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Dr. Jack Shaheen Established an Entire Field of Study
July 11, 2017
My personal experience with Dr. Shaheen is a testament to his generosity and kindness as a scholar and mentor as well as his accomplishments and legacy for the field of Arab American Media Studies.
This narrative itself emerges from a moment during one of two interviews I was fortunate enough to conduct with Dr. Shaheen, once via Skype at an Arab American Civil Rights conference in Dearborn, Michigan, organized by the National Network of Arab American Communities in 2015, and once at the University of Michigan in 2016.
Towards the end of the 2015 interview, I asked him if there was something he wanted to discuss that we hadn’t covered. He smiled and said: “Tell them how we met.” So, let me tell you how we met and how he became such an important figure for me and for the field. My connection with Dr. Shaheen began when I applied in 2003 for the Jack G. Shaheen Mass Communications Scholarship Award, which I learned about from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. The scholarship supports Arab American students working in media or communication.
At the time, I was a graduate student, having started a Ph.D. at Stanford University in 1999 with the goal of studying the field of Arab and Muslim American Studies and putting these groups in conversation with U.S. race and ethnic studies, an unusual undertaking at the time given the common assumption that Arabs and Muslims were to be studied outside of the U.S. context.
After 9/11, my research began to focus on the politics of media representations. Doing my research, I discovered that while little had been written on representations of Arabs and Muslims in the U.S. media, two ground-breaking books — both by Dr. Shaheen — had laid what would become the foundation for the field of Arab American Media Studies. In The TV Arab, published in 1984, Dr. Shaheen examined police dramas, sit-coms, and documentaries — more than 100 different popular entertainment programs, on network, independent and public channels in the mid-1970s. He revealed four basic myths about Arabs: they were stereotyped as being fabulously wealthy, barbaric and uncultured, sex maniacs with a penchant for white slavery, and reveling in acts of terrorism. In Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People, published in 2001, Dr. Shaheen documented in alphabetical order virtually every Hollywood film that has depicted or referenced Arabs — almost 1,000 films between 1896 and 2001. Yes, he had watched every single one of them — I asked him once. He showed that according to Hollywood, Arab men were “brute murderers, sleazy rapists, religious fanatics, oil-rich dimwits, and abusers of women.” The Arab man on screen usually had a black beard, wore a headdress and dark sunglasses, and had a limousine, harem girls, oil wells or camels in the background. Alternately, he brandished an automatic weapon, prayed to Allah and then committed an act of senseless terrorism. Arab women were usually harem girls, belly dancers, oppressed, veiled women, and, occasionally, terrorists. Out of these 1,000 films, he characterized approximately 50 as evenhanded and only 12 as containing positive representations of Arabs. In this encyclopedic work, he revealed Hollywood’s systematic, pervasive, and unapologetic degradation and dehumanization of an entire people. Reel Bad Arabs, the book, became a documentary film in 2006. It’s a fantastic educational tool that I use in the classroom every year.
I did not get that scholarship, but received a handwritten note in the mail from Dr. Shaheen — yes, a handwritten note. He explained that I deserved the scholarship but did not receive it because I was not majoring in mass communications or media studies and therefore was not eligible for the award. In this kind note, an early sign of his generosity, he also wrote, “If in any way I can assist with the dissertation, please call on me,” and gave me his phone number.
Shortly thereafter, Dr. Shaheen traveled to San Francisco, where we met for the first time; we remained in regular contact ever since. He became a mentor, advising me on research, sending relevant opportunities my way, and always reminding me to enjoy life. Over the years, it became apparent that he loved meeting students and discussing with them all the latest films and TV shows that depicted Arabs and Muslims. He also loved mentoring young people in the field and helping them network.
I also had the opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Shaheen on a project. From 2007-2010, I worked with him when he served as a consultant on the Reclaiming Identity: Dismantling Arab Stereotypes online exhibit at the Arab American Museum in Dearborn, for which I served as the guest curator. His expertise in the area was invaluable to the exhibit, and it was a privilege to work with him.
In 2012, nine years after our first communication, Dr. Shaheen recognized me for my work in the field through the Jack G. and Bernice Shaheen Achievement Award, presented at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee annual convention. This moment brought me full circle to that first moment of communication between us. It is an understatement to say that that Dr. Shaheen’s work has been foundational and inspirational to my own and that he is an icon in the field. He provided the foundation for everyone who works on media representations of Arabs and Muslims. It is not possible to write or teach about representations of Arabs or Muslims in the U.S. without his meticulously documented research.
