York team awarded Ford Foundation grant for new study of Muslim diaspora

Two York professors have been awarded a US$350,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to study how several Western nations and their Muslim immigrant populations have managed tensions between the migrants’ need to adapt to their new country and their wish to maintain cultural continuity.

Haideh Moghissi and Saeed RahnemaThe international, comparative and collaborative study of relations between Muslim diasporas and the host societies in Canada, Britain, France, Sweden and the Netherlands will include a comparison between immigration and resettlement policies and practices in these countries.

Right: Haideh Moghissi and Saeed Rahnema

Haideh Moghissi, social science professor, and Saeed Rahnema, political science professor, both of the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies, will lead the project, which will bring together scholars of Islam and experts on multiculturalism, citizenship and ethnicity, as well as informed members of the communities in each location. The project will be comprised of a series of workshops and conferences with scholars from the subject countries in order to explore, compare and analyze socio-cultural and economic factors which encourage Muslim diasporas to find comfort in religion.

“Given recent experiences, it is evident that governments in the West no longer seem to know what to do with the Third World communities that have been formed and continue to grow in their own backyard,” wrote Moghissi and Rahnema in a prospectus about the project. “Some governments have begun to back away from historical commitments to pluralism and multiculturalism in favour of assimilation, forced integration, tightening immigration policies, [and] border control, [while] at the same time, yielding to demands of conservative individuals who, presenting as voices of the “Muslim community”, aggressively press an agenda for the Islamification of legal and social life. It seems both assimilationism and multiculturalism or the way they have been implemented in Europe and in Canada have failed.”

A central goal of the study, which will be conducted at several levels until July 2008, is to identify and analyze specific factors and active forces that move certain communities or individuals to suddenly adopt or exaggerate their Muslim identities, resisting integration into the mainstream society and the ideas and practices that could help break down gender and age hierarchies.

“The assumption is that under pressures of their own isolation and, angered by racism and discrimination in the societies they live, diasporic populations can become participants in the invention of a distorted ‘Islam’, which is then presented back to them as their own identity,” wrote Moghissi and Rahnema. “This phenomenon is also brought on by the aggressive turns in global politics, including unapologetic foreign interventions in the Middle East and the unresolved Palestinian and Israeli conflicts, which have boosted the appeal of Islamist movements in the region.”