Literature Review: Muslim Youth of North America Identity After 9/11

9/11 terror attacks became a turning point in the modern history of the US. The terror attacks affected the life of the entire society, but Muslim, predominantly Arab-American community proved to be particularly vulnerable to consistent changes caused by 9/11. As the matter of fact, Arab-American community maintained its traditions and religion was an essential of its traditions. However, after 9/11, being Muslim and being Arab, meant being a representative of terrorist organizations because the American society became extremely prejudiced against Muslims and Islam after 9/11. Naturally, Arab-Americans and all Muslims could not refuse from their religion and traditions. At the same time, the cultural assimilation of the younger generation of Arab-Americans made Islam the main tool with the help of which Muslim youth in America could preserve its identity. In such a context, the negative attitude of the society to Muslims and Arab-Americans encouraged marginalization of Muslim youth to the extent that some young Muslims supported or justified actions of Al Qaeda. In such a way, Muslim immigrants shifted from national identity, which tended to assimilation within the American culture, toward religious identity, which became the main tool to preserve cultural difference of Muslim youth.

Arab-American community is one of the numerous communities living in the US. This community is not among the largest communities of the US, nevertheless, Arab-Americans have their own unique culture, traditions, norms, lifestyle. At the same time, they also want to be a part of American society and strive for their integration into the local society. Arab-Americans live in different parts of the US but the problems they face regularly in their everyday life are similar that unite them probably more effectively than even similarities in their cultural views. By the way, the latter fact, i.e. the similarity or homogeneity of Arab-American community is often overestimated and, in actuality, Arab-American community is not as homogenous as many Americans get used to think.

Partially, such an attitude of Americans to Arab-American community creates certain problems because people which are viewed as Arab-Americans may be not even Arabs and they may have not only different cultural norms and values but also different religious views.

Nevertheless, all these people attempt to preserve their unique culture and traditions, but at the present moment the threat of the loss of cultural identity is probably stronger than ever because a part of Arab-American community cannot identify themselves with this community nor they can find their cultural identity in American community. As a result, they are between two culture and two worlds.

At the same time, it is necessary to underline that Arab-American community have a great and diverse historical heritage of their Middle Eastern ancestors nowadays faces a lot of problems because of the actions of some representatives of the contemporary Middle Eastern organizations  that take an active part in the organization of terror attacks against the US. In this respect, the terror attacks on September 11 produced probably the most devastating effect on the position of Arab-American community in the US because the hostile attitude of the local population grow stronger, people which are identified by Americans with this community are often viewed as representatives of hostile countries, especially after the US intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, but even within Arab-American community many people cannot clearly find their own place in their community and clearly identify themselves with the Arab world. At any rate, one of the major problems of the contemporary Arab-American community is the risk of the loss of identity and the problem of integration of these people into American society. In such a situation, the possible ways of the integration of Arab-Americans in American society and the change of the attitude of society to these people along with the possibility of Arab-American to preserve their cultural identity is one of the main challenges this community has to overcome (So, 2009). However, the ways of the solution of this problem are still unclear because many researches focused on the study of Arab-American community rather reveal the existing problems or attempt to understand the socio-cultural background and peculiarities of this community but they hardly indicate to the way which the community should chose to overcome the existing challenges. In this regard, the problem of identity is the most serious since, on the one hand, a part of Arab-American community tends to assimilation and becoming a part of American community, while, on the other hand, there is a part that attempts to preserve Arab identity, and in-between their remains the unique concept of Arab-American identity.

Basically, Arab-American community is traditionally perceived as the community constituted by people originating from Arab countries. At the same time, the self-perception of the community differs consistently from the traditional view on this community from the part of Americans. It should be pointed out that the views on the concept of “Arab” and the perception of the Arab identity of Arab-American community is extremely diverse that, to a significant extent, is determined by the ethnic and cultural diversity of this community as well as by the difference of the impact of Arab culture on the members of this community.

In this respect, it is possible to refer to the study conducted by Barbara C. Asward (2003), in which the author researches the ethnic background of Arab-American community. In fact, the author points out that Arab-Community comprises not only representatives of the Arab world, i.e. people originating from Arab countries, but also people that have practically no ethnic links to Arabs. Instead, a part of Arab-American community is represented by immigrants from Northern Africa, including such countries as Egypt, Tunis, Algeria, as well as countries of the Middle East and Asia, including Iran or Afghanistan. In such a way, it is obvious that these people cannot perceive themselves as Arab because the difference in the ethnic origin naturally leads to the difference in cultural views. At any rate, it is obvious that these people cannot identify themselves as Arabs, instead they view it is a concept that is imposed on them by Americans, i.e. by American society. As Kristine J, Ajrouch (2000) points out often the concept of Arab is a kind of common concept of all people originating from the Middle East and related regions and all people that are viewed by Americans as Arabs are identified as Arabs, regardless their actual ethnicity. This means that in the US the concept of Arab acquires a different shade of meaning for Arab-American community because obviously this notion does not mean the standard definition of this concept and it does not indicate to the ethnicity of a person but, instead, it indicates to the fact that a person belongs to a definite community in the US.

