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Lorraine Solaegui

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Racialization of Muslims

This week 21st Century Scholar welcomes Shafiqa Ahmadi and Darnell Cole as guest bloggers!

Shafiqa Ahmadi, JD and Darnell Cole, PhD are faculty members at the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California. This week’s blogs are based on their upcoming book on Muslim Student experiences on college campuses. Professors Ahmadi and Cole would like to thank Dr. William Tierney for inviting them to guest blog on the 21st Century Scholar Blog. They would also like to thank their research assistants, Umera Ameen, Sable Manson, and Rosezetta Upshaw for assistance with the Muslim Student Project. For more information about the Muslim Student Project, please visit the project website.

by Shafiqa Ahmadi and Darnell Cole

In the wake of the Ground Zero Islamic center debate, the Qu’ran burning controversy, and repeated assertions that Muslims attacked us on 9/11,[1] an unmistakably antipathy towards Muslims has been unearthed.  Today American Muslims face a unique set of problems.  They are often conceived as the “other” and must always dissuade the American public from formulating this mistaken perception.  “In the American imagination, those who appear ‘Middle Eastern, Arab, or Muslim’ may be theoretically entitled to formal rights “…[b]ut they are interpolated as contrary to the citizen’s sense of identity.”[2]  Historically, race has fundamentally contradicted the promise of liberal democracy—the promise of liberty and equality, including citizenship, and in many instances continues to do so today.  U.S.  citizens who appear “Middle Eastern, Arab, or Muslim” are often “[t]hrust outside the protective ambit of citizenship as identity.”[3]  Hence, they are racialized and often made the target of Islamophobia[4] and anti-Muslim acts.  Because of the racialization of Muslims, Islamophobic and anti-Muslim sentiments and acts have been too frequently condoned post-9/11, and further justified by a convoluted incarnation of patriotism. 

Perceptions and assaults against Muslims and people of Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian descent continue as their citizenship and individual identity is minimized and seemingly replaced with a negative racialized group identity – “the other” – the potential Muslim terrorists on a Jihad [5] against Americans.  Given the racialization of Muslims, racial profiling and anti-Muslim acts are not only expected, but show no apparent decline.  For instance, on August 14, 2009, Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan was pulled aside by Newark airport security while waiting to retrieve his luggage.[6]  Though Khan insisted he had all the proper paperwork and told authorities he was a movie star, he was brought to a detention room at the New Jersey airport and interrogated for two hours before finally being allowed to call the Indian embassy, at which point, Indian diplomats intervened to vouch for the actor.[7]  Ironically, the actor had recently signed a deal with a major studio to finance and distribute his new movie, “My Name is Khan” – the story of a Muslim man mistaken for a terrorist in post-9/11 America.[8]  Life imitating art, wouldn’t you say?

Anti-Muslim and Islamophobic acts are also occurring on college campuses—communities whose members one might assume would reject the abject Islamophobic racialization of Muslims as terrorists.  For example, in 2009, a University of Texas college student’s decision to wear hijab resulted in stares, double takes, and whispers.  Further, the question of whether academic freedom should permit controversial sentiment is again germane in the context of a commentary on the Fort Hood shooting.[9]  NYU professor Tunku Varadarajan proposed that the Fort Hood shooting may represent an emergence of a new phenomena called “going Muslim,” akin to the violent rage of a former worker often referred to as “going postal.”[10]  The professor asserted that Islam ‘is founded on bellicose  conquest, contempt for infidels …’and implied that American Muslims are imminently violent, but merely attempting to camouflage into American society.[11]  Varadarajan’s controversial editorial has sparked an intense backlash, but was not unique in espousing anti-Muslim sentiments in the wake of the Fort Hood shooting.[12]  These recent events give prominence to the racialization of Muslims, and perhaps Islam by proxy.  When does academic freedom turn into ‘hate speech’? In what ways can higher education institutions initiate programs/policies to address the unique situations of oppression [13] that are created by the intersection of race, religion, and national origin.

