Reactionary Historiography: Post 9/11 Muslim Communities and Immigrants

العربية: الجمعية الاسلامية الامريكية - مسجد ديربورن, 9945 West Vernor Highway, Dearborn, Michigan English: American Moslem Society Dearborn Mosque, 9945 West Vernor Highway, Dearborn, Michigan

(Featured image of American Moslem Society Dearborn Mosque by Dwight Burdette)

The following is a historiography that reviews literature covering Muslim immigration and communities in the United States after the events of September 11th, 2001 in New York City, NY, USA. Because of how cut & paste into WordPress from a Word file works, you’ll find all the footnotes at the end of the page.


Books Reviewed

Abdo, Geneive Abdo. 2006. Mecca and Main Street: Muslim Life in America After 9/11. New York: Oxford University Press.

Bilici, Mucahit. 2012. How Islam Is Becoming an American Religion: Finding Mecca in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Curtis IV, Edward E. 2009. Muslims in America: A Short History. New York: Oxford University Press.

Haddad, Yvonne Yazbeck. 2011. Becoming American? The Forging of Arab and Muslim Identity in Pluralist America. Waco: Baylor University Press.

Hussain, Amir. 2016. Muslims and the Making of America. Waco: Baylor University Press.

McCloud, Aminah Beverly. 2006. Transnational Muslims in American Society. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.


When the World Trade Center (the “Twin Towers”) in New York City was attacked on September 11th, 2001, many Americans were understandably shocked and angry, but they also found themselves asking, what is a Muslim? Why would they want to attack us?[1] Setting aside the problem of conflating all Muslims with terrorists, these questions revealed a vacuum of knowledge about Muslims and Islam in the United States. Further, there was a lack of understanding that Muslims were and had been a part of American society since before the United States was founded. The rhetoric that flooded popular media painted a picture of Islam vs the West[2] and reinforced the idea that there was a hard dichotomy between the two.[3] One could not be American and be Muslim, one could only be Muslim in America. Scholars from multiple disciplines saw this as an opportunity to produce literature on Muslim immigration and Muslim communities living within the United States to correct the narrative being constructed around Muslims and Islam. Because of this, much of the recent scholarship on Islam has been defensive and apologetic in nature, presenting Muslims in a way that normalizes them and introduces them as typical Americans to the rest of society. Recent scholarship has focused primarily on establishing a Muslim American identity, rather than on placing Muslim immigrants and immigration in a historical context.

According to Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, a scholar on the history of Islam in America, this type of scholarship is not new. Writing in 2010, he indicates that both before and after September 11th, 2001, scholarship on Muslims in the United States has been primarily anthropological and sociological, dealing with questions of assimilation and identity formation.[4] He goes on to say that the historical studies that do exist focus primarily on African American Muslims and on how non-Muslim Americans perceive Islam.[5] Further, because of the positioning of Islam as being opposed to the West, most scholarship on Muslims in the United States has focused on how they are faring in a “foreign” society rather than on how they are actively participating in American history.[6] Much scholarship on Muslims in the US also aims to teach non-Muslim Americans about Islam to counter xenophobia and to reposition Muslims as being a part of “us”.[7] However, this focus on Muslim voices excludes the voices of other groups that have interacted with them. What I mean by this is that ethnic identity formation is both an external and internal process.[8] Muslim American identity formation occurred and continues to occur within a wider American social context. Without adding the voices of non-Muslims to the narrative, as GhaneaBassiri writes, scholars “[dim] the signifiance of the larger American Islamic socio-historical context [in] which American Muslims have [acted] for nearly four centuries.”[9] Many of the books reviewed in this paper, including Hussain’s Muslims and the Making of America, which was published in 2016, fit GhaneaBassiri’s analysis of recent scholarship as being primarily focused on identity formation and assimilation. The two exceptions are McCloud and Curtis’s books.

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Museum Challenge: The New York Transit Museum – Fun and Interesting

No pole dancing allowed

Of all the museums I’ve visited in New York City, the New York Transit Museum was the most fun, even though it’s also (so far) the smallest. The museum is designed in a way that allows for interaction with many of the exhibits. There was a whole class of children on a field trip playing with the turnstiles when I first got there. I think the museum staff was aiming for making the place a popular field-trip destination. Besides all of the interactive exhibits, there is also a cafeteria/classroom area.Just because it was set up for kids doesn’t mean it can’t be fun for adults too, though.

Students on a field trip trying out old subway turnstiles.
Students on a field trip trying out old subway turnstiles.

Just because it was set up for kids doesn’t mean it can’t be fun for adults too, though. On the first floor or first basement level, depending on how you look at it, there are old buses or portions of buses that you can walk into and sit in. The driver’s seats are accessible and you can have a friend take your photo through the windshield. The newer buses are definitely designed better. The driver’s seat and the angle of the pedals were much more comfortable than an older model I tried out, which required me to keep my leg elevated all the time to press the pedals. I have no idea how people actually drove those older buses all day. Their right legs must have been twice the size of their left legs.