At the same time, Michael W. Suleiman (1999b) also underlines a very important fact that even people who are Arabs have a different view on this concept. To put it more precisely, the author argues that there are several generations of Arab immigrants living in the US. Naturally, in the course of the development of Arab-American community as Arabs became more and more deep-rooted into the local lifestyle, acquired new traditions and norms, get used to American culture, Arabs started to change not only their own lifestyle but their views and philosophy of life. The first generation of immigrants basically preserved their old traditions and practically did not distinguish the concept of Arab from the original meaning of this word. However, the younger generations of Arab immigrants that grew up in the US started to view this concept in a different way rather associating the concept of Arab with their own community in the US than, in the broader sense, as a representative of the Arab world (Suleiman 1999a). In this respect, it should be said that the difference is particularly striking when the new immigrants from Arab countries are compared to young generations of Arab-Americans. Researchers (Kayyali 2006) have found out that the difference between these two groups of Arab-American community is really significant. It should be pointed out that many immigrants that have recently immigrated to the US can hardly identify younger Arab-Americans as Arabs. The reason is not only their diverse ethnic origin but also the fact that even ethnic Arabs have undergone the process of “Americanization” (Orphalea 2006). What is meant here is the fact that Arab-Americans have changed their lifestyle, their mentality has become different from that of new immigrants from Arab countries because younger generations of Arab-Americans have been inevitably affected by their American environment.

Consequently, they were involved into the process of assimilation that actually made them different from Arabs of older generations or Arabs that have just arrived to the US.

Taking into consideration the difference of views of representatives of Arab-American communities on the concept of Arab depending on their age and ethnic origin, it is quite logical to presuppose that the concept of Arab is not static. At the same time, the perception of Arab-Americans of themselves and their cultural identity also evolved in the course of time. In this respect, it should be pointed out that, in the course of the history of Arab-community, it is hardly possible to find an event that produced a more profound impact on the identity of Arab-Americans and their perception by the rest of American society than September 11 (Maira, 2008). It proves beyond a doubt that this tragedy produced a profound impact not only on the psychological state of many Americans and Arab-Americans but it also changed the perception of being Arab.

It is necessary to underline that Arab-Americans traditionally felt being different in American society because they have never totally accepted by the local communities as Americans and, what is more some of Arab-Americans could not identify themselves with this community. In actuality, Abraham (1989) argues that many Arab-Americans felt their difference and even exclusion from the society because they could not identify themselves with American or Arab-American community. To put it more precisely, representatives of different ethnic groups, such as Iranians for instance, were not Arabs and they could not identify themselves as Arabs because of the difference in their culture, beliefs, and even their religious views differed. At the same time, such people could not become a part of American society because they were not Americans and, being immigrants, they could not get used to the local culture and find their own place, their community in the new society.

Basically, P. Kayal and K. Benson (2002) agree at this point that Arab-American community was ethnically and culturally diverse that naturally led to certain problems in the integration of people from different ethnic and cultural groups into this community, with which they were traditionally associated. At the same time, at the larger scale, Arab-American community have managed to preserve their culture and traditions, though, it was also significantly affected by the impact of American culture and lifestyle. Nevertheless, they still remained different because their culture and their Arab identity was absolutely different from the traditional Western culture. As a result, unlike many ethnic groups living in the US, originating from countries which culture was similar to American culture, Arab-Americans remained Arab.

However, until September 11, there were no serious problems with the self-identification of Arab-Americans as Arab. In general, the US society was quite liberal and tolerant to different ethnic groups and Arab-Americans could be proud of being Arabs since Arab culture is very rich and its heritage produced profound impact on the development of world civilization. As Louise Cainkar (2006) points out Arab-Americans preserved their difference and uniqueness and, what was more important, they viewed themselves as a part of the Arab world.

At the same time, to maintain their culture and their identity they attempted to develop and preserve their traditions, norms, religion that actually made them different from the rest of American society.

