Tag Archives: Muslim

Dressing Up Religious Identity the American Way

The versatility of clothing makes it a preferred means for constructing and negotiating identities; not only individual identities (just think of a teenager’s anxieties when choosing clothes!), but also collective ones.                                                                          -Jean-François Bayart

So I saw this article on Patheos.com a couple of days ago titled “Why Do Hindus Wear Turbans [Google Questions Answered]”. Ambaa “the White Hindu” points out that there seems to be quite the confusion on the cultural identification of those who wear turbans.   According to research from Stanford University, 70% of Americans ‘misidentify’ turban wearers as “Muslim (48%), Hindu, Buddhist or Shinto.”   However, this seems quite problematic.  Some Muslims actually do wear turbans and many people around the world wear turbans for all sorts of reasons not necessarily having to do with religious affiliation.

My issue lies in the religious identification vis-a-vis religious garb.  Despite all the good intentions of Ambaa or a similar article from the Huffington Post defending Sikhs from discrimination, they are actually just as much participating in the same system of essentializing an entire group by a peice of clothing.  The turban becomes the identifier for religion, the central and usually only important part of a groups identity, whether it be the turban identifying Muslimness by some or indentifying Sikhness by others.  Religion becomes the entire identity of the other.  I’ll try not to get into the irony of the Orientalism of “the White Hindu” (yes Orientalism despite her defending against Orientalism) who has self identified as a white woman of European descent and is “appropriating Indian culture” for her own (I don’t think she is appropriating Indian culture since, but see how I seamlessly make race rather than religion the means of identification of an entire group).  Perhaps religion as the primary indicator of indentity is a proverbial wink identifying us as Americans rather than saying something about the ‘other’.

This of course is only a problem if we think people are more than their clothing or their religion.  If that is the case, did you correctly identify the religion of the person wearing the turban in the photo at the top? If you guessed Christian you are right!

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Miss ‘Merica and the Navy Yard Shooter: Race and Religion in American Identity

Did you see the social media responses to the Miss America pageant winner? If not check out Buzz Feed.  I can not say that I have ever really been interested in keeping up with pageants.  I am more of a Doctor Who reruns on Netflix kinda guy.

Nina Davuluri an Indian-American was born in Syracuse, New York.  Across social media some have misdentified her as Muslim (according to Wikipedia her parents are Hindu), an Arab, and a member of Al-Qaeda.  I think it is all too easy to just dismiss these claims as racist and does not accomplish much in the process.

I will make the claim that race is not a thing–there is only understandings of race.  That is race is an arbitrary contingent category that is constantly being constructed and negotiated between various groups for all sorts of interests.

It is arbitrary because race could be based on many different things. Is it skin color–how white do you have to be to be considered white and how black do you have to be to be considered black?  It could just as well have been hair color, eye color, height, weight, arbitrary geographical distinctions, whether or not you are lucky enough to be a Whovian, etc.

It is contingent based on particular interests that are being negotiated and your understanding of the world around you. I could gather by the reactions about Miss Kansas vis-a-vis Miss New York/America that some might feel that their perceived imagined (imagined in the sense of Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities) America and its values as somehow being under attack.  It also probably has a great deal to do with living in a post-9/11 world, thus constructing new views on race.

But we have to be careful not to further reify these categories even when defending Davuluri, afterall there is just as much at stake calling her Indian-American or just American. (Remember race is not a thing, but a category we employ)

When something as traumatic as 9/11 or more recently the Navy Yard Shooting happens, it is a very human response to deal with this trauma by setting the perpetrators into a category of “other” as opposed to “like myself.”  We might say “Hitler was crazy” and “Osama Bin Laden was evil,” rather than “a normal rational human being like myself has the capacity to horrendous violence.”  Perhaps the latter is what we should do and then people will not see it necessary to think of pageant winners as somehow an attack on America.

The category of religion seems to work in similar fashion.  Buddhism did not cause Aaron Alexis to go on a mass murder spree, and yet his religion came up in the media.   Buddhism is neither inherently violent nor peaceful (See this article for a good argument), but claiming one of the other illustrates our own constructions and further reifies Buddhism with agency to act in ways it cannot. (Buddhism cannot speak to you or pick up a rock for instance).  The same goes for race. Perhaps instead of marking Nina Davuluri as Arab/Muslim or Indian-American we should identify what is at stake in claiming one or the other.  But what do I know? I am just a Scottish/German/Filipino/Episcopalian/Whovian/Southern-American.

Kung Fu Fighting: Buddhists and Violence

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Usually in the U.S when we think of Buddhists, we conjure up images in our heads of peaceful monks meditating or perhaps Richard Gere.  Often we romanticize Eastern religions rather than say demonize as some do with Muslims.

That is unless you might come across a bunch of articles I read a couple of weeks ago.  All over many of the sites on the internet where I read my news, they all seem to include articles about Buddhists burning down Muslim homes.  I suppose it was because we don’t think of Buddhists in terms of a violent sect and Muslims as the victims of violence by a religious group.

Those classifications is what I find interesting–those kinds of constructions that we make, rather than say the acts of violence themselves (after all, violence is an everyday event somewhere in the world).  Are religions inherently violent or peaceful? I suspect those who might think they are also think that there is an inherent essence to all religions. (I’m not the biggest fan of Joseph Campbell)

Bruce Lincoln in his Theses on Religion & Violence said “Religious considerations are never the sole determining factor and there is no necessary relation between religion and violence. In most instances, religious considerations probably help to inhibit violence. But when religious discourse, authority, or communal identity are deployed in such a way as to facilitate the leap from non-violent to violent conflict, they can be enormously effective in accomplishing what Kierkegaard called ‘the religious suspension of the ethical'”.

I will add to Bruce’s statement.  When we romanticize or demonize a religious group, we are in fact reinforcing that very religious discourse and communal identity of which he speaks.