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					Traditional and Nationalist Identity
In a Christian Arab Community
Mary C. S e n g s t o c k
Wayne State University

     Christians from Middle Eastern European nations have been less inclined than Muslims to
  identify with Arab nationalist causes, but a growth of Arab identity has been observed among
  Middle Eastern Christian immigrants in recent years. Recent immigrants are more likely to

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  identify with Arab nationalism than immigrants who have been in the United States for some
  time. This paper analyzes religious and nationalist identity in a Chaldean Iraqi community in
  Detroit, Michigan. It rejects the notion that the earlier immigrants' nationalist sentimenL~ have
  been "lost" through assimilation, and suggests that the increased nationalist identity of recent
  immigrants is due in part to an increase in urbanista and bureaucratic participation in the
  modern Middle East.

   Where a strong pluralist tradition exists, religious and nationalist identities can
develop quite separately from each other, and persons from quite different
religious orientations can share equally strong national loyalties. In Arabic na-
tions, however, religious and national loyalties have been closely bound together.
Suleiman notes that in the Arabic world political and religious considerations are
inseparable (1967:173). The Muslim religion has encouraged a correlation be-
tween politics and religion with the political goal of many Muslim religious leaders
being the establishment of a state in which Muslim religious principles are at the
core of the socio-political framework (Suleiman 1967:174).
    In the Middle East, the tendency to develop broadened loyalties has been easier
for the Muslim than for the Christian, probably because Muslims far outnumber
Christians in the area. In Lebanon, for example, it was fo'und that most Muslims
favored a Pan-Arab state like the United Arab Republic, while Christians were
more likely to oppose it (Kingsbury and Pounds, 1964:66). T h e tendency of
 Christians in some parts of the Arab world to resist identification, with other
 citizens in the area who differ in kin ties, tribe, region, or especially religion can be
 seen in immigrants from Arab countries to the United States. In the Detroit
 metropolitan area, the majority of immigrants who have claimed to make up the
 "Arab community" have been Muslims. Among Lebanese Christians, many ob-
jected to being identified with the Arab community (Yehia, 1970:104-105).
    In the Chaldean community of Detroit, many immigrants would identify them-
 selves as "Chaldeans," based on their religious affiliation, or as "Telkeppes," based
on their village of origin, but would object strenuously to being called "Iraqis" or
"Arabs" (Sengstock, 1967:65-67). But even within families there are clear divi-
sions of opinion regarding appropriate identities. In one family, two immigrant
cousins were described as "Christian Arabs." "I'm n o t a n Arab!" exclaimed one.
"Well I am!" his cousin retorted. In another family a Chaldean immigrant de-
scribed himself as an Arab, at which point his fianc› also an immigrant, burst


into tears. Generally, those who identify with Iraq and the Arab Movement seem
to be found among the more recent immigrants. Immigrants who have been here
for some time are more likely to identify with the traditional ties of religion,
family, and village. Some recent immigrants carne somewhat late in life (fifty years
old or above) and they exhibit a mixed pattern--those who have spent most of
their lives in the village seem to be oriented to religion and village while those who
have lived in Iraqi cities are more nationalistic.
   Because of the variant identity patterns which exist in this community, the
Chaldeans of Detroit are an ideal group for the analysis of national versus
religious identification among Christians from the Middle East. Since data on
which this analysis is based were collected as part of an assimilative and ethno-
graphic study, ideal measures of religious and national identity were not included.

