- Middle Eastern Lives in America
This is a perplexing book, as large claims are made for it in the foreword and by the authors, who claim it breaks new ground in laying out Middle Eastern contributions to the development of Western civilization and in portraying the experiences of Middle Eastern Americans. There is no bibliography, but the footnotes show that the authors have failed to consult the substantial literature that exists in both these areas. (Publications on Middle Eastern Americans that have been out for decades are reviewed in my own 2003 publication, Muslims in the United States: the State of Research).
Instead, this book's genesis relies on personal connections (xv-xvi) and the sense of urgency produced by the events of Sept. 11, 2001. The authors' position (p. xxi) is that Middle Eastern Americans "are considered a despised and dangerous minority group," and the research goal was to "bring to light the history and current experiences of this group with discrimination." Marvasti and McKinney, sociologists, set out to conduct formal interviews with 20 respondents (14 men and six women). We are not given the interview schedule or any systematic analysis. Nine of the 20 respondents were from Iran, six were from Pakistan, and one from Turkey; only two each from Egypt and Lebanon were Arabs and would fit most definitions of "Middle Eastern." But these authors define Middle Eastern as "having ancestral [End Page 1856] ties to the predominantly Islamic region of the world in southwest Asia and North Africa (p. xx). The interviews were termed "in-depth" and "lasted an hour." The authors also drew on informal sources of empirical data, defined on p. xix and ranging from their own life experiences to visits and gatherings.
The value of the book lies in the anecdotal material presented by authors and informants, but the anecdotes are presented without substantive background material or systematic analysis. It is a popularly-oriented political appeal and may have a place in provoking dialogues or providing topics for speeches and workshops on race and ethnicity in American life. Given the other academic literature out there on the topics touched on in this book, the claims made for it are considerably overstated.