Attitudes and adjustments

Jason Guriel, a second-year York graduate student in English who writes about research at York University, sent the following article to YFile.

Although there is a tendency among countries that host immigrants of Islamic cultures to criticize newcomers for resisting cultural adjustment, research by Haideh Moghissi, professor of sociology at York, reveals that the host societies themselves may be to blame for creating this resistance.

Right: Haideh Moghissi

Currently directing a major interdisciplinary research project funded by SSHRC entitled, “Diaspora, Islam and Gender,” Moghissi is collaborating with researchers in Canada, Israel/Palestine, Iran, Britain and France to explore how the hostility immigrants experience in new countries can strengthen a newcomer’s attachment to their homeland.

“In many cases,” notes Moghissi, “discrimination, overt and covert racism and exclusionary practices force Muslim immigrants to become more conservative and religious than they ever were in their original countries.”

Focusing on Iranians, Afghans, Pakistanis and Palestinians, Moghissi’s research suggests that the pressures of rapid social and cultural transformation as well as changing gender roles in the new country can lead, in time, to a new understanding between husbands and wives – or, alternatively, to a heightened struggle, and even in some cases to domestic violence. This can have severely damaging effects, particularly for women and children.

“Men will arrive in a country like Canada,” explains Moghissi, “only to find that their conception of a man’s role in his family is no longer relevant. In some cases, this has resulted in men trying to reclaim the dominance they once enjoyed in their countries of origin by adopting very conservative practices and beliefs, and justifying them in the name of religion.”

Moghissi is careful to emphasize that these four communities being focused on are extremely diverse in their religious and political views, as well as the extent of their attachments to their respective homelands. But, according to Moghissi’s research, many since 9/11 have felt themselves become the targets of racism.

Moghissi also explains the importance of York University in facilitating this major interdisciplinary project. “Because of its diverse student population,” claims Moghissi, “York presents an ideal environment for international collaborations.”

In fact, York is the host of the annual symposium related to her project, “Women’s Voices from the Middle East.” Also, the international conference, “The Making of the Islamic Diaspora,” scheduled for May 7-9, 2004, at the Delta Chelsea Hotel in Toronto, will bring internationally renowned scholars in this field to Canada.

Ultimately, the work of Moghissi and her collaborators may help policy makers at federal, provincial and municipal levels to design and implement programs that promote harmonious relations between migrant communities and the host country.

For more on Moghissi and the “Women’s Voices from the Middle East” project, see the April 2 issue of YFile.