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Detroit's Chaldean community was studied by the author during 1962-1965.
Nearly all members of the community, now numbering about 6,000 to 7,000
persons, traced their ancestry to a single town, Telkaif, in the lq (province) of
Mosul in northern Iraq. Al1 were members of the Chaldean rite of the Roman
Catholic Church. T h e study included a census of the entire community in 1963,
supplemented by 75 respondent interviews (Sengstock, 1967).
   T h e Chaldeans have long been a minority group in the Middle East, primarily
because they are Christians in a Muslim world. As Christians they are a minority,
because, unlike the Nestorians and Orthodox Christians, they are in union with
the Pope of Rome. T h e i r language is different because Chaldeans speak a dialect
of Aramaic, variously called Chaldean, Syriac or Assyrian. And Chaldeans have
lived politically as "marginal men." The area of northern Iraq in which they live
has been a border area for many years with Arabs to the South and the Kurds, who
have had strained relations with the Arabs for generations, to the North. In
addition, their territory has been claimed and occupied by the Turkish and British
at various times. Being u n d e r the rule of constantly changing political entities has
helped them retain their sense of identity to their own group, the only constant
factor in their lives. In addition, the Chaldeans are a classic exarnple of an ethnic
minority protected by a colonial power. T h e Chaldeans had often felt persecuted
by Arabs, Turks, and Kurds; hence they welcomed the protection of British
colonists and many served the colonial bureaucracy during its occupation of their
area. Thus the Chaldeans are marginal to the Arab world in several senses.
Acceptance of nationalist or Pan-Arab identity requires them to alter their identity
patterns in many respects.
   Analysts of nationalist development have described several variables which
hinder the development of nationalist sentiment (Apter, 1955:5-8). Among these
characteristics are traditionalism, where acceptance of traditional tribal or village
customs Ÿ intense, loyahy to a centralized, urban, industrial national society is
difficult to achieve;familism, where dependence upon family ties for economic
support and other needs is difficult to reconcile with the bureaucratic efficiency
required by national government; intergroup hostility, where conflict, hostility, and
fear between subgroups of a society make development of national identity
difficuh; resistance to bureaucracy, where a population resists the introduction of
bureaucratic procedures and national development is correspondingly impeded.
   In analyzing Chaldean identity patterns, the four non-nationalistic variables
mentioned above were used in the following hypotheses:
                                 ARAB T R A D I T I O N A E AND N A T I O N A L I S T I D E N T I T Y             203

  A) the majority of Chaldean immigrants in Detroit exhibit the non-nationalist
characteristics of traditionalism, familism, intergroup hostility, and resistance to
bureaucracy; B) earlier immigrants to the community exhibit these characteristics
to a greater degree than recent immigrants.

   Data available on the Chaldeans included two measures which indicated the
urbanity or traditionalism of the Chaldean immigrants. If Chaldeans are more
urban than rural in origin, they are likely to develop the more open attitude
toward change which is characteristic of urban areas and which is also a major
component of a nationalistic movement. T h e Chaldean population in Detroit is
about equally divided between urban and non-urban birthplaces. However, re-

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cent Chaldean immigrants are more likely to be from urban places (primarily
Baghdad), while earlier immigrants are likely to have been born and reared in the
village of Telkaif. Eighty-two percent of the earlier immigrants had rural origin;
72 percent of the recent immigrants had an urban origin (see Table lA). Thus the
urban origin of recent immigrants would contribute to greater Arab or Iraqi
nationalism in this group.
                                                      TABLE 1
                                       T r a d i t i o n a l i s m v. U r b a n i t y

                                                              Pre-1948                  1948 or later   Total    (Z:)
A. Immigrants with Village Origin:                              82.2%                     28.0%         53.5% (11.938)*
   (Based on 479 immigrants in Population)
                   (Population N=)                              (225)                     (254)         (479)
B. Preference for Traditional Religion:                       100.0%                       67,9%         79.1% (2.467)*
   (Based on 43 immigrants sampled)
                     (Sample N =)                               (15)                      (28)          (43)

*Significant at the .05 level or better in a one-tailed test.

   Another measure of traditionalism is religious preference. T h e traditional
religion of the village of Telkaif is the Chaldean rite of the Roman Catholic
Church. As Table 1B shows, none of the respondents had altered his or her
religious preference in any drastic manner. All claimed to be at least nominal
members of the Roman Catholic Church. T h e r e was a slight shift of preference
away from the traditional Chaldean rite toward the more d o m i n a n t Latin rite of
the Catholic Church. As Table 1 indicates, those who have altered their rite
preference are all recent immigrants, over one-fourth of whom no longer prefer
the traditional religious rite. I f they are willing to give up their religious traditions,
they may be willing to give up other traditions as well, an indication of a more
nationalistic sentiment.

