Book review: Al’ America

Jonathan Curiel travels through America’s Arab and Islamic roots.

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The Jerome Corsis of this world see a Muslim behind every bush, and according to Al’ America, they’re right! In the fine tradition of The Irish in America, Jonathan Curiel, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, puts the usa through a sieve and sorts out Muslim influences on American culture.

Much of the colonization of America was made possible by Arab scholarship and innovation; Christopher Columbus relied heavily on the work of Arab astronomers and geographers. The Doors’ keyboardist Ray Manzarek tips his hat to “the Arabic, minor harmonic sense” that influenced his signature sound, and surf-rock legend Dick Dale tells Curiel that his megahit “Misirlou,” best known as the Pulp Fiction theme song, was “actually an Arabic song.” In his most engaging chapter, Curiel analyzes Elvis Presley’s near obsession with Lebanese-American poet Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet—the King sought to produce a film version of the book, and a copy was found on his nightstand after his death.

Ultimately, Curiel predicts Arab culture will transcend even the post-9/11 climate of racism and stereotyping. “From its beginning, America intersected with Arab and Muslim culture, borrowing from it, admonishing it, fearing it, coexisting with it,” he writes. “The foundation of that legacy was undisturbed by 9/11.”

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

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In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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