CITIZENSHIP, NATION, AND TRANSNATIONAL MIGRATION:
THE CASE OF ARAB-AMERICAN ACTIVISM
Please do not quote without permission of the authors
Paper to be presented at the Globalization and Democracy Conference,
Recent accounts of migrant transnationalism have explored the seeming decline of citizenship both as a set of legal rights and responsibilities and as a sense of social membership tied to a single nation-state. The growing prevalence, for instance, of dual citizenship and denizenship points to a disjuncture between the ideal of citizenship and migrants’ actual identities, political practices, and allegiances. Likewise, new transnational modes of community formation, in which peoples’ lives are organised across territorial boundaries, render problematic traditional understandings of social membership based on immigrants’ assimilation into national life. But has citizenship been rendered obsolete by the transnational? Does a sense of social membership rooted in the nation-state still matter for contemporary migrants?
Current scholarship on migration, we believe, is quite right to challenge the state-centrism of traditional migrant studies (and of the social sciences, more generally). But arguments relating to migrant transnationalism perhaps have been overstated, and an exclusive focus on transnational activities and ‘homeland’ affiliations may underplay the ways in which citizenship—as a legal construct entailing rights and responsibilities and as a sense of social membership tied to a nation-state—continues to structure immigrants’ political identities and activities.
evidence gathered from a preliminary study of Arab-origin communities in the
Interpreting the contemporary migrant experience
The growing popularity of the concept of transnationalism stems, in part, from a general dissatisfaction with state-centric understandings of society, identity, and politics (Agnew, 1999). Scholars within traditionally state-centric disciplines, such as International Relations and political geography, have increasingly advocated new conceptualisations of political community and territory that reflect the realities of globalisation. These scholars argue that socio-political life often escapes the constraints of the territorial state, and that new spaces of interaction are forged across and between many territories (Mandaville, 1999). While locatedness is still important for understanding the forms and meanings of political identity, the primary space of the political cannot be assumed to be the nation-state.
Proponents of the transnational perspective identify migration and ‘diasporic communities’ as key forces in the creation of these new spaces of interaction, and a great deal of the empirical literature on transnationalism involves the study of migratory groups. Literature on transnationalism and migration has been guided by the idea that contemporary migrants’ lives are no longer structured within the nation-state, but instead, span national boundaries leading to the creation of ‘diasporas’ rather than simply ‘minorities’. Theorists thus often describe migrants as culturally ‘bifocal’, as holding multi-local attachments, and as orchestrating lives through circuits and spatially extensive networks (Cohen and Vertovec, 1999; Kearney, 1995; Rouse, 1992). Emphasising the lack of rootedness among contemporary migrants, Clifford (1994) describes them as ‘not here to stay’. Such views challenge the notion of ‘immigration’ as a process with a definitive beginning and end and a clear starting and ending point. Indeed, some theorists have discarded the term ‘immigrant’ all together, adopting instead the concept of ‘transmigrant’, which is meant to capture the circularity of human mobility and the perpetuation of cross-border networks (Basch, et al, 1994).
While normative evaluations of transnationalism vary within the literature (with some viewing it as disrupting communities and national societies (Renshon, 2000) and others regarding it as freeing people from the exclusionary national identities (Gilroy, 1994), the literature on transnationalism is consistent in its assertion that contemporary migration differs fundamentally from migration in other eras. Because today’s migrants face a radically different set of social circumstances rooted in globalisation than did earlier migrants, their experiences cannot be easily understood using a traditional language of either assimilation or ‘ethnicity’—both of which rest on conceptions of culture and society as contained within nation-states. As we describe below, the conceptualisation of people’s lives, identities, and social networks as organised across territorial boundaries of nation-states has important implications for our understanding and theorisation of citizenship.