  Four measures of the family orientation of the Chaldeans are available. First is
the prevalence of family economic ventures. As Table 2A shows, over one-third of
Chaldean immigrants with relatives in Detroit work with them. These were mainly

                                                    TABLE 2
                               F a m i l i s m v. B u r e a u c r a t i c Universalism

                                                           Pre- 1948         1948 of later   Total   (Z=)

A. Immigrants Working with Relatives: (for 136       29.4%                       44.1%       36.8% (1.778)
   nuclear units in population with relatives in area)
             (Revised Nuclear Unit N=)               (68)                        (68)        (136)

B. Immigrants Self-Employed:                               68.9%                  36.4%      52.4% (5.408)*
   (for 175 nuclear unit heads in population)
              (Total Nuclear Unit N=)                      (135)                  (140)      (275)

C. Participated in Bureaucratic Economic

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   Ventures:                                                -                    14.3%        9.3% (1.538)*
              (Sample N=)                                  (15)                  (28)        (43)

D. Prefer Bureaucratic Loans:                              13.3%                 50.0%       37.2% (2.372)*
             (Sample N =)                                  (15)                  (28)        (43)
*Significant at the .05 level or better in a one-tailed test.

men who owned grocery stores and had their fathers, sons, brothers, of cousins as
co-owners of employees. A few also worked with female rclatives. I had expected
that the recent immigrants would be less likely to work with relatives. Instead,
recent immigrants are more familistic and less bureaucratic: 44 percent of recent
immigrants versus 29 percent of earlier ones work with relatives. It would be a
mistake, however, to conclude that this alone indicates that recent immigrants are
more family-oriented. In large part, their greater tendency to work with relatives
may be due to the fact that this group is actually more bureaucratically-oriented
than the earlier arrivals. As Section B of Table 2 indicates, much of the reason why
earlier immigrants do not work with relatives is because they do not work with
anyone, relative or non-relative. Sixty-nine percent of earlier immigrants are
self-employed; the other thirty-one percent are in occupations which require
them to work with others. With more recent immigrants the picture is quite
different, over half being engaged in occupations which require them to work
with others. Some have established businesses with one or several other members
of their own families. Others are engaged in business with unrclated Chaldeans.
For many, however, it means they have joined large corporations employing
    Familistic sentiment remains strong in the Chaldean community. T h e r e is a
g r o w i n g t e n d e n c y to move away f r o m p e r s o n a l i n d e p e n d e n c e a n d self-
sufficiency, and toward greater dependence on others, even those outside the
family. This trend can be seen in Sections C a n d D of Table 2. Since many
Chaldeans are in the retail grocery business, some Chaldean grocers attempted to
organize Chaldean grocers into an organization forjoint advertising and purchas-
ing. As Table 2C indicates, all participants in such ventures were recent immi-
grants. Data on preferred sources for loans also indicate a greater preference for
bureaucracy on the part of recent immigrants. Over half of the recent immigrants
interviewed would prefer to borrow money from a bureaucratic loan agency, such
a s a bank of a savings and loan association. Earlier immigrants were more likely to
trust family sources for such assistance (Table 2D).
                                 ARAB TRADITIONAL AND NATIONALIST IDENTITY                     205

Intergroup Hostility
   As Table 3A indicates, Chaldeans are nearly equally divided in their willingness
to accept outsiders. However, all of the earlier immigrants interviewed adhere to
the traditional preference for one's own group. Most of the recent immigrants,
however, are willing to concede that m e m b e r s of other groups may have assets as
well. Indeed, Table 3 gives moderate support to the hypothesis that recent
immigrants have a greater interaction with non-Chaldeans. A wide variety of
relationships were considered, f r o m membelships in formal organizations to

                             Inter-Group Hostility v. Inter-Group Trust

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                                                      Pre-1948   1948 or later     Total    (Z=)
A. Consider Chaldeans "better":                        73.3%         25.0%        41.9% (3.059)*
             (Sample N=)                               (15)          (28)         (43)
B. Have Memberships in Non-Chaldean
   Organizations:                                      13.3%         35.7%         27.9% (1.561)
              (Sample N=)                              (15)           (28)          (43)
C. Close Leisure Contacts Include
  Non-Chaldeans:                                       20.0%          32.1%        27.9% (0.843)
              (Sample N=)                              (15)          (28)          (43)
D. Contracted Exogamous Marriages:                     14.2%         23.6%         19.2% (2.618)*
             (Population N=)                           (225)         (254)         (479)
*Significant at the .05 level or better in a one-tailed test.

