Imagined Diasporas among Manchester Muslims

Article excerpt

Pnina Werbner, Imagined Diasporas among Manchester Muslims, Oxford: Jaines Currey, 2002,306 pages.

This is a sophisticated and well-documented contribution to the literature on diaspora and identity. The title reference to Benedict Andersen's Imagined Communities suggests Werbner's argument that diasporic communities are constructed or "imagined" through performances by different constituencies (older men, women, young men) in distinct spaces (community meetings, processions, dinners, pageants and fundraisers) that constitute the public sphere, "a series of interconnected spaces in which the pleasures and predicaments of diaspora are debated and celebrated" (p. 15). Drawing on extensive fieldwork among Manchester (U.K.) residents (Le., Mancunians) of Pakistani background in the 1980s and 1990s, Werbner shows how community is defined by a shared sense of "moral co-responsibility" that is expressed as financial and political engagement with the homeland, and which consists of aesthetic performances in which community members emphasize one or several aspects of their multiple identities as Mancunians, British, Pakistanis, South Asians, Blacks and Muslims.

Composite, "hybrid" identities are not fixed; rather, they are dynamic as individuals participate in different arenas. For instance, despite competition among different political factions as older men support and participate in community centre meetings and elections, through the recasting of contemporary power struggles in religious idiom, they recreate a traditional social order in which they are predominant and superior to young men, whose attempts at presenting their own public events (emphasizing cricket and youth culture) are disparaged by the male elders. Successes by women at organizing public events that present an alternative, less male-dominated ordering of society, are marked by their emphasis on an aesthetic that joins both South Asian ideas of fun (such as contemporary South Asian fashion and film) and traditional religious forms (Quranic recitation and songs of praise to the Prophet).

This discussion of performance and identity is situated within the broader context of Werbner's desire to understand the dynamics of British Pakistanis' support for an Iranian condemnation of author Salman Rushdie. "The publication of The Satanic Verses," she writes, "was a conjunctural moment in which citizenship and faith were both tested and revalued, an exceptional moment of disruption and crisis which compelled Muslims, [non-Muslim] intellectuals and [non-Muslim] policymakers to reflect consciously about what these terms meant" (p. …