a leather-bound notebook? Inglizi.

We are always teaching each other about how we perform gender and proper public behavior. And we can always recognize each other through those practices. Norms vary in predictable ways; there are many femininities; and it matters who's performing them.

At least I left my Kleen Kanteen at home. But I had the Powerbar.

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Starting Points for Studying Gender in Arab/Middle Eastern/Muslim Communities

(I love this icon; it's a photo I took of a store on Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge. The store sells clothing; a mixture of hijab/jilbab combinations and standard outer-borough, low-income, body-revealing clothing: Baby Phat, tank tops, short's a great example of the ways in which fusions of different norms and practices happen in diasporic communities.)

I'm teaching an online class right now called The Middle East in Diaspora at my university. It's a full-credit class, and I have a mix of students from both our traditional small liberal arts college and our non-traditional BA program. Teaching online is...a thing. It's got problems and benefits which I won't go into here, though I might later if folks are interested. Suffice it to say that I'm looking forward to teaching face-to-face in the fall.

Anyway, this week we began our unit on gender and feminism in Middle Eastern diasporas. Every week, I begin the class by posting lecture notes, laying out some framework for analyzing the week's readings. I think two of the things I put in my lecture notes this week were particularly useful, and I wanted to share them with this blog. This is the first time I've written them down in exactly this form, but they're principles I take to be core to my personal study of gender in the Middle East and in Middle Eastern communities elsewhere.

The first thing is a set of key assumptions that I assume at the beginning of any of my research. They're things I'm happy to defend, but that I also want to take as background and agreed.

Throughout this section, I am proceeding with the following assumptions:

1) That there are real gender injustices experienced by women in Middle Eastern diasporic communities.
2) That those injustices have multiple and complex causes, which include constructions of gender roles in Middle Eastern communities, constructions of gender roles in receiving countries, and discriminatory attitudes towards Middle Easterners in receiving countries.
3) That the gender injustices experienced in Middle Eastern communities are not inherently 'worse,' more severe, or more endemic than those in other communities and sub-communities in the receiving countries, but that they do have specific elements that mean it makes sense to treat them collectively.
4) That feminism and a Middle Eastern identity are not mutually exclusive.
5) That there are multiple equally valid ways of being a feminist, and that differences between Middle Eastern and Middle Eastern diasporic feminisms and Western feminisms does not mean that one of them is "not feminism" or "bad feminism."

The second is a section on the "symbolic centrality" of gender to conflicts between Middle Eastern diasporic communities and their host societies (or between the Middle East and the West, for that matter).

The title of this week is "the symbolic centrality of gender." What do I mean with that title? To be simplistic: gender is a key area of contestation between Middle Eastern diasporic and majority communities in the West, and one that is frequently seized up by those who want to highlight the differences and incompatibilities of the two groups. Gender matters not just to those of us who are interested in it for itself, but for anyone studying conflicts between Middle Eastern communities and majorities: it's core to all the ongoing political conflicts we're interested in here.

There are several tropes here. The first is that the gender constructions of Middle Eastern communities are completely and totally 'other' than Western constructions. Women are to be confined to their homes, deprived of movement, denied access to the public sphere; they are compelled to cover their bodies, to be subservient and silent to others, to be apart from men at all times. Now, with my own, American critical feminist eye, I'd like to note that many of these have strong parallels in American gender constructions: the assumption that women do the majority of care work, that women who are dressed provocatively are "asking" for sexual harassment and assault, that women who speak too much in classrooms or boardrooms are pushy bitches. I'd argue that Middle Eastern gender constructions are different than Western ones; though they share some ideological elements (unsurprising, given the common base of cultural elements shared on both sides of the Mediterranean--there's been a lot of traffic back and forth through the years), their particular instantiation is different.

The second is the idea that the gender constructions of Middle Eastern communities are incommensurable, and inherently worse, than their Western analogues. Middle Eastern women, particularly Muslims, are terribly, horribly oppressed: by their culture, by their religion, by their fathers, husbands, and brothers. This oppression is directly and linearly tied to their identities. If they were to leave their families, their religion, their culture, they would inherently become free. Again, I'd like to destabilize this: plenty of non-Muslim, non-Middle Eastern women are also oppressed by the gender constructions they are subject to. "Honor crimes" (the killing of women and girls for violating gender norms in ways that are seen to undermine the honor and respectability of the woman and her family) sound a whole lot like domestic violence to me; lots of family structures have differential expectations for their male and female members; equality in child-rearing, waged work, and unpaid household labor are a long way off for most people. What's happening here is that these oppressions are called an effect of culture, not of, say, the overarching patriarchal framework of most human societies.