The bottom floor of the basement is where all of the old train cars are. They had everything from A trains, supposedly mid-90s to 2010 (some of which I still see on the A line, not sure why it’s in the museum), to trains from the early 1900s. A lot of the train cars looked similar inside. Even some of the same advertisements spanned decades. It was interesting to see how the seat configurations changed over time. I also thought it was interesting to see ceiling or rotating fans in some of the older train cars. Once a year, New York City runs some of these older trains on the 7 line (I think).

Vintage train advertisement.
Vintage train advertisement.

What really interested me, though, were the old advertisements. I’d like to go back and just spend a few hours studying them. You can tell a lot about people during a certain time period based on the products they were buying and how the appeals made by advertisers were framed. It’s also just neat to see the artwork styles.

Signage meant to regulate passenger behavior.
Signage meant to regulate passenger behavior.

 

More signage meant to regular passenger behavior.
More signage meant to regular passenger behavior.

Another awesome exhibit in the museum is of signs meant to regulate the behavior of passengers. The signs are from multiple transit systems around the world. Some of them are hilarious; all of them are necessary. Or at least, the ones for the New York transit system are necessary. I remember being shocked by how clean the trains and buses in Singapore were when I first moved there. The trains were so clean that sometimes people would sit on the floor, something that is totally out of the question in New York City trains. The buses in New York City are usually just as filthy as the trains. People litter everywhere here; they spit everywhere here. It’s a shame. The city would be so much nicer if people would take care of it, but they don’t. They just complain about how dirty the city is while contributing to the problem.

Anyhow, the New York Transit Museum is pretty awesome and I’ll definitely be going back at least one more time in the future. Take a look through the photo gallery below for more images of exhibits in the museum:

 

The New York Transit Museum

Museum Challenge: The Museum of the City of New York (Feb 2017)

City of New York Quote - New York Evening Post

A few weeks ago I was standing in Barnes & Noble, looking around to see if anything would catch my eye. I didn’t really want to buy anything because I have plenty of books that I haven’t read yet, but sometimes I go to B&N just to look around and get an idea of what’s popular or new. Sometimes I can’t resist and still walk out with a few new books to add to my collection.Anyway, I saw a section for books on New York City and I realized that despite majoring in History and working on an MA in history, I haven’t read or learned much about the history of New York City.

Anyway, I saw a section for books on New York City and I realized that despite majoring in History and working on an MA in history, I haven’t read or learned much about the history of New York City. The only two books that I know I’ve read are City of Women: Sex and Class in New York, 1789-1860, by Christine Stansell and City of Eros: New York City, Prostitution, and the Commercialization of Sex, 1790-1920, by Timothy J. Gilfoyle. I think I read them as part of an American economic history master’s course that was masquerading as a course on historiography and historical methodology. They were both excellent books, by the way.

Not knowing too much of anything about New York’s history struck me as odd since I live in New York City and half of my family has lived in New York City for multiple generations. At some point, I’m going to have to sit down and plow through a few good books on the subject, but my ignorance of the topic was the inspiration for my decision to visit the Museum of the City of New York on 5th Avenue.

A 1985 map of Manhattan, by The Manhattan Map Company Inc.
A 1985 map of Manhattan, by The Manhattan Map Company Inc.

The museum is not exceptionally large. I took the time to look at the special exhibit and read quite a few of the information placards in the galleries and still saw everything in about 3.5 hours, so it’s a great way to spend an afternoon without feeling rushed or having to go back again to see what you missed the first time through. Another bonus is that admission is free if you have a City University of New York student ID card.

A selection of artwork by students of varying ages in New York City schools.
A selection of artwork by students of varying ages in New York City schools.

The building’s collection has a mix of art and artifacts. In some galleries, there are old maps of the city, detailed information on how zoning works, and models to show how buildings were designed to fit the space limitations created by whatever the current zoning laws were. Other galleries have artifacts from the early colonial period, including Native American artifacts. There are galleries describing protest movements and fashion trends. There is a small hall dedicated to Tiffany’s. There is a gallery of contemporary children’s art from city schools. The special exhibit when I visited was on gay New York and the history of the gay rights movement and gay lifestyle in the city.

A selection of Tiffany's fans.
A selection of Tiffany’s fans.

The galleries cover a lot of ground. Some exhibits felt out of place, like the Tiffany’s gallery and the Stettheimer Doll House, for example. The special exhibit on gay New York felt empty. There wasn’t enough on display to make the exhibit interesting. The children’s art exhibit was really fun but also really small. The museum should dedicate more space to current New York City art initiatives and to modern New York City. By that, I mean there should be something that showcases contemporary diversity beyond the scrolling Twitter feed display showing New Yorker’s criticizing Trump’s policies. It should be something positive, like an exhibit on interfaith initiatives, cultural festivals, street fairs, and festivals, for example. It would also be interesting to see an exhibit on historical landmarks in the city and the process for designating a site as a historic landmark.

A gallery of more photos from the museum:

The Museum of the City of New York
I probably won’t visit this museum again. It was definitely worth the trip, but I didn’t see anything there that spoke to me, in the way that art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art does. This museum is more informative than awe-inspiring or inspirational.

