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Challenges and Perceptions of Diaspora

Panel IV-17, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Friday, December 2 at 11:00 am

Panel Description
  • This paper explores the promises and limits of technical and vocational educational programs in addressing the obstacles faced by Pakistani workers in the Persian Gulf. The paper argues that racial ideologies have played a lasting role in shaping the mutual construction of skills, nationality, and race in the Gulf – ideologies that translate into entire immigration and bureaucratic structures. Providing empirical materials drawn from fieldwork in Pakistan, the paper demonstrates how individuals and the Pakistani state attempt – and fail – to transcend racialized structures of limited inclusion and opportunity in the Gulf. The vast majority of Pakistani workers in the Gulf are single male migrant workers who populate jobs in the lower tiers of the labor market. The Pakistani state promotes technical education as a means to bridge the divide between the educated and uneducated, the elite and the masses, the global supply and demand for “unskilled” workers. The paper central focus is on the paradox of how multiple actors (the state, transnational labor recruiters, technical training facilities, civil society etc) promote technical education as a means to create the “perfect” Pakistani migrant amidst ambivalent demands that this labor needs to be more skilled, yet also still willing to endure economic and social precarity. Even when migrants do possess the requisite skills, immigration and bureaucratic structures in the Gulf continue to devalue Pakistani labor. The paper shows how the Pakistani state actively participates in these racial structures by sending migrants abroad to work and promoting labor migration as a key development strategy for the domestic economy. Through this case I attempt to shed light on some timeless questions: What power do states and individuals have to navigate a global labor landscape where racial categories are essential for hierarchically organizing and valuing bodies for the global market? How does a labor sending country like Pakistan maintain its position as a provider of cheap labor while at the same time maintaining its ostensible commitment to modernization, development, and progress? How does technical education become a site on which the promises of laboring “freely” for the global economy is taught and valorized while simultaneously attenuated and subverted?
  • Between the mid-1930s and the early 1960s, Jewish men and women in North African countries, especially in Egypt and Morocco, excelled in the game of basketball. Jewish teams won national titles, and in Egypt, Jewish players were even over-represented in the national team. The Jewish press in those countries covered the success of Jewish players with much enthusiasm and pride. While Jews did play soccer in these countries, there is no evidence of comparable success or level of excitement about this sport. However, shortly after the mass immigration to Israel, this pattern has been reversed – especially among the second generation. As early as 1966, second-generation Mizrahi immigrants were overrepresented among soccer players and extremely under-represented among basketball players. A 1969 survey revealed disproportional interest in soccer among second-generation North African Jews. While soccer has been certainly the most popular sport among Jewish Israelis of various origins since then, the gap between interest in soccer and basketball is especially pronounced among Mizrahi Jews, a pattern that contradicts the popularity of basketball among Jewish communities in their country of origin. The paper relies on the press, archival research, and statistical analysis of a series of public opinion polls conducted between 1969 to 2021 to argue that this inversion is related to the differential class orientation of soccer and basketball. Throughout the Mediterranean, basketball has developed as a game associated with a Europhilic middle-upper class, as opposed to soccer which has been much more inclusive class-wise. The generational transition of North African Jews from basketball to soccer has represented their downward class mobility following their immigration to Israel. North African immigrants who arrived in Israel’s big cities in the 1950s and 1960s were over-proportionally located in the less affluent parts of these cities, and therefore their social contact with the Ashkenazi population was over-proportionally with the working-class, a factor that might have affected their leisure opportunities, which led to the development of a different sport habitus and taste than the first generation.
  • Dr. Erfan Saidi Moqadam
    In this paper, I develop an argument about how Iranian-Americans conceive of race in ways that differ from the dominant ways of navigating U.S. racialization while underscoring conceptions of race that are inescapable across the social domain. At the same time, however, they offer understandings of race that diverged from the phenotypic dimensions of race that are predominant in U.S. racialization. Drawing on an ethnographic analysis of how Iranian Americans racialize their fellow Muslims, for instance, I explore how they perform racialization based on ethnohistorical and communal imagining rather than their shared Middle Eastern phenotypes. Iranian Americans’ plain description of race as a belief that culturally binds a group of people together complicates the way anthropologists commonly think about how people from Middle Eastern backgrounds encounter U.S. racialization. I demonstrate that race and religion are conflated in a way that demonstrates the ways that Shi’ism might be understood as a religion, surely, but also a historical ethnicity or culturally-shaped racial group. Iranian Americans’ conceptions of race shape and are shaped by terminologies that extract meaning from their communal memories beyond the U.S. context. In this essay, I demonstrate how Iranian Americans in the U.S. South, where the notion of people fitting strongly into one category or the other is much stronger than in other parts of the country, strategically refer to the term “Aryan” race (nezhad ariyayi) to justify their whiteness. By investigating the alternative strategies Iranians develop to negotiate their racial identity I provide a different and critical perspective on the racial politics that have shaped the lives of Middle Eastern immigrant communities in the U.S., which have failed to identify them exclusively ‘white’ or ‘non-white’ but have convinced them that they are indeed Other. My investigation of Iranian Americans’ understandings of race sheds light on how they navigate different strategies to create a niche for themselves in the U.S. racial hierarchy while maintaining Muslim identity in the predominantly Christian society. By looking closely at how Iranian Americans create racial meanings and navigate different strategies to claim whiteness, I develop an argument about how Iranian Americans conceptualize race and construct a whiteness that is shaped at the intersection of commonalities having to do with citizenship status, class, education, economic success, location, ethnohistorical memories—both within and beyond the U.S.
  • Dr. Sarah Tobin
    Co-Authors: Mari Norbakk
    This paper presents the Norwegian Research Council-funded project “The Invisible Ceiling: Muslim Immigrant Entrepreneurs Navigate Norway’s Financial Environment.” In this project, we examine the ways that Arab Muslims immigrant entrepreneurs in Norway are unable to grow their businesses due to religious proscriptions against the interest-based financing that is widely available, which carries important implications for lived citizenship. An Islamic proscription against interest-based financing leads to financial exclusion for Arab Muslim entrepreneurs in Norway, where Islamic finance tools are not offered. Our research reveals that Arab Muslim immigrant entrepreneurs are unable to access acceptable financial tools formally, and instead rely on informal avenues for financing that limit their growth potential and impede state aims of integration and equal citizenship. Extant literature argues that immigrants that experience structural barriers to labor market participation are more likely become entrepreneurs. Thus, while the initial threshold for Arab Muslim immigrants (mainly from Iraq and Syria; more than 50,000 people) to open small businesses in Norway is relatively low, the greater challenge of acquiring Islamic financial support to expand into medium-sized businesses remains; this is “the invisible ceiling” experienced by these Arab Muslims and Norwegian residents and citizens. This paper examines the possibilities for lived, “economic citizenship” experienced by these entrepreneurs. Inspired by feminist theory we see economic citizenship as the ability to participate in the market with equal opportunity. Active economic citizenship in this way then not only deals with civic participation, but also an ability to benefit from and contribute to national growth. As the Norwegian government holds aims for Arab Muslim immigrant entrepreneurs to become equal stakeholders within the state, they nevertheless experience economic citizenship differently than and unequally from their non-Arab, non-Muslim entrepreneurial neighbors. Thus, the meanings and everyday realities of citizenship in the marketplace remain unfulfilled promises of the Norwegian state. We detail an analysis of the entrepreneurs' aspirations for integration and inclusion as equal economic citizens and how they navigate the gaps in provisions from the Norwegian state in these processes.