Islam is one of the fastest growing religious populations in the United States and is set to surpass Judaism as the second-largest U.S. religion behind Christianity by 2050 (Lipka 2015). Muslims in the United States are an ethnically, nationally, and racially diverse religious population representing more than 77 countries and racially identifying as white, black, Asian, and “other” (Pew 2011). Despite 56% of Muslims surveyed preferring to “adopt American customs and ways of life,” having educational, income, and occupational levels on par with average Americans, and sharing similar concerns over Islamic extremism as the general U.S. population, more than half feel that being Muslim in the United States is more difficult since 9/11. For example, 28% have felt people act suspicious of them, 22% have been called offensive names, and 21% have been singled out and searched prior to a flight (Pew 2011). In addition, a Pew Research study (2013) also reports that Muslims experience more discrimination than other marginalized groups including gays/lesbians, blacks, Hispanics, and women.
Traditionally, scholars have used the frameworks of Orientalism and Islamophobia to explain the unique forms of anti-Islamic prejudice and the discrimination faced by Muslims. Most of this work focuses on the experiences of European Muslims (Sheridan 2006; Silverstein 2008; Meer and Modood 2009) although after 9/11 scholars have turned their attention toward Muslims in the United States (Rana 2007; Naber 2008; Love 2009; Selod and Embrick 2013; Selod 2014). More recently scholars, including those focusing on European Muslims, have incorporated the racialization framework to complement, rather than replace, Orientalism and Islamophobia to explain how Muslims experience prejudice and discrimination. This paper reinforces the racialization framework by arguing that in the United States Muslims have become victims of race-based violence through the construction of visible archetype of “Muslim” utilizing symbolic markers such as name, dress, phenotype, and language (Naber 2008). How do we explain the experiences of Muslims, who are ethnically, nationally, racially, and phenotypically diverse, in terms of racism?
Explaining Racialization, Orientalism, and Islamophobia
Though traditionally race has been defined in relationship to phenotype, in particular skin color, Balibar (1991) and others (Naber 2008; Love 2009; Meer and Modood 2009) have examined how culture, religion, national origin, and/or language become racialized. This “cultural racism” (Blaut 1992) is a “process of othering that constructs perceived cultural (e.g., Arab), religious (e.g., Muslim), or civilizational (e.g., Arab and/or Muslim) differences as natural and immutable” (Naber 2008:279). The racialization framework, therefore, explains how, despite racial, ethnic, and national origin diversity, Muslims are singled-out, “identified, [and] given stereotypical characteristics” (Kobayashi and Peake 2000:393) resulting in the construction of a “Muslim race” (Elver 2012).
Orientalism and Islamophobia have operated conjointly in the construction of an image of Islam that is inimical to the West (see Choudhury 2008; see also Cainkar and Maira 2005). Said (1978) describes Orientalism as “a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between the ‘Orient’ and ‘the Occident’” (2). While no universally accepted definition exists for Islamophobia, scholars have broadly defined Islamophobia (and anti-Muslim sentiment) as a set of prejudicial attitudes (see Bravo-Lopez 2011) or as “an irrational dislike of individuals based on religion” (Salaita 2006). While Orientalist ideology is responsible for the production of stereotypes leading to essentialist misrepresentations of the Middle East, Islamophobia has been used to describe the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe and the United States. Without abandoning these concepts, the racialization framework extends Orientalism and Islamophobia in ways that connect prejudicial attitudes of Islam (as a religion) and of the Orient (as a civilization) to Muslims (as a people) by incorporating the visibility aspect of race.