more intimate ties such as close friendship and marriage. As Table 3B shows,
recent immigrants were slightly more likely to belong to organizations with non-
Chaldean members, though the difference was not statistically significant. In their
more intimate social relationships, recent immigrants also appeared more likely to
be accepting of non-Chaldean contacts. More recent immigrants reported that
their leisure-time contacts included non-Chaldeans (Table 3C). Again this differ-
ence did not approach statistical significance. T h e r e was a statistically significant
difference between recent and early immigrants in their likelihood to contract
e x o g a m o u s m a r r i a g e s . T h u s in the very intimate relationship of marriage, recent
immigrants were more likely than earlier ones to be accepting o f non-Chaldeans
as possible partners (Table 3D). T h e intergroup trust which underlies intergroup
social contact is slightly more characteristic of recent than of earlier immigrants.

Resistance to Bureaucracy
   As indicated in the preceding sections, recent Chaldean immigrants are more
likely to have experience with bureaucratic settings than their predecessors. T h e y
are more likely to be involved in bureaucratic economic ventures, rely on bureau-
cratic agencies for loans, and belong to formal organizations o f primarily non-
Chaldeans. This characteristic of recent Chaldean immigrants is probably indica-
tive of a trend toward greater familiarity with bureaucracy on the part of many
Chaldeans and other traditional Christians in Arab nations. It is also evident that
206                    ANAI.YSIS

the Chaldeans are acquiring the educational background which prepares them
for bureaucratic and nation-state participation. As Table 4 indicates, early Chal-
dean immigrants are largely lacking in formal education. Over half of them have
never been to high school. In contrast all of the recent immigrants had at least
some high school and nearly three-fourths have been to college. T h u s they are
also achieving formal training in how to deal with bureaucracy, and developing
the expertise it requires. T h e y are also becoming more effective participants in a
bureaucratic nation-state.

                                                     TABLE 4
                                Educational      Level of Chaldean    Immigrants

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                                                           Pre-1948     1948 or   later    Total   (Z=)
Level o f E d u c a t i o n :
       Grade S c h o o l or                                 53.3%            -             18.6% (4.281)*
        Some High School                                    20.2%          25.0%           23.3% (0.355)
        S o m e College                                     13.3%          71.4%           51.1% (3.631)*
        Unknown                                              13.3%           3.6%           7.0%    -
                                                           100.1%         100.0%          100.0%

                 (N=)                                      (15)           (28)            (43)
*Significant at the .05 level or   better fora    one-tailed test.

The Identity Crisis of Chaldeans and Other Christian Arabs
    In their interviews with me, the majority of the Chaldeans, recent immigrants
included, still thought o f themselves primarily as Chaldeans or T e l k e p p e s - - s u g -
gesting that identification with the old traditional subgroupings in Middle Eastern
society is still very strong. Most Chaldeans spoke only the village language: nearly
all of the early immigrants knew n o Arabic at all, and many of the recent ones
knew Arabic but p r e f e r r e d to use the Chaldean language. T h e y p r e f e r r e d to be
called Chaldeans or Telkeppes. Sentiment a m o n g them varied from mild prefer-
ence for the traditional labels to actual abhorrence for the nationalist ones. Some
considered Chaldeans who spoke Arabic or identified as Arabs to be traitors to
their homeland.
    On the other hand, a substantial minority o f r e c e n t immigrants did exhibit some
tendency to view themselves as Arabs or Iraqis. For example, nearly one-fourth of
forty-three immigrants interviewed knew and used the Arabic language; all but
two of these were recent immigrants. Members of the recent immigrant g r o u p
often used the terms Arab or Iraqi to describe themselves. Most would also use the
term Chaldean, which they saw asa religious description. Recent immigrants were
less likely to claim to be "Telkeppes," which they viewed a s a village designation.
An illustration of the greater sense of "nationhood" in this g r o u p can be seen in
the c o m m e n t of one of their numbers. This man viewed with disdain the use of
either of the traditional designations: "I a m a n Iraqi," said he. "Chaldean or
T e l k e p p e are not nationalities." Obviously this man thought of Iraq a s a single
nation and himself as part of it. O t h e r designations, important though they might
be, were seen as minor ones, to be subordinated to that of national origin. This
                          ARAB T R A D I T I O N A L AND N A T I O N A L I S T I D E N T I T Y   207