Politics have commonly been thought to emanate from the nation-state; citizenship, in this respect, has served as the primary framework of political and social identity. At the most basic level, citizenship refers to a formal relationship between an individual and the state based upon a given set of rights and responsibilities. The institutions of states regulate the conditions under which citizenship may be extended, the ways in which individuals should act as citizens, and the procedures under which rights and mutual responsibilities are met. But while citizenship signifies a legal relationship between state and individual, it historically has been bound with ideas of collective identity embodied by ‘the nation’. As Baubock (1992) states, citizenship is about rights for members of the community, but the limits of that community are, in practice, defined through the construction of social membership vis-à-vis the nation.
(and ideals) of modern citizenship have been based upon an assumed congruence
between legal membership, political identity, nationhood, and the territorial
human rights discourses emerging over the past several decades have challenged
the idea that rights should be contingent on national origins. International human rights regimes and
supranational governance structures hold signatory states responsible for
upholding internationally-defined norms and rights vis-à-vis citizens and
non-citizens alike. So while transnational migration
has created a situation in which non-citizens constitute a significant segment
on the population in many countries, these non-citizens often hold legal and
formal rights associated with full legal and social membership (Soysal, 1994).
Brubaker (1989) uses the term ‘denizen’ to describe the growing number
of non-citizens in Western states who are nonetheless able to exercise some
measure of rights and participation. The
ability for different types of non-citizens to access and to exercise legal
rights varies enormously—a highly skilled worker in
Complicating matters is that some sending states (e.g. The Philippines, Haiti, Mexico, Singapore, and Nicaragua) actively encourage the participation of expatriates in their home countries’ political systems, often to foster remittances (Itzigsohn, 1999 ; Laguerre, 1999) and expatriate investment in national development programmes (Lessinger, 1992). To the extent that transnationalism sponsored by sending states decouples citizenship from the territory in which individuals live, it contributes to the reconfiguration of the relationship between individuals, states, and state institutions. This is perhaps most clear with the rise of dual citizenship, which divorces the institutions that regulate citizenship for individuals from the territorial state within which the individual lives.
Dual citizenship, denizenship and the like, challenge the idea that citizenship is constructed through a single nation-state and highlight that both legal rights and social membership may be constructed outside the bounds of the nation-state. The cultural transformations described earlier—that is, the creation of diasporas and the maintenance of social, economic, and political networks across state boundaries—further disrupt the ideal of congruence between citizenship, nation, and territorial state. With the nation-state no longer acting as a bounded political, territorial, and cultural entity, the question must be asked whether citizenship (at least as traditionally theorised) matters anymore, especially to immigrants.
argue unequivocally that citizenship is obsolete, many do suggest that both
legal, formal membership and nationally-defined norms fail to hold the same
degree of significance for contemporary migrants as in the past. Mandaville (1999),
for instance, contends that individuals exist in a new global
Such claims, however, seem to be based more on impressions and anecdotes than on systematic empirical research. A major shortcoming of research on transnationalism, in this respect, is that it tends to focus on organisations and groups that are clearly and/or self-consciously transnational and to conclude that the identities and political activities within particular immigrant groups are uniformly disruptive of national boundaries and identities. The relationship between transnationally-orientated organisations and those which are not transnationally-orientated (such as community social service providers) is not often explored. More importantly, this research seldom asks migrants directly what citizenship means to them, and how their different political and social behaviours (transnational and otherwise) fit into broader understandings of citizenship and social membership.
We wish to propose that the concept of transnationalism, by shifting attention away from the host society context, may be presenting an incomplete picture of immigrants’ political motivations, intentions, or identities. In fairness, some transnational theorists, such as Basch, et al (1994) do explore migrants’ position in host society political systems, linking transnational behaviour, in part, to migrants’ sense of exclusion from the ‘mainstream’. But the transnational framework tends to emphasise migrants’ communal insularity and their continued involvement with their home country (see Anthias, 1998) at the expense of a clearer understanding of how migrants and their children interpret and enact citizenship and negotiate social membership in the host society context, where the vast majority will remain and settle.
