the WTC Disaster: The Sacred, the Profane, and Social Solidarity"
Janet Abu-Lughod, Sociology, New School University
Shifting Grounds for Transnational Civic Activity"
Jeffrey Ayres, Political Science, St. Michael's College;
and Sidney Tarrow, Sociology, Cornell University
Seyla Benhabib, Political Science, Yale University
and Protect, After September 11"
Didier Bigo, Institut d'Etudes Politiques, Paris
Identity and Community After September 11"
Kay Deaux, Psychology, City University of New York
Return of the State"
John A. Hall, Sociology, McGill University
New After September 11th?"
Dick Howard, Philosophy, SUNY at Stonybrook
and the New 'Anti-politics' of 'Security'"
Kanishka Jayasuriya, Political Science, City University
of Hong Kong
Politics Against Terrorism"
Peter Alexander Meyers, Sociology, UniversitÃ© de Lille
Human Rights Approach to Sept. 11"
Kathryn Sikkink, Political Science, University of Minnesota
Aristide Zolberg, Political Science, New School University
Identity and Community After September 11
Deaux, Professor of Psychology, Graduate Center at the
City University of New York
a United States citizen four years ago because of my long
love affair with New York....I am a Bangladeshi woman and
my last name is Rahman, a Muslim name...Before last week,
I had thought of myself as a lawyer, a feminist, a wife,
a sister, a friend, a woman on the street. Now I begin to
see myself as a brown woman who bears a vague resemblance
to the images of terrorists we see on television....As I
become identified as someone outside the New York community,
I feel myself losing the power to define myself...
this poignant statement by a U.S citizen, ethnically Bangladeshi
with Muslim linkage, the complex web of issues involved
in immigrant identity is dramatically clear. Embedded in
this statement are many of the issues that those of us concerned
with categories of identification generally, and ethnic
identification in particular, grapple with. Identification
is typically a complex rather than simple construction,
involving multiple aspects of oneself that may overlap or
compete. Identification is a dynamic process, in which the
meaning, the function, and even the basic labels can change
from one point in time to another. Further, and most relevant
now, identification is a socially constructed process in
which the context and views of others have a significant
role, shaping options and consequences for individual experience.
The events of September 11 have without question altered
the context of identification for thousands of U.S. citizens
and for those immigrants, legal and illegal, whose citizenship
is still in flux. The current estimate of first generation
Arab-American immigrants in the U.S. is 2,315,392. Current
estimates of the number of Muslims in the U.S. are far less
certain, varying from 2 to 6 million. (It should be noted
that Arab-Americans and Muslims are far from overlapping
sets. Many Arab-Americans are Christian; Muslims in turn
come from a variety of ethnic groups in the U.S., including
African American, Latino, and, as the highly-publicized
case of John Walker Lindh illustrates, from Euro American
backgrounds as well.)
Attitudes toward immigrants of any stripe have varied in
the U. S. over the years. Prior to the restrictive immigration
legislation of 1924, for example, opponents of immigration
became increasingly strident, and the idealistic image of
the "melting pot" offered by playwright Israel Zangwill
in 1908 was challenged on both economic and racial grounds.
In the 1950s and 1960s, more positive attitudes emerged,
reflected in John F. Kennedy's posthumously published A
Nation of Immigrants and culminating in the immigration
policy reforms of 1965. Yet in the wake of that legislation,
with the consequent dramatic increase in immigration to
the U.S. (and from countries other than the previous Western
European mode), there is evidence that views toward immigration
are becoming increasingly negative. National survey data
show a majority of both white and black Americans favor
a decrease in current levels of immigration (while this
is a minority position for Latinos and Asian Americans).2
An analysis of the images of immigration on the covers of
wide-circulation magazines in the U.S. shows fewer affirmative
and more alarmist messages in the period from 1965 to 1999.3
Anti-immigration discourse has emerged in the political
arena as well, as evidenced in legislative initiatives in
California and the political platform of the Reform Party.