[1] Bill O’Reilly On “The View”: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-31749_162-20019660-10391698.html

[2] Leti Volpp, The Citizen and the Terrorist, 49 UCLA L. Rev. 1575, 1594 (2002).

[3] Id. at 1598.

[4] A form of Xenophobia, phobic fear and hatred of what is “foreign” or the “other” because it is seen as a danger that threatens the way of life. Islamophobia is the phobic fear of person, family, community, society, way of life, country, or civilization of Muslims.

[5] In the West, the term jihad used without any qualifiers is generally understood to mean “holy war.” RUEVEN FIRESTONE, JIHAD: THE ORIGIN OF HOLY WAR IN ISLAM (Oxford Univ. Press 1999). However, Jihad’s literal meaning is “struggle,” and it has several meanings and is interpreted differently in various contexts.  Muslims use the word to refer to three types of struggle. First, and according to many Muslims, foremost, it means a believer’s internal struggle to live out the Muslim faith as well as possible.  Secondly, it refers to the struggle to build a good Muslim society.  Finally, the definition most commonly used in recent contexts is a holy war: the struggle to defend Islam, with force if necessary.  Religion & Ethnicity, BBC.com, http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam/beliefs/jihad_1.shtml.

[6] Larry McShane, Bollywood Star Shah Rukh Khan Held at Newark Airport; Claims Racial Profiling Due to Muslim Name, NY Daily News, August 15, 2009, available at http://www.nydailynews.com/gossip/2009/08/15/2009-08-15_shah_rukh_khan_.html.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] On Thursday, November 5, 2009, suspect Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, opened fire at a military processing center in Fort Hood, Texas at around 1:30 p.m. 12 were wounded and 31 killed in the shooting. Hasan is a U.S. citizen, born in Virginia and is Muslim. Officials: Fort Hood Shootings Suspect alive; 12 Dead, CNN.com, November 7, 2009 available at http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/11/05/texas.fort.hood.shootings/index.html.

[10] Tunku Varadarajan, “Going Muslim,” Forbes, November 9, 2009, available at http://www.forbes.com/2009/11/08/fort-hood-nidal-malik-hasan-muslims-opinions-columnists-tunku-varadarajan.html.

[11] Id.

[12] NYU Prof: It’s No Longer “Going Postal,” It’s “Going Muslim,” USA Today, November 13, 2009, available at http://content.usatoday.com/communities/Religion/post/2009/11/nyu-prof-its-no-longer-going-postal-its-going-muslim/1; Wahajat Ali, The Fort Hood Tragedy: Fanning the Anti-Muslim Hysteria, The Huffington Post, November 27, 2009, available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wajahat-ali/the-fort-hood-tragedy-fan_b_348130.html.

[13] Kimberlé Crenshaw, Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics, 1989 U. Chi. Legal F. 139, 140 (1989) (explaining that those who suffer from discrimination on multiple grounds find inadequate legal protection in antidiscrimination laws that address varying forms of discrimination as singular issues); Patricia Hill Collins, Gender, Black Feminism, and Black Political Economy, 568 Annals Am. Acad. Pol. & Soc. Sci. 41, 45-48 (2000).

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One Response to “Racialization of Muslims”

  1. Betty #

    It’s really sad that this is ging on. People think that colleges are more forward thinking but sadly it’s not true. There are racist ignorant people everywhere. A lot of people think that being suspicious of Muslims and anyone who looks “Middle Eastern” is a necessary evil that is required in order to keep America safe. That’s not the most unreasonable concept but it is a slippery slope. When you go from being worried to being racist and hateful we’re in trouble. What are we going to do about this?? I think education is key. People need to learn what Islam really looks like and know that the vast majority of Muslims practice peacefully. That being said, thanks for this article! Spread the word!

    02/14/2011 at 12:02 pm