In October 1974, the members of the Association of Arab-American University Graduates (AAUG) gathered in Cleveland for their 7thannual meeting. AAUG was founded in 1967 by a group of scholars and activists as an educational organization to foster learning and dialogue about Arab and Arab American issues. Early leaders included famed scholars Ibrahim Abu Lughod and Edward Said.
The theme of the 1974 meeting was “Arabs in America: Dynamics of a Challenge.” One of the main threads of the convening was the continued media bias against Arabs, driven largely by the racist and Orientalist media coverage of the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine. In the wake of the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars, many speakers talked about the biased coverage of Palestinians, Arabs, and Arab Americans in television news, print journalism, school textbooks, and even Christian Sunday schools.
The proceedings of the 1974 convention were published in a 1975 book “Arabs in America: Myths and Realties.” This book was a landmark publication for the community as it gave scholars and activists a platform to discuss the structural challenges faced by Arab Americans—namely media bias, the continued Zionist occupation of Palestine, and U.S. cultural and military imperialism in the region.
The 1975 book featured an important essay by Edward Said that introduces the tenets of Orientalism, years before the seminal book would be published in 1978. He writes:
According to Orientalism, Orientals can be observed as possessing certain habits of mind, traits of character, idiosyncrasies of history and temperament, the sum of which inclines Orientals toward certain types of action.
Said gives examples of the generations of thought, writing, and rhetoric that has supported the dominant discourse that Arabs are inherently uncivilized and incompatible with modern western societies. Said then shows how prominent this rhetoric is in political commentary and news media coverage of the occupation of Palestine.
At the same conference, Michael Suleiman-- a Palestinian American scholar--spoke about the continued media bias against Palestinians and Arabs, particularly after outbreaks of violence. His essay begins bluntly:
Israel has been greatly successful in its efforts to persuade Westerners to view the Middle East and its peoples through Israeli eyes. Consequently the American public and its political leaders have accepted the Israeli version of Middle East developments as at once more ‘objective’ or ‘realistic,’ and more helpful in advancing U.S. interests in the area, than the assessment of the situation advanced by the Arabs.
Both Said and Suleiman talk about the prevailing “myth” that the Arab people are more prone to violence than other cultures, are irrational and, thus, inherently inferior. Suleiman asks, “Surely the time has come for the American public to be informed of the true nature of the problem in the Middle East. Who are the Palestinians? How did most of them become ‘refugees’? What is to become of them? Is a solution to the problem in the Middle East unacceptable to them feasible or even desirable?”
Much of what was said at the 1974 AAUG convention and in the resultant 1975 book could have been written today. Even 50 years ago, some of the best and brightest scholars and activists knew that the systemic issues that breed media and political bias against Palestinians (and all Arabs) were deeply embedded in the United States. AAUG was founded in 1967, in part, to fight the racist and one-sided coverage of the 1967 war and continued occupation. For 40 years, AAUG published dozens of important books and pamphlets, which form the basis of much of the current scholarship in the field.
Today a new generation of scholars and activists continue the fight.
To explore more, the Arab American National Museum has a large collection of related materials, found in the Michael W. Suleiman collection. Eastern Michigan University also holds a more complete collection of materials about AAUG.
Download the full program from the 1974 convention. The document is courtesy of the Arab American National Museum.