But, September 11 had changed the life of Arab-Americans community dramatically. Firstly, it should be said that terror attacks on September 11 changed the attitude of ordinary Americans to Arab-American community, which at the moment became a source of some hidden threat. In this regard, the uniqueness and difference of Arab-American community played a negative role in the change in the attitude of American people to this community. Its traditions and basic values were traditionally associated with Muslim culture and traditions, though, in actuality, not all members of these community were Muslims as well as some of them were not even Arabs.

Nevertheless, American society started to view Arab-Americans as a potential threat and as representatives of a hostile culture and civilization.

Naturally, such an attitude to Arab-Americans could not fail to affect the self-perception of the community and their difference from other Americans. At the same time, terror attacks on September 11 also produced a profound impact on Arab-American community regardless any changes in the attitude to this community from the part of the rest of American society. Jack G. Shaheen underlines that in the early 2000s the concept of Arab has acquired some negative connotation. To put it more precisely, Arab-American community, being a part of American society and living in the US could not actually understand the actions of terrorists who were ethnically and culturally close to a large part of the community. It is worthy of mention that specialists (Shaheen 2000) underline that the reaction of many Arab-Americans, especially those representing second and third generations of Arab-Americans was quite negative and they also rejected the methods of struggle of terrorists that had similar ethnic and cultural background and were also associated with the Arab world.

In such a situation, the concept of Arab was viewed quite controversially. It should be said that, on the one hand, Arab-Americans who had relatively weak links with their community simply preferred to identify themselves as Americans, since being Arab after September 11 was quite different from being Arab prior to this tragic date. Before, Arab-American community, as it has been already mentioned above, was viewed as a unique socio-cultural group with its own values and beliefs, but after September 11 this community was rather associated with evil forces that organized terror attacks on the US. In such a situation, attempts of some Arab-Americans to join American community were quite natural because the latter was viewed as the community that was closer to their views and values. In this respect, it should be said even older generations as well as the major part of Arab-American community criticized the methods of the struggle used by terrorists and they attempted to distinguish themselves from Arabs or, to put it more precisely, as Arabs who assisted to terrorism. Instead, Arab-Americans preferred to emphasize their difference from those Arabs. As a result, the activity of terrorists contributed to an attempt of Arab-Americans to break their links with the Arab world as a symbol of terrorism and threat to peace. Arab-Americans attempted to identify themselves with a different community and demonstrate that they do not share values and methods of terrorists (Shaheen 2006). However, Jack G. Shaheen (2006) points out that there is a radical part of Arab-American community, which is basically represented by immigrants that have recently moved to the US. This part of Arab-American community, being more Arab than Arab-American, prior to September 11, to a certain extent, justifies the actions of terrorists. These Arabs are not willing to reject their ethnic origin and cultural background only because of terror attacks. It should be said that these people attempt to justify the actions of terrorists because, unlike the rest of Arab-American community, they perfectly understand the extent to which the foreign policy of the US is unjust and negatively affects the life of their countries. In fact, many of them were forced to leave their motherland because of poverty, devastation, instability and a permanent threat of war and the US was one of the major powers that escalated the situation in the Middle East and the Arab world.

As a result, it is possible to estimate that the difference of Arab-American community after September 11 was basically preserved but it acquired negative characteristics. In the result of terror attacks, instead of the difference in cultural field, the difference after September 11 was based on the associations with terrorists and radical Islamists. Naturally, Arab-Americans community should respond to the dramatic changes that took place in the US and in American society. Basically, it is possible to distinguish three major approach to Arab identity after September 11. Firstly, it is the assimilation and Americanization that implies the unwillingness of people to identify themselves with Arab-American community which suffered from quite a hostile attitude of American society, especially immediately after terror attacks on September 11. Secondly, there was the major part of Arab-American community that preserved their Arab identity, but these people attempted to distinguish themselves from terrorists, whom they criticized and whose methods they rejected. In this respect, it is possible to estimate that this group became different from both Arabs and Americans and, in a way, September 11, stimulated this people to form a strong Arab-American identity, which permitted Arab-Americans to preserve their unique culture and traditions and distinguish them from Arab-terrorists. Finally, there was a radical group of Arab-Americans, mainly represented by new immigrants from Arab countries or some second generation Arab-Americans (Cainkar 2004) influenced by radical Islamist ideas who justified the actions of terrorists. This part of Arab-American community basically preserved their Arab identity and they viewed themselves as a part of the Arab world and Arab countries from they originated were still prior to them, they were their motherlands.

