Securitized Citizens: Canadian Muslims' Experiences of Race Relations and Identity Formation Post-9/11.
In this book, Baljit Nagra capably addresses one of the major issues of our time--the treatment of Muslim minorities in western countries--in a Canadian context. The background research for this book consists of a focus group and, later, 50 in-depth and mostly face-to-face interviews with second-generation self-identified Canadian Muslims aged 18-31. These interviews were conducted in Toronto and Vancouver in the years between 2004 and 2008 and, through them, Nagra has managed to map out some of the fundamental elements of the interviewees' experiences in post-9/11 Canada, particularly as related to their sense of belonging to the country.
As it is now almost public knowledge, in the post-9/11 environment, many Muslims living in western countries came under an unprecedented level of public scrutiny and governmental surveillance, which resulted in an environment filled with suspicion, misunderstanding, discrimination, and racism. For many second-generation Muslim youth, such experiences questioned some of the very fundamental understandings they had about: a) their countries of residence (in this case, Canada), and their own place in them; and b) their identities, and the place of religion, ethnicity, and belonging to Canada in those identities. The first set of questions forced them to engage in a re-conceptualization of the meaning of their experiences; the latter in a re-configuration of their identity portfolios. Nagra's research addresses the first set of questions in chapters 2-4 of the book, and the second set in chapters 5-6. The book starts with a somewhat unusually long Introduction chapter (of 40 pages); and it ends with a surprisingly short Conclusion (of 8 pages). Perhaps with some degree of subjectivity, I find the contents of the Introduction, as well as those of chapters 5 and 6, to be the most interesting parts of the book.
The Introduction chapter of the book does a good job in situating the research problem within the existing field, and in developing a relatively coherent conceptual framework to guide the study. For the building blocks of her conceptual framework, Nagra relies on a wide range of scholarly works, including Edward Said's notion of Orientalism; Thobani's discussion on the mixture of race and religion in the debates on Muslims; Razack's emphasis on the gendered nature of those debates and the failure of mainstream western feminism in recognizing the intricate connections between the colonial narratives and the western debates on gender issues in the Muslim world; and Glenn's and Hage's distinction between formal (or legal/official) citizenship and what has been called substantive (or social/practical/communal/full) citizenship. Drawing on these elements, and with some degree of simplification, one can perhaps summarize the main argument of the book as follows: a) in the post-9/11 period, a new colonial discourse has emerged, which has a clear racist foundation, and in which Muslims are treated as inferior and second-class citizens; b) in response, Muslims (or more precisely, some of the young second-generation Muslims interviewed) have simultaneously engaged in re-asserting their Canadian identity, while also giving a bigger place to Islam in defining their own identities, a process similar to what Portes and Rumbaut had called the 'reactive ethnicity'.
Nagra's book has made a great contribution to this field of research by providing a rich empirical foundation for understanding the experiences of Canadian Muslim youth in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. One may wonder how the dynamic of these experiences might have changed almost a decade later, after the occurrence (and discovery) of some deadly terrorist attacks in Canada by people of Muslim backgrounds (e.g., in 2014) and the high-casualty attack on Quebec City's mosque by a native-born Canadian (in 2017). It is unfortunate that a book on such a fast-changing topic is published almost a decade since the completion of the data gathering; the author could have remedied this problem by offering some thoughts on the more recent developments either in the Conclusion chapter or in an epilogue to the book.
If a second edition of the book is published, I believe that it could benefit from some minor modifications in the presentation style and/or in the conceptual arguments. Regarding the former, there could be more precision in reporting the factually-based developments. As an example, when arguments are made about how things have been different pre- and post-9/11, many of the references that are used to substantiate such arguments are those published after 9/11. The references to pre-9/11 are, in many cases, theoretical arguments that are based on qualitative research (which are incapable of showing the rise and fall of trends) and sound more like political statements. Even then, while the author says that things have changed after 9/11, she mostly cites the works arguing that the negative experiences of Muslims predated 9/11. A reader may wonder how these two positions can sit well together. Furthermore, most of the pre-9/11 negative experiences of Canadian Muslims that are reported are those that have occurred in Quebec; and we know that, in this regard, Quebec has been very different from the rest of Canada.
On the conceptual front, the part that I had the most difficulty with was the place of race in this whole dynamics. Despite many arguments to the contrary, including the author's own personal experiences as a member of the Sikh community in Canada, she seems to treat the concept of race in Canada almost as a constant. In this perspective, the mainstream and dominant Canadian identity and discourses remain fundamentally racist. As a consequence, an effort is made to reduce the experiences of Muslims due to their religion to a consequence of a racialization process. While this could be a defensible theoretical possibility, its validity has to be demonstrated through empirical information. The book, however, seems to have accepted that a priori; hence, its limited success in explaining the immigration reforms of the 1960s, the decline in overt racism/discrimination, and the rising significance of religion in identity profiles, among others. It would also be educational, in works like this, to add some internationally comparative elements, and to situate Canada and Canadian Muslims in a broader perspective of the global Muslim experiences.
Even with the above empirical and conceptual limitations, the book remains as an important contribution to this line of research and scholarship, and could be a good supplementary source for undergraduate courses on race/ethnicity and/or Muslim minorities in the west. Dr. Nagra should be congratulated for producing such a fine piece of scholarship.
Department of Sociology, University of Calgary
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|Publication:||Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2019|
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