Meanwhile, questions of who can and should be citizens, who are entitled to the rights of citizenship, and who ‘fit in’ to dominant models of citizenship and social membership occupy an ever more prominent place in public debates—as witnessed in long-standing conflicts in Europe and North America over welfare rights for immigrants, bilingual education, multiculturalism, and the like (for instance, Zolberg and Woon, 1999; Asad, 1990; also, Piper, 1998). These debates reveal that the ability to access and to exercise rights remains tied to notions of social membership rooted in nation-states—notions which have not been weakened noticeably through globalisation (Guarnizo and Smith, 1998; also Kofman, 2000). So even if citizenship cannot be considered the sole framework for the structuring of political identity or legal rights (if indeed it ever was), we must continue ask how social and formal membership defined through the host nation-state may be relevant to immigrants’ political behaviour and identity. While we do not advocate a revival of traditional assimilation theory, we believe that it is important to understand how immigrants view their ‘assimilation’ into national life, and how their sense of social membership and exclusion in the host society informs their identities and political activities.
remainder of this paper uses the case of Arab American activists and
organisations to illustrate the ways in which social and formal membership
rooted in the nation-state remain significant in the context of transnational identities and flows. Our analysis suggests that the growing
network of Arab American groups must be understood not only in terms of diaspora, transnationalism, and
globalisation, but equally in terms of discourses and practices of citizenship
and membership which have developed historically in the
focuses on Arab American communities.[i] Since the 1960s the
focused on Arab Americans for two reasons.
First, Arab immigrants appear to be archetypal transnational
or diasporic subjects. As such, they often have been celebrated,
especially in the case of Lebanese immigrant communities, which are noted for
their extensive commercial networks (Shehadi and Hourani, 1992). But
more recently, and in a decidedly less celebratory fashion, people of Arab heritage
and closely related reason for focusing on Arab American communities is that
they embody a tension between formal citizenship and social membership. Arab immigrants are able to secure formal
citizenship with relative ease, but Arabness, as
explained in greater detail below, has been consistently marginal to notions of
community and nationhood in American society.
In studying Arab-American communities, we have been especially interested in organisations (including lobbying groups, foreign policy activist, social service providers and social-cultural clubs) and organisations’ use of communication and information technologies (CITs). A primary reason for focusing on organisations is that leaders and members of such groups are often actively negotiating issues of community, membership, and citizenship. These issues, of course, are important to people outside of organizations, but they are perhaps more salient and more explicitly discussed in organizations.[v]
Our interest in organisations’ use of communications and information technologies (especially the internet) emerges from recent speculation about the impact of CITs on citizenship, political participation and identity. The internet has been touted as a means of reinvigorating democracy (Elkins, 1995; Sclove, 1995) and facilitating new and potentially revolutionary forms of transnational politics (citations). CITs also have been viewed as the means by which migrants are able to maintain social and political connections in more than one place, thus making possible transnational communities and identities (citations). But generally speaking, such claims regarding the power and impact of CITs are more a product of speculation than of sustained empirical analysis. [vi] Because CITs are considered a primary force in the transformation of political identity and participation and in the transnationalisation of immigrant communities, it is imperative to scrutinise how these technologies actually are being used by immigrant groups and immigrant activists.
The research, as stated earlier, is still in its preliminary stages, consisting thus far of a survey of [#] Arab-American websites and interviews with six leaders of Arab-American organisations in the San Francisco Bay Area.[vii] The internet survey evaluates each website in terms of (1) its intended purpose and user base; (2) the structure of the group sponsoring it; (3) the types of identities promoted in it; (4) the geographical area it represents; and (5) the type and scale of social network it sustains. The results of the survey are summarised in Table 1. The survey is intended to shed light upon the types of political claims emanating from the Arab American community and the extent to which such claims relate to citizenship, social membership, and/or ‘homeland’ politics and identities. It is also intended to reveal the types of relationships sustained by and/or created through the internet and whether such relationships can be characterised as transnational, national, local (or located at some other scale).
