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11 January 2007 PR 07/03

UK and US Arabs: Semi-detached ‘foreigners’ or committed citizens?

Blanket assertions that immigrants remain closely tied to their homelands and only partly integrate are questioned in a new study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Researchers led by Dr Caroline Nagel of Loughborough University asked Arab community activists in Britain and the United States to share their views on citizenship, integration and multiculturalism. Questions included whether citizenship mattered to them, how they identified themselves, and where they considered ‘home’ to be.

Those interviewed tended to see themselves as members of multiple communities and to express attachment to their countries of origin. But they also valued the rights and security offered by their adopted lands, especially given that many had fled civil war, political repression, or statelessness.

Dr Nagel said: “People spoke frequently of a sense of duty and responsibility toward their adopted country, the need to follow its rules and regulations and, perhaps most importantly, to ‘give back’ to the society which had provided haven and opportunity.”

Interviews took place with activists in cities with sizeable Arab-origin populations – Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington DC and Detroit in the United States, and London, Birmingham, Sheffield and Liverpool in Britain.

A great deal of activism in these communities – including charity work, cultural and arts organisations, and political groups – reflected continued identification with the Arab world. But the study also revealed that not all those questioned were able, or willing, to maintain close links with the Arab world.

Many, in fact, were focussing their energies on building communities and social-political networks in the localities where they had settled. While activists were deeply concerned with issues relating to the Arab world, they often saw these as being ‘solved’ through activities directed at more local, and often non-Arab, audiences.

Dr Nagel said: “Politicians often place responsibility for ‘self-segregation’ and extremism on community leaders and institutions. So we felt it important to allow activists to tell us their understandings of community, citizenship, and integration, and to explore how organisations foster particular identities and forms of participation.”

Many participants in the study described themselves as encouraging members of their communities to integrate – that is, to become actively involved and more visible in their countries of settlement, to know their neighbourhoods and cities, and not to live as ‘foreigners’.

People interviewed also suggested that integration hinged on wider acceptance of Arabs and Arabness, as well as of Muslims, which could only be achieved by changing wider public attitudes toward and perceptions of the Arab world and Islam. Participants described integration not as the minority conforming to the majority, but as mutual accommodation and respect between different groups.

Dr Nagel said: “Most of our study participants recognise that their lives, and the lives of their children, are ‘here’ rather than ‘there’. They were actively thinking through ideas like citizenship, integration, and multiculturalism and trying to reconcile their sense of responsibility to their places of settlement with their attachments to their places of origin.”

 

ENDS

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Notes to editors

  1. The research project ‘Community, Immigration and the Construction of Citizenship’ was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Dr Nagel is at the Department of Geography, Loughborough University, Loughborough LE11 3TU.

    Methodology: The research is based on some 105 interviews with British Arab and Arab American activists. Fieldwork in the UK took place mostly in London, home to the majority of British Arabs and their organisations, with about a quarter among well-established but economically disadvantaged Arabic-speaking communities in Birmingham, Sheffield and Liverpool. In the US, they took place in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington DC, and Detroit – chosen because of their sizable and diverse Arab-origin populations and distinctive political opportunity structures.

    The ESRC is the UK’s largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It provides independent, high quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC’s planned total expenditure in 2006-07 is £169 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

    ESRC Society Today offers free access to a broad range of social science research and presents it in a way that makes it easy to navigate and saves users valuable time. As well as bringing together all ESRC-funded research and key online resources such as the Social Science Information Gateway and the UK Data Archive, non-ESRC resources are included, for example the Office for National Statistics. The portal provides access to early findings and research summaries, as well as full texts and original datasets through integrated search facilities. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

    The ESRC confirms the quality of its funded research by evaluating research projects through a process of peer review. This research has been graded as 'good'.

  2. Loughborough has an established reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry, and unrivalled sporting achievement. Assessments of teaching quality by the Quality Assurance Agency place it in the top flight of UK universities; the National Student Survey ranked Loughborough in the top five among full-time students; and industry highlights the University in its top five for graduate recruitment. Around 40% of Loughborough’s income is for research, and 60% for teaching. The University has been awarded five Queen's Anniversary Prizes: for its collaboration with aerospace and automotive companies such as BAE Systems, Ford and Rolls Royce; for its work in developing countries; for pioneering research in optical engineering; for its world-leading role in sports research, education and development; and for its outstanding work in evaluating and helping to develop social policy-related programmes.

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