There have been multiple reactions to Asra Nomani and Hala Arafa’s op-ed in the Washington Post. Most of the responses have focused on the hijab, women’s agency, choice and Islamophobia. However, there are some responses to Nomani and Arafa’s piece that perpetuate anti-immigrant sentiment, White nativism and American exceptionalism.
These responses are problematic because structural racism against Muslims is deeply interconnected to anti-immigrant hatred, anti-Black racism and the need to uphold White supremacy in America.
While these aren’t the only forms of structural violence that uphold Islamophobia, we cannot dismantle Islamophobia without dismantling xenophobia. Anti-Muslim racism flourishes because the state has racialized Muslims as “foreign,” the “other” and “un-American.”
This dehumanizing construction of Muslims by the state cannot be dismantled by erasing immigrant Muslims, African American Muslims, non-White converts/reverts to Islam and giving Islam a mainstream face that is White and assimilated.
On Saturday, Imam Suhaib Webb posted a public response on his page that included the opinion of Heather Laird-Jackson.
The post has since been removed from Facebook. Nevertheless, it is important to note that while both of them have done great work for the Muslim community, their responses were deeply troubling.
Imam Webb argued that American Muslim converts have allowed Muslim immigrants to shape American Islam.
He stated, the American converts have allowed immigrants to import “illnesses and concerns, whether religious or social, to be the measure used to grade our Islam, while tragically bartering our social capital for social bankruptcy.”
He followed up with using terms such as “our people” and “our land,” to then argue that Nomani’s experience is best written in some personal diary, rather than the Post — as if patriarchy is some foreign form of violence that doesn’t exist in America.
Laird-Jackson also took a similar position and then made the following claim, “Our origins of understanding do not come from ‘back home.'”
“This xenophobic rhetoric is at the root of the anti-immigrant policies that also intersect with anti-Muslim policies that result in deportations, ICE immigration raids and criminalization…”
As I read these opinions, which are far more mainstream in Muslim spaces and have been echoed by other Muslims as well, all I could think about was how do we fight anti-Muslim racism while engaging in White nativism and anti-immigrant rhetoric that blames Black and Brown immigrant communities for bringing crime, violence and backward practices into the states.
This xenophobic rhetoric is at the root of the anti-immigrant policies that also intersect with anti-Muslim policies that result in deportations, ICE immigration raids and criminalization that has resulted in immigrant families, including immigrant Muslims fearing for their lives.
Isn’t this similar to the rhetoric Donald Trump uses when he argues Syrian refugees and Mexican immigrants must be banned from entering America because immigrants present a national security and public safety threat that would somehow dilute American values of freedom, liberty and democracy?
In this instance, replace American with American Islam that is assimilated and represented by White Muslims and American converts, who aren’t prone to the “social and religious illnesses” foreign-born Muslims have.
Its also unclear why a South Asian Muslim woman’s piece on the hijab in the Washington Post, which caters to the American White mainstream, warrants building a new and authentic American Islam at this point, when there is a long tradition of Islam in America that African-American Muslims have used to resist power.
It is totally a different argument to make that immigrant Muslims, mainly Desi and non-Black Arab, need to unpack our anti-Blackness, connect with Black Muslim communities, recognize that we aren’t the “first” Muslim Americans, and that the violence we are experiencing is American to its root.
“Isn’t it more fruitful to address internal hierarchies of oppression and build a community that can offer an alternative to how structures of power dehumanize us, rather than mirroring the states’ hierarchies of power?”
Moreover, why are immigrant Muslim communities blindly internalizing and condoning this White nativist rhetoric — one which erases the fact that White people aren’t indigenous to American lands, and that this is a settler-colonial state?
This is a country built upon the disappearance, marginalization, and genocide of indigenous communities. Hence, why are we playing into the hands of White supremacy by internalizing and further perpetuating a narrative that is rooted in our complicity as immigrant Muslims with settler-colonial violence?
Finally, for the Muslim leadership, including scholars and public figures, this isn’t the time to further break the Muslim community apart by pushing for immigrant and non-immigrant Muslim binaries.
Is entrenching another binary productive when there is a major assault by the state to break apart and destroy the very essence of what “community” means with efforts such as surveillance? Isn’t it more fruitful to address internal hierarchies of oppression and build a community that can offer an alternative to how structures of power dehumanize us, rather than mirroring the states’ hierarchies of power?
Maybe we can also address what it means to have American privilege as Muslims in America and how we are complicit in the ways indigenous, Black and Brown people in other parts of the world are suffering so we can tap into American privilege within a transnational context.
Written by Darakshan Raja.
Image: Daily Mail
“Anti-Muslim racism flourishes because the state has racialized Muslims as “foreign,” the “other” and “un-American”
And how. I’m deeply racist against Mormons myself. I also have deep seated racial bigotry against agnostics and Methodists. This article is a top-notch demonstration of how the attempt to co-opt a politically correct buzzword can go tragically wrong.
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