[URBANTH-L]ARD Review: Rogozen-Soltar on Kabir, Muslims in Australia

Angela Jancius acjancius at ysu.edu
Wed Oct 4 22:20:35 EDT 2006

Anthropology Review Database

Nahid Afrose Kabir. _Muslims in Australia: Immigration, Race Relations and
Cultural History_. London: Kegan Paul, 2004.

Reviewed 28 Sep 2006 by Mikaela Rogozen-Soltar <mikaela at umich.edu>,
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA

Nahid Kabir's Muslims in Australia: Immigration, Race Relations, and
Cultural History is an ambitious text that addresses an under-studied topic:
Muslim immigration in Australia from 1860 to 2002. Kabir traces historical
shifts in the nature of prejudice against Australian Muslims, suggesting
that early immigrants were discriminated against based on race and
ethnicity, while in later years, questions of nationality and religion
played a more decisive role. Kabir employs a methodology influenced by
historical sociology, which as she states, "examines both the past and the
present and seeks to analyze reasons for the continuity or discontinuity of
the social structure and its impact on the population" (p. 34). Kabir uses
archival and census data, interviews, questionnaires, and a multi-city,
comparative approach in which she contrasts not only geographic regions of
Australia but also the experience of Muslims with those of other minority
and immigrant groups. The book provides a broad picture of the history of
Muslim immigrants from Afghanistan, India, Turkey, Albania, Java, Lebanon,
Bangladesh and elsewhere.
     Kabir examines five historical periods. First she describes early
Muslim immigration during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, focusing
on Afghan immigrants who arrived as camel drivers to help with exploration.
Noting that this period saw the height of the "White Australia" policy,
which encouraged immigration of "whiter" populations and assimilation of all
immigrants, Kabir shows how the advent of scientific views of racism helped
foster fear of Afghans as a racial contamination risk. Institutionalized
racism manifested in prohibitions on intermarriage, forced segregation, and
ultimately the "Camel Destruction Act" that legislated the mass slaughter of
one of the Afghans' only economic resources.
     While in this period the author suggests that Muslims were positioned
outside mainstream Australian society, due to their race and ethnicity, in a
section on the period spanning the two world wars, Kabir suggests that a new
discourse of national security prompted Australians to fear anyone with ties
to "enemy aliens", thus shifting discrimination toward Germans, Muslim
Turks, and Albanians (who were interned) rather than Muslims or Arabs in
general. Kabir argues that in the years between WWII's end and the Gulf War,
religion became the criterion for social categorization, and Muslims as a
group suffered discrimination in economic and social arenas even as they
came to form a larger percentage of the overall population. A new government
policy of multiculturalism and new laws protecting minorities did not stem
these rising levels of bias.
     In the last two sections of the book, Kabir examines the increasing
role of religious-based persecution during the Gulf War and following the
events of September 11, 2001 in the United States. As the specter of
"Islamic terrorism" became an internationally recognized media trope, Kabir
argues that increased international focus on ties between Islam and
terrorist groups led to fear and ostracization of Muslims in Australia.
However, she discounts Muslim activists' claims that sensationalist domestic
media incited a backlash against Muslims, maintaining that media
representations of Muslims and Arabs were "reasonably objective" (p. 208).
She argues that a more likely cause of increased graffiti and bomb threats
at mosques, violence toward women choosing to wear veils, and discrimination
toward Muslims in the workplace was the rising visibility of Muslims in
Australia and a natural human tendency to fear difference.
     Kabir's use of multiple research strategies, the long time-span she
analyzes, and the comparisons she draws with other minorities such as
Chinese and Irish Catholics provides a broad context for understanding the
questions she raises. However, at times this breadth hinders her ability to
provide detailed analysis of the data presented, and some sections include
more reporting than analysis of findings. Somewhat abrupt transitions
between sections occasionally require that readers work to draw their own
connections between the various issues raised.
     The author does a thorough job of citing relevant theories on race,
ethnicity, and national security, but does not always provide analysis of
their corresponding theoretical debates nor discuss them in relation to the
impressive amount of data compiled in her text. Thus, Kabir's main
suggestion, that discrimination was caused by increasing numbers of
immigrants, seems only a partial explanation. Empirically, the rise of
anti-immigration sentiment and discrimination does not always parallel the
number of immigrants present in a nation (see Suarez-Navaz, 2004). Kabir's
data do show a higher number of anti-Muslim incidents in suburbs of
Melbourne and Sydney with substantial Muslim populations. Yet, by
continually emphasizing that humans have always discriminated against one
another and thus portraying discrimination toward Muslims in Australia as an
inevitable expression of primordial human behavior, the author sidesteps
meaningful engagement with the particular ways that discrimination has
played out in the Australian context. Why, for example, did religion
eventually come to displace ethnicity as a key factor in discrimination?
     The text would also benefit from a discussion of the ways in which
social categories of race, ethnicity, religion, and nationality may overlap
and inform one another. By treating these social dimensions as discreet
categories, the author fails to theorize how, for example, skin color and
gendered dress serve to mark individuals as members of particular religions
or "national enemy" groups even when anti-immigrant discourse seems to
center around issues other than race or gender. Such intersections of race,
gender, religion and citizenship status are clear in many of the book's
examples, despite their absence from the final analysis. Nevertheless,
Muslims in Australia is a book that provides useful information for anyone
interested in the history of Muslim immigration to Australia, and may be
useful for students of history, sociology, and cultural studies more
generally, especially those interested in how discrimination progresses over
time and relates to shifting state policy and international events. A great
strength of the book is its sheer breadth of information; the comparative
approach in particular allows for a thorough view of the history of
minorities in Australia. Another strength is the book's accessibility to
both academics and interested readers outside of academia; the writing is
free of jargon and most theoretical terms are explicitly defined.

     Suárez-Navaz, Liliana 2004 Rebordering the Mediterranean: Boundaries
and Citizenship in Southern Europe. New York: Berghahn Books.

More information about the URBANTH-L mailing list