Over the last four decades, Shaheen has created an archive of materials that is housed at the New York University library. The Jack G. Shaheen Archive contains nearly 3,000 moving images, including motion pictures, cartoons, newsreels, and televisions programs, as well as editorial cartoons, advertisements, books, magazines, comic books, toys, and games featuring anti-Arab and anti-Muslim depictions, an incredible resource for researchers. The archive also includes notes on films for which he served as a consultant (e.g. Three Kings, Syriana) and legal cases for which he served as an expert witness. It also contains letters he wrote to television and film producers to make them aware of the stereotypes they were perpetuating, along with some of the responses he received. When I visited this archive, I was overwhelmed by this evidence of his energy and advocacy. In the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, he was a lone force directly taking on the news media for perpetuating stereotypes, and seeking to raise awareness, one letter at a time, and then, one op-ed at a time. In 2008, he published his book, Guilty: Hollywood’s Verdict on Arabs after 9/11, in which he examined more than 100 movies released after 9/11. He noted that while about a third of these films contain more positive representations of Arabs, many films also rehash the same old stereotypes.
Dr. Shaheen’s legacy of raising awareness of damaging stereotypes is awe inspiring. He traveled the world lecturing, writing articles and op-eds, including more than 300 essays featured in outlets such as Newsweek and The Washington Post as well as in college textbooks. He gave more than 1,000 lectures in nearly all the 50 states and on three continents. He appeared on national network programs such as CNN, MSNBC, CSPAN, Good Morning America, 48 Hours, and The Today Show. He received numerous awards throughout his life. I had the good fortune of being present when he was recognized as Arab American of the Year by the community nonprofit organization, ACCESS in 2015. When Dr. Shaheen was to come to the University of Michigan in April 2016, I called him ahead of time to prepare for the interview, but he said that he did not want to know the questions in advance. When I said, “I am thinking that I will ask you about …,” he quickly cut me off with an emphatic “No! Don’t tell me!” He wanted to be in the moment, unrehearsed, and kept on his toes.
Students and colleagues loved meeting him and were struck by his dedication to challenging stereotypes and his incredible warmth and generosity — not to mention his promptness with a good joke. I will remember him for his unyielding dedication and tireless advocacy for Arab and Muslim civil rights — just two weeks ago, he was considering doing a podcast series. I will remember him for his kindness and sound advice. I will remember him for the incredible legacy he has left behind in his books, film, archive, publications, and lectures. I will remember him for his message that stereotypes dehumanize people, that it is important not to remain silent, and that it is possible to create a more just world.
Evelyn Alsultany is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and Associate Professor in the Department of American Culture and Director of Arab and Muslim American Studies at the University of Michigan. She is the author of Arabs and Muslims in the Media: Race and Representation after 9/11 (2012). She is guest curator of the Arab American National Museum’s online exhibit, Reclaiming Identity: Dismantling Arab Stereotypes. More recently, she collaborated with colleagues at other universities to create the #IslamophobiaIsRacism Online Syllabus to support others in teaching and learning about Islamophobia. In 2012, she was honored with a Jack G. and Bernice Shaheen Achievement Award.
Originally posted at Arab Stereotypes.
The Arab American Studies Association has signed on as a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Michigan and the Arab-American Civil Rights League.
The ban limits our ability to function as an organization in a variety of ways. We will be unable to mentor new scholars from affected countries, or to recruit them into our academic programs. Scholars from the affected countries will be unable to attend our conferences, and we would be unable to consider holding an academic conference outside the US, as members without citizenship or permanent residency would be unable to attend. Further, members who are not US citizens or permanent residents cannot conduct transnational research, which is an integral part of our field. Beyond issues of scholarship, though, as researchers who understand that transnational ties are important to the immigrant experience, we recognize that this ban has the potential to negatively impact those personal relationships.
We are especially interested in hearing from members who are nationals of the six banned countries or who have been affected tangentially by the ban. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can read more about the lawsuit here.
Trump’s Immigration Order And Living In ‘Crisis Mode’
AASA board member Randa Kayyali has recently published an article in the new journal Maydan. Titled “Becoming US Citizens: Muslims and Christians From the Middle East in US Official Records,” it is available for free online: http://www.themaydan.com/2016/11/becoming-us-citizens-muslims-and-christians-from-the-middle-east-in-us-official-records/
Dear AASA Members:
Below are short biographies and vision statements from each of the candidates running for positions on the Arab American Studies Association (AASA) Executive Board.
There is one candidate running for the position of Secretary, two for the position of Web Coordinator, three the position of Member at large, and one for the position of President elect. Their names, bios, and vision statements for the association are provided below.
