By Matthew Jaber Stiffler, Arab American National Museum
For four days in early November, the Arab American National Museum (AANM) was the site of performances and discussions that highlighted contemporary issues within the Arab American community. The four-day convening of scholars and community activists began with a musical performance and comedy show by Michigan-based Arab American performers, and continued with three more days of panel discussions and book readings. Throughout the weekend, more than 100 people from more than 20 states and five countries engaged in critical dialogue and reflection on the growing discipline of Arab American studies.
The conference, “Contemporary Research in Arab American Studies: New Trends & Critical Perspectives,” had three purposes. The main purpose was to bring scholars and community activists together to collectively discuss the myriad issues that affect Arab Americans. The second purpose was to honor the late Dr. Michael W. Suleiman, a prolific and founding scholar in the field of Arab American studies. The third purpose for the conference was to showcase some of the findings of the Arab American National Museum’s project on the impacts of 9/11 on the Arab and Muslim communities of Michigan.
The first full day of the conference, Friday, Nov. 4, was dedicated to an exploration of the impacts of 9/11 on Arab and Muslim communities in Michigan and beyond. There were two scholarly panels on the topic, as well as a keynote address from Juanita Moore, president of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, who spoke about the role that museums can play in civil rights issues. The highlight of the day, though, was a frank discussion of the issues faced by Arab and Muslim American communities across Michigan, particularly Flint, Grand Rapids, and Kalamazoo.
During this enlightening panel discussion, three community leaders, moderated by civil rights lawyer Noel Saleh, outlined the continued impacts of 9/11 on their communities, as well as other issues that these communities face, such as racial tensions and continuing problems in the homeland. The panel brought into focus communities that don’t typically receive press or scholarly attention. Since most researchers focus on the Arab American communities in Dearborn and Metro Detroit, the audience was thrilled to hear about the amazing growth that Arabs and Muslims have made in smaller communities.
Mona Sahouri, of the Arab American Heritage Council in Flint, and Petra Alsoofy from the Grand Rapids area, both talked about the increased visibility and fundraising prowess of these groups, including the building of new mosques in their communities since 9/11. The panelists showed that while 9/11 continues to have negative impacts on the Arab American and Muslim American communities of Michigan, the communities have shown tremendous resilience, and have continued to build bridges with the general public, particularly through education and cultural events.
Photos from the event are available at on the AANM’s Flickr page. Video from the event is forthcoming.