FROM MANY IDENTITIES TO ONE VOICE?: ARAB AMERICAN ACTIVISM FORGED FROM THE POLITICS OF ISOLATION
Skuratowicz, Katarzyna Zofia
Dance, Lory J
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This dissertation answers key questions about the reasons behind the mobilization and consolidation of Arab American collective identities expressed in political activism. Summarized into one overarching question, these key questions examine what encourages and challenges the mobilization of a consolidated political voice of Arab Americans in the American political arena. The ultimate goal of this project is to understand the reasons behind the existing political weakness of Arab American voices in the American socio-political arena. More specifically stated, the key questions are: "What, in the history of immigration of Arab American, impacted the current weakness of the collective, Arab American political voice?;" "What impact did political events and policies have on the mobilization of the consolidated Arab American identity?;" "What are the challenges and motivations for consolidation of the Arab American political voice related to the heterogeneity of Arab American communities?;" and finally "What role does counter-mobilization, namely pro-Israeli lobbies, play in affecting the intensity of Arab American voices in American politics?" The general answer, which was acquired through tracing the process of formation of this mobilization and consolidation of the Arab American identity, demonstrates that political isolation is the predominant mobilizing factor for identity-based activism and consolidation of Arab American identities. This study concludes that Arab Americans face political isolation due to several factors such as the relatively short presence of Arab immigrants in the United States, their brief political engagement in the American political arena, the heterogeneity of Arab American communities preventing a development of strong leadership uniting the communities, and the presence of counter-mobilized communities such as well established pro-Israeli lobbies which are often in opposition to Arab American political efforts. Historical events such as the 1967 War or the attacks of September 11 make Arab American activists aware of their political isolation. Thus, unlike many ethnic minorities motivated by cultural and economic factors, Arab American motivation is predominantly politically driven. In regard to methodological approaches, this research draws on interviews, life histories of members of self-labeling Arab American organizations in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area and document analyses to learn about their organizations and motivations behind identity-based political activism. In regard to pre-existing scholarship, this study engages the literature about panethnic mobilization and the incorporation of immigrants into a host society. A recurrent theme in this literature is how panethnic mobilization is driven by economic or cultural factors. However, economic and cultural factors are not key catalysts driving panethnic Arab American identities. At the collective level Arab Americans enjoy all elements of citizenship: legal status, rights and a sense of belonging yet their path to full participation in U.S. political arenas remains a challenge. The consolidated identity-based activism of Arab Americans focuses on gaining a political voice and creating an influential political constituency. As this study reveals, Arab American panethnic organizations strive to disrupt the monolithic and negative discourse about Arabs and Arab Americans in the popular and political culture of the United States by taking ownership over the "Arab American" label. Thus, the use of the monolithic label of Arabness is ultimately a strategic move towards gaining political voice(s). The complexities and nuances of this political isolation and corresponding political mobilization unfold in the chapters below.