Those with the most votes will assume their new posts at the end of the AASA Executive Board Meeting on November 17, 2016 at the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) annual meeting in Boston.
Only current AASA members are eligible to vote. Each member will be sent an email link to a Survey Monkey page that will allow the member to vote for each of the available positions. Those with the most votes will be invited to join the board. In the event of a tie, we will have a second round of voting to resolve the tie. Voting will close on Thursday, October. 27, 2016, at 5:00 pm.
If you have any questions, please contact Sally Howell, AASA Secretary, at email@example.com.
For the position of Secretary
Kristine J. Ajrouch
- Bio: Kristine J. Ajrouch, PhD is Professor of Sociology at Eastern Michigan University. She is also Adjunct Research Professor at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. Her research has focused, for over twenty years, on Arab Americans in the U.S. beginning with ethnic identity formation among adolescent children of immigrants followed by a focus on aging from the perspective of older adults in the metro-Detroit Arab-American and Muslim communities. A core area of study concerns links between social networks and health with focused attention to how stratification and immigration influence network form and function. She recently initiated a program of study concerning the topic of family ties, aging and health in Beirut, Lebanon following a Fulbright award in 2008. Professor Ajrouch also studies the topics of forgiveness and immigrant integration in comparative perspective. She currently serves as President of the Society for the Study of Human Development, and works on projects that enhance global awareness and promote cross-cultural understanding.
- Vision Statement: The Arab American Studies Association is a critical organization for scholars who study the Arab American experience. It provides a valuable intellectual and social space for both senior and emerging scholars to meet, share and advance Arab American research from multiple perspectives and disciplines. I aim to support and expand the networking benefits of having such an organization, and ensure that the field grows and develops by fostering activities that promote scholarship and enable interactions between senior and junior researchers. The interdisciplinary character of the organization is an enormous strength that we can capitalize on to promote a more nuanced understanding of topics and issues important to the Arab American experience.
For the position of Webmaster
- Bio: Rebecca Karam is a doctoral candidate in sociology and student fellow in the Committee for the Study of Religion at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. She received her BA in sociology from University of Michigan-Dearborn. Rebecca is currently working on her dissertation entitled “Making Muslim Americans: Parenting Practices, Parochial Schools, and the Transmission of Faith Across Generations in Metropolitan Detroit.”
- Vision Statement: The Arab American Studies Association is an incredible, interdisciplinary space for scholars and other people interested in the study of Arab American life to interact and learn. As web manager, I am excited to continue this legacy and promote the next generation of scholars’ participation in AAS. In particular, I think digital strategies are an important aspect of reaching out to new audiences and, if elected, this is a new area I will pursue on behalf of the AAS.
- Bio: Rachel Norman is a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, where I research multilingualism in Arab North American literature in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. I have presented my work at conferences held by the Modern Languages Association, the South Atlantic Modern Languages Association, the Arab American Studies Association, the Middle Eastern Studies Association, and the Carolina Conference for Romance Languages. My most recent publication appeared this year in the South Atlantic Review, and I have a forthcoming entry in the Encyclopedia of Women and Islamic Cultures. I spent last year in Spain as a visiting lecturer and fellow in the Department of British and American Literature at the University of Seville, and I am currently working on designing an introductory course on Arab American literature that will be offered in the spring at UNC.
Vision Statement: As web manager, my primary goal would be to continue the impressive work Umayyah Cable has done to create a strong online presence for AASA. The upgrade and migration of the website to a new platform resulted in a more streamlined and aesthetically pleasing website, and I hope to continue growing the website as a central source of information for our members. Like many of our members, I am at an institution that lacks a community of scholars working in the field of Arab American Studies, and the institutional and intellectual support of AASA has been indispensable to me. I would like to see AASA continue to grow as a scholarly community as we work to advance the burgeoning field of Arab American Studies, and I see our website and social media presence as integral to keeping that community connected.
For the position of Member at large:
Charlotte Karem Albrecht
- Bio: Charlotte Karem Albrecht is an assistant professor of American Culture and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, where she is also a faculty member for the Arab and Muslim American Studies program. Her research interests include Arab American history, feminist theory, queer of color critique, critical ethnic studies, and interdisciplinary methods. She is also chair of the board of directors for Mizna.
- Vision Statement: I am proud to be a member of the AASA and I am excited about the possibility to contribute more to our organization. In addition to maintaining our conference schedule and participation at MESA and ASA, I am interested in increasing our reach and membership, particularly with scholars in the social sciences and those who might be primarily oriented in Muslim American studies. I am also interested in creating more opportunities for mentorship for graduate students, job seekers, and junior faculty.
