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Between the Middle East and the Americas: The Cultural Politics of Diaspora traces the production and circulation of discourses about "the Middle East" across various cultural sites, against the historical backdrop of cross-Atlantic Mahjar flows. The book highlights the fraught and ambivalent situation of Arabs/Muslims in the Americas, where they are at once celebrated and demonized, integrated and marginalized, simultaneously invisible and spectacularly visible. The essays cover such themes as Arab hip-hop's transnational imaginary; gender/sexuality and the Muslim digital diaspora; patriotic drama and the media's War on Terror; the global negotiation of the Prophet Mohammad cartoons controversy; the Latin American paradoxes of Turcophobia/Turcophilia; the ambiguities of the bellydancing fad; French and American commodification of Rumi spirituality; the reception of Iranian memoirs as cultural domestication; and the politics of translation of Turkish novels into English. Taken together, the essays analyze the hegemonic discourses that position "the Middle East" as a consumable exoticized object, while also developing complex understandings of self-representation in literature, cinema/TV, music, performance, visual culture, and digital spaces. Charting the shifting significations of differing and overlapping forms of Orientalism, the volume addresses Middle Eastern diasporic practices from a transnational perspective that brings postcolonial cultural studies methods to bear on Arab American studies, Middle Eastern studies, and Latin American studies. Between the Middle East and the Americas disentangles the conventional separation of regions, moving beyond the binarist notion of "here" and "there" to imaginatively reveal the thorough interconnectedness of cultural geographies.
|Publisher:||University of Michigan Press|
|Edition description:||New Edition|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Evelyn Azeeza Alsultany is Associate Professor in the Program in American Culture at the University of Michigan.
Ella Habiba Shohat is Professor, Departments of Art and Public Policy, Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, New York University.
Read an Excerpt
Between the Middle East and the Americas
The Cultural Politics of Diaspora
By Evelyn Alsultany, Ella Shohat
The University of Michigan PressCopyright © 2013 University of Michigan
All rights reserved.
The Cultural Politics of "the Middle East" in the Americas
Ella Shohat and Evelyn Alsultany
The Middle East in the Americas
Shuttling between Rio de Janeiro and Fez, the hit Brazilian soap opera or telenovela O Clone tells the tale of the forbidden yet enduring love between a Catholic Brazilian man and a Muslim Moroccan woman. To an audience increasingly curious about Islam and the Middle East, the series, which had its début shortly after 9/11 (on October 1), portrayed two worlds, both bursting with sensuality but also tormented by social and religious restrictions. In contrast to U.S. media representations, it was not a case of fearmongering about "Islamic terrorism" but rather of an Orientalist exoticism rooted in a tropical imaginary long marked by a fascination with a distant Moorish/Iberian past. The telenovela's imagery of harems, veils, nargilas, and belly dancing ignited a Dança do Ventre craze and generated classes in belly dance across Brazil. A CD based on the original soundtrack of O Clone's Arabic music contributed to an already growing music/dance fusion genre, the BellySamba, which gained visibility thanks to the new climate generated by O Clone. The ornamented dress of the protagonist, Jade Rachid, was reportedly the most popular costume in the 2002 Rio carnival. It was displayed within the same spirit of carnivalesque hilarity that animated the performance of "Bin Laden's harem," which included sambistas rhythmically lifting their burqas to reveal skimpy Brazilian tangas underneath. Drawing on international news headlines, the performance turned what was usually seen as threatening into a flirtatious scene of ludic corporeality.
O Clone's popularity was not limited to Brazil. The telenovela was dubbed from Portuguese into Spanish in 2002, and broadcast on the U.S. television network, Telemundo, to one of the largest audiences in the history of the Spanish language American channel. Due to popular demand it was rebroadcast in 2004. In addition to its broadcast in Spanish for Latin American countries such as Peru, Argentina, and Venezuela, O Clone / El Clon was also dubbed into multiple languages and aired in more than ninety countries, including Turkey, Israel, Russia, Portugal, and Kyrgyzstan. In 2010, Telemundo and TV Globo, the Brazilian network that created the original telenovela, coproduced a completely fresh Spanish-speaking version — El Clon — with a new cast. The telenovela's original base-country was now relocated from Brazil to North America. The Latin/Arab or Catholic/Muslim cultural clash of the original novella gave way, in a new transoceanic passage, to the cultural contrasts between the United States and Morocco, and a narrative shuttle between Miami and Fez.
