by Louise A. Cainkar. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2009. 312pp. Cloth. $35.00. ISBN: 9780871540485.

Reviewed by Samuel B. Hoff, Department of History, Political Science, and Philosophy, Delaware State University. Email: shoff [at] desu.edu.


Louise Cainkar, an assistant professor of sociology at Marquette University, thanks the Arab and Muslim Americans at the outset of her study for “opening their doors and lives to me” (p.xii). The purpose of her work is to demonstrate how the post-9/11 period in the United States affected the aforementioned communities. Her research is based on two waves of surveys and interviews with Chicago-area residents who are Arab and Muslim, one done over the 2003-2004 period, and the other during 2008. The results indicate feelings of insecurity after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. According to Cainkar, these views are the result of behavior towards Arab and Muslim persons together with preconceived stereotypes of members of those groups held by others.

In the initial chapter, Cainkar discusses the reasons for the study and the method of investigation. She lists the direct impact of the 9/11 attacks on the Arab and Muslim communities, which is covered in depth in subsequent chapters. The next chapter seeks to verify the ramifications of the post-9/11 policies undertaken by the U.S. government though open-ended interviews conducted in 2008. Through the stories of Samir and Nora Kulthum, Hala Darwish, Layla, Usama Alshaibi, and Walid, the author is able to give the reader a first-hand look at how Arab and Muslim persons coped with the derisive glances, name-calling, and even hate crimes which targeted them.

In Chapter 3, the author traces the history of immigration policies affecting those of Mideast descent. One interesting finding from this chapter is that approximately half of the 1.5 million persons of Arab ancestry emigrated to the United States over the last forty years, and that as many as one-third of the total mosques in the country were constructed since 1990. There is no question that American attitudes toward Arab and Muslim citizens changed as a result of the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict and its aftermath. Later, the 1979 Iranian revolution, the 1990-1991 Gulf War, and the 1993 bombing of the parking garage at the World Trade Center in New York contributed to the social construction of these persons as “radicalized.” Cainkar makes the comparison between Arab and Muslim Americans in the post-9/11 environment and the manner by which Japanese Americans were regarded before and after the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941.

Chapter 4 goes into detail about how policies put in place by the George W. Bush administration negatively affected thousands of Arab and Muslim Americans. For instance, more than 1200 persons belonging to these groups [*127] were rounded up and arrested following the 9/11 attacks, with one person held in custody for as long as five years. Further, mandatory interviews with representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation stigmatized large segments of the Arab and Muslim communities. Additionally, as a consequence of the 2002 Absconders Initiative by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, thousands of non-citizen aliens were deported. Perhaps the most extensive policy had to do with special registration, whereby almost 130,000 non-immigrant aliens had to be photographed, fingerprinted, and questioned; this policy led to the deportation of more than 13,000 persons. Enhanced border security, ethnic profiling, and the surveillance procedures adopted as a part of the original USA Patriot Act are also discussed.

Chapters 5 through 7 depict how those of Arab and Muslim background reacted to government policies and individual behavior toward them. Over half of the more than one hundred people sampled in the 2003-2004 surveys claimed that they experienced acts of discrimination. For Arab and Muslim families, this meant keeping children home from school for periods of time, avoiding certain locales such as shopping malls, and even altering friendships. Though organizations like the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee kept tabs on violent acts taken against Arabs and Muslims, Chicago-area groups such as the Southwest Organizing Project helped in the effort to guard mosques from desecration. Among the segments of the Arab and Muslim communities most targeted for abuse in the post-9/11 milieu were women who chose to wear traditional head dress, referred to as hijab. Indeed Cainkar discovers that twice as many Arab and Muslim women as men felt unsafe in certain places following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The Conclusion presents some positive outcomes for Arab and Muslim Americans as a result of what they endured in the years following 2001. For one, many members of these groups emerged with a renewed sense of religious faith. Further, the government policies and disgraceful behavior toward them demonstrated the value of organizing to retain or recoup rights. Lastly, an augmented awareness of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments became necessary to prevent the spread of hate messages and actions. The author recommends that, in the same manner as “African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, Jews, Catholics, women, and other groups have challenged legal and customary barriers to social, economic, and political equality in the United States, so must Arab and Muslim Americans” (p.279).

Cainkar’s book may be compared with several others written on related topics over the past four years. In their 2006 coauthored work, Yvonne Haddad, Jane Smith, and Kathleen Moore (2006) portray Muslim women at home, work, and play in America. Jocelyne Cesari (2006; 2009) offers cross-national comparisons of the treatment of Arab and Muslims in democratic countries. Two books released in 2007 and 2009, respectively, offer case studies of the latter communities from the individual and group perspectives. Perhaps the study that comes closest to Cainkar’s in content is that by Geneive Abdo (2007). [*128] At 256 pages, this study is significantly shorter than Cainkar’s (325pp); the Abdo work focuses on persons of Arab ancestry from four distinct nations of origin, as opposed to the thirteen nations of origin encompassed in the persons surveyed in the present text.

Though a groundbreaking study due to its inclusiveness, the Cainkar book does have a few shortcomings. For instance, there is an inaccurate date identifying the fall of the Soviet Union (1990 as opposed to the end of 1991). Next, the placement of the chapter with the more recent interviews at the front of the text (Chapter 2) rather than after reviewing results of the 2003-2004 surveys is confusing. On the latter point, the author could have furnished the reader with more extensive findings from the aforementioned surveys in an appendix or presented data from these surveys in a more balanced fashion.

Since Cainkar’s book was released late last year, there have been a few recent developments of pertinence to her study. For one, President Barack Obama has made several efforts to improve ties with the Muslim world, the latest of which is naming an American envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Second, in advance of the 2010 census, Arab leaders in California have launched a movement to have Arab citizens write in their true ancestry rather than checking “white.” These seemingly divergent actions are actually consistent with two points made by Cainkar. On the one hand, greater tolerance by Americans toward the Arab and Muslim communities globally will help integration of these groups within the United States. On the other hand, the effort by the latter groups to assert their Americanness should not lead to a disappearance of ethnic or religious heritage.

Abdo, Geneive. 2007. MECCA AND MAIN STREET: MUSLIM LIFE IN AMERICA AFTER 9/11. New York: Oxford University Press.


Cesari, Joselyne, editor. 2009. MUSLIMS IN THE WEST AFTER 9/11. RELIGION, POLITICS, AND LAW. New York: Routledge.


Haddad, Yvonne, Jane Smith, and Kathleen Moore. 2006. MUSLIM WOMEN IN AMERICA: THE CHALLENGE OF ISLAMIC IDENTITY TODAY. New York: Oxford University Press.


© Copyright 2010 by the author, Samuel B. Hoff.