sentiment of identity with Iraq, with other Arabs, or with both, appears to be a
small but growing tendency within the Chaldean community.
   Further research, with more current data, is clearly needed. But I suggest that
the evidence here presented allows a tentative acceptance of the proposed
hypotheses. Detroit's recent Chaldean immigrants appear to exhibit a sense of
Arab and/or Iraqi nationalism. Recent immigrants in this community think of
 themselves as Christians--but nonetheless as Arabs and Iraqis. To them these are
consistent, perhaps even complementary statuses, not contradictory ones. T h e
 key question is: why do older immigrants exhibit a high degree of traditional
 identification while recent immigrants ate more nationalistic?
   One interpretation might be that nationalistic identity has been lost by the
 earlier immigrants as part of their assimilation into the dominant stream of

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American life. T h r e e decades ago RubyJo Kennedy documented the tendency of
immigrants to drop their nationalist ties in favor of religious ones (1944). Thus
 Poles, Italians and Southern Irish become "Catholics"; German Lutherans,
French Huguenots, and English Methodists become "Protestants"; and Jewsfrom
many nations become simply "Jews." It is possible that recent Chaldean immi-
grants identify themselves as Iraqis or Arabs because this national identity is still
fresh in their memories. Older immigrants, after three decades or more in
America, have become more assimilated into American culture. A s a result they
have lost their sense of national identity. Identity with religion, family, village are
all that remain. For several reasons this explanation must be rejected. Instead I
suggest that the early immigrants did not in fact ever have a sense ofidentity with
 Iraq or the Arab world. Rather the sense of Iraqi/Arab identity which recent
Chaldean immigrants now exhibit is one which Chaldeans in Iraq arejust recently
beginning to experience. Early Chaldean immigrants did not think ofthemselves
as "Iraqis" or "Arabs" for several reasons.
   One important reason is the fact that Iraq, asa nation, did not exist when many
of these people left their home village. Iraq first gained its independence as a
separate nation in 1932 (Kingsbury and Pounds, 1964:64-66). Immediately prior
to that time the area had been a British protectorate. Earlier it had been u n d e r
Persian and Turkish control, d u r i n g which time political boundaries in the area
were constantly changing. The stable political unit remained the village, as the
supra-village power was constantly changing hands. Asa result, early immigrants
from villages which are now part of the Iraqi nation had no sense of being part of
"Iraq" when they emigrated. At that time there was no Iraqi national identity with
which to identify. Some supra-village political identities are mentioned by the
early immigrants. They exhibit some feeling of identity with other Christian
villages n e a r b y - - t h e province of Mosul in which Telkaif is located is heavily
Christian. Some express feelings of closeness to the Kurds from the mountains to
the north of Telkaif, for community tradition has it that Telkaif was founded by
men from the mountains. But no orientation toward the south, the center of Iraqi
government of Baghdad, is mentioned by early immigrants.
   Most Middle Eastern Christians in the early Twentieth Century had difficulty
identifying with the Arab Muslim, because memories of Muslim attacks against
them were fresh in their minds (Badger, 1852; Atiya, 1968; Longrigg and Stoakes,
1958; Daniel, 1973). This pattern of identity with coreligionists had prevailed in
the Middle East for centuries. T h u s Seleiman notes that during the Crusades,
208                ANALYSIS

Lebanese Maronite Christians identified more with the European Christian
Crusaders than with their Muslim neighbors. In subsequent centuries this tie has
increased, especially with the union of Maronites with the Roman Catholic
Church in 1736 (Suleiman 1967:5). In general, Suleiman finds that the Christians
of Lebanon have been more oriented toward the west than Lebanese Mus|iras
     A m o n g Chaldean Iraqis the pattern is similar, the religious identity with other
Christians in the west being favored over ties to Muslim neighbors. Hence d u r i n g
the British protectorate in Iraq in the early Twentieth Century, many Chaldeans
identified with the British more than with the Iraqi nationalists. Some Telkeppee
men had been employed by the British g o v e r n m e n t as local interpreters. Many of
these older immigrants have children n a m e d "Edward," "George," or "Victoria,"

