By Lara N. Dotson-Renta
Used with the permission of Muftah, http://muftah.org.
In the nine years since the terrorist events of September 11, 2001, many Westerners have come to view Islam (in all of its modes and refractions) as a religion associated with violence and terrorism, and to speak of Muslims living in the West as a suspicious ‘other’. In the United States and Europe, Muslims have come to symbolize a possible “enemy within”, doubly victimized as both potential targets of as well as objects of blame for terrorist attacks. This singling-out of Muslims has dramatically increased in the last year, as demonstrated by recent Congressional hearings spearheaded by New York Republican Congressman Peter King. Dubbed the “Islamic Radicalization Hearings,” the professed goal of these proceedings has been to ‘weed out’ home grown Muslim terrorists in the United States.
The demonization of Islam in the United States has placed a particularly heavy burden on Muslim converts from cultural backgrounds not traditionally associated with Islam. This have been evident within the growing community of Latino Muslims, who struggle to be understood and accepted both within their Latino communities, as well as amongst the Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian populations that dominate the American-Muslim community. As a result of this, as well as the political and social backlash towards Islam in the United States, Latino Muslims have experienced a three-tiered alienation: first from their fellow Latinos who view their conversion as a betrayal of Latin culture; second, from many Americans who view Islam (and by proxy Muslim converts) with suspicion; and finally from Muslim immigrant communities, some of which consider Latino converts to be “inauthentically Muslim” because of their lack of an “Islamic” cultural heritage.
Despite these difficulties, the number of Latino Muslims in the United States has not decreased. Though precise numbers are difficult to confirm, the Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) estimate that approximately 40,000 Latino Muslims live in the United States. While this represents a small proportion of the overall U.S. Latino community, which according to the 2010 census has come to represent 1 in every 6 Americans, the growth of Muslim converts amongst American Latinos is a notable and accelerating trend. Latinos are the most steadily expanding minority group in the United States, while Islam is often described as a fast-growing religion, particularly in Europe. The convergence of these trends, as well as the current political realities for Muslims in post-9/11 America, make Latino Muslims a prime example of the tensions and opportunities created by new transnational identities that arise from the ever-increasing cross-cultural encounters that mark the 21st century world.
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