Collection Highlight: Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center Interviews

Image of Beirut from MEMEAC website
Image of Beirut from MEMEAC website

The Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center (MEMEAC) Interviews is a collection of seventy-one transcribed oral history interviews conducted between June 2002 and June 2003 at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. This collection reveals how Middle Easterners and those of Middle Eastern descent coped and dealt with the backlash aimed at the immigrant community, particularly the Middle Eastern community, in the post-9/11 world.

Twenty-five men and forty-three women were interviewed for the collection. Many were young, as the average age of the interviewees was twenty-nine. Each interviewee was asked a specific set of questions, beginning with their background information. Many respondents self-identified as Pakistani, Arab-American, Indian, Afghani, Bengali, Egyptian, Palestinian, Lebanese, Iranian-American, or Syrian. Most respondents stated their religious affiliation was Muslim, although others identified themselves as Catholics, Hindus, Druids, and atheists. After going through the background information, the interviewer asked the respondents about their experience on 9/11, including where they were when the attacks happened, how they reacted, and how they felt when the terrorists were identified as Muslim. Respondents were then questioned as to whether their feelings towards the United States had changed, if they had experienced variations in their levels of political awareness since 9/11, and if they feel a sense of belonging in the United States. Many respondents felt that there was a change in the treatment of Middle Easterners after the attacks, and some respondents personally experienced backlash.

Interviewees were also asked if they felt that Middle Eastern organizations supported them by adequately addressing the changing attitudes towards the Middle Eastern community in the US after 9/11, and if they had joined any of those organizations. The interviewer asked each respondent how they think members of their communities can work to improve relations between various ethnic and religious groups, and many thought that education, dialogue, and outreach would be helpful. One of the final questions the interviewees were asked was how the United States can resolve the problem of terrorism directed against it, and some of the responses included: having the federal government promote, create, and maintain isolationist foreign policies; re-assesing America’s policies concerning the Middle East, especially those regarding Israel and Palestine; increasing America’s awareness of problems facing the global community; and gaining an understanding of how American policies are perceived around the world.

Nested within the Organizations collection, the MEMEAC interviews would be of interest to those studying the experiences of the ethnic Middle Eastern community in the early twenty-first century; the work of Middle Eastern organizations and Middle Easterners’ perceptions of those organizations; and profiling at airports in the wake of increased security measures. The Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center website provides insight into the Center’s mission, goals, resources, scholastic programs, and more.