A variety of intergroup consequences can be used to explain the experiences of Middle Eastern Americans. At the inhumane extreme, genocide (the systematic killing of an entire people) explains the Holocaust. Between 1941 and 1945, across German-occupied Europe, Nazi Germany, and its collaborators systematically murdered some six million Jews, around two-thirds of Europe's Jewish population. The murders were carried out through mass shootings, extermination through work in concentration camps, and gas chambers. This genocide led many to flee as refugees to the United States; however, thousands of Jews fleeing the horrors of the Nazi regime were denied asylum as they were feared to be Nazi spies (Gross, 2015).
Patterns of Intergroup Relations: Middle Eastern Americans
- Extermination/Genocide: The deliberate, systematic killing of an entire people or nation (e.g. Holocaust).
- Expulsion/Population Transfer: The dominant group expels the marginalized group (e.g. Syrian refugees).
- Segregation: The dominant group structures physical, unequal separation of two groups in residence, workplace & social functions (e.g. detainment after 9-11).
- Separatism: The marginalized group desires physical separation of two groups in residence, workplace & social functions (e.g. Quranic schools).
- Fusion/Amalgamation: Race-ethnic groups combine to form a new group (e.g. intermarriage).
- Assimilation: The process by which a marginalized individual or group takes on the characteristics of the dominant group (e.g. Judaization).
- Pluralism/Multiculturalism: Various race-ethnic groups in a society have mutual respect for one another, without prejudice or discrimination (e.g. Muslims elected to Congress).
The mass expulsion (when the dominant group expels the marginalized group) of Jews during WWII was followed many decades later by another Middle Eastern group, Syrians, who fled the Syrian Civil War. In the last five years, the pre-war population of the Syrian Arab Republic was estimated at 22 million; of that number, the United Nations identified 13.5 million as displaced persons, requiring humanitarian assistance. Of these, since the start of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, more than six million were internally displaced, and around five million had crossed into other countries. While not a world leader in accepting Syrian refugees, the U.S. did accept 16,218 Syrian refugees by 2016. In 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order suspending any further resettlement of Syrian refugees to the U.S. indefinitely until further notice due to security concerns.
Segregation (physical separation of a marginalized group from the dominant group) is yet another intergroup consequence that can be used to understand the experience of some Middle Easterners, particularly Arab and Muslim American men post 9-11. As a result of the 2001 terrorist attack, as David Cole describes below, the U.S. government rounded up more than 5,000 foreign nationals from Middle Eastern countries, many of whom were deported or detained for months. Similar to the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, these individuals were rounded up merely because of "guilt by association," as being foreigners "associated with" the terrorist act - but the overwhelming majority actually had no proven association to the attacks.
As quoted in an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) press release:
Immigrants weren't the enemy...But, the war on terror quickly became a war on immigrants. The Inspector General's findings confirm our long-held view that civil liberties and the rights of immigrants were trampled in the aftermath of 9/11.
Another intergroup consequence of relevance is separatism, physical separation of race-ethnic groups as desired by a marginalized group, in the case of schooling. Some communities offer a private schooling experience that caters to the needs of Muslim or Jewish families and their children. Quranic or Sunday schools or schools for Black Muslims offer specific religious instruction to those attending mosque schools or as a supplement for children who attend public schools (Schaefer, 2019). Similarly, Hebrew school can be either an educational regimen separate from secular education similar to the Christian Sunday school, education focusing on topics of Jewish history and learning the Hebrew language, or a primary, secondary or college level educational institution where some or all of the classes are taught in Hebrew.
With the increasing practice of intermarriage, Jews marrying non-Jews, fusion has become a norm in the 21st century. In the 1970s, more than 64% of Jews married other Jews (Schaefer, 2019). From 2000 to 2013, that percentage dropped to 42% (ibid). Hence, in contemporary society, intermarriage is common practice. For some, this represents a threat to the faith of Judaism. For others, this represents an opportunity to be raised as bi-cultural - practicing both Hanukkah and Christmas, speaking Hebrew and English. This can also feed into assimilation, conforming to the norms of dominant culture, which lessens, or in some cases, eliminates ties to one's ethnic background. Judaization is the "lessening importance of Judaism as a religion and the substitution of cultural traditions as the ties that bind Jews" (Schaefer, 2019, p. 304).
Finally, pluralism, exemplified by mutual respect and appreciation for diverse cultures, may be understood to relate to Middle Easterners by considering ethnic enclaves and officials elected to office. Consider New York City. Several Middle Eastern ethnic groups have immigrated to New York and formed several neighborhoods with a high concentration of people who are of Arab descent. Between the 1870s and the 1920s, the first wave of Arab immigrants brought mostly Syrian and Lebanese people to New York City, the majority of them being Christian. There are now around 160,000 Arabic people in New York City and more than 480,000 in New York State. According to the Arab American Institute the population of people who identify themselves as Arab, grew by 23% between 2000 and 2008. New York today has the second largest number of Jews in a metropolitan area, behind Tel Aviv (in Israel). Borough Park, Brooklyn is one of the largest Orthodox Jewish communities in the world.
A growing number of Muslims have been elected to political office. A Somali-born woman, Ilhan Omar has served as the U.S. Representatives for Minnesota's 5th congressional district since 2019. She is also one of the first two Muslim women (along with Rashida Tlaib) to serve in Congress. A member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Omar has advocated for a living wage, affordable housing, universal healthcare, student loan debt forgiveness, protection of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender rights. However, she is not well received by pro-Israel Jewish groups, as she has frequently denounced Israel's occupied Palestinian territories; she has been accused of anti-semitic remarks, for which she has apologized.
