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  • Political "Articulation" in the Diaspora:Media, Language, and "Dialogue" in the Case of Arab-Americans
  • Christoph Schumann (bio)

Introduction: Diaspora, Language and Translation

In the December 1999 issue of the Arab-American magazine al-Hewâr, the Houston-based physician and community activist Dr. Abdel Kader Fustok described the need for dialogue among members of his diaspora as follows:

If individuals were to commit to participate in dialogue and sustain it over a period of time, they would have a coherent movement of thought, not only at the conscious level that we all recognize, but more importantly at the tacit level, the unspoken level which cannot be described. If we think together in a coherent way, it would have tremendous power.

(emphasis added)

Statements like this about the link between power, politics, and communication are commonplace in publications of the Arab American community in the United States, for several reasons. As a minority in the United States, Arab-Americans feel that the mass media misrepresent their culture, heritage, and religion. Therefore, they think about ways to influence the American public sphere in order to correct this false image. As a diaspora community, most Arabs in the United States have strong emotional and political ties to their former homelands. Hence, they also seek to build channels of communication in order to maintain these links. In pursuit of these two goals, Arab-Americans feel the need for a strong community based on a common identity with collective goals and interests. This cannot be reached, however, without common media and other means of communication in which identities, goals, and purposes can be articulated and discussed. [End Page 307]

In other words, Arab-Americans consider public communication crucial to the "empowerment" of their community. Yet it is their predicament to be situated at the margins of two national public spheres, that is, the publics of American society and of the Arab homelands. This situation is aggravated by the fact that these two publics operate in two different languages: English and Arabic. For this reason, processes of translation and reinterpretation are necessary for communication within the Arab-American community itself as well as between the community and both its Arab homelands and American society. With respect to individuals, language skills vary according to the history of immigration, the particular trajectories of socialization, and the level of education. However, for the communal media of diaspora groups, such as periodicals, the problem consists in more than just the (important) question of which language to choose for publishing and broadcasting. Besides the language, other differences such as ethnicity, ideology, and religion multiply the need for translation—within the community as well as between the community and its multiple social environments.

Focusing on the Washington, DC–based magazine Al-Hewâr/ Arab-American Dialogue, this article analyzes the role of translation and the concept of "dialogue" for transcending differences of language, ethnicity, ideology, and religion. Of course, this single publication must not be taken to represent the Arab-American community as such. However, Al-Hewâr does tackle a number of issues crucial to the conception of Arab-Americans as a diaspora. Al-Hewâr, which began publication in April 1989, remains one of the few Arab-American periodicals that continue to publish in both English and Arabic, which is one of the reasons it was chosen for this study. As will be shown at greater length below, the title Al-Hewâr (meaning literally "dialogue") is programmatic in various ways. The concept of dialogue helps the publication to balance the peculiar triangle of diaspora politics: (1) to secure a place for the community in the country of residence, (2) to preserve the community's bonds to the homelands, and (3) to overcome the diversity within the community by searching for generally accepted concepts such as "Arabism" ('urûba), Islam, and citizenship.

Theoretical and Methodological Implications

Diaspora politics has become an issue in political science, particularly in the fields of international relations and security studies (e.g., Sheffer; Vertovec). Many studies of diasporic influence in international relations neglect the complexity of the external and internal relationships that diasporas must sustain, both inside the community and between the community and...


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pp. 307-330
Launched on MUSE
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