Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Salim Yaqub's "Imperfect Strangers"

Salim Yaqub is Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of Containing Arab Nationalism: The Eisenhower Doctrine and the Middle East.

Yaqub applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Imperfect Strangers: Americans, Arabs, and U.S.-Middle East Relations in the 1970s, and reported the following:
From page 99:
As of September 1972 some eighty thousand Arab “aliens”—that is, non-U.S. citizens—resided in the United States. The INS undertook to screen all of these individuals “to ensure that their status in the country is legal.” Meanwhile, the FBI significantly expanded and systematized a preexisting practice of investigating the activities and associations of suspect elements within Arab communities. Of particular concern were the estimated nine thousand Arabs studying at American colleges and universities. “Past experience has shown,” warned the head of security of the FBI’s New York field office, “[that] Arab terrorists utilize those persons of student age to carry out their terrorist plans.” Individuals with terrorist ties could be deported.

In the weeks and months after Munich, FBI and INS agents began visiting Arabs in their homes or workplaces and interrogating them about their visa statuses, work habits, associations, and political views. According to testimonies compiled by Abdeen Jabara and the Organization of Arab Students (OAS), some Arabs found to have committed minor violations of their visa terms—such as taking unauthorized employment or failing to report a change of address—were threatened with, and occasionally subjected to, deportation proceedings. A few interviewees were detained for days without trial. Others reported that FBI or INS agents used intimidating or abusive language. An FBI agent told Jamil Azzah, a Palestinian engineer in Kansas City, that the government had evidence of Azzah’s membership in a terrorist organization. No charges were filed, and the agent’s superior later apologized to Azzah, stating “that such accusations are a tactic sometimes used by agents to obtain information.” When Joseph Shikhani, a student at California’s San Jose State University, told a visiting immigration officer that he knew his rights, the officer “put his nose at a distance of less than one inch from my nose and said ‘you do not know shit.’” From Chicago came reports that FBI agents were taking Arabs on “night rides” and grilling them about their political views and associations.
These passages from page 99 of Imperfect Strangers are set in the fall of 1972. In September of that year, Palestinian militants attacked the Munich Olympic Games, an operation resulting in the deaths of eleven members of the Israeli Olympic team. In response to the outrage, the administration of Richard Nixon instructed the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service to determine whether any of the tens of thousands of Arabs then living in the United States had terrorist associations; those deemed to have such ties were subject to deportation proceedings. Although the Nixon administration’s domestic antiterrorism effort was officially aimed at foreigners, some U.S. citizens of Arab descent found themselves on the receiving end of government surveillance and harassment. And, while a wide range of American individuals and groups criticized the government dragnet, the most sustained opposition came from Arab American organizations, especially the Association of Arab American University Graduates, whose president at the time was a radical young Lebanese American lawyer named Abdeen Jabara.

Does the quoted excerpt reveal “the quality of the whole”? Hard to say, but it certainly captures a number of the book’s salient features. The excerpt provides both top-down and bottom-up perspectives—the views of INS and FBI officials and of individuals subject to official monitoring and harassment. It features meticulous research and is written in brisk and vivid prose. These are all qualities I try to achieve throughout the book.
Learn more about Imperfect Strangers at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue