On the night of the 2010 midterm elections, Nation contributor and author Amitava Kumar joined British novelist and journalist Hari Kunzru in a conversation on Islam in America moderated by the Brennan Center’s Faiza Patel and organized by the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. At the conclusion of a campaign season marred by Islamaphobic flash-points such as a Florida Pastor’s threat to burn the Koran and the controversy surrounding the lower Manhattan Muslim cultural center, the three speakers explore how increased surveillance in the age of the War on Terror, newer forms of Orientalism and generational divides between various Muslim immigrant groups play out on the national and international political stage.
Kumar gives the audience insights into the FBI’s terrorism informant program with an excerpt from his book A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb. For Kumar, the increase in drone airstrikes under the Obama administration has contributed to an overwhelming sense of foreign control and personal humiliation in the Middle East, only worsening relations between the US and the Muslim world. After remarking on the War on Terror’s seeming indefinite state of exception, Kunzru reads from his novel Transmission, which he offers as a counterpoint to clichéd representations of Islamic countries. For her part, Patel reflects on a new generation of young Muslim Americans who engage in an Islamic identity politics that no longer defines itself along national boundaries.
For all three, an overriding question remains: How will politicians’ increasing Islamophobic scapegoating in Europe and more frequently in America shape the future for Muslim communities around the world?