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and they point with pride to the fact that their children were n a m e d "for the
English Kings and Queens."
    A n d yet some early immigrants have begun to define themselves as Iraqis or
Arabs in recent years, after several decades of life in the United States. Some are
Iearning to speak the Arabic language, having spoken only English or Chaldean
up to now. This is in part a response to the arrival of new Chaldean immigrants
from Iraq, many of them relatives or family friends, who know Arabic but little or
no Chaldean or English. T h e new arrivals bring with them their own Iraqi or
Pan-Arabic identity patterns, and the result is a family with variant identity
patterns as mentioned earlier. In many instances the new arrivals influence their
predecessors to develop a more nationalist of Pan-Arabic orientation in addition
to their religious identity.
     T h e new identity pattern is also a response to an ahered situation in the Middle
East itself. Recent political leaders in Iraq and other Arab nations have made
deliberate attempts to include Christian minority rights in their g o v e r n m e n t
platforms. This fact is reported by recent immigrants, and is seen by older
immigrants asa welcome change of policy from the conditions they recall. T h u s in
a recent issue of a publication for Assyrian (Aramaic)-speaking Americans, of
which Chaldeans are a part, a call for support of the Iraqi g o v e r n m e n t was
published. T h e writer noted that the Assyrian-speaking people had been greatly
persecuted by Turkish, Persian, and Arab rulers in the past, but he believed also
" . . . . that times have changed and that the Moslem of 1973 is not the Moslem of
past generations" (Daniel, 1973:13). Thus many Middle Eastern Christians are
now beginning to feel a sense of allegiance to the Arab nations or to the Pan-Arab
Movement. In the past they had been too fearful o f t h e i r Muslim neighbors to feel
any such sense of national or Arabic identity.
     In some respects, their contact with non-Middle Eastern Americans has forced
many Chaldeans to define themselves as Iraqis or Arabs. Most Americans are
ignorant of Middle Eastern politics or geography and would not u n d e r s t a n d a
Chaldean who claimed to be from "TelkaiF' or "Mosul." American immigration
authorities also categorize immigrants by nation oforigin. Hence many Chaldeans
were first forced to identify themselves as "Iraqis" u p o n contact with Americans.
In this respect the Chaldeans are similar to Italian immigrants who usually
identified themselves in terms of the province or village from which they had
come (Glazer and Moynihan, 1963:183-184). In his analysis of migration from
Italy, Leonard Moss has noted that "Italian immigrants become 'Italian' u p o n
                             ARAB T R A D I T I O N A L AND NATIONALIST IDENTITY             209

entry into the United States. ''1 Similarly, Chaldean Christians become "Arabs" or
"Iraqis" upon their entry into the United States.
   In recent decades as the Arab-Israeli conflict has tbcused world attention on the
Middle East, American newspapers and magazines define the Middle East situa-
tion in terms of"Arabs versus Israelis." As former residents of the Middle East,
Chaldeans may be called upon to comment upon the Middle East crisis. Their
American contacts expect them to identify themselves as belonging either to the
Arab or the Israeli block. Since they are clearly neither Jewish nor emigrants from
Israel, they identify with the Arab block. Thus the existence o f a conflict with
Israel has brought about an increased sense o f identity a m o n g Arabs o f various
ethnic, religious, and linguistic orientations.
   In the Chaldean community of Detroit there is a growing tendency to view Arab

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nationalist identity and Christian religious identity as consistent, even com-
plementary. Evidence suggests that this pattern is also developing among
Lebanese Maronites (Yehia 1970:93-107). It is likely that further analysis ofother
Christian sects from Arabic areas--Nestorians from Iraq, Assyrian Protestants
and O r t h o d o x - - w o u l d exhibit a similar pattern. Like the Chaldeans, they would
probably show that the "Christian Arab" is indeed emerging as a meaningful
identity for many Christians from the Middle East. The old traditional social
groupings o f the areaureligious, village, and familial--are still very strong. But
today, nationalistic sentiments are also exhibited by a small but steadily growing
number of people from these groups.

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