Attitudes toward Arab immigrants have not been given a great
deal of attention until now. Indeed, it is likely that for
most Americans, ideas about Arabs and about Muslims are
not well differentiated, and attitudes about Arabs in particular
are not well defined. More general work on attitudes toward
immigrant groups suggests that both simplicity and negativity
of image are associated with immigrants whose culture is
unfamiliar, and who are more "different" from the U.S. norm
in appearance, language, and culture,4 all of
which could characterize Arab Americans. Thus, it is reasonable
to conclude that, prior to September 11, the prevailing
stereotype of Arab Americans was somewhat negative but not
particularly well articulated and, indeed, that many Americans
had given little thought to the subject.
On such a weakly defined concept, the impact of a dramatic
and terrifying event such as September 11 can be considerable,
overwhelming the field and creating images that are both
vivid and lasting. Such is the case, I believe, for many
people, whose image of Arab Americans and Muslims now begins
and ends with a terrorist. Such images, in turn, lay the
groundwork for incidents of prejudice and discrimination
toward the target group, many of which have been reported
in the media.
It is in this newly-defined context that the Arab American
immigrant must consider questions of identification of the
kind that Anika Rahman raised: What do I call myself? What
does it mean to be that kind of person? And how is that
ethnicity valued, by me and by others? These questions are
central to the study of identity and to an understanding
of the processes by which identity is negotiated.
At the simplest level, one can ask whether the immigrant
to the U.S. sees him or herself primarily as an American,
an ethnically-hyphenated American (e.g. Arab-American),
or as the ethnicity of origin (e.g. a Bangladeshi). Or,
as we have increasingly coming to appreciate, as some combination
of these identifications, with the relative salience of
any particular identity dependent on when and where the
question is raised. Underneath the label itself are issues
of meaning and value. The meaning of one's ethnic identity
comes from multiple sources-from the traditions and heritage
of the country, from the social practices of one's immediate
network, as well as from the social representations held
by the culture at large. Evaluation is a more unidimensional
notion, a general feeling of the relative goodness or badness
of one's group. Early theorists tended to assume a "looking
glass self," in which the views of society would be mirrored
in one's own appraisal. We now find, however, that most
groups have a positive view of themselves, regardless of
negative evaluations and stigmatization that may exist in
the society at large. Yet, in the case of an overwhelming
negative event such as that of 9/11, even those basic tendencies
for positive regard may be challenged - to the extent that
one sees some basis of connection between one's own group
identification and the characteristics of the other.
For the immigrant in general, and for the contemporary Arab
American immigrant in particular, these processes of identity
negotiation, selection, and presentation are necessarily
carried out in a context - a context that makes some choices
easier and some more difficult, that offers a particular
set of opportunities and constraints, and that shapes the
outcomes one is likely to experience. At least three specific
patterns have been evident in the wake of September 11,
which might be loosely linked to the classic triad of approaching,
avoiding, and leaving the scene.
In the first of these, the goal is to reach out in some
way, making both a statement of who one is and attempting
to establish some basis of connection or communication with
others who are not part of one's group - others who may
be a potential source of threat, discrimination, and prejudicial
action. Taxis in New York City, for example, that rapidly
sprouted American flags on windshield and hood were, in
my impression, most likely to have drivers who might, by
appearance, be labeled Arab or Muslim. These included those
for whom the label was inappropriate, as among the large
community of Sikhs who were frequently mistaken for Palestinian
or Muslim. Another example of what I might term a strategy
of self-proclamation or self-explanation is one with potentially
more beneficial long-term effects, exemplified by the myriad
of educational efforts that have developed in religious,
artistic, and political communities. Here the focus is not
on the ethnic or religious label per se, but rather on what
means and values are associated with that group membership.
As examples, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New
York City offered a series of plays exploring the lives
of women in Muslim cultures around the world. Churches,
mosques, and synagogues across the country organized panels
to explore the meaning of religion and the common bases
of worship. In these efforts, the goal was to increase knowledge
and create positive images of Muslims and Arab-Americans,
a counter to the tendencies to simplify and negate.
A second strategy evidenced by Arab American immigrants
in the past several months is one of turning more inward,
relying on the network of family and friends who define
one's group and share its values. The choice to find a community
of kindred souls is nothing new for the immigrant, of course.