We begin our introduction to Between the Middle East and the Americas: The Cultural Politics of Diaspora with O Clone as a way of hinting at the multiple geographic and transnational foci of the volume. What representations and discourses about Arabs/Muslims, and about Brazilians/Latinos, were produced by O Clone / El Clon in the diverse contexts in which it was translated, circulated, and broadcast? To what extent were these discourses shaped by the discrepant contexts of reception? Within the U.S. Latino submarket, Arabs/Muslims were largely portrayed, just a switch of the channel away, as terrorists. What is most striking in the varying representations of Arabs/Muslims in O Clone / El Clon are the distinct yet overlapping significations of Arabness and Muslimness in North vis-à-vis South America. Indeed, the Arabs/Muslims in O Clone / El Clon are nowhere marked as potential terrorists. At the same time, they are portrayed within an Orientalist imagery that mirrors familiar European and North American fantasies.
While the figure of the Arab/Muslim in the United States is vital to this volume, the project is deeply concerned with the interconnectedness of regions usually seen as separated. Our multilateral approach focuses, in other words, on the links not only between the Middle East and the United States but also between the Middle East and the Americas as a whole. Within this transnational perspective the volume examines cultural production and dissemination as part of complex cross-border flows where "the-Middle-East-in-the-U.S." constitutes one terminal within a diasporic pan-American network. Generally, the interrelated issues of Arab, Muslim, and Middle Eastern diasporas in North America are discussed in relation only to Western Europe. Indeed, the earlier colonization of the Middle East / North Africa by Western Europe, in conjunction with the later imperialist interventions associated with the United States, form the taken-for-granted backdrop for the anticolonialist critique of "the West," or "the First World," or "the Global North." The partly overlapping discourses of Eurocentrism and Orientalism, meanwhile, make it necessary to stress the representational links between Europe and the United States. In this sense, the United States inherits significant traits of the Old World empires like France and Britain, making all these nation-states the "obvious" object of comparative postcolonial studies as well as of transnational analysis. Despite the specificities of each zone, North America and Western Europe form part of historically related hegemonic formations, which is why Eurocentrism and Orientalism are relevant to both.
The Middle-East-in-Europe, indeed, is often assumed to form the taken-for-granted comparative framework for discussing the Middle-East-i n-the-U.S. The postcolonial Arab/Muslim diasporas in Western Europe — North African Muslims in France, Turkish/Kurdish Muslims in Germany, Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi/Kashmiri Muslims in Great Britain — have gained visibility over the past three decades, long before the Arab/Muslim gained prominence in U.S. political and media discourses. In Europe, public controversies around such issues as "the veil," "clitoridectomy," circumcision, mosque construction, and the rebellions of the French banlieues have become code words for the "clash of cultures" and "the problem" of immigration and integration. While the multicultural debates in the United States traditionally centered on the relations between empowered whites and the red (Native American), black (African American), and Latino "minorities," the debates in Europe have focused more on religion than on race. For the U.S. Right, the lack of integration of the Muslim/Arab minorities in European countries such as Britain, France, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, and Spain has been seen as figuring or foreshadowing similar problems for the United States and Canada. Some of the essays here discuss European nation-states, such as France or Denmark, both as comparative points and as terminals in the transnational flow of debates to further illuminate the cultural politics of the Middle East in "the West." The European fear of an Islamic takeover of Europe lurks in the background of the debates in the United States. In this sense, while South Asia might appear to be outside the scope of a volume dealing with Middle Eastern / North African diasporas, the current cultural politics make it necessary to address the ways in which Islamic Asia (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kashmir, Indonesia, etc.) and the Middle East become conflated. Indeed some of the essays here reflect precisely on present-day constructions of the geography of Islam.
