"Discrimination between 'Our Muslims' and 'Other Muslims"

After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the reaction against Muslims and the White House’s demeanor against immigrants made Turkish people who had been living in the USA for several years stop thinking that “the USA is the land of opportunity.” It is obvious that the time that has passed after September 11 has left deep marks on Turkish immigrants.
“It was three days after 9/11. The owner of the coffeehouse in our district told me ‘Kumru, neither you nor your son look like Muslims, so nothing bad will happen to you.’ After that I started wondering. Because until then, I never thought something would ever happen to us.” She came to the USA for educational purposes and she works at Pratt Institute as a lecturer in the sociology department. We talked to Toktamis, who has lived in the U.S. for 11 years, about the impact of 9/11 on the Turkish community.
Sumru Toktamis.
The September 11 attacks had a great impact on immigrants and particularly on the Turkish community. What is your opinion of this as a sociologist?
In our attempt to understand the impact of 9/11 on the Turkish community, first we need to understand what it has done to the U.S. America, in the last five years, has been in conflict as to how to protect its freedom given such security concerns. On one hand, society is being restricted to a certain type with these security concerns. On the other hand, the freedom in the U.S. may disappear. It is very hard to reduce the people here to a specific character but we are going in that direction.

For instance, peace and security were problems of local administrations and courts until 9/11. But Homeland Secutrity, which was founded after September 11, started to monitor all security matters centrally, on a federal level. The mentioned changes have had a great impact on immigrants living in the U.S. We can explain this impact as follows:
Until 9/11, living in the U.S. was very easy once you crossed the border.   Attending a school, getting a driver’s license, renting a house was possible. Nowadays it is not. Today if a police officer catches you crossing the street against a red light he stops you and gives you a ticket. If the officer notices that you are an immigrant from your accent or your appearance he is obliged to inform homeland security of this situation immediately.     

This is new in the U.S. You have to have a file in the Department of Homeland Security.
As an immigrant in the U.S. you have to have a record. An immigrant has to inform the government of an address change. When he is hospitalized this information has to be directly reported to Homeland Security. This regimentation of immigrant life has a direct impact on the Turkish society:

We know this much: after 9/11, the security institutions were very hesitant about going to Turkish neighborhoods when they carried out investigations in Muslim cafes and neighborhoods. When officers came and told Middle Easterns to go to the FBI and have their names registered, Turks had a hard time figuring out if they were included in this group of people. Then, suddenly they asked the same from Turkish people. But something strange happened: a class discrimination has occured. Engineers, doctors or university lecturers were not required to do that. But blue-collar workers living in working-class neighborhoods are asked to go the FBI and have their names registered.
What has this discrimination caused?
As I have just mentioned, in the last 15 years, as their number has increased, the Turkish community in the United States has become a more complex group. Different sections have come into being in respect to class, political views, and the way they express their Turkish identity. For example, in the schools which are largely populated by Turks, we see there are more conservative, more idealistic or more secular Turkish students. And they do not present a homogeneous picture. They try to keep away from each other. As the traditional structures have started to be brought to America, instead of directly being assimilated into the American society, there has been an increase in the tendency to stick to one’s own traditional identity, to define oneself by his/her own traditional identity.  In other words there has been a tendency to define oneself with one’s Turkish identity or one’s Muslim identity.

Together with this increase, what seems quite interesting is that the groups which have lived and worked here for 20-25 years and have already been assimilated have also started to claim their Turkish and Muslim identity. The Turkish identity that they claim is something that is created here. It is an identity that is produced by the people who have lived here for 25-30 years; it is vastly different from the identity of those in Turkey, the people that now live in İstanbul, Ankara, Van or Kayseri.  This is an identity that has been recently produced in American society, on American soil. It was born here.

Thus, there is more radicalism and more idealism here. It is different from that in Turkey; it is constructed and produced in the U.S. A new synthesis has come into being here. In particular, the traditional communities are closing themselves up. Also the relationships between the immigrant groups are disappearing. This is a significant loss. Following the social trauma of 9/11, it has become widespread within the Turkish community in the U.S. to compartmentalize, to freeze identity and to close off from communication with other communities and cultures.

Have Turks been affected by 9/11 as much as the other Muslim groups?
The Turks that live in the regions populated by working-class families were raided by the police from time to time, just like the neighborhoods where the Pakistani and Arab families live. Now, who is a legal immigrant and who is not is investigated. They feel threatened. We know that one third of the Turkish population here is not legal. This is quite a big ratio. Nevertheless, the Turks did not face a situation like that of the Pakistani or the Arabs. Particularly in Brooklyn, within the three years following 9/11, many Pakistani families returned to their home country. Half of the Pakistani children in primary and secondary schools suddenly disappeared.  No such situation occurred in the Turkish community. However, other situations have come into being, such as: some of the illegal immigrants went back; they left their families. That is to say, the families have disintegrated. For example, the children are American citizens but the parents are illegal. The mother stayed with the children and the father returned to Turkey.

Since 9/11 there has been an obvious discrimination between ‘our Muslims’ and ‘other Muslims’. And within the society there is an obvious tendency to encourage and support those who are more ‘harmoniously’ united. When the Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Turkish communities ask for help to celebrate their religious feasts, financial aid is supplied and the feasts take place. Those groups which do not ask for such aid are suspected. In order to understand who is “us” and who is the “other” the groups are asked to inform the FBI concerning certain issues. For example, there are some local societies. When you go to these societies you would see a certificate in a small frame saying; ‘The president of this society graduated from the FBI school.’ The FBI certificate somehow gives the impression that this Muslim community is acknowledged by the U.S. government. However, it is difficult to know what “harmonious Muslim” or “unharmonious Muslim” means. Not being able to know that, such an ambiguity is open to abuse. Because of this susceptibility I have encountered some cases in various communities where individuals were harmed because of personal hostilities.”

Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07