Re-Narrating Otherness: Arab Americans and Articulations of Difference

By Waleed Mahdi
Submitted to Session P3334 (Fractures and Fusions of the Arab American Experience, 2013 Annual Meeting
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Arab States; Egypt; North America;
Arab Studies; Cinema/Film; Comparative; Cultural Studies; Ethnic American Studies; Identity/Representation; Middle East/Near East Studies; Pop Culture; Transnationalism;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Important studies on Arab American identity and anti-Arab sentiment in the United States have proliferated since 9/11, but to date there have been few comparative studies on how Arab American identity is constructed at crossroads of US-Arab socio-cultural and geopolitical encounters. As a response to the call by scholars in the fields of American studies and migration studies to locate the United States in a transnational space and define the experience of its migrants beyond the restrains of the nation-state, I propose to interrogate US-Arab discursive terrains to examine popular understandings of the Arab American image in the United States and the Arab world.

Towards that end, I plan to compare dominant patterns of representation in Hollywood and Egyptian cinemas to illustrate how the popular image of Arab Americans is forced to undergo a double-layered process of otherness. While Hollywood films such as Black Sunday (1977), Wrong is Right (1982), True Lies (1994), The Siege (1998), and Fatwa (2006) articulate Arabness as a threat and define Arab Americans as cultural others, Egyptian films such as Hallo Amreeka (1998), el-?Akhar (1999), Tayeh fi Amrika (2002), Iskindiriyya…New York (2004), and ?Asal Iswid (2010) advance a critique of Americanization and promote “el-Ghorba” (alienation) rhetoric as a nostalgic means to mark Arab Americans’ cultural allegiance to the Arab world. By conducting such an analysis, I plan to unpack certain American and Arabic polarizing narratives responsible for mediating cultural otherness of Arab Americans to contribute to current conversations around cultural citizenship in Arab American studies.