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Diaspora 9:1 2000 State, Culture, and Religion: Political Action and Representation among South Asians in North America Karen Leonard1 University of California, Irvine In what ways, other than through aesthetics, is the "politics of diaspora" constituted? Pnina Werbner has suggested that, in the formation of diasporas, "real" politics might consist of "transnational moral gestures of philanthropy and political lobbying . . . grounded in ideas about a shared past and future."2 Thus she urges us to interrogate the relationship between politics and art, or "real" politics and aesthetics, in diasporas and/or transnational communities (concepts not the same, but increasingly conflated in the literature: Vertovec 277). This challenging question comes out of Werbner's work with South Asian Muslims in the British context, where one can talk of the moral community ofMuslims as a diasporic one. There are Muslims in the UK from the Middle East, Cyprus, Malaysia, and elsewhere , but most are Pakistani and Indian immigrants with a shared past. In North America, however, many other Muslims preceded the South Asians, and in the US, African Americans constitute some 40% of the American Muslim "community." Estimates of the Muslim population in the US range widely, but in 1992 the American Muslim Council put it between 5 and 8 million, with indigenous Muslims at 42%, South Asians at 24.4%, and Arabs at 12.4% (Nu'man 13). Canadian Muslims are fewer in number, some 350,000; while many are Canadian-born, these are mostly second-generation rather than converts (Khan 29-30). In the US, not only are indigenous Muslims the single largest group, but immigrant Muslims represent many diasporas, not just one. However, it is the differences between Britain and America, and between Canada and the US, that make the relationship of art and politics an interesting question. Taking Indians and Pakistanis in North America to be a single diasporic community, I will nonetheless draw religious and generational distinctions among them, considering Muslims and, very briefly, Sikhs and Hindus. These distinctions are then related to an issue much debated in Asian American studies and identity politics, the tension between "the diasporic perspective" and "claiming America" (Wong), to argue that Asian American and Muslim American politics both lead to a dissolving, rather than a perpetuation, of the diasporic nature of 21 22 Diaspora 9:1 2000 the Pakistani and Indian community. I also argue that aesthetic and political activities cannot easily be separated; although selfrepresentation and grounded political networks do not necessarily coincide, they are often mutually constitutive. Theorists suggest that diasporas cut across national boundaries,3 yet the projects ofnation-states clearly shape diasporic culture and politics. "All identity is constructed across difference" (Hall, "Minimal Selves" 45), and the national configurations of sameness and difference with which immigrants work are very dissimilar in the US and in Canada. US and Canadian white-dominated versions ofcultural pluralism both extend equal rights to immigrants as citizens and to ethnic communities without requiring them to give up their "difference." While the US has a "laissez-faire" approach and a strong emphasis on individualism (the state plays little or no role in supporting ethnic cultures), however, the Canadian state has explicit multicultural policies supporting the maintenance of ethnic cultures. Racial and linguistic fault lines differ in the two states as well. Canada has indigenous populations, notably the Inuit, and a longstanding tension between British and French immigrants. The US has a heritage of racism based on slavery and a substantial black population; it has another heritage of "frontier society" violence involvingNativeAmericans, Chinese, Japanese, and Latinos (Castles 301-2). Canada, still reflecting its history as part of the British Empire, glosses its South Asian immigrants as "Children ofthe Raj" and maintains vital connections to the United Kingdom (Siddiqui), but the US has few historical connections to South Asia (or the British Empire) and only weak contemporary ones to the Commonwealth . South Asians and Asians are positioned differently in Canada and the US. Small numbers ofIndians, mostly Sikh peasants (members of a religion shaped by both Islam and Hinduism), began migrating to both Canada and the US from British India's Punjab province around 1900 (Buchignani, Indra, and Srivastava), but the population profiles diverged rapidly...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-1568
Print ISSN
1044-2057
Pages
pp. 21-38
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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