A major goal of the interviews was to uncover what organisational participation means to individuals—for instance, whether participation is viewed as a strategy to forge transnational communities, to promote integration, and/or to assert formal rights. While such questions seem rather basic, they are seldom asked directly to individuals, and ‘transnational’ intentions tend to be assumed from participation in identity-based organisations. It is in understanding motivations for organisational participation—as explained by participants themselves— that we can better understand the relationships that exist between identity, citizenship, and place.
The study results, to be sure, do not indicate the ways in which ‘ordinary’ people (i.e. non-activists) may be using the internet to fulfill political goals or to foster particular identities—this is an aim of our future research. Our interviews with leaders of six Arab American organisations, however, do begin to reveal the political motivations that exist in the community and the ways in which activists use CITs to create social and geographical networks.
There has always been a strong transnational or ‘homeland’
element in Arab American activism.
Particularly after World War I,
internet appears to be enhancing the political and personal linkages between
the Arab world and the Arab diaspora—which has a
growing presence not only in the
are highly political and attempt to form global networks of support for particular
causes in Arab countries. A great deal
of recent internet activism relating to the Arab world revolves around the
current intifada in the Israeli-occupied
territories. Links to web sites such as
the ‘Electronic Intifada’ circulate world wide
through e-mail[ix]. While it is difficult to quantify the effects
of these sites, they seem to serve as an important ‘front’ in the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict, at least in terms of propaganda. Another internet-based forms of activism
relating to the intifada include the circulation of
electronic petitions (many of which are also signed by non-Arabs) to US and UN
officials calling for the condemnation of the Israeli occupation and advocating
the ‘right to return’ for Palestinian refugees.
More recently, electronic petitions have been circulated demanding the
indictment of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for the 1982 massacres of
Palestinian refugees in
sites are explicitly political. For
instance, the Birzeit Society, which uses the
internet to maintain personal connections between emigres
internet therefore seems to be an important political and social medium with a
strong transnational and diasporic
component. The internet, it must be
emphasised, is not the only such medium.
Arabic-language satellite television—including al-Jazeera
and London-based MBC—is available world wide, and Arabic-language newspapers
circulate widely in
However, transnational identities and networks cannot be viewed in isolation of the national and local contexts in which Arab immigrants are situated. Our web survey and our interviews suggest that Arab American activists, while identifying personally with the Arab world and with ‘Arab causes’, are more concerned with being recognised as a legitimate, assimilable, ‘mainstream’ group of citizens than with maintaining links with the homeland. For these individuals, the position of Arabness in the discourses of social membership and structures of citizenship—notably discourses revolving around ‘assimilation’—are central to their motivations for organisational participation and activism.
position of Arabs and Arabness in the US assimilation
narrative—which describes the ‘national experience’ in terms of the adaptation
of successive waves of immigrants to ‘American’ norms and values (Jacobson,
1998)—is ambiguous at best. The
uneasiness of Arab identities in the
position of Arabness in American society has become
all the more problematic in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on
Americans occupy an uneasy position vis-à-vis assimilation narratives, so too
do they find themselves marginalised vis-à-vis discourses of multiculturalism
that circulate among political liberals.