However, the cultural changes that affect the cultural identity of representatives of Arab-American community are not so strong as the recent events that have occurred in the US. To put it more precisely, within the last seven years, the position of Arab-Ameircans in the US, the attitude of American people to this community and the self-perception of Arab-Americans have changed under the impact of September 11 and the following foreign policy of the US, which was extremely aggressive in relation to Arab countries and countries of the Middle East, such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran.

It should be said that this events have enforced consistently the process which Yvonne Y. Haddad et al (1998) defined as the process of Americanization of Arab-American community. In fact, the changes in the cultural life of Arab-American community show the extent to which American environment influences Arab-American community. At the same time, it is necessary to underline the fact that Arab-Americans are inevitably affected by their social environment, especially younger generations because they have to live in a multicultural environment.  As a result, in the process of education and communication Arab-Americans come into contact with different cultures and naturally influenced by them. This is why younger generations of Arab Americans, i.e. second and further generations of Arab-Americans are consistently more affected by American influences than the first generation of Arab-Americans or immigrants that have just arrived to the US (Orfalea 2006).

In such a situation, September 11 and the following War on Terror, which resulted in military operations of the US against Iraq and Afghanistan, produced a profound impact on the formation of Arab-American identity. In fact, it has been already mentioned that the tragedy on September 11 contributed consistently to the rejection of traditional Arab values and norms, especially in the field of religion, by many representatives of Arab-American community. As a result, they have lost their link with their Arab background and, instead, they started to identify themselves as Americans since traditional American values and norms were not only more comprehensible but simply closer to them than values and norms which they associated with radical Islamists and terrorists (Shaheen 2001). In fact, the War on Terror that followed September 11 only convinced many Arab-Americans that their Arab background is rather a drawback than a subject of proud.

The reason is quite obvious the post-September 11 information propaganda and aggressive foreign policy of the US made the Arab world as a source of the great threat to the US and all democratic forces in the world. As a result, Arab-American community, being a part of American society, perceived the wars of the US in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the struggle of the US against international terrorism, as a struggle of good and evil, where Arab meant evil and American meant good. In such a way, an extremely negative image of the concept of Arab was formed in American society that contributed to the growing trend to the shift in Arab-American identity from Arab to American.

However, it is necessary to remember that such a shift contributes to the gradual devaluation of traditional Arab values that constituted the backbone of Arab-American community and due to which its culture was characterized as unique and absolutely different from traditional American culture.

In the contemporary society, the process of assimilation changes its dynamics consistently. In actuality, assimilation occurs faster than it used to be before because the society grows more and more diverse. In this respect, the mainstream culture turns out to be in an advantageous position because representatives of the mainstream culture are in an advantageous position compared to minorities who face the problem to the adaptation of the mainstream culture along with the preservation of their own cultural identity. Representatives of minorities often face the problem of the preservation of their cultural identity and acceptance by the dominant cultural group or society at large. In this respect, it is possible to refer to the position of Arab Americans and their position in the American society after 9/11. After the terror attacks on 9/11, Arab Americans faced substantial problems in their relationships with the mainstream culture. The American society proved to be unprepared to the terror attacks and, being shocked by their disastrous effects, Americans had started to develop a negative attitude toward representatives of the Islamic world. In such a situation, Arab Americans became subjects to the severe criticism and suspicious and sometime violent behavior from the part of other Americans.

In this respect, it is worth mentioning the fact that some specialists (Orfalea, 2006) cite cases of violent attacks on Arab Americans which occurred shortly after 9/11. The attacks and the resulting disintegration of Arab Americans from the American was the result of the fear of Americans of radical Islamists, whom they believed to be extremely dangerous to the extent that Americans had started to associate Muslims with terrorists, although these two concepts have nothing in common. At the same time, such a shift of the attitude of Americans to Arab Americans revealed the consistent shift in the identity of Arab Americans and their perception by the American society. In fact, instead of the national identity Arab Americans had started to slip toward religious identity because Americans associated them with or identified them as Muslims above all, whereas Arab Americans had also started to view their religious background as a distinct part of their identity.

As a result, under the public pressure the dynamic of assimilation of Arab Americans had started to change. To put it more precisely, their assimilation and integration into the American society had slowed down substantially since 9/11 because of the change of the attitude of Americans toward representatives of the Arab American community, whereas members of this community, who actually had a different religious background, faced the problem of their identification. On the one hand, they could not identify themselves with Americans or, to put it more precisely, the mainstream culture of America, while, on the other hand, they could not associate themselves with Arab American community because this community was viewed by Americans as the Muslim community. In such a situation, Muslim Arab Americans focused on their religion as their identifier which shaped their cultural identity. Being rejected by the American society, they had little option but to slip toward their religious identity, while their ethnic identity proved secondary to them.

