Academic journal article High School Journal

Negotiating Muslim Youth Identity in a Post-9/11 World

Academic journal article High School Journal

Negotiating Muslim Youth Identity in a Post-9/11 World

Article excerpt

The post-9/11 era is poignant for a number of populations and groups in the United States. Each of those communities wrestles with the abject impact of the events of 9/11 in its own way marshaling strengths and excavating pre-9/11 identities toward a new way of being members of those communities and participants in U.S. society. Muslims and immigrants to the U.S. are among those most affected by the reconfiguration of mainstream American life. As students in public schools Muslim youth engage in challenges unique to those with their religious, cultural and/or national backgrounds. Given the historical and current implications of colonialism, and postcolonial and transnational issues for immigrants, this discussion of the literature centers on postcolonial and transnational theories and post-9/11 dispositions as possible frameworks for discussing the lived experiences of Muslim immigrant children in U.S. public schools. Additionally, I will look at a variety of identity issues as they may be applied to Muslim youth with a particular emphasis on post-9/11 concerns in U.S. public schools.



Muslim immigrants in the United States are living in diaspora. According to Clifford (1994), diasporas constitute lived experiences that "usually presuppose longer distances and separation more like an exile: a constitutive taboo on return, or its postponement to a remote future. Diasporas also connect multiple communities of a dispersed population" (p. 304). Though many Muslim immigrants may not share the "constitutive taboo on return," often the sense of "multiple communities of a dispersed population" rings true. Over the last several decades globalization has prompted Muslim peoples' movement from their home countries to the United States. Muslim immigrants, are border-crossers living in the liminal space outside their homelands, and yet not quite at home in this country. They enter the Western world carrying the legacy of their countries' often troubled relationship with Europe and the U.S. Coming from nation-states formerly colonized by European powers, the damaged social capital these Muslim immigrants bring makes their entry more problematic and complex than that of many other immigrant populations at this point in time. The nature of this troubled and exploitative relationship between Western nations and the Middle East and South and Central Asia has been characterized as Orientalism. Said (1979) defined the concept of Orientalism:

   Anyone who reads, teaches, writes about or researches the Oriental;
   a style of thought based on the ontological and epistemological
   distinction made between 'the Orient' and 'the Occident;' a
   corporate institution for dealing with the Orient; a Western style
   for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the
   Orient." (p. 2-3)

Whereas the West's approach to countries in Asia and Africa presently manifests, to some degree, differently than it has in the past, the patterns of Western relationships to nation-states in Asia and Africa continue to be uneven and lack parity. Because of this unevenness and on-going inequity, Muslim immigrants face a layered and complex entrance into U.S society.

The colonized history of the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and North Africa created these troubled diasporic transitions, but they were exacerbated by the attacks on September 11, 2001 (9/11). When Muslim and/or Middle Eastern peoples enter the United States, where a vast majority of U.S. citizens know little of the history of colonization, Islam, or how this global faith is situated in the world, these migrants are set up to be easily Othered. This Othering is manifested in various ways in U.S. society from television shows about sleeper cells to racial profiling and even to the overrepresentation of news coverage of peoples and events presumably associated with Islam (Bayoumi, 2008; Abu E1-Haj, 2010; Jackson, 2010). …

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