Multiculturalist thought has encouraged
some—especially activists, university students, and academics—to position
themselves outside of the ‘white’ mainstream, and to assert affinities with
other groups of ‘
Thus, while Arab immigrants have been incorporated into the
of Arab-American websites and our interviews with Arab-American activists
suggests that this national context, rather than a ‘transnational’
social arena, seems to be driving a great deal of Arab-American activism. Many of the websites in the survey employ a
language of social membership, citizenship, and nationally-based rights, and/or
assert a ‘hyphenated’ identity sanctioned by discourses of multiculturalism and
pluralism. In other words, while many
Arab American organisations are concerned with
of the Arab American Institute (AAI), for instance, [describe more about the organisation] touts the
all-American credentials of prominent community members, revealing (almost
‘outing’) the Arab heritage of such notable political figures as John Sununu,
George Mitchell, and Donna Shalala, whose loyal service to the United States is
indubitable. A pamphlet published by the
AAI (with a red, white, and blue design, no less) further enumerates the
accomplishments of Arab Americans and includes the statement in bold letters,
‘We Arab Americans and our families are proud of our heritage and proud to be
Americans. It’s this pride that keeps us
all asking, “what can we do for our country?”—the good old
The sites of other ‘mainstream’ Arab American organisations are similarly insistent in stating their American credentials. The Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), an organisation dedicated to monitoring racism, media bias, and civil-rights infringements against Arab Americans, quickly issued statements condemning the terrorist attacks of 11 September and asserting the loyalty of Arab Americans to the American nation. ADC president Ziad Asali, in a press release published on the ADC website, states, ‘[T]his attack was aimed at all Americans without exception and the Arab-American community shared every bit of the heartache and anguish that all Americans have been enduring… Clearly, the best answer to such a despicable attack is for all Americans to join hands and come together to support each other in our time of need. Arab Americans are among the most eager to do just that...’ The ADC also started a foundation to raise money for the victims of the attacks, and took out a full paged advertisement in the New York Times and the Washington Post (re-produced on-line) stating, ‘We stand with our country and fellow citizens in fully supporting our leadership at this difficult time in our nation’s history’. Several other organisations, including the on-line forum ‘Café Arabica’ and the Chicago-based Arab American Action Network, likewise affirmed their Americanness and patriotism on-line with messages of sympathy and with accounts of Muslim and Arab-American victims. It should be emphasised that such while such expressions of loyalty, patriotism, and civic-mindedness were very pronounced after 11 September, they featured prominently in organisational websites prior to the terrorist attacks, as well.[xvi] Arab Americans, in this regard, have reacted not only to this particular event, but also to a more general perception of Arabness and Muslimness as inherently foreign and hostile to ‘American’ interests.
of loyalty to state and nation have also punctuated the concerns expressed by
Arab American activists toward new ‘homeland security’ measures. Even prior to 11 September, websites
administered by the ADC, Café Arabica, www.ArabAmerican,
the Birzeit Society, and others focused on cases of
‘racial profiling’ and critiqued Justice Department scrutiny of Palestinian
charities in the US and the use of ‘secret evidence’ in court proceedings
against legal residents of Arab origin[xvii]. Since 11 September, these organisations have
been even more vigilant, recording racist re
The main goal of the Arab-American associations identified on the internet, therefore, is not so much to build transnational networks as to achieve full membership in the American polity and nation by asserting citizenship rights and by positioning Arabness—much maligned in mainstream America—in a wider system of acceptable and innocuous ‘ethnic’ signifiers. These intertwined goals of promoting Arabness as a positive, ‘American’ cultural identity and as establishing Arab immigrants and their children as members of the American polity and ‘community’ were mentioned repeatedly by our interviewees. For instance, Dina Saba, chairwoman of the San Francisco Arab Film Festival and a member of the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association, argues that ‘We’re so stereotypically looked upon as very bad, negative people. It’s important for us to be proud of who we are and where we come from…Not just be proud of it internally, but vocalise it and educate people about who we really are.’ She continues,
We are part of this community… In order for us as Americans to make a movement and to start changing people’s minds and to educate, just like the film festival does, we need to be part of the community and embrace it and start changing it to the way we want it. But we can’t do it sitting on the outside.