Despite the dominance of assimilation models in American
social science, immigrants have often sought to establish
neighborhoods and organizations that can serve as sites
for ethnic maintenance. By example, one of the earliest
immigration studies in the social science literature, The
Polish Peasant in Europe and America5 reported
on the ways in which Polish-American societies were formed
and operated through boarding house, church, and community
center. More recently, discussion often points to the patterns
of Latino migration and the development of highly concentrated
neighborhoods (e.g., the Cuban-American community in Florida),
the development of Spanish business communities, and the
growth of Spanish newspapers and television programming.
In times of threat, such as many Arab-Americans are feeling
now, it is not surprising that a tendency to "circle the
wagons" would be more in evidence. Threats from an outgroup
almost invariably lead to a strengthening of ingroup resolve
and cohesion, as members of the group gain strength, security,
and an affirmation of meaning from sharing with others who
A third reaction of Arab Americans is to "leave the scene,"
that is, to return to the country of origin rather than
remain in the more uncertain U.S. environment. Although
there have been a number of reports of this "flight" pattern
following September 11, it is difficult to yet determine
how prevalent this reverse migration is. Reverse migration
is again not unique to the present situation. "Transnationalism"
has become a popular term in immigration discussions, pointing
to the many people who either return to their country of
origin after some period or who maintain essentially a dual-country
life style. Yet as Nancy Foner has shown, transnationalism
is not a new phenomenon. In the first two decades of the
20th century, another period of high immigration, many immigrants
returned to their home countries after varying periods of
residence in the United States - 36 for every 100 who arrived.6
Causes for this reverse migration are many, but economic
shifts are often one of the more influential factors. As
for the Arab Americans who choose to leave now, there is
no reason to assume that the return to country of origin
is a permanent move; it is quite reasonable to expect that,
dependent on future political and economic developments,
either the same or later generations would again find a
community in the United States.
The events of September 11, and the events that have succeeded
them, in many respects spotlighted issues that are fundamental
to the analysis of immigration in the United States. Ethnic
and national identities are always negotiated in a context
in which both positive and negative outcomes accrue. Priorities
change and networks are reformulated - sometimes in a way
that is consistent with an assimilation paradigm of blending
to the norm, sometimes in ways more complicated and multifaceted.
The context is always an important component of the process
and it, too, can not be considered in static terms. Not
all immigrants arrive to the same "America": color, religion,
and history have always made a difference. Further, as the
wonderfully evocative title How the Irish Became White7
suggests and as the internment of Japanese-Americans during
the World War II period illustrates, groups receive different
treatments at different points in time.
For Arab-Americans in the United States in 2002, the situation
today is much more volatile than it was a year ago. For
those who view Arab-Americans, as members of their immediate
communities or from afar, the challenges of understanding
are in much higher relief than they were before. In the
months to come, the ways in which all sides respond and
take action will tell us much about the condition of the
U.S., now in its sixth century as a home for immigrants.
Rahman, "Fear in the Open City", New York Times,
September 19, 2001, p. A27.
2 D. O. Sears, J. Citrin, S. V. Cheleden, and
C. van Laar (1999). "Cultural Diversity and Multicultural
Politics: Is Ethnic Balkanization Psychologically Inevitable?"
In D. A. Prentice & D. T. Miller (Eds.), Cultural Divides:
Understanding and Overcoming Group Conflict (Pp. 35-79).
New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
3 Leo R. Chavez, Covering Immigration: Popular
Images and the Politics of the Nation. Berkeley: University
of California Press, 2001.
4 Mullen, B. (2001). "Ethnophaulisms for
Ethnic Immigrant Groups." Journal of Social Issues,
5 W. I. Thomas and F. Znaniecki (1958). The
Polish Peasant in Europe and America (2 vol.). New York:
6 N. Foner (2000). From Ellis Island to JFK:
New York's Two Great Waves of Immigration. New Haven
and New York: Yale University Press and Russell Sage Foundation.
7 Ignatiev, N. (1995). How the Irish Became
White. New York & London: Routledge.