- Bio: Carol Fadda is Associate Professor of English at Syracuse University. She attended the American University of Beirut for her BA and MA, after which she went on to receive her PhD in English from Purdue University. She focuses in her research and teaching on Arab and Arab American literatures and cultures, critical race and ethnic studies, gender and sexuality, and transnational and diaspora studies. She is the author of Contemporary Arab American Literature: Transnational Reconfigurations of Home and Belonging (NYU Press, 2014), and is a recipient of an NEH summer grant and a Future of Minority Studies Fellowship. Her essays have appeared in a variety of journals, including MELUS, Modern Fiction Studies, and College Literature, as well as in the edited collections Arabs in the Americas (2006), Arab Women’s Lives Retold (2007), Arab Voices in Diaspora (2009), and The Oxford Handbook of the Arabic Novel (2015). Her new book project explores discursive formations of US minority citizenships that challenge racial, ethnic, and religious divides within the US, and at the same time re-imagine transnational solidarities with anti-imperialist struggles in the Arab world.
- Vision Statement: The AASA is a major testament to how much Arab American Studies has grown and developed as a field. I am very invested in building on the strength and visibility of the association across a variety of disciplinary fields, academic institutions, and community organizations, both nationally and transnationally. The support and mentorship of fellow scholars in Arab American Studies has been essential to me over the years, and it would be wonderful to give back by formalizing lines of mentorship through the AASA. Moreover, with more and more institutional attention and academic space being given to Arab American Studies and Arab diaspora studies, the AASA is a crucial venue for mapping and shaping the field’s future directions. As a member at large, I would be keen on pursuing ways to extend such field-forming conversations into a variety of venues (at national and international conferences, workshops, symposia, community events, etc.) so that the work of AASA members could gain more visibility and prominence.
Keith P. Feldman
- Bio: Keith P. Feldman is currently Assistant Professor of Comparative Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley. He is the author of A Shadow over Palestine: The Imperial Life of Race in America (Minnesota 2015), as well as numerous articles on Arab American literature and culture in comparative and transnational frames. He is the editor of a forum on “Blackness and Relationality” for Comparative Literature (June 2016), and a special issue of race, religion, and war, for Social Text (December 2016). A university educator with over 15 years’ experience, Feldman combines a broad research program with a passion for teaching and service. Feldman received his BA from Brown University, his MA from the George Washington University, and his PhD from the University of Washington.
- Vision Statement: As someone who began working in Arab American Studies in 2001, and has continued to be an active contributor to the field’s research and teaching, it is a real honor to be considered for a position as a Member-at-Large of the AASA’s Board of Directors. The scope, importance, and impact of Arab American Studies has grown remarkably over the last fifteen years, with no abatement in sight, even as institutional resources to sustain its growth have been sparse and unpredictable.
- Arab American Studies continues to thicken its longstanding interest in localized questions of immigration and labor, language and religion, gender and citizenship, popular culture and historical memory. At the same time, the field continues to solidify its linkages to institutionally-adjacent interdisciplinary domains—Black Studies, Asian American Studies, Jewish Studies, Critical Ethnic Studies, Indigenous Studies among them—while linking the local to the regional and the transnational. These are not (or need not be) contrary developments, but are mutually beneficial ones, producing incisive new questions about the work we do: about law, sovereignty, and the state; about patterns and innovations in gendered racialization, embodiment, and affect; about the trans-Atlantic, trans-Pacific, trans-Mediterranean, and Hemispheric American contexts of Arab cultures, histories, and communities, etc. Our knowledge is all the more necessary for a moment wrought by regional wars and the world-historical forms of displacement that accompany them, raising pressing issues about the histories and futures of a diaspora whose conditions have come to define the early 21st century. The organizational importance of AASA is undeniable, especially in a scholarly environment that, with very rare exception, disperses research and teaching in these areas across departments and units. The AASA is well-positioned to deepen its work as a hub to provide institutional support, networks of colleagues, partners, and resources, and opportunities for collaboration, mentorship, and publication. As someone with experience within the ASA and the MLA, I look forward to the opportunity to work towards growing the AASA’s organizational capacity in ways that best meet the needs of its members and the fields within which we work.