Similarly, Hani Khalieh, chairman of the
Absolutely. We coordinate with other Arab-American organisations like the AAI [Arab American Institute] and the ADC [to] encourage our people to vote in both directions and voice their concerns. We participate sometimes with the ADC on issues that promote non-discrimination against our community…protecting rights and promoting the need for our community to get involved in American politics—especially the younger generation…
In a final
example, Father Labib Kobti,
the pastor of the Arab Catholic parish of
findings suggest that Arab American communities, when acting collectively, wish
to represent themselves as part of ‘
Many transnational theorists suggests that the socially marginal
position of contemporary migrants encourages transnational
behaviour; but it may be equally possible that marginality encourages greater
attachment to the structures and discourses of citizenship and national
membership. The claim, therefore, that
we are now in a new phase of transnational migration
geographical networks sustained within Arab American communities through
communications technologies raise further questions about the nature and extent
As stated in a previous section, activists use the internet to
politically mobilise Arab Americans (and others) around certain ‘homeland’
issues, such as the Intifada and sanctions on
be emphasised, first, that websites have varying structures and set-ups. Some, like the Electronic Intifada,
are managed by a small group of activists (not all of them Arab American); they
provide political information to the general public and do not have a
membership attached to them. Others are
portals to on-line forums with restricted memberships. Still others are simply informational sites
for ‘bricks-and-mortar’ organisations with memberships and constituencies at
national, regional, or urban scales.
Consequently, the social and geographical networks created through the
internet are extremely varied. In some
instances, the internet does indeed foster transnational
activities: the Electronic Intifada undoubtedly
reaches global audience; Aranib does provide a forum
for members of the Arab diaspora in
But just as often, activists are using the internet to sustain social and geographical networks that are geographically circumscribed and to publicise or coordinate activities that are geographically and politically limited in scope. An interesting example is Al-‘Awda, an organisation focusing on the ‘right to return’ for Palestinian refugees. Al-‘Awda relies almost exclusively on the internet to coordinate political activities, and the internet, according to one of Al-‘Awda’s original members, has been a crucial means of empowering Palestinian activists and circulating Palestinian viewpoints world wide:
The thing about the Internet is that it spread so quickly. This was something that went from purely an intellectual organization to a popular organization within months… There was one article I posted on this list-serve that went around the world in literally days. And it ended up on Al-Ahram, the [Arabic-language] weekly…It went from the Al-‘Awda list-serve and then people who were on other list-serves just posted it there, and things just spread really quickly.
Al-Awda focuses on a ‘homeland’ issue and provides a
portal for globalised political activities (e.g.
through list-serves), the organisation does not, for the most part, operate transnationally.
Rather, it works through a network of local activists who use list-serves
to circulate ‘action alerts’ and to organise and to publicise protests,
demonstrations, and events in US cities [footnote UK branch]. Activists in localities make arrangements ‘on
the ground’ for protests and events. The
content of activism may be considered ‘transnational’,
and there is a transnational component to the group’s
activities. But the social-geographical
networks created by the organisation exist primarily between local bases of
activists in the
In most cases, the geographical base of members/users is even more limited. The major national Arab American organisations and their internet capabilities, for instance, are geared almost entirely to a US-based membership. These sites clearly allow for far more effective mobilisation of group members (e.g. through on-line petitions and e-mail ‘action alerts’ for public policy decisions affecting the community) than would be possible through regular mailing lists or ‘telephone trees’. But it is not entirely accurate to call the activities they promote ‘transnational’, even though some of them concern the affairs of the Arab world. For groups like AAI and ADC, the internet enhances the existing organisational structure, serving mainly as a resource for a nationally-based membership and as a means for coordinating and mobilising activities among this membership.
