Another Arabesque

Another Arabesque: Syrian-Lebanese Ethnicity in Neoliberal Brazil

John Tofik Karam
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Another Arabesque
    Book Description:

    Offering a novel approach to the study of ethnicity in the neoliberal market,Another Arabesqueis the first full-length book in English to focus on the estimated seven million Arabs in Brazil. With insights gained from interviews and fieldwork, John Tofik Karam examines how Brazilians of Syrian-Lebanese descent have gained greater visibility and prominence as the country has embraced its globalizing economy, particularly its relations with Arab Gulf nations. At the same time, he recounts how Syrian-Lebanese descendents have increasingly self-identified as "Arabs." Karam demonstrates how Syrian-Lebanese ethnicity in Brazil has intensified through market liberalization, government transparency, and consumer diversification. Utilizing an ethnographic approach, he employs current social and business phenomena as springboards for investigation and discussion. Uncovering how Arabness appears in places far from the Middle East,Another Arabesquemakes a new and valuable contribution to the study of how identity is formed and shaped in the modern world.

    eISBN: 978-1-59213-541-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION The Politics of Privilege
    (pp. 1-20)

    Nearing avenida paulista (Paulista Avenue) in uptown São Paulo on a cool evening in 2001, I follow the public signs of Arabness. I first come across Habib’s Arab fast-food restaurant. Preparing almost half of the estimated 1.2 million esfihas (“Arab” meat pies) sold daily in the city, the chain is ignored by professionals who drive in the direction of posh Syrian–Lebanese restaurants up the street. I proceed toward Club Homs on the main avenue. Hailed as “the house of Arabs,” it is one of a half-dozen Middle Eastern country clubs in the area. On this night, the club is...

  5. PART ONE Imagining Political Economy
    • ONE Pariahs to Partners in the Export Nation
      (pp. 23-45)

      Adozen or so powerful industrialists of Syrian–Lebanese descent founded a chamber of commerce together in 1952. Financed by their family fortunes from the Brazilian textile market, the chamber originally served their high-society pretensions in Brazil and with the homeland. Yet, under its present-day name of the Câmara de Comércio Árabe Brasileira (Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce, or CCAB), this coterie of Syrian–Lebanese elites has been charged with the task of promoting Brazilian exports and exporters in the “Arab world.”

      Regularly appearing in financial news coverage, the chamber even received praise from Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1994–2002)....

    • TWO Eth(n)ics and Transparent State Reform
      (pp. 46-68)

      References to the alleged shrewdness of Arabs also made headline news in a corruption scandal that mired the São Paulo city government in 1999 and 2000. As citizens from lay, business, and media circles clamored for “more transparent” governance, city councilors of Middle Eastern origin became the embodiment of corruption in mainstream media reportage. In efforts to offset their image as corrupt ethnics, city councilors of Middle Eastern descent carried out the second annual commemoration of Lebanese independence day in São Paulo’s city government. Clamoring for justice in the Middle East, these politicians expressed a righteous brand of Arab ethnicity...

  6. PART TWO Remodeling the Nationalist Order
    • THREE Turcos in the Market Model of Racial Democracy
      (pp. 71-94)

      As shown in the previous chapters,turco(Turk) has served as a general designation for “Middle Easterner” in Brazil. Originally, it was used by early twentieth-century Brazilian elites to denigrate immigrants as economic pariahs. Rejecting the lowly classification, however, Syrian–Lebanese merchants sought a higher status by sending their children to private and postsecondary institutions. This generational strategy for upward mobility has continued in similar courses undertaken no exterior (abroad; mostly to the United States). In this current context, white-collar Syrian–Lebanese continue to be labeledturcosbut have now self-identified with the category, even considering it an “affectionate” or...

    • FOUR Mixing Christians, Cloning Muslims
      (pp. 95-118)

      Religious difference is part of ethnic recognition, especially in a historically Roman Catholic nation such as Brazil. Estimated to make up at least 80 percent of Middle Eastern immigrants in the early twentieth century, Christian Syrian–Lebanese were scrutinized by state immigration experts in terms of their tendency to wed in the homeland and their low rates of “miscegenation.”¹ To be Brazilian, in such nationalist thinking, was to be “mixed.” In the late twentieth century, however, this idea of mixture was removed from state immigration policy and, at the same time, adopted by Christian Syrian–Lebanese who now criticize their...

  7. PART THREE Marketing Ethnic Culture
    • FIVE Ethnic Reappropriation in the Country Club Circuit
      (pp. 121-143)

      Syrian, lebanese, or arab nationalisms—in addition to Eastern Christian and Islamic traditions—inspired dozens of social, charity, and religious associations in early twentieth-century São Paulo. Today gaining renown in thecolôniaand the public sphere, these institutions have become luxurious spaces for the consumption of hummus and caviar, belly and ballroom dances, as well as lute-likeoudand karaoke performances. In these hybrid leisure circles, though, socialites of Syrian–Lebanese origin have emphasized Middle Eastern culturalist styles of food, dance, and music that have been popularized in the increasingly diverse Brazilian market.

      This chapter traces the consumptive formation and...

    • SIX Air Turbulence in Homeland Tourism
      (pp. 144-165)

      Jet-setting to disney world or Tahiti, Brazilians of Syrian–Lebanese descent are avid consumers of international travel.¹ Although their preferred destination, like that of many well-to-do Brazilians, is the United States, their itineraries began to diversify in the late 1990s, as suggested by weekly tourism ads and reviews in the mainstream press. In fact, Middle Eastern tourist packages have been familiar features in Brazilian newspaper travel columns since 1996.² In this context, Syrian–Lebanese descendants have expressed considerable interest in, and have been urged to visit, homelands in the Middle East. During such trips, though, they have toured sites of...

  8. CONCLUSION In Secure Futures: Arabness, Neoliberalism, and Brazil
    (pp. 166-176)

    Syrian–lebanese descendants today have celebrated their economic, political, and cultural contributions to the Brazilian nation. Members of second and third generations have recurrently emphasized Arabs’ commercial prowess, ascent into political circles and liberal professions, masculine fame in familial regimes, and popularized forms of cuisine and dance. This book has shown that such ethnic pride is not necessarily unwarranted, but it needs to be understood in the Brazilian context of the “culture of neoliberalism” (Comaroff and Comaroff 2000: 304). Brazilians of Syrian–Lebanese descent have been increasingly recognized in the export economy, transparent government, liberalized immigration policy, as well as...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 177-194)
    (pp. 195-208)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 209-214)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 215-215)