Obviously, the change of the dynamics of assimilation influenced consistently the position of Arab Americans in the US. This change proves the fact that the dynamics of assimilation does differ and the dynamics of assimilation can change under the impact of various factors, including external factors such as terror attacks that have changed the attitude of Americans to Arab Americans. In addition, specialists (Shaheen, 2001) point out that internal changes within the community can also provoke the change of the dynamics of assimilation. For instance, the deterioration of the socioeconomic situation within a community can lead to the consistent change in the assimilation of the community into the mainstream culture or dominant ethnic group. To put it more precisely, the deterioration of the socioeconomic situation leads to the pauperization of the community. If the community is located in a limited area and is not integrated into the society at different levels, representatives of this group tend to marginalization. Their low social status and numerous economic problems, such as unemployment, provoke a consistent slowdown of the assimilation of the community because the community is viewed as marginal. This means that the society rejects representatives of this community because of their low social standing. In addition, often representatives of minorities living in poverty stricken-neighborhoods are inclined to criminal activities because it is the only way of survival for them if they do not have job and means for living. As a result, unsurpassable barriers on the way of representatives of minorities to the integration into the mainstream culture arise.

Furthermore, immigration can have a significant impact on the process of assimilation. In this respect, it is possible to refer to studies concerning ethnic minority groups and their integration into the mainstream society at different generational levels (Orfalea, 2006). To put it more precisely, researchers (Shaheen, 2001) studied the level of integration and assimilation of representatives of ethnic minority groups into the American society depending on their age and origin. The origin means that researchers took into consideration whether representatives of ethnic minority groups are the first generation of immigrants or they were born in the US and are the second or third generations of immigrants living in the US. In fact, the study focused on the immigration to the US from the Arab world. Researchers (Orfalea, 2006) have found out the fact that representatives of different generations have a different level of assimilation and integration into the mainstream society. The representatives of the younger generation, who were born in the US and were the second or even third generation of immigrants in the US, proved to be more assimilated and integrated in the mainstream society. Moreover, representatives of this part of immigrant population faced the problem of their cultural identity to the extent that often they faced the problem of a split cultural identity. The latter means that representatives of minorities have to develop different models of behavior, the one they used in their native ethnic group, when they were in their families or within their community, and the other they used, when they interacted with representatives of the mainstream society, including their peers, friends and other representatives of the mainstream culture. As a result, they grew more and more assimilated and integrated into the mainstream society, whereas some of them became fully assimilated, especially in case of mixed marriages. As for the elder generation, representatives of this generation were the first generation of immigrants and they preserved their original cultural identity. As the Arab American community was studied, the elder generation of Arab Americans associated themselves with the culture of their native country, where they were born and lived a large of their life, where their identity was actually shaped. However, researchers (Shaheen, 2001) revealed the fact that the first generation of younger Arabs is different from the elder generation of Arabs, even though the latter were also the first generation of immigrants. The problem was that their religious views were often different for the younger generation was inclined to more radical religious views than the elder generation. This attitude was, to a significant extent, shaped by the hostile attitude of Americans to Arab immigrants after 9/11. Therefore, immigration plays an important part in the assimilation and integration of minorities in the mainstream culture, it can either facilitate transnationalism or make it more complex or even prevent it pointblank.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the current trends in the development of Arab-American community indicates to the fact that this ethnically and culturally diverse community is more and more influenced by American culture and lifestyle. Even thought the process of assimilation of any cultural group is natural and inevitable, Arab-American managed to preserve its unique culture and traditions in the past and maintain its traditional lifestyle, in spite of the process of Americanization of this community and existing internal contradictions, based on differences in religious views, position of women in society, etc. However, after September 11 and in the context of the current foreign policy and dominant ideology in the US, being Arab is a kind of curse for many representative of Arab-American community and it is even more offensive for that part of Arab-American community which is not Arab ethnically and has weak cultural links with the Arab world. Moreover, even Arabs, especially younger generations, tend to distant from their Arab background and culture because it is associated with terrorism and evil, while in actuality, Arab-Americans as well as Arab culture has nothing in common with such notions as terrorism. In such a situation, it is very important to find the ways to change the current attitude to the concept of Arab and assist Arab-American community to preserve its unique culture and traditions. In such a way, Arab identity became vague and unclear within the American society, while terror attacks on 9/11 had changed the attitude to Arab-Americans to negative. As a result, Muslim youth has slipped toward radicalization and religious identification to preserve their cultural identity by means of Islam.

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