- Muslim Diaspora: Gender, Culture and Identity
This edited volume, according to the Introduction by Haideh Moghissi, is an attempt “at challenging the notion of a single, homogeneous ‘Islamic’ culture” (xvii). She argues that such a notion is not only being simplistically imposed by inhospitable climates in host societies after 9/11, but that a “sort of collective identity and/or group affiliation among this nominally Muslim population” is being accepted by diasporic Muslims and “does not always represent a healthy departure from the past” (xiv–xv). Thus one expects to read about diverse Muslim communities or populations in diaspora, and analyses of historical and cultural differences in the face of contemporary common political concerns. [End Page 111]
However, only the last essay, by Afsaneh Hojabri, reflects these themes, discussing the life histories of ten immigrant women from Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, and Palestine in Canada in order to illustrate important differences between them despite their perception of an imposition of “Muslim” ethnic and religious identity. Almost all of the other articles reflect their origin in a conference at York University in Toronto in 2004 dominated by Canada-based scholars of Iranian descent, most of them writing about Iranians at home and abroad. However, two essays, Denise Helly’s opening overview of the term “diaspora” and Mark Goodman’s essay on the forcibly-exiled African Americans as distinct from self-exiled diasporans, are not concerned with Muslims at all and do not really contribute to the overall theme. Two other authors are based in Sweden and write about Turkish university youth (Aylın Akpınar) and narratives on virginity by Iranian women in Sweden (Fataneh Farahani).
Moghissi’s Introduction does point to some shared themes illustrated by various contributions, for example, the ideas that identity is constructed in relation to others and that diasporas have transformative impacts on women. The book is organized in three sections; part 1 introduces issues of identity and historical memory, opening with the overview by Helly mentioned above. That is followed by a useful piece on Canadian multiculturalism and Muslims in Canada by Saeed Rahnema. His critique shows that Muslims in Canada, while not ghettoized as in Europe, are unemployed and underemployed, and that Canadian multiculturalism, by tending toward faith-based policies, is allowing conservative religious leaders to claim leadership of the “Muslim community.” Next, Reza Baraheni’s “Exilic Readings of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Koran” discusses these texts without relating them to diasporic peoples or their understandings of the texts. This is followed by Goodman’s essay on African Americans mentioned above. The final essay in part 1 is a very particular and painful account by Ezat Mossallanejad of Islamic “consecrated tortures” practiced in Iran today, and the author’s work with survivors of rape and other tortures in his capacity as a service provider for the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture.
Part 2 turns to problems of representation and misrepresentation, opening with a good article by Mary Ann Tétreault on the Kuwaiti experience during the 1990–91 occupation by Iraq. This is a fascinating look [End Page 112] at those Kuwaitis who left and those who stayed behind, and how the “reunited” population reflected this and further subdivisions after the war. Despite her failure to discuss three-quarters or more of the population, i.e. expatriate workers of all classes who were also part of this forced diaspora, Tétreault’s close analysis of the “reassertions of masculinity” after the Gulf War is new and compelling. The next article, by Hammed Shahidian, is also fascinating, reviewing the representation of the Iranian diaspora from within the Islamic Republic since 1979. Official critiques from inside Iran of those who left, and of the West to which they went, have changed over time, and Shahidian concludes by asking diasporans to critically intervene in the cultural politics of the homeland. Shahrzad Mojab writes about Kurdish communities in Europe in an informational article that downplays the role of religion, focusing instead on issues of language, class, and gender. Aylın Akpınar’s article on...