groups with an internet presence address Arab communities at an even more
localised level. ACCESS and the San
Francisco Arab Cultural Centre, for instance, are important service provider
for recent immigrants and lower-income Arab Americans in the
with organisational leaders further indicate the more circumscribed nature of
the social-geographical networks created through Arab American
organisations. All of the activists
interviewed speak of their commitment to Arab and Arab-American causes and to
the ‘Arab community’. Their use of the
term ‘Arab community’ is transnational at one level:
Dina Saba, for instance, states, ‘A community is
people that have common interests, common background… But there is something
that links you back—each person is linked back to the mother country.’ However, just as often, their use of the term
‘Arab community’ (or ‘Arab- American community’) suggests both a degree of
propinquity and an acknowledgement of their permanent presence in the
Conclusions and directions for further research
Questions of citizenship and social membership, in sum, have become increasingly complicated as it becomes possible for individuals and groups to maintain and to exercise membership in multiple political-territorial entities. Migration theorists, consequently, have adopted a new theoretical framework of transnationalism for analysing migrant experiences. The transnational perspective asserts, in particular, that the concept of assimilation, because it assumes that immigrants’ lives are bounded within the receiving nation-state, is no longer adequate for interpreting fluid, migratory lives. Such conclusions are supported by numerous examples of transnational practices and relations enacted by migrants and, in some cases, fostered by sending states.
We support efforts to rethink traditional concepts used to interpret immigrant experiences. But we question whether approaches rooted in host society contexts should be replaced by a transnational paradigm. Transnational theorists emphasise migrants’ enduring connections to their ‘homelands’. But we wish to propose that immigrants’ political activities and identities continue to draw on conceptions of citizenship and social membership bound to the receiving context, and that the social networks created by immigrants may be more local or national than transnational. We also wish to propose that assertions of homeland identities and affinities—inasmuch as they are present—may have the effect, intentionally or unintentionally, of integrating immigrants more fully into structures and social discourses of the receiving society (Layton-Henry, 1990 ; Karpathakis, 2000).
Our evidence, while limited, suggests that notions of citizenship, identity, nationhood and even ‘assimilation’ still hold a great deal of importance for some immigrants—or at least for the leadership of many immigrant organisations. At a minimum, our findings caution against assuming that migrants share a uniform attachment to homeland or that participation in identity-based activities reflects ‘transnational’ goals or intentions (Guarnizo and Smith, 1998). There may be a range of rationales and motivations for participating in identity-based organisations, not all of which revolve around attachments to origins, and these are likely to vary between generation and class groups, as well as gender (e.g. Labelle and Midy, 1999; also, Anthias, 1998). It is imperative, therefore, to evaluate identity and political participation from the point of view of migrants (and their children) themselves, bearing in mind that ‘transnationalism’ is a term used exclusively by academics.
There has been a plethora of empirical research on transnationalism, but more often than not, this research focuses only on clear examples of transnational behaviour. Methodologically, then, future research must address immigrant groups’ political behaviours in their totality—that is, we must consider both transnational associations and those that are not obviously transnational, such as neighbourhood groups and ethnic-based social service providers. What are the aims of different associations and their leaders? At what scale do these organisations sustain social-geographical networks? To what extent do they invoke ideas of rights, responsibilities, belonging or exclusion? Second, future research must scrutinise immigrants’ motivations for participating (or not participating) in different kinds of associations. Do people wish to maintain ties with homeland? How do they view themselves in relation to the ‘mainstream’? How do they conceive of citizenship and social membership? Such questions seem basic, but they have been neglected in current research at the expense of our understandings of migrant experiences.
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[i] The term ‘Arab American’ refers to
individuals who trace their origins to the Arabic-speaking countries of
[ii] Arabs are not recognised as an official ethnic or ‘racial’ category in the US, but the ancestry question used on recent census forms (as well as estimates from immigration and work permit data) suggests that about 3 million people claim at least some Arab heritage (Bureau of the Census, 2001; AAI, 2001). It is believed that the majority of contemporary Arab immigrants are Muslim, though the Arab-origin population overall is about two-thirds Christian due to early waves of Lebanese immigrants (AAI, 2001).
