The early Christian Arab immigrants had effectively assimilated into American society. They abandoned their traditions and by the late 1920s were included in the American middle-class. However, the events of September 11, 2001 reminded Muslim Americans that they did not fit into an America based on a Judeo-Christian legacy.[i] Even Christian Arabs faced racial discrimination based on their physical appearance and association with the Middle East. The few markers that differentiated them from their fellow Muslim Arabs were their names and attire.

Background: Chapel Hill Murders

On February 10, 2015 three Muslim Arab students were murdered execution-style in their apartment near the University of North Carolina. Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha were pronounced dead at the scene. The killer was a white anti-theist named Craig Stephen Hicks. One of the sisters described her previous interactions with the killer as uncomfortable and that he discriminated against her because she wore an Islamic headscarf, hijab.

The Impact of the Chapel Hill Murders in America and Overseas

Ibrahim Al-Marashi, Assistant Professor at California State University, analyzes the Chapel Hill shootings in his Al-Jazeera article.[ii] He states that America “lost three ambassadors of a new generation of Muslim-Americans trying to make a difference in their community.”[iii] These three Muslims had defied racial stereotypes and engaged in social work and community engagement. As a result, the media was slow to react to this tragic hate-crime. While the media questioned if the murders constituted a hate crime, the Arab American community were certain that race and religion was an important factor:

Just as Italian and Irish Catholics, Chinese and Japanese Americans, Jewish, and Latino Americans were perceived as “foreign” in the fabric of American society over time, it is our turn to be the Other American.[iv]                          

                        

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Although the media portrayed Hicks as a mentally unstable man, his actions demonstrate a larger racial problem in the United States. As a result, many Muslims and Arab Americans fear that this hate crime is only a manifestation of already existing prejudices. The above images highlight that not only are Muslim and Arab Americans affected by this event but so are Arabs in the Middle East. The dichotomy of East and West transgresses international borders.

Discussion Questions:

1. If Arab Americans post-9/11 were no longer considered the “Other,” then what would this say about their standing in America’s racial heirarchy?

2. What do the Chapel Hill murders mean for the Muslim-American community?

3. What is the interaction between race and religion in the Chapel Hill murders?

[i]http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2015/02/chapel-hill-means-muslim-americans-150214055606694.html

[ii]Ibid.

[iii]Ibid.

[ivIbid.

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http://www.ehow.com/how_5187225_modern-trendy-islamic-appropriate-clothing.html

Arab Americans have undergone many hardships and triumphs in the face of institutionalized racism during their time in the United States. While their fight isn’t over, Arab Americans have made much progress in their integration into the standard American middle class. While Arab American men had/have to undergo intense pressure to support their families among other stressful societal expectations, Arab American women also had/have their fair share of struggles. Many Arab American women have been diagnosed with depression because of the pressure placed upon them in expectations for upkeeping in the home, with their families, helping to support the family in any way possible, etcetera. Some Arab American women have tried their best to integrate fully into American culture and society throughout the generations, while others strive to maintain their Arab identity through their beliefs, practices, religion, traditions, and more; and some Arab American women simply don’t have an opinion on the matters. A wonderful example of the manifestation of these opposing lifestyles is demonstrated in the opinions of Arab American women and the significance of wearing a hijab. Some say that it is within their rights to wear because it is an expression of their religious beliefs and a sign of pride in their culture. Others say it is an archaic method of oppressing women and that it should not be worn in order to empower Arab American women all over the world.

 

This blog post will concentrate on the opposing lifestyles of Arab American women finding and maintaining their own peace in the United States.

 

Difficulties in Americanization

As many Arab-American women struggle with their perception in society, their voices are presented on mass media through articles and blogs. One in particular exposes the difficulty in sustaining cultural habits in the lives of their children. In “Arab Women Find Help Adjusting to America”, the Arab-American Women Committee’s mission is described as a support system for women who feel out of place in American society. Many of the women are mothers and struggle with the traditional role being reconstructed through language barriers and the Americanization of later Arab-American generations. Before the Committee was created, women felt uncomfortable speaking of their worries and decided to deal with their issues in a unhealthy, stressful manner. The group presents personal two volumes of testimonies expressing personal feelings of women in the Arab-American community. The support system has motivated many to come out of the comfort zone as consider further education while still practicing their culture.

 

Rebuttal to Fears of Americanization

Contrary to the push for sustaining Arabic culture in the Arab-American community, women in the most recent generation have begun to push for another perception of Arab-American women. In the personal testimony of Courtney Poles in “Confessions of an Arab-American Women”, Poles criticizes women for sustaining stereotypes that fuel the institutionalized racism many have suffered. The blogger poses the idea that women who decided to follow the rules of their husbands and neglect the idea of continuing education are to blame for the perpetuation of the stereotypes. To further her argument, Poles even blames her perception of Islam as a major factor in creating the oppressed view of Arab-American women. The juxtaposition of both articles structures the question of which approach Arab-American women should take in creating an image of themselves in an American society.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What lifestyle seems ideal to you and why?
  2. What are some other ways an Arab American woman could keep her Arab identity besides wearing a hijab?
  3. Do you think Arab American women’s organizations have helped or hindered the integration of these women into American society?
  4. How big of a role do you believe the “West” has played in Arab turmoil?
  5. Do you think prejudice against one’s own people is harmful, helpful, or neutral?
  6. What stereotypes do you think are associated with Arab American women who wear hijabs and why?