The Arab Americans A History by Gregory Orfalea (New York: Olive Branch Press, 2006. 500 pages.)

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Steven Salaita



Since 9/11, Arab Americans have been the subject of much discussion in
both popular and scholarly forums. Books on the suddenly visible Arab-
American community have been published recently or are forthcoming, and
courses dealing with Arab Americans are gradually entering university curricula.
This interest is cross-disciplinary, having become evident in numerous
humanities and social science fields.
Yet this interest is bound largely to the political marketplace of ideas, for
an emergent Arab-American studies existed well before 9/11 and had been on
the brink of increased visibility on the eve of 9/11. It took 9/11, however, for
this body of scholarship to generate broad attention. In addition, 9/11 altered
the trajectories that had already been established, though not as dramatically
as an unaffiliated observer might believe. Gregory Orfalea was among the
group of scholars and artists who were assessing Arab America before 9/11
through his work as a writer and editor. Orfalea continues his contribution to
that project with his latest book, The Arab Americans: A History, a voluminous
text that mixes exposition, commentary, and analysis.
The author’s cross-disciplinary book will be of interest to students and
scholars in the humanities and the social sciences, for it contains elements of
historiography, sociology, literary criticism, memoir, and anthropology. The
introduction and first chapter recount a trip he took as a young man in 1972
with his jaddu (grandfather) to Arbeen, Syria, his grandfather’s hometown.
Subsequent chapters explore a number of sociocultural and political issues
of interest to the Arab-American community, including the politics of the
Arab world, activism (historical and contemporary) in Arab America, the
relationship between Arab Americans and the American government at both
the local and federal levels, religious traditions in Arab America, and the
instability and diversity of Arab-American identity ...

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