Racializing Islam and the “Muslim” Archetype
Halliday (1999) suggests “the attack now is against not Islam as a faith but Muslims as a people” (898). The visible archetype of “Muslim” has been constructed from a particular racial logic that essentializes followers of Islam based on their culture and religion (Rana 2007). I employ Joshi’s (2006) framework to explain how the “racialization of religion” results in the construction of a visible archetype such that “certain phenotypical features associated with a group and attached to a race in popular discourse become associated with a particular religion or religions” (Joshi 2006:211). Not only have race and religion have been used to demarcate “natural” boundaries between groups, race and religion have also been mistakenly considered the product of biology (see Selod and Embrick 2013). The racialization of religion, thus, results in the conflation of race and religion such that religion is seen as an immutable, essential, and ultimately “unmeltable” or unassimilable (Joshi 2006) aspect of identity, rather than defined as a system of chosen beliefs. This results in the “inheritability of Islam [becoming] the defining criterion” (Bayoumi 2006:278) of Muslim identity. Thus, visible archetypes become attached to religious groups such that cultural, national, ethnic, and religious differences are transformed into racial differences demarcating Muslims as a race and inscribing on Muslim bodies a particular set of observable and verifiable characteristics not limited to phenotype or skin-color (see also Naber 2008).
As Rana (2007) mentions, “current practices of racial profiling in the War on Terror perpetuate a logic that demands the ability to define what a Muslim looks like from appearance and visual cues” (149—emphasis mine). For example, during an interview with me (Zopf unpublished), Sabrina, a 25 year old second generation Muslim living in the United States, highlights this concern, saying:
I think the biggest problem is if you are a Muslim and you are identified. If you have, especially if you have the scarf on or if you have like a beard or something like that people are automatically threatened by you because they can identify you.
At the institutional level, programs such as the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), target Muslims on the basis of national origin (and name) rather than religion (Cainkar 2002; Bayoumi 2006). According to Cainkar (2002), NSEERS implements programs requiring “certain non-immigrant aliens to register with the US immigration authorities, be fingerprinted and photographed, respond to questioning and submit to routine reporting” (73). Those under the NSEERS program must report to INS any changes in address, job, or school, while also being under near constant scrutiny and “surveillance” (Bayoumi 2006).
Despite a long history of Orientalist and Islamophobic prejudice towards Muslims, 9/11 was indeed a turning point in the racialization of Muslims (Naber 2008). Once racialized, Islam inscribes onto “brown” Arab, Middle Eastern, and South Asian bodies an essentialized and homogenized visible archetype of “Muslim” that simultaneously delegitimizes and racializes Islam. This racial construction of Muslims and “Muslim-looking people” (Elver 2012) makes them more vulnerable to state-based, media-based, and interpersonal violence (Chon and Artz 2005; Cainkar 2009). As the attack on Balbir Singh Sodhi, a 49 year old Sikh from India who was shot four days after 9/11, shows, being perceived as Muslim is often enough to make one a target, regardless of one’s actual religious affiliation. After September 11th, 2001, the United States “intensified its targeting of persons perceived to be” Muslim through programs such as NSEERS (Naber 2005:480). As a result, images of Muslims, especially in the media, have almost exclusively focused on terrorism related to Islamic extremism (see Shaheen 2008). Together “anti-Arab racism” (Salaita 2006) and “anti-Muslim prejudice” (Malik 2009) have increased in the United States merging prevailing forms of racism with Orientalism and Islamophobia that have resulted in the racialization of Muslims (Meer and Modood 2009; Garner and Selod 2015) and the social construction of a visible archetype of “Muslim” considered inimical to “American” culture and religion.
Bayoumi, Moustafa. 2006. “Racing Religion.” The New Centennial Review 6(2):267-293.
Balibar, Etienne. 1991. “Is there Neo-Racism?” Pp. 17-28 in Balibar and Wallerstein (Eds.) Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities. New York: Verso.
Blaut, J.M. 1992. “The Theory of Cultural Racism.” Antipode 24(4):289-299.
Bravo Lopez, Fernando. 2011. “Towards a definition of Islamophobia: approximations of the early twenthieth century.” 34(4):556-573.
Cainkar, Louise. 2002. “Special Registration: A Fervor for Muslims.” Journal of Islamic Law and Culture 7(2):73-101.
Cainkar, Louise. 2009. Homeland Insecurity: The Arab American and Muslim American Experience after 9/11. New York: Russel Sage Foundation.
Cainkar, Louise and Sunaina Maira. 2005. “Targeting Arab/Muslim/South Asian Americans: Criminalization and Cultural Citizenship.” Amerasia Journal 33(3):1-27.