The interface between diasporic communities and the hegemonic society, however, is distinct in each site in the Americas. In the United States, strong expressions of hostility to Muslim/Arabs, for example hate crimes and symbolic acts of violence such as threats to burn the Quran, are relatively recent phenomena, largely a result of tensions around the Middle East and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, exacerbated, of course, by 9/11, the War on Terror, electoral politics, and the need for a scapegoat in a time of economic crisis. Although the United States, unlike Europe, did not define itself against Arab/Islam (from the Crusades to direct colonialist interventions), what one might call the (shared) colonialist and Orientalist intertext is always already available to be tapped into in moments of crisis. It is fascinating, in this sense, that at the beginning of the Iraq War the Pentagon screened The Battle of Algiers, a classic denunciation of French colonialism in North Africa, in order to see what could be gleaned about dealing with a guerrilla insurrection like the one U.S. forces were facing in Iraq. Despite the proclaimed Francophobia of Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perl, and others, and despite the pretense of not bringing imperialism but only democracy to Iraq, when it comes to imperial wars the assumption is that "we Americans" are "naturally" with the French colonialists. When the Pentagon screens The Battle of Algiers it clearly empathizes with the colonialist French paratrooper Mathieu and not with the revolutionary Algerian Ali-la-Pointe. Here we detect a tacit admission, if only by analogy, that despite administration disavowals ("we are not an imperial power!"), the Iraq War was not totally disconnected from French colonial misadventures fifty years earlier in Algeria.
Some of the current fanners of the flames of Islamophobia directly invoke the case of Muslims in Europe as a motive not only for hostility but also even for hate crimes and symbolic acts of violence, such as commemorating the ninth anniversary of 9/11 through holding "Burn a Koran Day." In this version of patriotism, a white Christian "we" strives to forestall a Muslim takeover of America like the one that has already transpired in Europe. For the NeoCons and anti-multiculturalists, the 2004 murder of the Dutch author and filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Dutch-Moroccan Muslim, Mohammed Bouyeri, and the angry Muslim protests against the Danish newspaper publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist, served as a perfect indication of what's wrong with liberal America and with multiculturalism. In this narrative, the open-minded Dutch welcomed Arab-Muslims who then ransacked Holland's liberal polity. Holland, like France and other liberal Western welfare states, has come to constitute the negative paradigm of what "we must prevent in the US." Indeed, the Somali-born Dutch writer and politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who worked with Theo van Gogh on the controversial film Submission that criticized the treatment of women in Islam, ended up finding refuge in the corridors of NeoCon think tanks in the United States. A fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Hirsi Ali has come to occupy the role of the insider who speaks knowingly about the true essence of Islam, in the same way that other Muslim women writers, such as Azar Nafisi, the author of the memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran, have become favored witnesses to the dangers of Islamicism. Symbolic battles, furthermore, are fought over the history of Muslim-Christian relations. In the political battle over the Islamic Center near Ground Zero, the moderate Sufis behind the project chose the name "Cordoba" to evoke the multiculturalism avant-la-lettre of the Iberian convivencia of Al Andalus. The opponents of the Center, meanwhile, saw it as a sign of Muslim conquest, part of a tradition of establishing mosques to commemorate victories over Christians.
At the same time, for Arab/Muslim American antiracist activists, the European case has also become an object lesson, but in a different sense. While drawing on the long tradition of civil rights-resistant models, Muslim/Arab American mobilization against discrimination — whether against racial profiling and detentions, or against offensive representations of Islam and Arabs — has been performed in solidarity with its counterparts in Europe. Conversely, Muslims/Arabs in Europe have been inspired by the civil rights struggle in the United States. In France, the attractive "pull" of the postwar French prosperity of "les trentes glorieuses," combined with the "push" of postindependence travails in North Africa itself, led to a situation where hundreds of thousands of Algerians, Moroccans, and Tunisians in France came to form the country's "visible minorities." For a period in the 1970s and early 1980s, members of these minorities — and especially the second-generation children of the largely North African migrant workers displaced to the colonial metropole in the 1950s and 1960s — rose up in protest movements against racism and in favor of minority and immigrant rights. The high point was the 1983 "March for Equality against Racism," dubbed by the media "Marche des Beurs" (the verlan word then used for the children of immigrants, from the Maghreb for "Arabe"), modeled on the demonstration, two decades earlier, led by Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington, DC.
