If there is one group of people who tend to face extreme discrimination and social subjugation in the United States of America, it is undoubtedly religious minority groups. Muslim American Women in particular, stand out amongst the rest. The degree of orientalism that Muslim women continue to face in America has increased tenfold following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and today we find Muslim women experiencing particularly intense and laborious upbringing in their own homes, as well as in American society. Shabana Mir, a Muslim American scholar, wrote an essay regarding double consciousness in Muslim-American culture, “Muslim, American – these identities effervesce and simmer in many Americans’ minds like a chemistry experiment gone wrong.” (Mir 30). The Muslim American woman -whose identity is shaped from a myriad range of cultural and societal ingredients- is marginalized, a victim of orientalism, and ultimately treated unequally in the United States of America.
In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, one of the most influential politicians in US history, argued that all Americans are equal. “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” (Jefferson 565). Jefferson envisioned an American society where race, class, ethnicity, culture, and religion did not impede its citizens to thrive. Nevertheless, US society remains a long way from reaching true equality. The US has always grappled with racism, leading to tense relationships between the majority white, Protestant and minority groups. At the heart of racial stereotypes and discrimination, is the concept of “we” versus “others.” American society experiences pervasive stigmatization and social subjugation, leading to a strained relationship between dominant social groups and the minority. Similarly, diverse religious backgrounds have not been fully accepted because of the belief that their ideals do not represent what the majority culture sanctions. As such, it has forced people who have different beliefs to cover, hide, and refrain from relishing in their culture because of the need to be accepted. Indeed, given the situation in the US, what Jefferson envisioned remains a far-fetched dream.
Similarly, the Muslim minority in the US face almost identical challenges to Jewish people, as the majority group challenge their values and use stereotypes to marginalize diverse groups. Shirley Jackson, a Jewish woman, wrote a short story shorting after World War II called “The Lottery”, which reveals deeply embedded marginalization and tradition, fanned by aggression and disregard from a dominant group. In “The Lottery”, Tessie, who won the (arguably sadistic) lottery, was stoned to death for no justifiable reason, other than the fact that it’s tradition. “Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by now, and she held her hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her. ‘It isn’t fair,’ she said. A stone hit her on the side of the head.” (Jackson 310). It is clear in this narrative that the dominant group hold the minority -Tessie- in contempt. Disregarding her pleas, and turning their back on her when she declares that such treatment isn’t fair. Although Shirley Jackson’s story is fiction, the nature of this treatment… utter neglect, violence, and disdain, is very much a reality for Muslim American women.
Furthermore, American society is shaped by the discourses of the dominant community. White, Christian, liberal, represent the normal, whereas Muslim and minority groups are viewed as backward and primitive, thus, the continuous abusing of their rights is overlooked (Mir 33). In classic scholar and historian Donald Kagan’s essay, “On Patriotism”, he reveals the need for Americans to understand that they must love their country and carry ideals that represent patriotism. However, he remains cautious that the diversity of the American population poses a danger of division among different groups. “The great strengths provided by this diversity are matches by great dangers. We are always vulnerable to divisions that can be exploited to set one group against another and destroy the unity and harmony that have allowed us to flourish.” (Kagan 699-700). Indeed, the struggles of Muslim women in America are a representation of the dangers of a diverse society, which can easily turn against each other. On campus, Muslim women have realized that the intense power of marginalization from the dominant groups forces them to take identities that do not represent their values (Mir 33). The stereotyping gaze that people of the Muslim faith have to deal with is very telling about the forcing of the community to sacrifice their ideals. The pressure from the dominant western culture in the United States is centered towards pushing for their normalization. Muslim women are believed to be better off renouncing their religious faith because the discourse is that their religion is a source of oppression for these women. The dominant communities tend to push social construction, which paints Muslims as individuals of a homogenous group.