Mariam F. Alkazemi and Claudia E. Youakim (eds.), Arab Worlds Beyond the Middle East and North Africa (Lexington Books, 2021).

Jadaliyya (J): What made you edit this book?

Claudia E. Youakim (CY): For me, there was an initial personal connection and family history coupled with my professional interests as a social scientist. First, I am part of the Palestinian diaspora; I was born and raised in Chicago in the United States. I knew that part of my family had ties to, and lived in, Santiago, Chile, but other than discussing this with relatives, I had little to no knowledge about similar trends and larger patterns of emigration from Palestine. I am also a sociologist who focuses on Arab identity and culture, so seeking to know more about emigration and acculturation patterns come as part of my specialization. Additionally, I was not able to pick up a book and read about such patterns. Mariam and I would discuss our frustration with the limited knowledge available in this area of study and so in the end we decided, “maybe we should do this ourselves.” It was a great editorial partnership and collaboration with every author.

Mariam F. Alkazemi (MA): I am an extroverted academic. I love meeting people and always find myself in awe when I bump into an Arab from a different world region like Mexico or take a walk in the Arab district of Singapore. But then, I turn to literature to enhance what I learned by observation. Unfortunately, I did not see a comprehensive, global, interdisciplinary perspective. I am in the communications field and I believe it is important to expand our understanding of the world so that communicators have context and resources.

J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does the book address?

CY: The book touches on “push” and “pull” factors of emigration, which are basically addressing why people leave one place and settle in another. It also unpacks the trends of settlement, which are quite complex; these trends vary depending on the ethnic group members’ time of relocation, the national laws intact during that time, and the political and cultural attitudes toward immigrants, to name a few. The chapters also highlight the many challenges that immigrants face in a new space—be it a lack of employment opportunities, raising children, prejudice, and/or cultural differences, among other aspects of social life. Since our authors come from a variety of disciplines, the chapters also reflect many types of literature including history, sociology, social-psych, and communications.

MA: The book brings together various world regions, from Germany to Argentina to Singapore. It also examines various groups of Arabs, including ones who originate in the Levant, in Yemen, and in North Africa. Further, it brings scholars together from a wide range of fields, including two career diplomats. Even the art on the cover is by a Palestinian American artist whose reflection was also included at the end of the book. Thus, the book offers a wide breadth of original research that in itself is a contribution. We hope this makes it enjoyable for academics as well as any reader with intellectual curiosity and an interest in culture. 

J: How does this book connect to and/or depart from your previous work? 

CY: The book overlaps with my work on the Arab diaspora and documenting immigrant family settlement trends. However, most of my research in this area has focused on children of Arab immigrants in the United States, so the scope of the book widens this component. It also connects with my effort in trying to shed light on marginalized groups and the hardship they face, which is largely based on national and institution systems. Although my research is academic, I have a passion for making knowledge accessible to a wide audience—I think this book does a good job in that area as it includes many nation-states, ethnic and religious group members, and new spaces of settlement for those groups. This effort sparks the interest of many readers. This was my first edited volume, so working on that aspect was new to me; Mariam and I were able to be productive during the pandemic—which also kept us busy and accompanied during a dark global time. 

MA: I have conducted studies on willingness to tolerate disagreement about religion as well as the spiral of silence and how Muslim Americans feel when communicating about religion. I have also done some studies looking at media law in the Arab world and examining how media professionals use Twitter differently than the general public in the Arabic language. This study fills a gap I have been observing as I have woven myself inside and outside the Arab world both professionally and personally over the years. The chapters that deal with news, entertainment media portrayals, and the global perspective relate directly to my research interests. However, it is also broader and a product of a cooperative and collaborative process with both Claudia and our authors.

J: Who do you hope will read this book, and what sort of impact would you like it to have? 

CY: This co-edited volume is multidisciplinary, so it would be of value to a wide array of disciplines within the academy, including sociology, political science, ethnic studies, and communications, to name a few. However, I would certainly recommend it to anyone that is interested in learning more about emigration, Arab history, and the acculturation patterns of immigrant communities. I think it is also essential in terms of bringing attention to diversity and inclusion. The readership is broad! The book can be picked up by experts and anyone who wants to learn more about Arabs in general.

