In March 2009, President Barack Obama made a startling comment about Pakistan and its links to the so-called “War on Terror.” The President referred to a part of the country as “the most dangerous place in the world.” In other words, Pakistan was a threatening “Islamic state” that had turned “anti-American” due largely to the efforts of “radical Muslims.” The threat posed by Pakistanis, as the President noted, was not one directed solely at the United States. He added that Pakistan is “an international security challenge of the highest order.”
The troubled image conjured up by President Obama was exacerbated by media coverage and politicians looking to exploit Pakistanis and Muslims for their own self-serving interests. On television, in newspapers, and across websites, Pakistanis over “there” in Pakistan were equated with Pakistanis “here” – in the United States. This “here and there” dichotomy identifies all Pakistanis as potential threats to national security. The not so-positive images of Pakistan seemed to gain even more worldwide currency when Osama bin Laden was found hiding in Abbottobad, a city located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
It is in this light that I decided to write my first book, Islam, Race, and Pluralism in the Pakistani Diaspora, published by Routledge. The book documents what goes on in the daily lives of Pakistanis in diaspora, lives that are almost completely ignored by sensational Western media coverage and the political entities that reinforce negative stereotype of Pakistanis. The experiences and views of the young first- and second generation Pakistani Muslims and non-Muslims in this book cover two cities – Boston, Massachusetts (my hometown) and Dublin, Ireland.
The views of the young Pakistanis in this book represent a refusal to be silenced in the face of Islamophobia, and a demand to be heard in an age when their voices can no longer be hidden or dismissed. The interviews that I carried out show how these young men resist hegemonic identity narratives and power structures in American and Irish societies, and how they negotiate the many complex identities in their lives.
Islam, Race, and Pluralism in the Pakistani Diaspora examines the dialectics of religion, race, ethnicity and tolerance in the making of Pakistani communities in Boston and Dublin. Specifically, these sociological concepts are viewed through the intersection of religion and national identity. In the United States, Pakistanis have been placed under the microscope due to the population’s alleged links to “radical Islam” and the negative connotations stemming from rampant Islamophobia. The idea of the American civic nation, however, gives the young Pakistani men in Boston hope that their sense of belonging will be determined by citizenship rights and religious pluralism, rather than their religions or skin colors.
On the other hand, in the Irish context, Pakistanis represent a “new” migrant community settling in a rapidly changing Ireland, a country looking to build intercultural identities. Irish identity, however, has long been linked to ancestry, ethnicity, whiteness, and Catholicism, features which young Pakistani men in Dublin grapple with on a daily basis. While cultural differences exist between the United States and Ireland, the young Pakistanis in this book share several common experiences including discrimination, Islamophobia, and racism, but also hope, acceptance, and belonging.
Islam, Race, and Pluralism in the Pakistani Diaspora is unique in the sense that I am an “outsider” of Irish and Italian descent. I am also an American Catholic working to build bridges between Muslim and non-Muslim communities. From the very beginning of the research in 2010, while I was a doctoral student at Trinity College Dublin, Pakistanis welcomed me into their homes, businesses, restaurants, schools, and places of worship. The research experience for me was enriching, as I was able to explore my own ethnicity, my own religion, and my own nationality through the lens of my neighbors and fellow citizens.
The book is available in hardcover and e-book on Routledge and Amazon. It has been endorsed by Professor Mona Siddiqui (University of Edinburgh), Baroness Sayeeda Warsi (member of British House of Lords), Qasim Rashid (author of “The Wrong Kind of Muslim: An Untold Story of Persecution and Perseverance”), and Tayyib Rashid (US Marine Corps veteran). It has also been reviewed by Rabwah Times and Rice University News and Media.