ISLAMOPHOBIA AND RACISM: CIVIL RIGHTS AT THE BREAKING POINT

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What inspired you to write Islamophobia and Racism in America?

The work that became this book really began for me in the year 2000. That year, I went on an off-campus study program in Jerusalem. Thanks to this innovative program, I took classes with professors from both sides of the Green Line. I came to realize that even though I had studied race and ethnicity for more than four years in college and high school, I had never read a single academic document on Arab or Muslim Americans. That struck me as odd. I was curious about the history of these communities, and even more curious as to why it seemed so little attention had been paid to them in the mainstream of research on race and racism in America.

 

My mentor, Professor Leonard Berkey, directed me toward the foundational research by scholars like Yvonne Haddad, Alixa Naff, Nadine Naber, and Michael Suleiman. I found myself fascinated by the relationship between Arab, Muslim, and broader Middle Eastern heritages and ethnicities with socially constructed racial categories in America. Where and how did these communities fit in? It was a puzzle I couldn’t solve—one that I still cannot figure out.

Years later, in graduate school and under the expert direction of my advisor, Professor Howard Winant, I developed a focus on advocacy organizations. The idea was to examine the ways that advocates came to understand this puzzle: how do you deal with the issue of race in America if you’re a Middle Eastern American civil rights advocate? That is the central question I wrestle with in my book.

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