MA: The book really sheds light on the positive and negative experiences of immigrants. I really hope that it connects deeply with the readers, allowing them to feel like they are a part of a greater global community. Additionally, I hope that it shines a light on the scholars in various world regions. I hope that the ties that we formed as collaborators can be prolonged.

J: What other projects are you working on now?

CY: I am currently writing a book on the experiences of Arab millennials after 9/11 in the United States. This work is guided by my dissertation, where I interviewed fifty children of Arab immigrants in the Chicagoland area. Interestingly, although I was asking about their ethnic and racial identities, they referenced 9/11 as a defining point. Their stories are deep and include how they grapple with their sense of national identity given the socio-political landscape of a post-9/11 reality. I also work extensively on addressing national and institutional prejudices and discriminatory policies and practices as they pertain to women, immigrants, and other marginalized groups in the United States and in the Middle East and North African region.

MA: During the pandemic, I channeled a lot of my feelings into projects relating to health communication. I have had several articles come out on how Arab ministries of health communicated messages about the coronavirus, and I am excited to finish some of the projects that have started. Next, I want to take some time to focus on the role of media in international affairs and will be taking an educational leave to gain additional training at Princeton University next semester, thanks to a grant funded by the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences. 

J: What is your relationship to the Arab diaspora? How might you have connected to this text personally?

CY: The book made me reflect on my Arab American family and Palestinian ancestral experiences. I think as a child who grew up in the United States, I did not understand why I gravitated towards other children of immigrants or why my Palestinian parents had a different set of social rules for me and my siblings than my friends’ parents had. By learning more about the processes that Arab immigrants faced with settling in a new space, I developed a greater appreciation for the journey my parents and other immigrants underwent. Each author’s contribution was invaluable to producing a more holistic picture of the MENA region in this regard.

MA: I feel deeply connected to both Kuwait and the United States, and I learn from reading about the experiences of others as I try to plan my life. The edited volume also presented an opportunity to bring people together to add nuance and subtlety to the issues discussed, which is an honor and privilege. Finally, I love that we get to respond to criticisms we have heard about academic books by bringing together scholars from different fields and drawing on the experiences of professionals from other fields.


Excerpt from the book (from the Introduction, by Alkazemi and Youakim, pp. 1-9)

The roots of globalizations have a rich history, some of which are embedded in migration patterns that impact people and various facets of our society. In this book, we work assiduously and purposefully, alongside authors from various disciplines, to compile stories that span different fields and time periods to examine how Arab communities have settled in nations outside of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and across the globe. What we see are stories of Arab people grappling with quite personal and ancestral ties in these new spaces, facing prejudice and discrimination, and others where they are seated in political positions of power as members of that society. Each chapter illustrates the wide array of migration patterns that have impacted the social, economic, and political spheres for Arab persons who have emigrated from their ancestral homeland and settled in a new nation, voluntarily or involuntarily.

Migration patterns and collective identities of Arabs include a number of factors that result with Arab diasporic communities in nations outside of one’s ancestral homeland. Generally speaking, people have been pushed out of their home country and/or pulled in another for economic, social, political, and environmental reasons, to name a few (IOM 2019). We see some of these migration patterns within the MENA region itself (IOM 2004), however, this compilation focuses on unpacking of the Arab diaspora who have migrated outside of the region.

Rigoberto Menéndez Paredes writes about how Cuba served as an initial destination from which Arabs arriving from the Ottoman Empire would move on to other countries in Latin America. Drawing on historical records, he explains the demographics and professions of those who arrived as well as the factors that led to the decline of the Arab diasporic community in Cuba. Unlike the rest of the chapters, the community in Cuba left during the revolution in 1959. This chapter describes the remnants of the Arab diasporic community in Cuba. The Cuban Arab community can be starkly compared to other Arab diasporic communities that are outlined in Latin America in other chapters.

Jodor Jalit writes a case study about the Arab diaspora in Argentina and its role in the Argentinian response to the Syrian refugee crisis. In doing so, he traces the history of migration from the Ottoman Empire to Argentina, and how the diasporic community influenced the news media. In the process, Jalit argues that the Arab diaspora was unsuccessful in advocating for policy that would have been favorable to the Syrian refugees. This contribution demonstrates that the Arab diaspora and the Argentinian media are both actors that influence Argentina’s response to the dire humanitarian crisis in Syria and around the globe. This chapter pertains to the role of the diaspora in contemporary international affairs, particularly with regard to refugees.

