Seeing History Through Arab-American Eyes
Photo: Mohamed Elshinnawi
Author Alia Malek says
she wrote "A Country Called Amreeka" to put a "human face" on the
Arab-American community, and to counter the public fear and
misunderstanding fueled by the 9/11 terrorist attacks
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Alia
Malek, a successful Syrian-American civil rights attorney, was
shocked by what she saw as a dangerous and misguided public backlash
against Arab-Americans. Malek was confident that somebody would
write a book that would put a human face on the Arab-American
community and educate Americans about a culture that was so poorly
"People seemed to think that Arabs only existed 'over there,' that
there weren't actually Arab-Americans who had been part of the
United States since the late 1800s. And I sort of went about my
life practicing law, thinking that inevitably, somebody was going to
write a book like this. And by the time I decided to do a career
switch and go to journalism school at Colombia University four years
later, nobody had yet written the book that I thought was so
inevitable. So that is why I decided to write the book," Malek
Arab-Americans assimilated and became invisible
Her new book is titled, "A Country Called Amreeka: Arab Roots,
American Stories." It is a collection of narratives about some of
the 3.5 million people of Arab descent who live in the United States
- individuals with roots in Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, the
Palestinian territories and Syria. Set against the backdrop of the
past 40 years of American history and international developments,
Malek's subjects share their stories and demonstrate that, even as
they play football, work assembly lines and hold public office, they
have remained largely shut out of the national conversation.
Malek, who began her legal career as a civil rights attorney at the
U.S. Department of Justice, contends that U.S immigration laws
before 1965 were racially biased. And she says they hindered the
naturalization of Arab immigrants to such an extent that most
Americans were unaware there was an Arab-American community.
"I think that is why they assimilated and became almost invisible.
And then, in that post-1965- immigration pop culture, [in] the
media, Arab-Americans were not part of their discourse, it was not a
part of the American consciousness. You did not have a TV show of
Arab-Americans; there was something that remained very foreign about
'Arabs'," she says.
Stories mark historic moments in past 40 years
Each chapter of "A Country Called Amreeka" focuses on a major
historical event as seen through the eyes of an Arab-American,
allowing readers to relive the moment in that person's skin. In the
chapter exploring how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict played out
for Arabs living in the United States, Malek tells the story of Luba,
the wife of a Palestinian refugee who yearns for her hometown of
Ramallah after it is occupied by Israel during the 1967 Arab-Israeli
In one passage from the book, Luba struggles to explain her
heartache to her young American-born daughter, Mona, whose
puzzlement at her mother's distress highlights the gap between Arab
heritage and life in Amreeka:
"Now all Jerusalem is with the Jews and now it is Ramallah's
turn to be taken," Luba explained. "And that is why I am crying and
that is why I want you to shut up and stop asking questions!"
But Mona continued: "The Jews, aren't they human beings? Aren't they
"Yes, of course they are human beings," Luba responded. "They are
people like us."
"Then why can't they be in Ramallah?" Mona demanded.
"Mona, this is your house. Do you want your neighbors to come and
tell you to get out and take your home and they live here? Is this
In another chapter, the reader sees the 1963 burning of a black
church in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, through the eyes of a
dark-skinned Lebanese-American. There's a Palestinian-American
surrounded by anti-Arab violence during the Iran hostage crisis in
1979 and a homosexual Arab-American who was afraid to be gay in the
Middle East and is now afraid to be an Arab in America.
And there is Lance Corporal Abraham, a Yemeni-American Marine who is
deployed to Iraq in the 2003 U.S. invasion. Because he is an Arab,
Abraham is rebuked as a traitor by an Iraqi mother, whose two young
daughters had been killed during a U.S. military operation.
Malek says,"I hope people sort of sympathize with Abraham and the
difficulties he was going through, both as a young married father
with a wife half-way across the world, and also the concerns he has
as he and his Marine brothers come back alive from the war, as well
as just seeing 'the good, the bad and the ugly' of the American
invasion of Iraq."
Book mentions earlier immigrants
The author also recalls the Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian
Christians who were part of America's first great wave of
immigration starting in the 1880s, and who found work in the mines
and opened grocery stores. She examines the impact of the 1965
immigration reform legislation that allowed Arabs to escape
political upheaval in their own countries and settle in Detroit,
Michigan, where many found work Ford Motor Company assembly lines.
Malek hopes her American readers will come to know these people in a
new and more positive light.
"I hope they can see that the history of Arab-Americans is basically
as old as the history of a lot of immigrant groups that we easily
accept as part of the American mosaic. And that they see that we are
in American society; we are voters and consumers and producers and
teachers, and husbands and wives and neighbors and everything else
that we think that other fellow Americans are. I mean, there needs
to be rightful re-insertion into the American imagination of the
place of Arab-Americans," she says.
Hand painted glasses
Syria handcrafted furniture
Bedroom furniture set
Bedroom furniture table
Bedroom furniture chest
Bedroom furniture chairs
Bedroom furniture cabinet
Bedroom furniture dresser
Bedroom chest of drawers
Bedroom furniture armchairs