The way these two discourses are put to work is plain. The idea that "they" have entirely different gender norms ends up marking Middle Eastern communities as unassimilable, unable to be incorporated into a general liberal consensus, unable to be made a part of the norm, unless they give up entirely on their culture. The idea that "their" norms are worse by several degrees of magnitude than ours--that theirs are unsupportable and terrible--ends up allowing mainstream communities to label Middle Eastern diasporas as wrong, terrible, frightening--groups that shouldn't be allowed to bring any of their own identities into daily life.

As I've tried to do here, I think we can destabilize these notions by talking about the continuities between Middle Eastern and non-Middle Eastern women's experiences. Without erasing the differences, the specificity of the experiences of many different types of women with systems of gender, I think we can find ways to treat them as different species of the same thing, not totally foreign objects. (This requires being convinced that all is not perfect for women in the contemporary West. I have no problem believing that, having spent the past *coughcoughmumble* years being a woman in the West.) Nevertheless, understanding the way these constructions are deployed is essential to understanding the way that Middle Eastern diasporic communities are othered in the political discourses in their countries of residence.

It felt good to write this down, and get it on paper. I can see myself using the first set of assumptions (altered out of the diasporic framework) as a starting point in my fall class on Gender and Politics in the Middle East. I'm not certain where I'll use the second text again, but even working through it concretely is useful for when I want to develop this contrast again. (And, as I have a whole chapter on gender in Arab New York to write, I'll most certainly be developing it again.)

I also had to write down the distinction between the "women" and "gender" frameworks for talking about gender injustice and the life experiences of women and men, as well as different frameworks for writing about men as men and not as the human default; I'm less satisfied with how I teased that out, though I hope it got through to my students. We'll see...

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The 2010 Census and Arab-Americans

The 2010 Census is a major topic among Arab-Americans; they're one of the one of the historically undercounted ethnic groups that the Census Bureau has reached out to, and Arab-American institutions are being heavily recruited to help ensure Arabs get counted. (Of course, I'm also interested in the Census personally, since I don't get counted so well either.) I've seen three interesting things in this regard lately.

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"Jihad Jane": Some Links

I've been following the Colleen LaRose indictment with only a quarter of an eye--while I'm interested in the politics of jihadist recruiting, I'm far more interested in the politics of non-violent Muslims and Arabs, substantially because I think our collective anxiety over the very few individuals who participate in this sort of politics ends up silencing the far bigger group of people who share identities or political stances with them, and who get ruled outside of the political field.

But as a discourse analyst, I couldn't help but find a whole bunch of what is being said about "Jihad Jane" interesting. (Note: when an academic says "interesting," at least 50% of the time it's a synonym for "fucked up.") Here are some random links, with my commentary.

Who'd You Rather? Jihad Jane or Irshad Manji - KABOBFest

Keeping in mind that KABOBFest's level of humor is generally at about this level of maturity, I do give this a hairy eyeball. The line "They’re both Muslim extremists, just in different ways" is interesting, though. And I'm amused by the commenter who says "While it's true that [Manji] looks like a Hindi Steve Erkel, it's usually the nerds that are freaks in the bed." I'm also confused that not a single person has mentioned that Manji's queer, which would strike me as, you know, relevant.

Neighbor: 'Jihad Jane' Was 'Weird, Weird, Weird Lady ... Across The Hall' - NPR

Key quote: "Newell's wife, Kristy, said LaRose talked to her cats all the time. But they never heard her discuss politics or extremist plots." I talk to my cats. Kind of a lot. Frequently in LOLCat. I hope that's not enough to get a terrorism investigation started these days.

Pennsylvania: "Jihad Jane" indicted for plotting to recruit jihad fighters and commit terror acts - JihadWatch

Oh, JihadWatch. If I were writing a bingo card for the comments, I'd make sure to include "open advocacy of violence," "derision at the idea that racial/ethnic/religious profiling is racist," and "attempts to rhetorically strip LaRose of her whiteness." I mean, Khaleen? Really? (Which wouldn't even be homophonous with Colleen, FYI.)

The ‘Jihad Jane’ Case vs. Racial Profiling at Airports - Washington Independent

For JihadWatch, what the LaRose case proves is that profiling does work--we need to profile Muslims to prevent terrorism. For Spencer Ackerman at The Washington Independent, it means profiling does not work--LaRose was specifically recruited to help avoid detection, because she doesn't 'look like' a Muslim. (This ThinkProgress piece takes the same line, and also includes a bunch of pro-profiling quotes that make me want to slap people.) Interesting that the same event and details could be used to 'prove' both sides of the same argument.

