Movement and displacement are not incidental aspects of the past and present of the Middle East; they are at the center of its history.
-Andrew Arsan, John Karam & Akram Khater, On Forgotten Shores: Migration in Middle East Studies and the Middle East in Migration Studies (PDF)
I am excited to have discovered that there is a new journal in existence
One of the downsides of participating in the field of Arab-American studies is that it so small, and has never quite known how to articulate itself in transnational perspective. Many of those of us who study Arab-Americans started out in Middle Eastern studies (like me); other started out or ground themselves in American ethnic studies. Both of these intellectual trajectories make sense, given both how Arab-Americans remain linked both in practice and in discourse to their communities of origin and how they are positioned within the American ethnic panoply, but it sometimes means that those of us working in the field can have trouble talking across this divide. (I suppose I'm lucky that I have a degree in women's studies, with a lot of coursework on intersectionality and women-of-color feminisms, so the language and frames of ethnic studies are minimally legible to me; I think a lot of Middle Eastern studies folks don't have that training.)
My solution has been to turn to the framework of transnational migration, in order to really capture the both/and nature of the subject of study. The editors of Mashreq & Mahjar have done likewise, trying to emphasize the way that the context of human movement and transnational circulation of ideas and goods has been a major force in constructing the region we think of as the Middle East. Whereas the post-Orientalism field of Middle Eastern Studies concentrates on how the way that the Middle East is understood as the foundational Other for Europe, the direction that this journal wants to take us is to focus on migration as another way for the transnational context to have effects on the Middle East.
In addition to the excellent introduction to the journal which I quoted above, there are four interesting articles (and a number of book reviews) in the first issue. Reem Bailony analyzes the way the New York diaspora engaged with the 1925 Syrian Revolt, making an interesting argument that, although these engagements existed at a distance, they were deeply national, rather than transnational, because of their adherence to the nationalist framework (PDF). Stacy Fahrenthold's paper also analyzes the diaspora press (specifically during World War I), concentrating on its role in developing a transnational Syrian middle class, and looking at the Syrian/Lebanese communities in Cairo, New York, and Latin America (PDF). John Tofik Karam talks about the role of Lebanese traders in constructing the relationship between Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina in the border region they share (PDF). And Isaac Xerxes Malki uses the example of the Lebanese in Ghana to explore how state control and the economy interact in influencing how immigrant groups are integrated, or not (PDF).
If I had a complaint about the first issue, it would be that I wish there were more social science and less history in it--but that's very much about wishing that everything in the world would be exactly as I want it, which is not a legitimate desire. So I'm pleased with the issue, pleased with the existence of the journal, and looking forward to reading what comes out of it in the future!