Diaspora of Islamic Cultures: Continuity and Change. (Research Report)

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper, drawing upon an ongoing research project funded by Canada's Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and the Ford Foundation, introduces the main ideas and themes that inform the study of changing gender and family relations among four displaced communities of Islamic cultures (Iranian, Afghan, Palestinian, and Pakistani). For members of each group, three sets of "circumstances" are analyzed--an individual's experience in the home and host country, together with an examination of socio-economic conditions and policies in the host. In addition to these social and economic factors, in particular, it will focus on the ways in which social class, gender, and religious commitments affect an individual's experience when they more. It is argued that gender significantly impacts new migrants' experience and how they feel about their "home" country. One of our main hypotheses is that under pressures of a rapid, often difficult, social and cultural transformation, changing gender dynamics in the new country can lead to a new understanding among partners--or, alternatively, to heightened tension, with severely damaging effects, particularly for women and children. Culturally, when family understandings collapse, this process may be accompanied by an effort to find religious justification for gender inequality. Then, a connection can be seen between difficulties in the new country, the efforts of conservative men to reclaim the dominance they once enjoyed in their countries of origin, and give it a religious justification. Hence, the revival, in the diaspora, of conservative Islamic practice and belief.

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Displacement and migration are prevalent features of the present century. In October 2002, UNESCO's International and Multicultural Policies section declared that the number of migrants has more than doubled since 1975. According to UNESCO, currently 175 million people, that is, about 3 per cent of the world population, live in countries in which they were not born. The experience of diasporic communities in their adopted countries raises urgent questions of socio-cultural integration, human rights, and security for both migrant communities and the host societies.

This paper, drawing upon an ongoing research project funded by Canada's Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and the Ford Foundation, introduces the main ideas and themes that inform the study of the effects of displacement on gender relations among four migrant and refugee communities from Islamic cultures. The time frame for the research would be five years (2000-05). Of the four diasporic communities that are the focus of this project, Iranians, Afghans, Pakistanis, and Palestinians, two are studied in developed societies (Iranians and Pakistanis in Canada and Britain). The other two communities, are being studied in Canada and, in addition, in developing Islamic states (Afghans in Iran, and Palestinians in Jordan and in the West Bank and Gaza under social and economic conditions arising from occupation). For members of each group, three sets of "circumstances" are analyzed--an individual's experience in the home and host country, together with an examination of socio-economic conditions and policies in the host. In addition to these social and economic factors, we seek to demonstrate how gender significantly impacts new migrants' experience and how they feel about their "home" country. That is, the challenge to traditional ideas may present itself as a positive experience for many (particularly younger) women, who find an opportunity to break from the extended family, and a relatively negative one for men, who may encounter difficulty in finding satisfying work in the new society, and whose authority, dignity, and sense of self-worth may therefore be threatened.

In this study, we use the term "diaspora" in a rather self-explanatory fashion to refer to communities of immigrant, exiled, and self-exiled individuals who, despite cultural, economic, and political distinctions, share the experience of separation from home about which they have a collective memory. …

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