Chon, Margaret and Donna Arzt. 2005. “Walking While Muslim.” Law and Contemporary Problems 215-254.
Choudhury, Cyra. 2008. “Terrorists & Muslims: The Construction, Performance, and Regulation of Muslim Identities in the Post 9/11 United States.” Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion 11:1-32.
Elver, Hilal. 2012. “Racializing Islam Before and After 9/11: From Melting Pot to Islamophobia.” Transnational Law & Contemporary Problems 21:119-174.
Garner, Steve and Saher Selod. 2015. “The Racialization of Muslims: Empirical Studies of Islamophobia.” Critical Sociology 41(1):9-19.
Halliday, Fred. 1999. “‘Islamophobia’ reconsidered.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 22(5):892-902.
Jiwani, Yasmin. 2011. “Trapped in the Carceral Net: Race, Gender, and the ‘War on Terror’.” Global Media Journal 4(2):13-31.
Joshi, Khyati. 2006. “The Racialization of Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism in the United States.” Equity and Excellence in Education. 39:211-226.
Kobayashi, Audrey and Linda Peak. 2000. “Racism out of Place: Thoughts on Whiteness and an Antiracist Geography in the New Millennium.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 90(2):392-403.
Lipka, Michael. 2015. “Muslims Expected to surpass Jews as second-largest U.S. religious group.” Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. April 14 http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/04/14/muslims-expected-to-surpass-jews-as-second-largest-u-s-religious-group/
Love, Erik. 2009. “Confronting Islamophobia in the United States: framing civil rights activism among Middle Eastern Americans.” Patterns of Prejudice 43(3-4):401-425.
Malik, Maleiha. 2009. “Anti-Muslim prejudice in the West, past and present: an introduction.” Patterns of Prejudice 43(3-4): 207-212.
Meer, Nasar and Tariq Modood. 2009. “Refutations of racism in the ‘Muslim question’.” Patterns of Prejudice 43(3-4):335–354.
Naber, Nadine. 2005. “Muslim First, Arab Second: A Strategic Politics of Race and Gender.” The Muslim World 95: 479-495.
Naber, Nadine. 2008. “‘Look, Mohammed the Terrorist is Coming!’: Cultural Racism, Nation-Based Racism, and Intersectionality of Oppressions after 9/11.” Pp. 276-304 in Race and Arab Americans Before and After 9/11:From Invisible Citizens to Visible Subjects, edited by A. Jamal and N. Naber. Syracuse. NY: Syracuse University Press.
Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. 2011. “Muslim Americans: No Signs of Growth in Alienation or Support for Extremism.” August. http://www.people-press.org/2011/08/30/muslim-americans-no-signs-of-growth-in-alienation-or-support-for-extremism/
Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. 2013. “After Boston, Little Change in Views of Islam and Violence.” May. http://www.people-press.org/2013/05/07/after-boston-little-change-in-views-of-islam-and-violence/
Rana, Junaid. 2007. “The Story of Islamophobia.” Souls 9(2): 148-161.
Said, Edward. 1978. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books.
Salaita, Steven. 2006. “Beyond Orientalism and Islamophobia: 9/11, Anti-Arab Racism, and the Mythos of National Pride.” The New Centennial Review. 6(2):245-266.
Selod, Saher. 2014. “Citizenship Denied: The Racialization of Muslim American Men and Women post 9/11.” Critical Sociology 41(1):1-19.
Selod, Saher and David G. Embrick. 2013. “Racialization and Muslims: Situating the Muslim Experience in Race Scholarship.” Sociology Compass 7/8:644-655.
Shaheen, Jack. 2008. Guilty: Hollywood’s Verdict on Arabs After 9/11. Olive Branch Press: Northampton, MA.
Sheridan, Lorraine. 2006. “Islamophobia Pre- and Post-September 11th, 2001.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 21(3):317-336.
Silverstein, Paul A. 2008. “The context of antisemitism and Islamophobia in France.” Patterns of Prejudice 42(1):1-26.
Zopf, Bradley. Unpublished. Interview with Sabrina.[starbox]