Interview with Dr. Carol Fadda 

Carol Fadda-Conrey

Would you give us a summary of your educational and professional background, your activities, and your research?

I am currently Associate Professor of English at Syracuse University, where I am also an affiliate faculty member in the Women’s and Gender Studies Department, the Middle Eastern Studies Program, and the LGBT Studies Program. I grew up in Beirut, Lebanon, received my BA and MA from the American University of Beirut, and then graduated with a PhD in English from Purdue University in 2006. At SU, I teach a variety of graduate and undergraduate courses on critical race and ethnic studies, gender and sexuality studies, transnational and diaspora studies, Middle Eastern Studies, and Arab and Arab American literatures and cultures. These courses include “Gender and Sexualities in the Arab World,” “Introduction to Arab American Literatures and Cultures,” “Gender, Violence, and Sexualities in the ‘War on Terror,’” “The Middle East in Graphic Novels,” “US Minority Literatures in a Comparative Framework,” and “War Narratives from the Middle East and its Diaspora.” My research lies at the intersections of various fields of study including American studies, Middle Eastern studies, critical race and ethnic studies, and gender and sexuality studies. I focus on analyzing and challenging the boundaries that individually govern these fields. My interdisciplinary approach to teaching and research challenges such boundaries through feminist, anti-racist, transnational, and anti-imperialist analytical frameworks that underscore revisionary and radical modes of knowledge production about Arabs and Muslims in transnational contexts. Such an approach emphasizes issues of power, visibility, representation, and voice in studying circuits of literary and cultural production, as well as political and scholarly discourse. In doing so, my work maps the connections and transnational links between geopolitical areas, such as the US and the Arab world, that are often constructed and defined in binaristic ways. My emphasis on delineating such connective links between the US and the Arab world is premised on highlighting genealogies of US empire and ongoing military projects in the Arab world, as well as histories of Arab displacement and dispossession, and anti-Arab/anti-Muslim racism in the US in order to better understand how narratives about self and other are constructed, circulated, and consumed. My essays on gender, race, ethnicity, war trauma, and transnational citizenships in Arab and Arab American literary texts have appeared in a variety of journals, including Amerasia, MELUS, Modern Fiction Studies, College Literature, as well as in edited collections such as The Oxford Handbook of Arab Novelistic Traditions, Arab American Aesthetics, Orientalism and Literature, Arabs in the Americas, Arab Women’s Lives Retold: Exploring Identity Through Writing, and Arab Voices in Diaspora, among others. My first book, Contemporary Arab American Literature: Transnational Reconfigurations of Home and Belonging was published by NYU Press in 2014, and I am currently working on my second book, titled Carceral States, Dissident Citizenships: Arab and Muslim Narratives in an Age of “Terror.” Collaborating with colleagues on various projects in my fields of study is an immensely gratifying part of my work. I recently was part of an interdisciplinary group of scholars who developed the syllabus #IslamophobiaIsRacism as a teaching resource that highlights how Islamophobia and histories of anti-Muslim violence should be analyzed and understood through the lens of structural racism and exclusion. I have also worked with my colleague Dana Olwan in the WGS Department on developing and teaching a study abroad course on Women and Gender in the Arab World, which we co-taught in the summer of 2015 in Beirut and Amman. The course was a huge success and was incredibly formative for the students as well as for us as teachers. Additionally, I currently serve on the board of the Arab American Studies Association, and I am the editor of the newly launched Critical Arab American Studies book series at Syracuse University Press.

How important is it to have a multidisciplinary approach to understand the Middle East and to teach courses within Middle Eastern Studies?

An essential aspect of the multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approach that I maintain in my teaching and research is to place the different disciplines and fields of study that I integrate in my work in conversation with each other. Doing so not only helps us revisit the contours and boundaries framing various bodies of knowledge, but raises important questions about the kinds of knowledges and the modes of knowledge production applied within and across individual disciplines and fields. For instance, I make sure to integrate in my classes a historical focus that is not only meant to equip students with “correct” historical context of the materials we’re covering or to provide them with a “background” for the literary texts that we’re reading. Instead, I encourage students to raise questions about how histories are constructed, portrayed, and consolidated, and how literary and cultural texts, for one, become venues for exploring such questions. In doing so, students interrogate and problematize the power structures that inform mainstream historical knowledges in order to understand how alternative narratives and histories are formulated and disseminated. To emphasize what I said earlier, my work gives particular consideration to the intellectual, critical, pedagogical, and political projects that inform the boundaries defining and often separating Middle Eastern Studies from Arab American and Muslim American Studies. Placing these fields of study in a relational manner reframes their separation into independent scholarly realms (area studies vs. critical race and ethnic studies, or Middle Eastern Studies vs. Arab and Muslim American Studies). At the same time, such a relational approach helps in investigating current concepts and modes of inquiry, including the “global” or the “transnational,” across multiple fields and disciplines.

Can you tell us more about your book, Contemporary Arab-American Literature: Transnational Reconfigurations of Citizenship and Belonging?

In my first book Contemporary Arab-American Literature: Transnational Reconfigurations of Citizenship and Belonging (NYU Press, 2014), I analyze a wide array of Arab American literary and occasional visual texts dating from around the 1990s onwards that contest blanket and erroneous representations of Arabs and Muslims in the US. At the same time, these texts endorse, develop, and portray feminist, anti-assimilationist and transnational modes of Arab American and Muslim American belonging that ultimately transform hegemonic forms of national membership and citizenship in the US. Throughout the book, I argue that the ways in which original Arab homelands are imagined, replicated, portrayed, and lived by multiple generations of Arab and Muslim Americans in the selected texts invite new engagements with US citizenship and belonging that challenge the frameworks of Orientalism and neo-imperialism. For instance, I take up how literary and cultural texts by Arab and Muslim Americans portray experiences of Palestinian displacement, the Lebanese war, and the US-led wars in Iraq (among other traumatic events) to show how these experiences continually shape US diasporic lives in crucial ways.

You are working on a manuscript currently. How does this build on your last book?

My current research extends the study of Arab and Muslim American citizenship and belonging through the lens of literary and cultural production by focusing on narratives and testimonials of incarceration and confinement by Arabs and Muslims that discursively challenge the authority of the state in US national and transnational contexts. Titled Carceral States and Dissident Citizenships: Narratives of Resistance in an Age of “Terror,” my current book project draws on feminists of color and anti-imperial critiques of the US prison industrial complex and its connections to sites of incarceration in the Global South to analyze narratives coming out of secret and extra-legal incarceration sites in the ongoing “Global War on Terror.” At the same time, the book problematizes the term “Global War on Terror” as deployed by the US by analyzing narratives of incarceration from Lebanon and Palestine that point to the connections and confluences of state powers across geographical borders and historical timelines. My analysis thus unpacks some of the confluences and divergences among the various experiences of incarcerated Arabs and Muslims in the US and in the Middle East, emphasizing in the process how such experiences are often shaped by similar and intersecting racial, colonial, and imperial logics. I argue that nation-states’ constructions of minoritized Arab and Muslim identities, and the punished/punishable and marginalized citizenships produced by such constructions in the context of state violence, Islamophobia, and rampant anti-Arab racism are challenged by the perspectives presented in the cultural and literary output analyzed in this book. This project hence underscores alternative and critical narrative mappings of the “Global War on Terror,” specifically as enacted through texts that emphasize Arab and Muslim perspectives, laying bare in the process the powers and limitations of state authorities, transnational markets, and audience reception.