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The Right Kind of Suffering

The Right Kind of Suffering
Gender, Sexuality, and Arab Asylum Seekers in America

An examination of Arab asylum seekers who feel compelled to package their tales of disenfranchisement and suffering to satisfy a deeply reluctant immigration system.

February 2023
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216 pages | 6 x 9 |

From the overloaded courts with their constantly changing dates and appointments to the need to prove oneself the “right” kind of asylum seeker, the asylum system in the United States is an exacting and drawn-out immigration process that itself results in suffering. When anthropologist Rhoda Kanaaneh became a volunteer interpreter for Arab asylum seekers, she discovered how applicants learned to craft a specific narrative to satisfy the system’s requirements.

Kanaaneh tells the stories of four Arab asylum seekers who sought protection in the United States on the basis of their gender or sexuality: Saud, who relived painful memories of her circumcision and police harassment in Sudan and then learned to number and sequence these recollections; Fatima, who visited doctors and therapists in order to document years of spousal abuse without over-emphasizing her resulting mental illness; Fadi, who highlighted the homophobic motivations that provoked his arrest and torture in Jordan, all the while omitting connected issues of class and racism; and Marwa, who showcased her private hardships as a lesbian in a Shiite family in Lebanon and downplayed her environmental activism. The Right Kind of Suffering is a compelling portrait of Arab asylum seekers whose success stories stand in contrast with those whom the system failed.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Narrow Pathways
  • 1. “I’ve always been looking for my freedom”
  • 2. “My life is a Bollywood film”
  • 3. “I wish it was a happier ending”
  • 4. “Many reasons to leave”
  • Conclusion: Of Stories, Traumas, and Happy Endings
  • Notes
  • Index

Rhoda Kanaaneh has taught anthropology and gender and sexuality studies at Columbia University, American University, and New York University. She is the editor of Displaced at Home: Ethnicity and Gender Among Palestinians in Israel and author of Surrounded: Palestinian Soldiers in the Israeli Military and Birthing the Nation: Strategies of Palestinian Women in Israel.