Jan 28, 2008

A Matter of Faith: Non-Christians and Asian America

After writing that piece yesterday on a faith-divide that is causing political dissonance in the states of Asian America, serendipity put me in a used bookstore today where I came upon this book:

New Faiths, Old Fears: Muslims and Other Asian Immigrants in American Religious Life,
by Bruce B. Lawrence.

Lawrence focuses a lot of his discussion on Iranian Americans and their particular orientation to both faith and racial/ethnic groups in the United States, but he actually talks about the "new faiths" in the United States, and the uneasy way in which American communities as a whole, and Asian American spaces in particular, are dealing with the rising tide of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Zororastrians, and other peoples within the coalition. Fascinating stuff, and I'm glad to see I'm not crazy. I was really interested and picked up the book because he talks about South Asians for a while in the book, which was unexpected when I first reading through it.

It's interesting how the issue of faith identity is dealt with in progressive/left spaces. I haven't had a lot of experience, but while I can understand if someone dismisses faith because organized religion is just another system of oppression, that perspective ultimately disregards that faith (and discrimination/exclusion based on it) is a real phenomena in coalition communities. So the left ideologues who don't want to think about faith are doing what color-blindness advocates do with race: assume that if we don't talk about it, there's no real-world impact on people's lives.

But alternatively, you have people who harbor their own biases, whether knowingly or not, against particular faith communities. American popular culture has turned Islam into the communism of the 50s (call it a green scare if you want). I wouldn't be surprised if mainstream Asian Americans who don't have exposure to Muslims (or other faith "minorities" within Asian America) are working off of a lot of assumptions and misinformation in their orientation to these communities.

It doesn't help that evangelical Christianity has caught on like wildfire in several Asian ethnic communities, and some churches have adopted the American angle of "building community" by highlighting and reviling something different. Hinduism has been targeted in some churches, but it's not really seen as a threat in the same way as the master American narrative has made out Islam. Islamophobia may be another way to make yourself seem like a real American - kind of like wrapping your community up in American flags the way Chinatown and other NY immigrant neighborhoods did immediately after Sept. 11th.

As an aside, that toss-off comment above, "Green Scare", is kind of apropos, actually, with the new unholy trinity that keeps the reactionary right (and those like them) up at night: environmentalism/conservation, Islam, and the Redistribution of Wealth.

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