Becoming Part of Mainstream America or Asserting a New Muslim-Americanness: How American Muslims Negotiate their Identity in a post 9/11 Environment
Keywords: American Islam, race, collective identity, Americanness
AbstractIn 2005, historian David R. Roediger published the now-classic Working Toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White in which he recounts how immigrant minorities in the early 20th century secured their place in the “white race” in order to qualify as fully American and be treated with fairness and respect. Muslim immigrants from the Middle-East were no exception to the process described. However, becoming white was a particularly long and arduous journey which eventually led to the 1978 Office of Management Budget directive officially categorizing Middle-Eastern immigrants as white. But the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 sparked new alliances between the various ethnic groups that make up the US Muslim community: Arabs, African-Americans or South-East Asians from all walks of life have joined forces in resisting discrimination and bigotry. Thus, the question arises whether common cultural heritage or faith should be the main force shaping a new collective and visible identity. Also, such process entails a questioning of hierarchies based on socioeconomic status; compared to their African-American coreligionists, American citizens of Arab descent fare much better in terms of education and wealth. The main purpose of this paper is to evaluate the impact of 9/11 on the way Arab-American Muslims and their community leaders re-define the boundaries of their collective identity and how they forge bonds of solidarity with indigenous Muslims. It seeks to address two related questions: How do Arab-American Muslims relate to the black-white dualist model or racial binary? What role does class identification play in structuring social relations between Arab and African-American Muslims? While I do not negate the fact that in the US race continues to play a fundamental role in structuring social relations, I argue that it is important to pay close attention to how socioeconomic status may condition the formulation of a group identity.