Between the Middle East and the Americas in a sense goes against the grain of much of the writing about Middle Easterners outside of the Middle East. The tendency to compare Arabs/Muslims in the United States and Canada in relation only to Europe has often disconnected these diasporic communities from the rest of the Americas. The political Right tends to bring up such links only in the context of the terrorist threat. The vigilante patrols on the Mexican border have thrown a harsh spotlight on the brown bodies not only of Mexicans, Guatemalans, and Salvadorans but also on potential Middle Easterners "infiltrating our country." The Right (for example, Lou Dobbs) has tried to link defense of the United States from threats on its southern border to dangers emanating from the Middle East. Post-9/11 anxieties about Middle East — based terrorism have come to be superimposed on the xenophobic fears of the Latino "invasion." The right-wing media has even tried to fuse the two fears by warning of "terrorist anchor babies" planted in the United States just after birth, to gain citizenship, who will supposedly later bloom into full-blown terrorists. For the superpatriotic defenders of the border, the wall between Mexico and the United States offers a fortification not only against the Latin South but also against the Arab/Muslim East. And despite some Middle Eastern terrorist scares coming from the Canadian border, it is only the Mexican border that triggers anti-immigrant hysteria. The traditional arrogance toward Latin America as a U.S. "backyard" and the scorn for Mexican-American "greasers" overlaps with both 9/11 and the War on Terror as an overarching rhetorical framework.
While we take for granted the discursive commonalities in the construction of the Arab/Muslim figure in Europe and the United States, we also want to highlight the Americas as a multiracial and multifaith transnational continuum. And while some of the essays in this volume examine the cross-border cultural production between the United States and the Middle East in relation to Europe (e.g., France and Denmark), other essays examine cross-border productions across the Americas. Apart from their common colonial-settler formation, all the nation-states of the Americas share parallel waves of immigration from the Middle East / North Africa dating at least as far back as the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and in many cases much earlier. The dislocations to the Americas from what were the Ottoman Empire or French- and British-dominated North Africa and the Middle East form part of the same historical process. In Latin America, the immigrants were referred to as Turcos — a name that indicated their origins in provinces under the Ottoman Empire, although many of them were not culturally or ethnically Turks but largely Armenians, Arab Christians, and Arab Jews from the region of Syria/Lebanon/Palestine. Arriving on the shores of the United States, similarly, the immigrants were called Turks; their kilims are now displayed in Ellis Island's Immigration Museum. And at the turn of the century and until the mid-1940s, New York's "Little Syria" referred to Washington Street's vibrant Arab community, just south of what later became the site of the World Trade Center.
Excerpted from Between the Middle East and the Americas by Evelyn Alsultany, Ella Shohat. Copyright © 2013 University of Michigan. Excerpted by permission of The University of Michigan Press.
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Table of Contents
1. The Cultural Politics of "the Middle East" in the Americas: An Introduction Ella Shohat and Evelyn Alsultany,
2. The Sephardi-Moorish Atlantic: Between Orientalism and Occidentalism Ella Shohat,
NATION, CULTURE, AND REPRESENTATION,
3. Mahjar Legacies: A Reinterpretation Jacob Berman,
4. Turcos in the Mix: Corrupting Arabs in Brazil's Racial Democracy John Tofik Karam,
5. From "Baisanos" to Billionaires: Locating Arabs in Mexico Theresa Alfaro-Velcamp,
6. Ali Bla Bla's Double-Edged Sword: Argentine President Carlos Menem and the Negotiation of Identity Christina Civantos,
7. They Hate Our Freedom, But We Love Their Belly Dance: The Spectacle of the Shimmy in Contemporary U.S. Culture Amira Jarmakani,
8. From Arab Terrorists to Patriotic Arab Americans: Representational Strategies in Post-9/11 TV Dramas Evelyn Alsultany,
9. When Pakistanis Became Middle Eastern: Visualizing Racial Targets in the Global War on Terror Junaid Rana,
DIASPORA, TRANSNATION, AND TRANSLATION,
10. "A Strip, A Land, A Blaze": Arab American Hip-Hop and Transnational Politics Sunaina Maira,
11. Muslim Digital Diasporas and the Gay Pornographic Cyber Imaginary Karim Tartoussieh,
12. Drawing the Line: A Rhetorical Analysis of the Mohammed Cartoons Controversy as It Unfolded in Denmark and the United States Helle Rytkønen,
13. Turcophobia or Turcophilia: Politics of Representing Arabs in Latin America Heba El Attar,
14. User-Friendly Islams: Translating Rumi in France and the United States Ziad Elmarsafy,
15. "Axising" Iran: The Politics of Domestication and Cultural Translation R. Shareah Taleghani,
16. "The Uneven Bridge of Translation": Turkey in between East and West Shouleh Vatanabadi,