Understanding Arab nationalism is very complex in that the definition of what makes a person an Arab has historically been very loosely defined. While the easiest way to define the Arab nation as simply the people who speak Arabic, historically there have been distinctions made between Arab groups due to purity of lineage, religion, and local familial identities. As a result of this complexity, when the first Syrians immigrated to the United States, they were initially seen as strange Oriental foreigners and were at first barred from becoming naturalized in the United States. However, the ambiguity of American definitions of race were too vague to adequately define the difference between being white and Oriental, which forced the Syrians to construct their racial identity in a very specific manner. A Syrian elite that had been educated at Western missionary institutions in Syria took the leading role in this process and an examination of both American and Syrian newspapers demonstrates a concerted effort by Syrians to present their identity as one that was inherently Western. The Syrian elite contrasted themselves from the stereotypes of the Orient by emphasizing their success at adopting American customs, their Christianity, and their contributions to Western culture. The goal of this paper is to demonstrate that this process of "Americanization," influenced the way this Syrian intelligentsia also viewed the twentieth century concept of the Arab nation by examining their major writings. When confronted with the idea, the Syrian intelligentsia framed their identity around their cultural connection with the West. Some Syrians rejecting inclusion into the Arab nation, preferring a more focused Lebanese identity, whereas others accepted their place in the Arab nation. In both cases, the Syrian intelligentsia used the same justifications for Arab nationalism, that they had for naturalization. These justifications were very different from those used by Arab nationalists in the Arab world, many of whom saw the Arab nationalism as inherently Islamic, preserving Ottoman institutions, and driven by a struggle against the West.


Holt, Katie




Islamic World and Near East History


syrian-americans, lebanese-americans, immigration, assimilation, arab nationalism, sectarianism

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



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