There was a time when being an “Arab” didn’t mean you were necessarily Muslim. It was a time when Oscar Hayoun, a Jewish Arab, strode along the Nile in a fashionable suit, long before he and his father arrived at the port of Haifa to join the Zionist state only to find themselves hosed down with DDT and then left unemployed on the margins of society. In that time, Arabness was a mark of cosmopolitanism, of intellectualism. Today, in the age of the Likud and ISIS, Oscar’s son, the Jewish Arab journalist Massoud Hayoun whom Oscar raised in Los Angeles, finds his voice by telling his family’s story.
To reclaim a worldly, nuanced Arab identity is, for Hayoun, part of the larger project to recall a time before ethnic identity was mangled for political ends. It is also a journey deep into a lost age of sophisticated innocence in the Arab world; an age that is now nearly lost.
When We Were Arabs showcases the gorgeous prose of the Eppy Award–winning writer Massoud Hayoun, bringing the worlds of his grandparents alive, vividly shattering our contemporary understanding of what makes an Arab, what makes a Jew, and how we draw the lines over which we do battle.
Massoud Hayoun is a journalist based in Los Angeles, most recently freelancing for Al Jazeera English and Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown online while writing a weekly column on foreign affairs for Pacific Standard. He previously worked as a reporter for Al Jazeera America, The Atlantic, Agence France-Presse, and the South China Morning Post and has been published widely. He speaks and works in five languages and won a 2015 EPPY Award. The author of When We Were Arabs: A Jewish Family’s Forgotten History (The New Press), he lives in Los Angeles.
Atossa Araxia Abrahamian is a journalist based in Brooklyn and the author of The Cosmopolites: The Coming of the Global Citizen. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, New York Magazine, the London Review of Books, and other publications.
E. Tammy Kim is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times. Her work has appeared in The Nation, The New York Review of Books, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. She is the co-author of Punk Ethnography: Artists & Scholars Listen to Sublime Frequencies.