Edward Said’s 1978 book, Orientalism, dramatically shifted how people think about the production of knowledge and representations of the Other. His ideas have been championed and critiqued with dozens of books expanding his work on the construction of the East in western imagination. However, very rarely have we investigated the dual move of representing the Other and self-representation from the other perspective. In his new book, Arab Occidentalism: Images of America in the Middle East (I.B.Tauris, 2015), Eid Mohamed, Assistant Professor at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, has undertaken this task.

With great success he offers a portrait of the shifting attitudes towards America and American Culture in the Arab imagination in the post 9/11 media landscape. He found that Arab cultural producers have a complicated relationship with America, seeing it as problematic while also often representative of their own values. Mohamed delineates how this debate unfolds in literature, cinema, and news media. In our conversation we explored the dynamics of Occidentalism through Arabic novels about Egyptians living abroad in the United States, news depictions of the 2008 shoe throwing event with President George W. Bush in Iraq, the reactions to the election of Barack Obama, the Egyptian film industry, and contemporary Arab-American literary products.


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“The communities I write about in the book — South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh immigrants — are “othered” and scapegoated today in our country. But at the same time, they are finding the strength, courage and purpose to reshape America by telling their own narratives, building community power, and changing policy.” — Deepa Iyer 

Column » ‘By the Book’ with Joseph Preville

41j8PRILBzL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_by JOSEPH RICHARD PREVILLE and JULIE POUCHER HARBIN  for ISLAMiCommentary on SEPTEMBER 29, 2015:

A vibrant multiracial America is emerging right before our eyes.  According to a new report by the Pew Research Center, “Multiracial Americans are at the cutting edge of social and demographic change in the U.S.—young, proud, tolerant and growing at a rate three times as fast as the population as a whole.” (“Multiracial in America,” June 11, 2015).

Deepa Iyer takes a looks at the struggles behind this momentous change in the United States and the challenges ahead in We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future (The New Press, November 2015).  She writes that America “has yet to fully confront the scope and effects of racial anxiety, Islamophobia, and xenophobia that have permeated our national narratives and policies in the years since 9/11.  We must change this legal, cultural, and political climate of hostility and suspicion, especially as communities perceived as ‘others’ change American cities, schools, and neighborhoods due to population increases and migration patterns.”

A native of Kerala, India, Deepa Iyer immigrated to the United States at the age of 12 with her parents and brother to Louisville, Kentucky.  In a 2014 interview, she reflected on her early experiences as an immigrant to America: “It did not take long to find out I was on the margins, that I was not mainstream. In the mid-80s in Kentucky, people were used to a black or white racial paradigm.  People like me fit neither.  I definitely had my share of experiencing some bullying and harassment at school, which shaped my sense of being different.”

Iyer, currently a Senior Fellow at Center for Social Inclusion, is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and University of Notre Dame Law School.  An activist, writer and lawyer, she has served as a Trial Attorney for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice and as Executive Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT). 

Her work on immigrant and civil rights issues began at the Asian American Justice Center in the late 1990s. While at SAALT for nearly a decade, she shaped the formation of the National Coalition of South Asian Organizations (NCSO), a network of local South Asian groups, and served as Chair of the National Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA). Iyer’s essays on immigration, the post 9/11 backlash, and racism have appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, USA Today, Al-Jazeera and the Nation.

With contentious national debates on race, religion, and immigration making the news every day, We Too Sing America is a fresh voice in the conversation.

Deepa Iyer discusses her new book in this exclusive interview.

Deepa Iyer (credit: Les Talusan Photography)
Deepa Iyer (credit: Les Talusan Photography)

Why did you choose to take the title of your book from a Langston Hughes poem?  Does the poem have special meaning for you as an activist for social justice?

Almost ninety years ago, Langston Hughes wrote a poem about how Black people, though they were marginalized and rejected in all aspects of American society, grew stronger and wiser. He wrote that they too “sing America.” The communities I write about in the book — South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh immigrants — are “othered” and scapegoated today in our country. But at the same time, they are finding the strength, courage and purpose to reshape America by telling their own narratives, building community power, and changing policy. That is why the poem resonated with me. Continue reading

“Often one might ask the question: Do we see the light at the end of the tunnel? I would say we don’t see the entrance of the tunnel because there’s a wall there separating us from the tunnel. We need to bring down this wall. And we need to see the tunnel as is in order to have a rebirth of a people who have been held without real freedom for a long time.”Dr. Mustafa Abu Sway, Dean of the College of Islamic Studies at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, the first holder of the Chair for the Study of Imam Al-Ghazali at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Al-Quds University


PalestineIsrael-smallDespite anger from Democrats, the Obama administration, and even opposition from some Republicans, it appeared this week that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had no plans to cancel his upcoming speech before a joint session of the U.S. Congress — scheduled just two weeks before Israel’s election. President Obama says he won’t be meeting with him while he’s here.

Netanyahu, who was invited by House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH 8th district) , is expected to speak before the Congress on March 3 where, according to The Washington Post, “he plans to argue against any accord with Iran that allows the country to retain centrifuges to enrich uranium and hover anywhere near a threshold for building a nuclear weapon.”

On Tuesday Netanyahu tweeted: “I am going to the United States not because I seek a confrontation with the President, but to speak up for the very survival of my country.”

Last month, as the news of the Netanyahu visit first broke,  ISLAMiCommentary had the opportunity to interview prominent Palestinian Scholar Mustafa Abu Sway about Netanyahu’s Iran distraction — i.e. his “avoidance of the real issue at home”  (the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) — and the role of the U.S. administration and Congress in helping broker a peaceful resolution to that pressing (forgotten?) conflict.

Dr. Sway is Dean of the College of Islamic Studies at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, the first holder of the Chair for the Study of Imam Al-Ghazali at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Al-Quds University, and is on the list of the 500 most influential Muslims in the world. He was at Duke to deliver a lecture and speak to classes on the 21st century relevance of the teachings of Al-Ghazali (a medieval Muslim theologian who spent a good deal of time in Jerusalem 900 years ago — and on the importance of working toward peace in Jerusalem. Continue reading


David Schanzer
David Schanzer

A seven-week course — 9/11 and Its Aftermath — Part I — by Associate Professor of the Practice of Public Policy David Schanzer will be offered free of charge to everyone on the Coursera platform. The course begins on September 9, 2013 and requires a 3-4 hour weekly commitment. SIGN UP

The course will explore the forces that led to the 9/11 attacks and the policies the United States adopted in response and will examine the phenomenon of modern terrorism, the development of the al Qai’da ideology, and the process by which individuals radicalize towards violence. Continue reading

by MBAYE LO for ISLAMiCommentary and TIRN on NOVEMBER 14, 2012:

“One side argues from a perspective of freedom and mercy, as is the case with the academics, while the militants argue from the perspective of what they consider justice. The extreme diligence in pursuit of each set of values would violate the entirety of the other.” — Mbaye Lo

The response of academics and Muslims religious groups to the blowback generated by the film the “Innocence of Muslims” this past September — in the form of violent protests across the Muslim world — is the latest example of a clear disconnect in our attempts to address the problem of Islamic militancy, and warrants a clear retrospective analysis.

Most liberal academics and American Muslim religious groups tend to be apologetic about the behavior of citizens-turned-militants, rather than constructively engaging the militants’ arguments. Continue reading