Friday, May 10, 2013

Schoolwork: The Submission Essay (Muslim American Identity Conflicts)

I watched Angel Beats over the past couple days. WAY better than I was expecting. There was some general anime bullshit, but the vast majority of it was stunningly good. Very different from what I was expecting, in a good way.

Hey there, sorry for the postless week! Been super busy, semester is ramping up to the end. This is the essay I wrote for my class on Islam in America. In the class, we read the novel The Submission by Amy Waldman, and then combined what we knew with the book to write an essay. Here's the prompt:

Why do Muslims in the United States face challenges in identifying with the mainstream American culture in the early twenty-first century? The best essays will include a thesis (or argument) responding to this question in the introduction to the essay. In the body of the essay, please draw on evidence from The Submission to support your thesis. You should also draw on selected historical evidence from lecture and from other course textbooks to support your thesis. The goal is to construct a seamless essay that provides a compelling argument about why the Muslim characters in The Submission feel alienated, as well as evidence of that alienation drawn from the book and from other historical sources.
With that assignment, I'm just gonna post the essay.

As usual, this is my essay, made available so I can potentially recieve feedback and to help others learn what I'm learning myself. I'm no expert, so seriously, none of the would-be paper thieves out there should use or even cite this. Still, I think I learned a lot to be able to write the essay, and hopefully you learn something too!
And if you know something about the subject, let me know if I got something right/wrong, or if you have interesting insights or thoughts about it! Same with folks who know things about writing essays! And I do love hearing when just other regular folks get some education out of my work.

Max / Ego
WC: 1022
Cultural identities held in common by communities are an important force in the world. For an individual, they give a sense of belonging, a shared understanding and experience that allows people to support each other and engage on a closer level. On a wider scale, these identities provide a patchwork of viewpoints and perspectives that gives rise to diversity and fosters debate and discussion. However, sometimes there are cultural identities that have problems interacting with each other, that come into conflict with one another, and this causes confusion and alienation, both to individuals and to the society as a whole. The identity of being a Muslim and that of being an American have just that relationship. Amy Waldman's book The Submission helps us to understand this relationship through its plethora of liminal characters, stuck somewhere in between American and Muslim without knowing how to resolve the inconsistencies between the two. Specifically, the book highlights how the lack of a consensus on whether Islam and American democracy are compatible leads people caught between the two to find themselves alienated and lost.
Laila and Mohammad are two sides of the same problem – they both identify themselves as both American and Muslim, but have different approaches on how to reconcile the images. Laila's take on the problem is adaptation. What is meant by this is that she's taken the stance that a re-reading of the Islamic texts allows for new interpretations that more smoothly meld with typical western democracies. She's forward and headstrong, implied when she suggested that Mohammad use her as a public face for the proceedings (Waldman 90). Her most obvious change to the fundamentalist version of Islam is that she's interpreted the Quran as not requiring the wearing of a hijab, or at least considered that she needn't wear one to the American public. She considers herself a professional, but still a practicing Muslim. Visually, she doesn't appear Muslim – a passerby on the street would never know. That's one of the benefits of not wearing the headscarf in America, that one can blend into the crowd without drawing attention to themselves. This isn't a perfect solution though. While it finds acceptance in the eyes of the American culture, it is the Muslim culture that often rejects those who make Laila's decision. For them, the re-interpretation of the Quran is tantamount to a betrayal of the true religion, which has a vocal fundamentalist front. Laila faces this challenge even from the members in the organization she works with. While at the MACC, after leaving the meeting while talking with Khan, she mentions that “It's a big deal for me to even be in that room...Malik got me in there because I've been getting high-profile cases involving Muslims. Because I'm good. But it's tense, as you noticed.” (Waldman p91). Laila faces the challenge that, in adapting her beliefs to allow her to better accept her American identity, she distanced herself from her Muslim identity and alienated herself from that community.
Mohammad Khan is afflicted with the same sort of identity confusion as Laila, but handles it very differently. Khan doesn't act to change the Muslim identity to fit within his American identity, and he doesn't try to shift his American culture to be open to his Muslim one. Instead, Khan slingshots back and forth between the two, unable to decide what path he should really follow. To begin with he completely denies the Muslim portion of his identity. He still considers himself Muslim, but, as he tells the MACC, he's “basically secular” (Waldman 89). However, he's not willing to disavow the Muslim portion of himself, and he especially isn't willing to do so just so he can win. It's not precisely clear what drives him to be so steadfast on this point; whether it be principles or sheer stubbornness. What is clear is that Khan planned to be this way from the very beginning, and he confirmed it to himself after speaking to Paul Rubin, he refused to “reassure anyone that he was 'moderate' or 'safe' or Sufi” (Waldman 86). Khan's very name is representative of his struggle; he goes by Mohammad and by Mo, one name linked to his Muslim identity and another to his American one. In the end Mohammad doesn't really figure out how to put his two identities together, instead creating his own third identity, a secular form of the culture practiced in the Muslim world, and he steeped himself in that culture so he no longer really had a major identity crisis like he did during the events surrounding the memorial incident.
The division between the two identities goes even further than is explored in the book. One of the fundamental dividing lines between American democracy and Islam is the idea of Sharia. Sharia law is a concept from the Quran that blurs the line between state and religion. In concept, Sharia demands that the government be able to support and enforce the precepts of Islam, a concept which is completely antithetical to the government system of the United States and other “western” nations. The separation of church and state that the States prides itself on is meant to preserve the opportunity for freedom of religion, while Sharia law doesn't allow for this freedom under its restrictions. American Muslims such as those in the book are required to take a side in the debate: support the separation of church and state and further the American identity, or promote American Sharia and put forward a strong Muslim identity. Some individuals, like Laila, would want to adapt the standards of Sharia and find a compromising moderate ideal, but that would be opposed by the more extreme side of both identities. The idea of Sharia is an incredible divisive force, and a primary point of concern for American Muslims trying to reconcile their identities while avoiding alienation from both their fellow Muslims and American society as a whole. The book's characters provide an excellent window into this gap between the cultural identities of Americans and Muslims and the societal alienation that gap creates.
Works Cited
1. Waldman, Amy. The Submission. New York: Picador, 2011. Print. 

There we go. Hope you enjoyed it, totally open to any feedback. I don't like this essay as much as the other one I wrote last night, but that's due later in the day and I only post after an essay is due. That one will drop next week. Later!
End Recording,

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