Peace Be Upon Us
Islamic and Arabic traditions have long been part of American culture.
Reviewed by Paul M. Barrett
Sunday, November 9, 2008; BW02
By Jonathan Curiel
New Press. 246 pp. $25.95
It was a rough election season for American Arabs and Muslims. The McCain-Palin ticket shamelessly amplified the Internet smear that Barak Obama is a crypto-Islamic fanatic who fraternizes with terrorists. Obama responded by insisting, persuasively, on his credentials as an observant Christian. But in the process, he did little to point out the inherent bigotry in the Republican strategy Colin Powell, during his televised endorsement of Obama, eloquently challenged the assumption that Arabs and Muslims deserve to be held at arm's length. But the former secretary of state couldn't single-handedly do much to change the perception of these groups as a political liability.
Jonathan Curiel intends his book Al'
Curiel, a veteran reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle,
focuses not so much on the personal stories or sociology of Muslims and Arabs
Al' America offers a quirky tour of sites, sounds and
personalities that are quintessentially American and also reveal fascinating
vestiges of Islamic and Arab influence. Musical stops include the Surf Sound of
One of Curiel's most colorful excursions takes him to the
fez-festooned conclaves where Shriners still greet each other by declaring,
"salaam aleikum" (peace be upon you). At their apogee in the 1920s,
when they had 500,000 members, the Shriners paraded through downtown
Another entertaining digression takes readers to
The author's intent here is pure; his eye for telling detail, sharp. But his analysis wavers at times, as he seems to confuse kitsch with substance. Tales of the boozy Shriners in their heyday illustrate that once, at least, some of what Sarah Palin calls "small town America" didn't consider "Arab" to be a flat-out slur. But donning a fez and calling your fraternity president a potentate doesn't demonstrate that you'd be comfortable living next door to a real live Arab.
In the wake of a bruising presidential campaign, Americans of all faiths ought to consider how to strengthen ties to their Arab and Muslim fellow citizens. Curiel's book, though short-sighted in some ways, can play a role in persuading the skeptical that Arab and Muslim traditions are already woven deeply into the American fabric. ·
Paul M. Barrett is the author of "American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion," out in paperback this year.
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