Landmark study by U-M scholars explores metropolitan Detroit's Arab American community after the terrorist attacks of 9/11

October 1, 2009


DEARBORN / Oct. 1, 2009---Despite racial profiling and discrimination after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, Arab Americans express pride in being American at rates as high as the general population, according to a landmark study conducted by the University of Michigan-Dearborn and U-M’s Institute of Social Research.

Ronald Stockton, professor of political science at UM-Dearborn, says it is the most comprehensive study ever done of an Arab American community.  It involved in-depth interviews with a representative sample of 1,016 Arab Americans and Chaldeans taken from the three-county area of southeast Michigan, as well as a sample of 508 people from the general population for comparison purposes.

The study is showcased in the new book, Citizenship and Crisis: Arab Detroit After 9/11, written by Stockton and a research team of six other U-M scholars, including Sally Howell, who joined the UM-Dearborn faculty as assistant professor of history this fall. (Other authors are Wayne Baker, Amaney Jamal, Ann Lin, Andrew Shryock and Mark Tessler.)

In the book, Stockton examines the dilemmas of citizenship after the attacks of 9/11.  He is particularly interested in equal protection under the law, and the foreign policy attitudes of Arab Americans.

“On most abstract civil liberties issues, Arab Americans and the general public have fairly similar views,” explains Stockton, who formerly led UM-Dearborn’s Center for Arab American Studies.  “But when Arab Americans are treated as an enemy element or are put collectively at risk, they are far less likely than other Americans to sanction harsh treatment or the loss of liberty.”

Most Arab Americans are willing to make sacrifices for the protection of the country, Stockton says, but most also feel that they have been singled out or called upon to make disproportionate sacrifices.  They are torn between a desire to protect society from future attacks and a fear that their own communities will be targeted.

“It is in the interaction between this willingness to share sacrifice and the fear of being singled out that we find the most revealing and interesting patterns,” he said.  

In studying foreign policy attitudes, Stockton found that Arab Americans form their views as other Americans do:   Republicans are different from Democrats, the young different from the old.  Yet Arab Americans are distinctive  in that many retain affection and concern for homelands that are, or are perceived to be, in conflict with the United States. This puts them unfairly at potential risk.

“Arab-Americans exist on both sides of the hyphen,” Stockton says.  “They are American and they are Arab.  And yet, as some say, they are not entirely American but neither are they entirely Arab.”  

They are allowed to function as citizens with the constitutionally guaranteed rights to vote, protest and object to U.S. policies, but only as long as their behavior is not seen as the expression of a collective Arab or Muslim identity hostile to the U.S.

“Arab Americans cover the whole gamut of expression,” Stockton notes.  “Some support U.S. policies and some oppose; some are outspoken and some are reluctant to speak; some are confident, and some think they are under siege for their views.”

But there is one issue upon which Arab Americans agree, the issue of Palestine.  “This is a consensus issue,” says Stockton. “Every Arab American with an opinion, regardless of age, religion, income or any other characteristic, feels there should be a Palestinian state.”

The post-9/11 crisis challenged American society in diverse ways, according to Stockton, but “it challenged Arab Americans by making their political views central to the way others view them both as members of American society and as potential threats to it.”

The landmark survey behind Citizenship and Crisis: Arab Detroit After 9/11 was funded by the Russell Sage Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and contributions from UM-Dearborn and U-M Ann Arbor.

Twenty community groups worked as partners with the research team to develop the questionnaire and encourage the project.    


About University of Michigan-Dearborn
The University of Michigan-Dearborn is celebrating its 50th anniversary throughout the 2009/2010 academic year. Founded in 1959 with a gift of just over 200 acres of land and $6.5 million from the Ford Motor Company, UM-Dearborn has been distinguished by its commitment to providing excellent educational opportunities responsive to the needs of southeastern Michigan. The university has 8,700 students pursuing undergraduate, master’s, doctoral and professional degrees in the liberal arts and sciences, engineering, business, education, and public administration. With a faculty devoted to teaching, and students committed to achievement, UM-Dearborn has been shaped by its history of interaction with business, government and industry in southeastern Michigan, and is committed to responding to the needs of the region in the future.


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