Three crucial questions in the 'Jihad Jane' case - Christian Science Monitor

Key Quote: "Born in Michigan, raised in Texas, living in Pennsylvania, LaRose may have had no contact with actual Muslims prior to professing a willingness to die for their cause in electronic messages." This is what interests me about her; I'm not convinced, from what I've seen, that LaRose is actually a Muslim in any doctrinal sense--that she'd taken shahada, studied Islam in an organized manner, prayed at a masjid, anything. What did Islam mean to her? Why was it the road to resisting the trials of her daily life that she chose?

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Representing Palestine: The Omar Yussef Mysteries (Part One of Three)

I'm on a listserv dedicated to research methods; so's one of my dissertation advisors. During a conversation about using novels for social science research and teaching, my advisor made a proposition: all social scientists are failed novelists. My immediate reaction, from the part of me that spent the years of 1998-2000 identifying primarily as a writer, was along the lines of "Who're you calling failed?" In general, I've been thinking about the relationship between writing fiction and writing ethnography as I pick my way through my fieldwork-oriented chapters. Apart from the fact that I'm constrained by adherence to actual data, many of the elements of writing I'm doing don't strike me as so different from the ones I practiced as a short story writer: conveying character, theme, tone, meaning through carefully chosen details and scenarios.

Writing the 'other,' writing about people not like you in some significant way, is hard. Those of us in fandom are just coming off a year of debate on the subject of when and how to do it right, but it's a constant concern for researchers too, at least those of us who feel a normative duty to our research subjects. I constantly worry about how I'm describing Arab American communities, and thinking about how others, including others with whom I have serious disagreements, might use what I say, and what possible interventions I might make to forestall this.

I'm thinking of this now because I just picked up Matt Beynon Rees's mystery novels set in Palestine. Rees is a journalist who has lived in Jerusalem for many years and covered Israeli and Palestinian politics for Time Magazine. His novels feature Omar Yussef, a refugee and teacher in an UNRWA school, and are murder mysteries with political intrigue thrown in for fun. There are four novels in the series: The Collaborator of Bethlehem, A Grave in Gaza, The Samaritan's Secret (set in Nablus), and The Fourth Assassin (set in Brooklyn). Sadly, my library only had the last three, but I ordered them and picked them up eagerly.

I've read through them now, and find that they're inspiring me to think much more than I would have expected. To be blunt, they're not very well written; Rees doesn't seem to be very good at characterization, and so most of his characters fall flat. I also find myself very dissatisfied with them as fictional representations of Palestinian life and politics. They aren't overtly or intentionally racist, and Rees is clearly familiar with and positive towards Palestinians. But being a nice guy doesn't make your work unimpeachable, sadly, as we all know.

Because I found them so interesting, I'm planning on doing three posts on them, because I have kind of a lot to say. In this first one, I talk about the ways that Rees uses language, particularly the distance between Arabic and English, and the ways I think that his decisions are othering, and representative of the broader trend towards othering in his work. In the second, I'm going to talk specifically about The Fourth Assassin's discussion of Arabs in New York City, which has particular issues that strike me as someone who is also writing a book set, largely, in Bay Ridge (and as someone who's worked at the UN, which is the other major setting of the book). In the third, I'm going to talk about the reception of Rees's fictional works, which I think help indicates precisely how the things he establishes are problematic.

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Look for my post on The Fourth Assassin and on the reception of these books in the days to come!

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Book Review: Tehranian, Whitewashed

Whitewashed: America's Invisible Middle Eastern Minority, by John Tehranian

One of the great ironies of the experiences of Arabs and other Middle Easterners in the US is that, legally, they're white. Yes, that's right: persons from the Middle East and North Africa are considered white by law, yet pretty much nowhere else in American society. The reasons why lie in the early history of Arab immigration to the US at the turn of the 20th century, the politics of migration and citizenship before the 1924 Immigration Act, and the political project of assimilation that was key to immigrant incorporation at the time; their effects remain, despite the fact that the reality of being Arab-American has changed over the past hundred years. This book begins with Tehranian's personal story of not receiving a job offer, and being told it was for diversity's sake: they wouldn't give the position to a white man. "Thats not what they say at the airport," he responded.

This book was recommended to me by a scholar of Middle Eastern American communities, who said he thought it represented a new perspective on the question of race and Middle Easterners in the US. So I eagerly picked it up at my next library run (hey, I don't invest until I'm sure). Reading it, I could see the appeal; Whitewashed is clearly written, concise, and covers a great deal of material in a short span of pages. It's a book that is accessible enough for a lay person, and includes a large number of personal anecdotes, yet it also uses the very productive lens of critical race theory, which I don't see much of in the literature.

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(Total aside: for folks who are interested in digital culture and law (as I know so many DW-ers are), Tehranian's next book, Infringement Nation, looks really interesting; here is a publicly available paper by him with the same title. Key quote from the abstract: "We are, in short, a nation of copyright infringers.")

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