For the position of President Elect
- Bio: Sally Howell is Associate Professor of History and Director of the Center for Arab American Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. She received her Ph.D. from the Program in American Culture at the University of Michigan in 2009. Her books include Citizenship and Crisis (2009, Russell Sage Foundation Press), co-authored with Wayne Baker, et al.; Arab Detroit 9/11: Life in the Terror Decade (2011, Wayne State University Press), edited with Nabeel Abraham and Andrew Shryock; and Old Islam in Detroit: Rediscovering the Muslim American Past (2014, Oxford University Press). Old Islam in Detroit was named a Michigan Notable Book of 2015 by the Library of Michigan and awarded the 2015 Evelyn Shakir Award for non-fiction by the Arab American National Museum. Her current research explores the relationship between mosques, markets, and community development in Michigan and the mutual constitution of local publics and religious minorities across the urban and suburban landscape.
- Vision Statement: The main job of the AASA should be to facilitate research and the dissemination of research on Arab Americans. It can do this by providing opportunities for scholars to network and collaborate across disciplines, institutions, historical time periods, academic rank, and research subject. In particular, we need to provide forums that bring together scholars working at the local or regional level with one another to share resources and ideas, to connect this research with the projects of scholars working at the national or transnational level, and to facilitate partnerships with others working in American studies, critical ethnic studies and Muslim American studies. We can do a better job of sharing our research, publications, and other opportunities (especially funding opportunities) with one another and of making the expertise of our members more visible to the public at large. Now that we have several academic programs dedicated to Arab American and Arab diaspora scholarship, several archives that preserve the past, a museum, a journal, and an academic association, we need to invest in helping each of these institutions thrive in their individual missions and collaborate across their differences.
New Book by Salim Yaqub: IMPERFECT STRANGERS: AMERICANS, ARABS, AND U.S.-MIDDLE EAST RELATIONS IN THE 1970S
IMPERFECT STRANGERS: AMERICANS, ARABS, AND U.S.-MIDDLE EAST RELATIONS IN THE 1970S
Out now via Cornell University Press:
In Imperfect Strangers, Salim Yaqub argues that the 1970s were a pivotal decade for U.S.-Arab relations, whether at the upper levels of diplomacy, in street-level interactions, or in the realm of the imagination. In those years, Americans and Arabs came to know each other as never before. With Western Europe’s imperial legacy fading in the Middle East, American commerce and investment spread throughout the Arab world. The United States strengthened its strategic ties to some Arab states, even as it drew closer to Israel. Maneuvering Moscow to the sidelines, Washington placed itself at the center of Arab-Israeli diplomacy. Meanwhile, the rise of international terrorism, the Arab oil embargo and related increases in the price of oil, and expanding immigration from the Middle East forced Americans to pay closer attention to the Arab world.
Yaqub combines insights from diplomatic, political, cultural, and immigration history to chronicle the activities of a wide array of American and Arab actors—political leaders, diplomats, warriors, activists, scholars, businesspeople, novelists, and others. He shows that growing interdependence raised hopes for a broad political accommodation between the two societies. Yet a series of disruptions in the second half of the decade thwarted such prospects. Arabs recoiled from a U.S.-brokered peace process that fortified Israel’s occupation of Arab land. Americans grew increasingly resentful of Arab oil pressures, attitudes dovetailing with broader anti-Muslim sentiments aroused by the Iranian hostage crisis. At the same time, elements of the U.S. intelligentsia became more respectful of Arab perspectives as a newly assertive Arab American community emerged into political life. These patterns left a contradictory legacy of estrangement and accommodation that continued in later decades and remains with us today.
AASA member Martina Koegeler has recently published an article in the Journal of Transnational American Studies:
AASA Board Member Professor Evelyn Alsultany has been nominated for the El-Hibri Foundation Peace Award for her incredible work in building Arab American studies.
The following leaders were nominated for the 2016 El-Hibri Peace Education Prize ($30,000), for dedicating their lives to making outstanding contributions and demonstrating long-term leadership in building inclusive and socially just communities in the United States. These individuals are recognized for using cutting-edge approaches to catalyze positive social change across widespread and diverse audiences.
Congratulations, Professor Alsultany!
AASA board member Umayyah Cable will join Northwestern University as a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Asian American studies and Middle East and North African studies programs this fall. Her research and teaching interests span the fields of ethnic studies, film and media studies, and queer theory, with a particular focus on how marginalized or underrepresented identity-based and cause-based groups leverage film culture in order to foment social, cultural, or political change. She is currently conducting new research for a manuscript based on her dissertation: Cinematic Activism: Film Festivals and the Exhibition of Palestinian Cultural Politics in the United States.
At Northwestern, Umayyah will develop courses in Arab American Studies, including “Introduction to Arab American Studies” and “Arab American Arts and Cinema.”