- Islamophobia and the Question of Muslim Identity: The Politics of Difference and Solidarity by Evelyn Leslie Hamdon
Through an ethnographic case study of coalition building across collective and individual identity differences, Hamdon examines a Muslim group in Edmonton, [End Page 268] Canada that came together to challenge Islamophobia in their community. Islamophobia and the Question of Muslim Identity: The Politics of Difference and Solidarity is meant "to stir conversation" (9) by "disrupt[ing] stereotypes both within the community and on the part of the dominant community towards those who identify as Muslims" (23). Although Hamdon foregrounds the question of Muslim identity, there is much of value to others who find themselves in need of negotiating spaces of contested identities. The book is a good read for those interested in political activism and/or multicultural studies in general or Islamic studies in particular.
The study is set in a Canadian post-9/11 context in Edmonton and documents the fledgling efforts of a coalition of Muslim organizations. Direct observation, personal interviews, and document analysis were used to reconstruct the evolution of the Coalition. Hamdon speaks with emic authority, herself a Muslim and "a member of the Coalition from the time of its first visioning workshops until it was about one year old" (12). Despite her insider status, Hamdon allows the voices of the participants to be fully heard in the frequent data bites incorporated throughout the text. In large part, the study is concerned with "identity ... how people organize, [and] coalesce across identity differences" (23) and as a result, draws on identity theories and theories of power. In addition, insights are taken from feminist and anti-racist literature, as well as pedagogies of difference.
Although the catalytic events of 9/11 and its aftermath gave birth to the Coalition, members were motivated to negotiate their differences by a desire to learn about other Muslims, share common experiences, work on a common cause and reach out to other Canadians. The value of Islamophobia and the Question of Muslim Identity is not in reasons why the coalition came together but rather in the manner in which the members negotiated across difference of identities to find solidarity in purpose. Hamdon takes the reader inside the contested space where coalition members navigated their way through diverse identities, challenged the power of essentialism and represented the complexity and multiplicity of Muslim identities. She foregrounds questions of identity within a power dynamic by critiquing how difference and homogeneity are suppressed or privileged. Although "coalitional organizing holds great promise for communities in which complex and intersecting identities and oppressions require expression and redress" (61), it is not without personal struggles and varied emotional responses. The study also illustrates that the goal of a negotiated common space through more porous boundaries serves to include as well as marginalize. Nevertheless, Hamdon shows that the Coalition has been successful in developing initiatives that serve both the Muslim community at large and outside structures such as the university community and law enforcement.
By placing two crescent moons, one left-facing, the other right-facing, tentatively linked together with a single star below foregrounded on a backdrop of geometric [End Page 269] tiling, John van der Woude, the cover designer of Islamophobia and the Question of Muslim Identity alerts potential readers to the contested identities to be presented. Evelyn Leslie Hamdon makes a substantial contribution to the discourse of Muslim identity by disclosing the complexity and multiplicity of what it means to be Muslim in Canada. In documenting the work of the Coalition, Hamdon presents "a prototype for which there has been no template in recent Canadian history" (57). The contribution of this work extends beyond the Muslim community to others hoping to bridge differences within and between radicalized groups and individuals.
The book comes alive for a general readership through Hamdon's accessible writing style and the voices of those interviewed, many of which are presented in a font somewhat distinct from the main text. Although presenting participant voices in a...