Diogo Bercito describes the strong participation among Brazil’s politicians of Lebanese descent. To unpack this pattern of political representation, the chapter opens with a historic foundation that includes the ability of Lebanese persons to transfer their homeland political engagement to Brazil and the role of social mobility in political life. While supportive socio-political conditions in Brazil induce the process for minority participation, Lebanese immigrants’ geographic spread in the country assisted in gaining support of constituents. Lebanese political presence shaped Brazil’s national and foreign policy decisions as a result, despite the fact that they were and continue to be a minority group.

Bessema Momani and Nawroos Shibili present a case study of Arab youth in Canada to understand their acculturation process as Arab, ethnically and culturally, and as Canadians by means of their community. Using a mixed methods approach to collect data, the authors examine the identity, and the socio-cultural integration and belonging of Arab youth to Canada and their homeland. A number of variables contribute to the complexity of the process, including demographic and socialization factors. This chapter illustrates how the self-identification process as a hyphenated, or hybrid identity, is a result of the acculturation and transnational connections that youth possess. Imène Ajala describes the ethnic and diasporic diversity of Maghrebin in France, which ranks as the second country in Europe to house the largest Muslim population. The author describes Maghrebin as an Arab population whose ethno-political mobilization and acculturation process in France has been impacted by the Islam and its religious understandings of its host society. With religion as an identity marker, the perception and evolution of Arab immigrants in France.

Richard M. Breaux’s chapter celebrates the creative contributions and entrepreneurial spirit of Arab Americans in the United States. He shows that Arab American contributed to the American music scene before the Great Depression of the 1930s. Unlike some of the chapters that focus on some of the challenges facing Arab diasporic communities, this chapter feels very celebratory of the Arab heritage that has seldom been remembered in the United States. He provides the names of streets and neighborhoods in New York City where Arab communities thrived and records of Arabic language music were sold prior to World War II.

Manal al-Natour and Rita Stephan apply an ethnographic framework to uncover how Syrian refugees, those who have fled from persecution, are adapting to life in Connecticut. Paying particular attention to the role of Syrian refugee women in the family, the authors take into consideration how their gender identity, performances, and norms are applied in navigating economic challenges faced in the United States through various levels of agency: active, ambivalent, or passive. This chapter highlights the conditions and content that shape acculturation patterns. Since the majority of Syrian refugees in the United States are women and children, this chapter is an important contribution because it addresses their sense of empowerment.

As a career diplomat, Aisha Sahar Waheed Alkharusi traces back the migration of an Arab population from Hadhramout, Yemen to Singapore. In her chapter, she points out the long-lasting impact of their settlement in Singapore such as the Arab district that continues to exist today. She also shows how this group eventually integrated into the Malay Singaporean population. Hers is an example of successful integration of an Arab community into an Asian culture. This is the only chapter from the Asian continent, and its inclusion serves as a reminder of the diverse communities that have absorbed Arabs for over a century.

Michael A. Paarlberg focuses on the Palestinian diaspora in Latin America, with the largest concentration in Chile, followed by Honduras and El Salvador. Despite the presence of Palestinians in Latin America, literature on Palestinians has been scarce in comparison to other Arab ethnic migration from the Middle East. Through a comparative analysis, Paarlberg sheds light on this pattern, which began in the mid-to-late 1800s while Palestine was under the rule of Ottoman Empire to date. The chapter captures the historic and socio-political journey with its challenges and successes for Palestinians as they navigate life in Latin America and build a nationalist movement and through socio-political participation in their new Communities.

In stark contrast to the rest of the chapters, Christine Singer, Jeanette Steemers, and Naomi Sakr focus on children’s media in the diaspora. Their analysis of two television shows that focus on the arrival of Arab children in Germany relies on theory relating to integration. It shows that the diaspora is heterogeneous and reminds us that Syrian refugees are not the first from the Arab world to seek asylum in Germany. This chapter focuses on media representations of children, a vulnerable population, within a vulnerable population, refugees. These media representations are varied, showing different experiences that young refugees may experience and highlighting the range of joyful and difficult emotions that come with them.