Bahia Munem received an M.S. in Communication from New Jersey Institute of Technology and holds an M.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies from Rutgers. She was awarded a Woodrow Wilson Dissertation Fellowship in Women’s Studies for her ethnographic project in 2010.
This dissertation examines the resettlement of a group of Palestinian Iraq War refugees in Brazil. In 2007, Latin America's largest democracy and self-proclaimed racial democracy made what it claimed was a humanitarian overture by resettling 108 Palestinian refugees displaced from Baghdad as a result of the Iraq War. The majority of them had escaped from Baghdad in 2003 and had been living for nearly five years in a makeshift refugee camp on the border of Jordan and Iraq. Utilizing a multi-method approach, this work examines how Brazil, with its long history of Arab migration, incorporates this specific re-diasporized group into the folds of its much-touted racial democracy, an important arm of Brazilian exceptionalism. In order to address the particularity of Palestinian refugees, and while considering pluralism discourses and other important socio-political dynamics, I engage and extend Edward Said’s framework of Orientalism by analyzing its machinations in Brazil. To closely assess the particularity of the resettled Palestinian refugees (but also Arabs more generally), I consider how already stereotyped Brazilians construct Palestinians in Brazil through an Orientalist lens. This Orientalism, I argue, is a product of a Neo-Orientalist glaze. This formulation takes into consideration the racialized and exoticized constructions of Brazilians in order to examine how these essentialist ideas are reconfigured and reproduced to “Orientalize” other others. In examining the near and distant history of this group, interrogating labor histories and contemporary labor practices, dissecting their incorporation into Brazilian public policies, and interrogating discourses of cultural misrecognitions and problematic Palestinian cultural constructions, I have made significant theoretical interventions and highlighted distinct ways in which members of a minority community are de-subjectified and re-subjectified in the Brazilian context. Moreover, this analysis provides insight into the Brazilian nation-state and the scope and scale of its neoliberal form of statecraft. Considered together, my dissertation engages and traverses a wide range of literatures, crosses disciplinary boundaries, and contributes to multiple fields of study. At the same time, it illuminates in fine detail the daily lives of a group of refugees whose experiences can help us re-imagine the lives of multiply-displaced persons in other times and places.