My dissertation–which I am currently revising for publication as a book–challenges the existing paradigm in the scholarship on international migration and transnationalism, which largely studies immigrants’ ties between their sending and receiving countries. Using the case of South Asian Muslims and their descendants, I instead contend that immigrants’ identification is shaped by global politics encompassing not just the homeland or hostland, but also those places located beyond the sending and receiving countries–places I refer to as “elsewhere.”
Specifically, I triangulate Muslim-related geopolitics among: 1) Bangladesh, India, Pakistan—the homelands; 2) the United States—the hostland; and 3) the Middle East and Europe—the “elsewhere.” Based on sixty interviews and a year’s worth of ethnographic data on South Asian Muslims in California, my research shows that different dimensions of the “Muslim” identity category tie these immigrants to different “elsewhere” contexts. By self-identifying as Muslims, the immigrants subscribe to the histories, people, and places that sustain the “Muslim” identity, particularly those in the Middle East, which holds religious-political significance as the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad and the location of Islam’s holiest sites. Yet, the participants’ subjective views and experiences do not determine how they are identified by others within the host U.S. society. Rather, reflecting racial and global hierarchies that attach a lesser value on non-Western lives, Muslim-related contexts in “elsewhere” European locations trigger domino effects in the U.S. as has been the case after the 2015 ISIS attacks in Paris but not those in Beirut.
These findings based on ongoing global events not only reflect the contemporary urgency of this study, but also drive home the larger theoretical point that, contrary to dyadic explanations, how these immigrants identify and are identified are tied to contexts beyond the homeland and hostland. Analytically, the findings of this study hold implications for research on diverse immigrant groups by introducing a more comprehensive framework, which can encompass global contexts that tend to penetrate state boundaries and impact immigrants’ lives.
This project has already produced article-length manuscripts that are currently in various stages of progress towards publication. In “Visibility as Resistance by Muslim Americans,” (forthcoming in the March 2018 issue of Sociological Forum) I show how Muslims as a hypervisible “threat” group strategically deploy their visibility as everyday forms of resistance against imposed identity categories in the post-9/11 security atmosphere, which has intensified after ISIS terrorist attacks both at home and abroad.
In “The Homeland, Hostland, and Elsewhere,” (in preparation) I present a new, multi-relational theoretical framework for studying immigrant identity formation. I expound on the concept of “elsewhere,” with its preconditions, limitations, and generalizability, and apply it on ethnographic data on South Asian Muslims in Los Angeles to reveal the different ways in which foreign places beyond the homeland and hostland become salient to Muslims’ day-to-day lives both in times of heightened Islamophobic tensions and relative stability.