Wide Awake: Christopher Clark’s “The Sleepwalkers” and World War I

The Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark book cover image

Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers is an eminently readable account of the events that led up to the outbreak of World War I. Written in a narrative style, but rich with detail and innovative arguments about the origins of the war, Clark’s work is meant for a general audience but will also appeal to scholars looking to broaden their understanding of the events leading up to World War I. Clark is well versed in his subject matter. He is currently the Regius Professor of History at Cambridge University with a focus on European history. His prior works include a study of Christian-Jewish relations in Prussia (The Politics of Conversion. Missionary Protestantism and the Jews in Prussia, 1728-1941, Oxford University Press, 1995), a general history of Prussia (Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947, Penguin, 2006), and a biography of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany (Kaiser Wilhelm II, Longman, 2000).

In The Sleepwalkers, Clark attempts to fundamentally change the way the origins of the war are discussed. Rather than trying to make a claim about who bears the most responsibility for the outbreak of World War I, the author is instead more concerned with the agency of individuals within the state power structures, the decisions they made, and why. Using a wealth of primary documents in state archives as well as secondary sources, Clark brings these “characters” to life in a story that begins with the assassination of King Alexander and Queen Draga in Serbia in June of 1903 and ends with European mobilization in August of 1914.

The scope of Clark’s narrative is impressive, despite being limited. The focus is placed primarily on Serbia, the Habsburg Empire, Russia, Germany, and France. Clark goes into detail regarding meetings, conversations, letters, and press publications in these countries. Other nations that played important roles in World War I are only touched upon briefly, including Italy, Britain, and the Ottoman Empire. Does it make sense to limit the narrative to these countries? For the most part, yes. Clark demonstrates that the rivalries between Russia and the Habsburgs and between the French and the Germans were the driving forces behind the outbreak of war; the assassination of the Archduke and Archduchess of Austria-Hungary by Serbian assassins was simply a pretext used by these nations to pursue other goals. On the other hand, Clark positions the ongoing decline of the Ottoman Empire and the loss of Ottoman lands to other states as a primary cause of continuing unrest not only in the Balkans, but in Europe as well. If the loss of Libya to Italy and Russia’s longstanding conflict with the Ottomans over the Dardanelles and Bosphorus was so crucial in laying the groundwork for the events that led up to World War I, why was the Ottoman Empire (the so-called “sick man of Europe”) not given a greater place at the table in Clark’s narrative?

The role Clark attributes to the Ottoman Empire in The Sleepwalkers ties into one of his larger themes, in which he presents the alliance bloc system as a driving force behind the outbreak of hostilities. The new bi-polar system (Entente vs Central Powers) developed out of an earlier multi-polar system which hinged on the maintenance of the status quo, including the propping up of the Ottoman Empire as a vital part of the European political establishment. The formation of powerful alliance blocs coupled with the linkage of diplomacy to military power, as well as the lack of available colonial territories to barter and trade away in international diplomacy, created a situation that was inherently volatile. Clark writes that war was not inevitable, that it was the result of actions taken by individuals. The evidence Clark presents strongly supports his thesis. Clark clearly shows that the French elite were agitating for war to regain territories previously lost to Germany. Russian elites were looking for an excuse to finally capture the Dardanelles and Bosphorus. They understood that they would likely trigger a continental war, but decided to push forward with their plans anyway. These players were not sleepwalking towards war; they were wide awake, even if they were unaware of the scale of the consequences their actions would bring.

One of the larger problems with Clark’s work is that he places so much emphasis on Serbia and Serbian history when his narrative clearly shows that events in Serbia and Sarajevo were merely a pretext that France and Russia used to start a war that they hoped would allow them to achieve their own national goals. The amount of space in the book devoted to Serbian history seems disproportionate to the country’s influence on events. Without Russian backing, would a larger continental war have started at all? In his introduction, Clark writes that he is not interested in placing blame, but based on the evidence he presents, Russia is responsible for the start of World War I. Serbia was not a part of the Entente Alliance of 1907. Had Russia not intervened on its behalf, the treaty stipulations would not have been triggered. Germany, by contrast, comes across as an underdog in The Sleepwalkers.

Two minor issues stood out to me in this book. One is the mention of but lack of development of the idea that a new trend in masculinity affected diplomatic relations between the countries involved. The second is the repeated use of “public opinion” to explain events without developing the reader’s understanding of the actual relationship between the media or government and the public. Who was “the public”? The elite, or all classes? What was the literacy rate? Did people consume news by reading or through word-of-mouth in public spaces? Did people understand that some news was camouflaged diplomacy? Clark indicates that the outbreak of war surprised rural populations in Russia and France and they did not understand what was going on, so how could “public opinion” have played such a crucial role in government policy formation?

Overall, Clark’s presentation of the backdrop to World War I in The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 is brilliant. It is written in a way that is informative and yet entertaining. He opens an old topic to fresh discussion by revealing the complicated web of interactions between individuals in the state governmental systems, calling into question anew who is responsible for the start of World War I, even if that is not the author’s intention. More importantly, Clark’s work is a solid reminder that wars do not start themselves; people start wars and bad decisions by people in key positions can have devastating consequences.