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Transnational practices in local settings



#1in5Muslims by Victoria Redclift

By k.anand.14, on 24 August 2020

#1in5Muslims…pray that when they open a margarine tub, there will be margarine in there and not curry

#1in5Muslims….look like Zayn Malik, to their mums.

The Sun’s controversial headline last week, claiming that one in five British Muslims had sympathy with Jihadis, set social media alight. Twitter users took up the #1 in 5 Muslims hashtag to mock the Sun and itsdodgy survey data. Meanwhile IPSO, the newspaper regulator, receiveda record number of complaints. The Sun’s polling company Survation had asked a sample of 1000 people with Muslim-sounding names how much sympathy they had with young Muslimswho leave the UK to join fighters in Syria. Quite apart from any concerns we might have with the poll’s sampling methods, there are various factions fighting in Syria, including forces dedicated to resisting Isis. Which means the poll tells us nothing about the number of people who have “sympathy for jihadis”. But the Sun isn’t interested in such details. As it happens, Survation’s March poll asked identical questions of a ‘non-Muslim sample’.The resulting data, says Patrick Brione of Survation, suggest that “attitudes held by the Muslim and non-Muslim populations are not that different.”But, again, the Sun isn’t interested. It is much more interested in cherry-picking data for the story it wants to tell. This story, alongside a picture of a balaclava-clad, knife-wielding ‘Jihadi John’, is just one part of the newspaper’s campaign to convince its readership that Muslims are on the fence about terrorism. A week earlier (17thNovember) the paper’s leading article began by suggesting that Muslims had “done too little in public to express solidarity with the victims in Paris and the civilised, tolerant democracies in which they live.”

All of this is part of a much wider discourse in which the loyalty of British Muslims is in question. And, in the wake of the Paris attacks, and the recent San Bernadino shooting, it has particularly potent effect. But is it justified to demand that Muslims condemn terrorism?As Dalia Mogahed, research director at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding in Washington, cogently explained on MSNBClast week “condoning the killing of civilians is, to me, about the most monstrous thing you can to do. And to be suspected of doing something so monstrous, simply because of your faith, seems very unfair”. She noted that, according to FBI data, the majority of domestic terror attacks in the United States are actually committed by white, male Christians. “Now that’s just the facts. When those things occur, we don’t suspect other people who share their faith and ethnicity of condoning them. We assume that these things outrage them just as much as they do anyone else. And we have to afford this same assumption of innocence to Muslims”. But, it seems, this is not always the case.

n the aftermath of the horrendous 13th November attacks, and alongside the predictable securitisation response which calls for air strikes and ramped up border control, the equally predictable retaliatory targeting of Muslims began almost immediately. In Marseilles a Muslim woman was punched in the face and attached with the box cutter. In Givors a woman was kicked over and crushed by a shopping trolly. In Pontivy a man was beaten into a coma and in the north of France a man was shot.

Across the pond, in the Republican battle for the presidential primary, political capital is being made out this spike in anti-Muslim sentiment. Donald Trump has suggested that all Muslims should register in a US database, and called for the families of terrorists to be killed, while Ben Carson has likened Syrian refugees to rabid dogs who might turn terrorist at any time. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Washington issued a statement saying it “has received more reports about acts of Islamophobic discrimination, intimidation, threats, and violence targeting American Muslims (or those perceived to be Muslim) and Islamic institutions in the past week and a half than during any other limited period of time since the 9/11 terror attacks”.

In theUK too Muslims are once again at the front line. According to TellMAMA, a project recording and measuring anti-Muslim incidents in the UK, hate crime had gone up 300% in the week after the Paris attacks. Instead of an assumption of innocence, the presumption of guilt by association is evidence of a structural racism which sustains and is sustained by the ‘War on Terror’.

How does this affect the political identities of Muslim populations in Europe and the US? How does it affect experiences of citizenship which are local, national and transnational? With support from the Phillip Leverhulme Prize I recently began a research project which develops the concept of ‘transnational political space’ to consider the relationship between local and transnational citizenship experiences among Bangladesh-origin Muslims in London and Los Angeles. In social science debate ‘transnational citizenship’ (Baubock, 1994; Fox, 2005) has been conceptualised to reflect the processes through which political identity transcends the nation-state (Basch et al, 1994). However, the ways in which a political identity that crosses borders informs a political identity within borders has received little attention. How are processes of transnational political engagement mediated by the national context of settlement? How do they inform political engagement in that national context? Does transnational political subjectivity mitigate/aggravate political exclusion at the national level? Does it inhibit/enhance the creation of local ‘political space’? Popular discourse frequently suggests that transnational ties represent an impediment to the formation of local identifications; a danger to citizenship and integration in countries of settlement. But there is little research to support this claim. Similarly interest in Muslim transnational relations in particular too often focuses on the characteristics of the population, or the characteristics of Islamic culture,  in a way that overlooks  “the role of social and political circumstances in shaping how people make sense of the world and then act upon it” (Kundnani, 2014, p.10).

This project recognises that transnational practices take place in local settings; shaped by the particular opportunities and constraints present in different localities (Guarnizo and Smith, 1998; Mahler, 1998). It considers how different histories of settlement, different population profiles (in terms of ethnic concentration, age, gender, socio-economic background, length of residence and naturalization status), and different local conditions/constraints, affect the political identities possible in London and L.A. It will examine how these local political identities influence processes of transnational engagement, and consider how transnational identities and relationships in turn inform local political subjectivity. In the context of the on-going ‘War on Terror’, and an increasing political and media focus on a security threat that is ‘home grown’, the transnational practices of British Muslims have gained attention. This has fed into a range of recent policy proposals which bring the constitutionally protected activities of a large number of people under increasing surveillance (Kundnani, 2014). In popular debate and the practice of public policy, then, transnational ties may affect local experiences of citizenship but more research is needed to understand how transnational activity is situated in local social, cultural and political milieu. The 1 in 5 Muslims hashtag had a serious message:

#1in5Muslims…get through airport security without being selected for a search

#1in5Muslims….are French, if they score. Otherwise they’re Arab.

#1in5Muslims…have experienced Islamaphobia. I know I did a poll. Trust me.

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