Friday, November 6, 2009

In my Migration & Refugees in International Relations class, we discuss citizenship, in-groups, and out-groups a lot in the context of migration. For yesterday's class we read a chapter from political theorist Bonnie Honig's book Democracy and the Foreigner. The chapter dealt with the love-hate relationship Americans have with immigrants. On the one hand, we have the myth of an America founded on the sheer grit and virtue of immigrants and on the other, we have the view of an "invasion" of "illegals" who steal jobs, form isolated enclaves where "un-American" ideals are fostered, and generally ruin the country for the native-born. Immigrants are seen as both integral to the greatness of America and as a possible force for its undoing. When this tension between xenophilia and xenophobia tilts in the latter direction, as happens during times of economic hardships and war, the "natives" of a country come more rigidly to draw the line between "us" and "them" even when "they" are native-born or have been in the country for years. In circling the wagons, people draw dangerously on insufficient or flawed understandings of that "other" that fuel hatred.
Place into this context the massacre at Fort Hood yesterday by Virginia native, Nidal Malik Hasan. The news is still fresh, and the facts are unclear, but there is much speculation about Hasan's religion. This is certainly the case in the comments on an AP article published in the online edition of my local newspaper, the Peoria Journal Star. As a student of migration and refugees whose living in the Middle East, I am inevitably drawn to what the PJStar's comment sections following articles about Islam or Arabs reveal about my fellow Peorians' attitudes toward the kinds of people that not only live here, but who are also part of the patchwork of the American citizenry. So how does Islamophobia play in Peoria? I realize that those who choose to comment on articles don't necessarily proportionally represent the populace, but they provide interesting insight nonetheless.
The first comment to introduce the idea of foreignness read,
This exemplifies why American troops should be natural born citizens. Allowing other nationalities to enlist in the United States military is detrimental to the safety and integrity of America.
"Common Tater"'s first mistake was that he conflated nationality with being born in a given country. Millions of American nationals were born outside of the US and, in many situations (take the Turks in Germany, for example), people who were born in a country and lived there their entire lives may not be nationals. In Honig's book, she mentions the myriad of ethnic group contingents that fought in the American Civil War displaying a patriotism just as zealous as those "natural-born citizens" they fought alongside. But, perhaps more importantly, what Common Tater failed to appreciate was that Hasan is a natural-born citizen.

"slick06" is less polished in his or her arguments:
He was a Muslim that's why this happened!!! The Muslims are waging a hold war on us at we let them into the armed forces????
Even if Hasan's break-down and subsequent act of violence was related to his religious beliefs, it is a question of religious extremism, not something unique to or inherent in Islam. In that case, it would be appropriate to say "he was a violent religious extremist, that's why this happened". Just as the supposedly-Christian abortion clinic-bombers don't represent all of us, neither do suicide bombers or rampaging gunmen represent all Muslims. "The Muslims" slick06 refers to are a diverse people socioeconomically, linguistically, ethnically, politically, ideologically, and so forth. If they were all united in waging a war on us by now, I'm sure I'd have been felled by my landlord, a taxi driver, a waiter at one of the restaurants I frequent, a policeman, the woman that begs for food down my street, one of my professors, the Rotarians who hosted me last year, or any other of the tens of millions of Muslims in this country. Furthermore, there are thousands of Muslims in our armed forces and there have been for years. Muslim Americans fight alongside other Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan and there were Muslims in the Allied Forces in World War II. Islam does not detract from a person's service in the military of a non-Muslim country, it is rather a question of ideology and extremism.
Thankfully, I'm not the only Peorian who thinks this way. Says "nothingshocking":
common tater-i didn't read anywhere in the article that the gunman was not a natural born citizen. since when does one have to be a foreigner in order to convert to islam? timothy mcveigh was a natural born citizen and was capable of blowing up a building filled with his fellow americans. crazy is crazy-regardless of creed, religion, or race.
Still, "Pancho" brings us this lovely reminder that ignorance is rampant:
slick06 nailed it, and yeah, part of this IS Obamas fault. His way of thinking assists people like this to prosper in OUR country. OUR country is full is trash that want to bring us down. What a shame it has come to this.
Whatever you think of the president, Pancho's comment has little to do with politics, but rather those fundamental questions of "us" and "them". Who is the "us" to whom the country belongs in Pancho's statement? And who, in fact, is the trash? Many of us in Central Illinois have German and Irish roots. These ethnic groups, now an indistinguishable part of "White America", were vilified and demonized just as much as Muslim Americans are now. German-Americans were associated with Nazis, the Irish were considered job-stealing scum, etc. etc. I would put to Pancho that this "us" is comprised of the descendants of the "trash" of past generations.
The rest of the comments were divided between reasoned expressions of concern over the stress of war, impending deployment and multiple tours of duty and more ignorant comments about Muslims and Islam. While I understand the fears associated with the unfamiliar, I really hope that those in my hometown who struggle with how to fit those who are different from themselves (especially Muslims) into their idea of America will think deeply and rationally about it.

News & Issues

No comments: