Muslim American Panethnicity Based on Global Geopolitics

My next research project asks how global geopolitics encompassing not just the sending and receiving countries but also places beyond the homeland and hostland both foster and inhibit panethnicity among different immigrant groups. According to existing models of panethnic group formation, the post-9/11 Muslim backlash in the United States should have led to the emergence of a panethnic category encompassing the two largest Muslim American immigrant groups—South Asians and Middle Easterners. Yet, scholars note that such coalitions have not occurred, and are beginning to investigate why that is the case.

My research reveals a paradox. On one hand, various South Asian organizations remain secular and distance themselves from activities that can categorize them as Muslims and can draw suspicion from the U.S. society. As such, South Asian immigrants in some organizations are reluctant to adopt causes with connections to the Middle East, a region closely associated with Islam. On the other hand, various ethnic/national Muslim groups—including South Asians and Middle Easterners—coalesce around anti-colonial and human rights platforms focused on faraway foreign places, such as the Middle East. In both cases, the enabling and disabling of panethnic coalitions are connected to global political contexts stemming from beyond the homeland and hostland or “elsewhere.”

My observations deviate from the existing literature on panethnicity in two key ways. First, some panethnic coalitions are indeed emerging between Middle Easterners and South Asians. Second, contrary to burgeoning state-centric explanations, the answer to the puzzle of Muslim panethnic formation (or lack thereof) lies not solely within the receiving country, but is tied to ongoing global politics that spill across and beyond state borders.

Homeland, Hostland and Global Politics of Muslim Immigrants in the United States and Canada

Although the 9/11 attacks had occurred in the United States, studies show that South Asian Muslims in Canada experienced a climate of Islamophobic tensions, heightened security, and anti-terrorism concerns in their local communities—thus suggesting that global politics stemming from “elsewhere” (in this case, the United States) also affects immigrant groups in Canada. Moreover, data from Statistics Canada suggests that the number of police-reported anti-Muslim hate crimes more than tripled between 2012 and 2015—a rise that mirrors the increase of Islamophobic attacks in the United States around the same time. However, despite both being neighboring countries in the West, their sociopolitical and racial dynamics, policies of immigrant incorporation, and patterns of Muslim integration differ widely, as evidenced more recently in the diverging responses of President Trump and Prime Minister Trudeau to the Syrian refugee crisis. While the United States is enacting a “Muslim ban,” Canada is seemingly embracing Muslims and incoming refugees. Using ethnographic and interview data from South Asian Muslim communities in Montreal and Toronto, my research will show how diverging responses to a common global crisis affect the same immigrant group across two different nation-states.

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