Young American Muslims and Belonging

Following the 9/11 attacks, several attempts have been made to capture the impact of anti-Muslim discrimination on young American Muslim identity formation, and ultimately, their sense of belonging in a post-9/11 world. The following perspectives focus on issues of freedom of speech, citizenship, national belonging, and process of identity negotiation across various settings in an increasingly hostile anti-Muslim climate. These settings include educational institutions such as schools and college campuses, as well as everyday public spaces. In critiquing the developmental consequences of living in a post-9/11 world, the listed readings engage with how anti-Muslim government policies, social relationships, and media representations negatively affect youth development and identity formation in the US. Overall, there is an ongoing need for research that sheds light on the challenges facing young Muslims in navigating various settings. In particular, a discussion of the tangible impacts of this Islamophobia on their multiple identities and experiences of citizenship in the US will enrich this body of work.

Annotations

Frequently cited

Sirin, Selcuk R, Fine Michelle. Hyphenated selves: Muslim American youth negotiating identities on the fault lines of global conflict. Applied Developmental Science 11, no. 3 (2007): 151–163

Selcuk Sirin, Professor of Applied Psychology at New York University, and Michelle Fine, Professor in Critical Psychology at City University of New York, provide critical insight into the developmental consequences for Muslim youth living in a post 9/11 world. In this article, the authors provide a theoretical and empirical analysis of “hyphenated selves,” or multiple identities, to capture how young Muslim-American young men and women cope with living during the War on Terror. The study provides findings from a multi-method, exploratory research focusing on Muslim-American youth residing in the New York metropolitan area. The findings are drawn from a survey of seventy self-identified Muslim-American adolescents ranging in age from twelve to eighteen, some of whom participated in a focus group and the creation of “identity maps” to portray how they incorporate their multiple identities in daily life. In an attempt to describe how Muslim youth in the US carve their identities under surveillance and collective suspicion, the study explores (i) the challenges of being young, Muslim, and American, (ii) the ways Muslim-American young men and women negotiate their gendered identities, and (iii) the difficulties faced at home and within Muslim communities as these youths try to find their unique voices. Notably, the study finds that young people anticipate anti-Muslim sentiment in their daily life, feeling forced to contend with the press of media produced and socially legitimized (mis)representations. In light of this, the authors note that the way in which young men and women negotiated their identities was different. While young men perceived “Muslim” and “American” as two almost contradictory parts of their hyphenated selves, young Muslim women felt more empowered to take the best of what both worlds have to offer. The authors attribute this to young women seeing and living in a much more fluid, intertwined world where “Muslim” and “American” are complementary “currents,” each offering its own opportunities and challenges. The authors note that although young Muslim women “walk under the shadow of the stereotype of the “oppressed woman” because of their choice to wear a hijab, they also recognize that in the US they are choosing to wear it, and, hence, they feel empowered by the choice itself. In addition, the young women voice a skeptical but also romantic view of the freedoms available to women in the US. Overall, this piece provides comprehensive data to demonstrate the way in which anti-Muslim government policies, social relationships, and media representations negatively affect youth development and identities, but also how young Muslims, particularly women, build strategies of resilience in the face of these challenges.

Critical Insight

Aidi, Hisham. Rebel music: Race, empire, and the new Muslim youth culture. New York, NY: Vintage books (2014).

In this book, Hisham Aidi, a political scientist and lecturer at Columbia University, explores Muslim youth identity and music in the context of Islamophobic politics. Namely, Aidi discusses how Muslim youth culture across the globe embraces various forms of music as a means of protesting, proclaiming identity, and building community. Primarily, Aidi demonstrates how music, particularly hip-hop, as well as rock, reggae, Gnawa, and Andalusian have been utilized to express a shared Muslim consciousness in face of War on Terror policies. Organized into twelve chapters, the book draws on interviews with musicians from the banlieues of Paris, the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, the park jams of the South Bronx, and the Sufi rock bands of Pakistan. It draws on narratives across these contexts to address a range of issues like the rise of the global far right, the spread of the War on Terror, and cultural fusion of music across the globe. Most powerfully, this book exposes the way in which music is employed by Muslim youth in Europe and the US to challenge religious and political categories. Aidi further addresses how governments have tapped into these trends, as countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, France, and the US have begun monitoring music tastes among youth, especially in fringe urban areas, to calculate the power this music might have to undermine and challenge the status quo. Most interestingly, Aidi uncovers how the United States and other Western governments have used hip-hop and Sufi music to “de-radicalize” Muslim youth abroad. Aidi’s interdisciplinary study offers a rich historical analysis, and qualitative ethnography that creatively draws on Muslim youth music culture, shedding light on their perspectives on war, prejudice, and national identities across the globe.

Recent Perspectives

Maira, Sunaina Marr. The 9/11 Generation: Youth, Rights, and Solidarity in the War on Terror. New York, NY: New York University Press (2016).

Sunaina Marr Maira, Professor of Asian American Studies at UC Davis, documents the response of Afghan, Arab, and South Asian American youth, to their reality of intensified scrutiny and racist surveillance during the War on Terror. The book draws on an ethnographic study of fieldwork from 2007 to 2011 in the Bay Area with college-aged youth between eighteen and twenty-three. Drawing on interviews and participant-observation, the book offers insights into how these youth mobilize politically in response to Islamophobia. She focuses on the way they mobilize through building coalitions across and within racial and ethnic categories. These coalitions focus on civil and human rights, as well as issues of sovereignty and surveillance during the War on Terror. Framing Islamophobia within a long history of the imperial warfare state, Maira situates the post-9/11 repression of these youth as an extension of suppressed Arab-American activism in what has been called the “long war against terrorism.” Overall, the book speaks to broader questions of justice, accountability, belonging, and violence that these young people grapple with. This is a significant study for enhancing understanding of post-9/11 experiences of Islamophobia, and the proactive measures, strategies, and activities Muslim-American youth are engaged in to reclaim their rights within the discriminatory context of scrutiny and surveillance in the War on Terror.

Reading List