Let us turn to a stark contrast to pluralism. Relations between Muslim and Arab Americans and the dominant majority group have been marked by mistrust, misinformation, and deeply entrenched beliefs. Helen Samhan of the Arab American Institute suggests that Arab-Israeli conflicts in the 1970s contributed significantly to cultural and political anti-Arab sentiment in the United States (2001). The United States has historically supported the state of Israel, while some Middle Eastern countries deny the existence of the Israeli state. Disputes over these issues have involved Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine. A more detailed discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is provided later in the chapter.
As is often the case with stereotyping and prejudice, the actions of extremists come to define the entire group, regardless of the fact that most U.S. citizens with ties to the Middle Eastern community condemn terrorist actions, as do most inhabitants of the Middle East. Would it be fair to judge all Catholics by the events of the Inquisition? Of course, the United States was deeply affected by the events of September 11, 2001. This event has left a deep scar on the American psyche, and it has fortified anti-Arab sentiment for a large percentage of Americans. In the first month after 9/11, hundreds of hate crimes were perpetrated against people who looked like they might be of Arab descent.
Arab Americans are still victims of racism and prejudice. Racial profiling has proceeded against Arab Americans as a matter of course since 9/11. Particularly when engaged in air travel, being young and Arab-looking is enough to warrant a special search or detainment. This Islamophobia (irrational fear of or hatred against Muslims) does not show signs of abating. A recent survey of 5,000 respondents showed that many do not consider Muslims to be sufficiently "American," with 67% of Democrats and only 36% of Republicans agreeing with the statement that "Muslim Americans want to fit in as American citizens."
For centuries, the Jewish people have struggled to overcome hatred. Religious observances such as passover, Hanukkah and Purim commemorate some of these struggles. Anti-Semitism (anti Jewish prejudice and discrimination) has existed since before Christianity and continues to exist today. The most horrific example of this was the Holocaust. The Holocaust was the state sponsored, systematic persecution and annihilation of Jews by Nazi Germany. As a result, two-thirds of the Jewish population in Europe was killed.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), founded in 1913, publishes an annual report that details incidents of anti-Semitism in the United States. In 2018, the ADL recorded 1,879 anti-Semitic incidents. These incidents included: vandalism, graffiti in the form of swastikas or anti Jewish sentiments, harassment, assault and murder. Some of these incidents were carried out by neo-nazis or skinheads, who are known to perpetuate anti Semitic ideologies. Recent attacks on synagogues in the United States (Pittsburgh, PA in 2018 and Poway, CA in 2019 are just two recent examples) have reminded people all over the world of the dangers of anti-Semitism.
Muslim and Jewish Relations: The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Throughout history, few groups have been so closely linked as Muslims and Jews. Tension and conflict among these groups have arisen throughout history as a result of religious differences, political differences, and conflict over land and natural resources. Today, the most contentious example of this conflict is represented in the continuing struggle between Israel and Palestine. Jews and Muslims both claim a religious tie to the land in Israel and Palestine, not only because both religions had major events take place there and are deeply rooted in the area, but because both claim that they were promised the land by God, through Abraham. Abraham had more than one son, however, and descendants from Isaac were predominantly Jewish and descendants from Ishmael became predominantly Muslim.
In the early 20th century, Jews fleeing persecution in Europe wanted to establish a national homeland in what was an Arab and Muslim majority territory. The Arabs resisted, seeing the land as rightfully theirs. Israel and the surrounding Arab nations fought several wars over the territory. The 1967 war left Israel in control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, two territories that are home to large Palestinian populations. One approach to resolving the conflict would establish Palestine as an independent state in Gaza and most of the West Bank, leaving the rest of the land to Israel. Another approach would give all of the land to either Israel or Palestine. The conflict over who gets what land and how it's controlled is one that remains today.
Although the United States has historically been a strong supporter of Israel, the U.S. government has traditionally supported advancing a solution that would reconcile the claims of the two parties: Israel and Palestine. Multiple administrations have attempted to initiate a process that would result in two distinct states. However, many critics have claimed that the potential for this outcome has diminished as a result of President Trump's policies.
Contributors and Attributions
- Rodriguez, Lisette. (Long Beach City College)
- Ramos, Carlos. (Long Beach City College)
- Hund, Janét. (Long Beach City College)
- Introduction to Sociology (Lumen) (CC By 4.0)
- Introduction to Sociology 2e (OpenStax) (CC BY 4.0)
- Hebrew School (Wikipedia) (CC BY-SA 3.0)
- The Holocaust (Wikipedia) (CC BY-SA 3.0)
- Ilhan Omar (Wikipedia) (CC BY-SA 3.0)
- New York City Ethnic Enclaves (Wikipedia) (CC BY-SA 3.0)
- American Civil Liberties Union. (2003, June). Internal justice department report details 9/11 detainees' plight; Arab, Muslim, South Asian immigrant languished in detention for months. American Civil Liberties Union.
- Gross, D. (2015, November 18). The U.S. government turned away thousands of Jewish refugees, fearing that they were nazi spies. Smithsonian Magazine.
- Samhan, H.H. (2001). Who are Arab Americans? Arab American Institute Foundation.
- Schaefer, R.T. (2019). Racial and Ethnic Groups. 15th ed. New York, NY: Pearson.