A FEW EXCEPTIONS notwithstanding, American higher-education institutions do not offer general or specialized studies of Arab and Muslim Americans.
This is a shocking reality considering that this community has produced intellectual giants, inventors, celebrities and public figures.
In addition, this community has been the subject of relentless public scrutiny. It has been the subject of congressional hearings to "determine the exact radicalization" of its members, the object of many stereotyped Hollywood movies, of endless FBI "voluntary interviews," the intended target of restrictive laws and the victim of relentless rightwing and fanatical religious pundits.
One would think that American colleges would provide the proper academic setting to critically examine and understand this community.
While the study of Arabic, Islam and Muslims has substantially increased since Sept. 11, interest in Arab- and Muslim-Americans has been lacking, if not nonexistent. No rigorous focus exists to study the lives of almost 10 million American citizens who have been part of our republic since before its founding.
Even in Passaic and Bergen counties, where a thriving Arab and Muslim community live, the situation is just as bleak.
New Jersey has more than 850,000 Americans who are either Arab or Muslim. They are an integral component of our state's cultural tapestry. They are shopkeepers, doctors, professors, lawyers, poets, nurses, police officers, mayors, judges, inventors, military leaders and activists.
However, their cultural heritage, their faiths and their collective American stories remain outside the mainstream popular culture.
An initial online search of courses offered by state colleges turned up nothing. Professor Peter Golden, director of the Middle Eastern studies program at Rutgers University, could recall only one course that was offered just once.
Professor Amaney Jamal of Princeton University and Professor Mazooz Sehwail of Montclair State University reached the same conclusion.
Islamophobia and Arab phobia is too simple an explanation. Funding concerns should not be a major excuse, as the relevant courses could be incorporated into several existing interdisciplinary studies.
And we cannot find fault in the timeliness (national security concerns) of the topics nor the lack of possible textbooks or literature.
What is lacking is an awareness of the need for specific courses as part of a regular course curriculum, rather than as occasional and student–driven special-topics courses.
University of Michigan-Dearborn is a prime example of an emerging template of a rigorous academic focus on the topic. A New Jersey-specific course could have the title, "Arab-Americans and the Making of Paterson as the Silk Capital of the World." Arab silk traders, tailors and designers were among those who made New Jersey the silk capital in the 1800s and early 1900s.
Another course could explore the Arab-American ethnic media and its impact on shaping the political and social attitudes of the community.
Yet another course could explore the various immigration waves of Arab Americans into the area and examine their drive to settle in the United States and how their Middle Eastern languages and cultures merged, and whether the culture hindered their ability to become fully American while maintaining their distinct cultural stamp.
Because American-Muslims comprise multiple ethnicities with different narratives of migration and cultures, they appropriately deserve separate courses that examine their historical and contemporary issues.
Muslims did not show up on American shores on Sept. 11. They have made America their home since the time of Columbus.
Ignoring 10 million Americans in the classroom has in a massive way sustained their alienation and "otherness." This ambivalence has planted the seeds of xenophobic tendencies that foster racial discrimination against fellow students and, ultimately, fellow citizens.
American colleges have a responsibility to provide an academic setting for a careful, critical and unhindered examination of our relationship with Arab- and Muslim-Americans. While college courses alone cannot compel civility and tolerance, they can surely illuminate their noble qualities.
The time is now to unlock the vault of this part of America.