[iii] There are, however, disadvantaged
segments, and overall, almost 11 percent of Arab Americans live under the
poverty line. In parts of the
[v] Our focus on organisations also arises, in part, out of methodological concerns. We have found that it is not feasible to locate individuals of Arab origins through random sampling techniques, because many Arabic (and especially Muslim-Arabic) surnames are found among non-Arab groups, and because some Arab-origins families ‘Americanize’ or ‘Anglicize’ surnames. Moreover, given that many Arab-Americans have voiced their displeasure at being targeted and profiled, especially following 11 September, we feel that to randomly identify study participants would be counter-productive. Meeting with organisations has provided us an identifiable pool of people who claim Arab origins while giving us the opportunity to explain our goals and interests and to develop relationships of trust.
[vi] Claims regarding the power of the internet to transform communities and politics has generated an increasing amount of sceptism (for instance, Calhoun, 1998; Zook, 1996).
[vii] Need to explain how websites and organisations were identified
networks include the Arab Network in
[ix] discuss similar sites, such as PalestineCampaign.org, etc.
[x] Activists, in this regard, are often
relying on ideas stemming from international law and human rights and drawing
parallels between the Palestinian plight and other ‘global’ human rights
issues, such as the Holocaust, the genocide of Muslims in Kosovo, and Apartheid
[xi] Website and electronic networks have emerged to
promote other Arab causes besides the intifada. The Arab Press Freedom Watch, based in
[xii] Names have been used with the permission of interviewees.
[xiii] Sadly, the voices of tolerance have not been fully heeded. Muslim and Arab American communities (as well as Sikhs, who have been mistaken for Muslims) have reported hundreds of hate crimes and have discouraged in some instances the wearing of Islamic garb to prevent racist attacks. One poll conducted by the low-brow daily US Today reported that half of those surveyed support the mandatory use of identity cards for people of Arab origin.
[xiv] It should be emphasised that this ambiguity, while heightened since the 1960s, is not a new phenomenon. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, for instance, Lebanese immigrants, like many other non-Northern European groups, were regarded as racially distinctive vis-à-vis the ‘white’ majority and therefore outside the bounds of the American nation and community. American laws restricting naturalisation and citizenship to members of the ‘white race’ revealed the particularly awkward position of Arabic-speaking groups in existing systems of racial categories. A number of cases were brought before federal courts to determine whether ‘Syrians’ were to be considered ‘Asian’ (and therefore ineligible for citizenship) or ‘white’ (Samhan, 1999, p. 216-217). The Arabic-speaking community mobilised to prove their whiteness, and eventually, the court accepted the argument that Syrians and ‘Arabians’ belonged to the ‘Semitic’ branch of the ‘Caucasian race’.
[xv] Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan both rejected ‘Arab American committees’ for their presidential campaigns, but, interestingly, accepted ‘Lebanese American’ committees, perhaps because long-established and largely Christian Lebanese American communities seemed less of a political liability. Walter Mondale returned the campaign contribution of a group of Arab-American businessmen, and Hillary Clinton in the most recent senate elections returned a contribution from a Muslim group. Moreover, opposition surfaced early in the George W. Bush administration to the inclusion of Muslims in his ‘faith-based’ proposals (Economist, 2000)
[xvi] Such efforts were
perhaps to be expected on the part of the leadership of large national
organisations, but they were also strikingly apparent in Arab American
communities at large. Not only did many
Arab Americans plant American flags in their front gardens (Singer, 2001), they
also came out in support to enhanced ‘profiling efforts’. A poll taken in Detroit , which is home to
the largest concentration of Arab Americans, revealed that a strong majority of
Arab Americans in the area (61 percent) felt that extra questioning or inspections
of people with ‘Middle Eastern features or accents’ by law enforcement
officials would be justified following 11 September. According to the poll,
[xvii] Describe racial profiling and secret evidence cases.
[xviii] This is a recurring theme in American social history. Efforts to establish suitability for full social membership, for instance, were rife in Jewish-American literature at the turn of the 19th century when writers such as Mary Antin attempted to prove to her non-Jewish audience that the urban immigrant ghettos—viewed as centres of radicalism, disease, and general foreignness—were in fact breeding grounds of democratic values (Karafilis, ).