Academic journal article Journal of American Folklore

The Dars: South Asian Muslim American Women Negotiate Identity

Academic journal article Journal of American Folklore

The Dars: South Asian Muslim American Women Negotiate Identity

Article excerpt

AS ISLAM CONTINUES TO BE EXAMINED AND DEBATED in American national discourse, everyday local Muslim life remains unfamiliar, foreign, and invisible. In 2011, shortly after the killing of Osama bin Laden, President Obama addressed the American nation confirming his death. While promising the continuation of the War on Terror, he asserted: "Justice has been done." Obama, in his speech, was careful to remind all Americans that "the United Sates is not-and never will be-at war with Islam," but continued thanking those involved in the operation, informing Americans that they "can feel the satisfaction of their work and their result of the pursuit of justice." American newspapers emblazoned their headlines with "Vengeance at Last-US Nails the Bastard," "US Kills Bin Laden," "Justice Has Been Done," "Rot in Hell," and "We Got the Bastard."1 As I watched the television media reports showing large crowds outside of the White House, in the streets, and on university campuses celebrating, jubilant, and chanting U-S- A, I was struck by how this display of patriotism on the national landscape created an uneasy feeling for me in the local context. As Michelle Byng states, it was the attacks of September 11 that have connected "Muslims and Islam to terrorism within the geographical borders of the United States" (Byng 2008:659). These events and headlines are produced on a national scale but have resonance in a local context. Despite the insistence of President Obama and former President George W. Bush that Islam and Muslims are not the enemies of the United States, the dominant discourse concerning Muslim Americans remains negative and reawakens in me a fear of a backlash of discrimination and hostility. An August 2010 Pew Research Center poll entitled "Public Remains Conflicted over Islam" confirms that almost 40 percent of Americans have a negative view of Islam (Pew Research Center 2010). The Economist magazine conducted a similar poll in August of 2010 and also reported that nearly 54 percent of Americans had a "somewhat" to "very unfavorable" opinion of Islam (R.M. 2010). The intelligence policies regarding national surveillance on Muslims has further rendered Muslim American life as suspicious, while "the war on terror continues to sustain Islamophobia" (Kundnani 2014:267).

The stereotypes surrounding Muslim Americans not only center on misconceptions about Islam and Islamic practice, but the images of Muslims are gendered. The prevailing discourse in the media and in the War on Terror focuses primarily on the Muslim man, who is perceived through the trope of violence as the terrorist, without reason and uncivilized. The conception of the Muslim woman pushes the opposite extreme of passivity and submission. Often perceived as uneducated, veiled, and docile, the Muslim woman needs to be saved from Islam and its violence. Further, she lacks agency, and her silenced voice allows others to determine her identity (Abu-Lughod 2013). The national landscape obscures the diversity of experience of Muslim Americans, rendering individuals and communities as indistinguishable.

O n a personal, immediate level, the local story was the same. In 2011, my son in fourth grade in a public school was repeatedly teased by a classmate and called "Mexican" as an ethnic slur. When my son corrected the other child by stating he was not Mexican, but that his father was born in America and his mother in Pakistan, he was mocked and told he was a terrorist and that his grandparents were responsible for 9/11. This confrontation occurred quietly and without the teacher's notice in an affluent, well-educated, predominantly white suburban neighborhood of Philadelphia. As soon as I learned of the incident, I informed the teacher who, shocked and sympathetic, assured me the school principal would contact me immediately and address the situation. However, both the principal and the school district superintendent failed to recognize or acknowledge the incident as one of intolerance, with racial, religious, and ethnic overtones. …

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