Terrifying Muslims

Race and Labor in the South Asian Diaspora

Terrifying Muslims

Book Pages: 240 Illustrations: 9 photographs Published: June 2011

Author: Junaid Rana

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian American Studies, Asian Studies > South Asia

Terrifying Muslims highlights how transnational working classes from Pakistan are produced, constructed, and represented in the context of American empire and the recent global War on Terror. Drawing on ethnographic research that compares Pakistan, the Middle East, and the United States before and after 9/11, Junaid Rana combines cultural and material analyses to chronicle the worldviews of Pakistani labor migrants as they become part of a larger global racial system. At the same time, he explains how these migrants’ mobility and opportunities are limited by colonial, postcolonial, and new imperial structures of control and domination. He argues that the contemporary South Asian labor diaspora builds on and replicates the global racial system consolidated during the period of colonial indenture. Rana maintains that a negative moral judgment attaches to migrants who enter the global labor pool through the informal economy. This taint of the illicit intensifies the post-9/11 Islamophobia that collapses varied religions, nationalities, and ethnicities into the threatening racial figure of “the Muslim.” It is in this context that the racialized Muslim is controlled by a process that beckons workers to enter the global economy, and stipulates when, where, and how laborers can migrate. The demonization of Muslim migrants in times of crisis, such as the War on Terror, is then used to justify arbitrary policing, deportation, and criminalization.


“This detailed study of racialization of Muslims is an important contribution to the ethnographic and ethnic studies in the U.S. as well as in South Asia, from where a large number of U.S. migrant labors have come (the migration of South Asians beginning mainly during the late sixties and continuing through mid-nineties). This study may also be useful in examining how the U.S. treats other migrant populations, especially the rapidly growing Latino population.... Junaid Rana has done a remarkable job, through both the empirical data and thorough analysis of dozens of cases, of establishing the connection between the state power and racialization.”
— Mohammad A. Siddiqi, Journal of International and Global Studies

Terrifying Muslims will be of great interest for those interested in a better understanding of the cultural and historical roots of the Pakistani diaspora. It will also appeal to those seeking to explore potential intersections between the fields of critical race studies and anthropology.” — Roberto J. González, Journal of Anthropological Research

Terrifying Muslims is an exemplary study and should be required reading for anyone interested in understanding the complexities of transnational labor movements and the predicament of Muslims in the early 21st century.”  — Ahmed Afzal, American Anthropologist

Terrifying Muslims stands out in a crowded field. This is one of very few books to make consistently the point that the problem of Islamophobia is not new. . . . This book will no doubt prove critically important to anyone interested in race, labor, immigration, or Islamophobia." — Erik Love, Contemporary Sociology

“[An] ambitious and engaging book. . . . This is one of the more original and memorable books that I have read for a long time.” — Khalid Koser, Ethnic and Racial Studies

“Junaid Rana has written a timely book that historically situates the concept of ‘race’ to illuminate the bind between religion and race in the construction of the racialised ‘Muslim’. . . . Terrifying Muslims is an insightful work as relevant for human rights activists as it is for historians, South Asian specialists, students of migration, policy-makers and popular culture enthusiasts.” — Mamta Sachan Kumar, South Asia

“[Rana] provides rich details of Islamophobia’s direct impacts on transnational migrant workers as they move around the globe looking for economic opportunities. Rana’s insightful discussion is empirically grounded in 100 interviews he conducted between 1998 and 2008 in Lahore and New York City, supplemented with ethnographic observations in Dubai and other locations. Rana provides nuanced descriptions of the aspirations, goals, and tribulations of working class Pakistanis as they depart from Lahore.” — Erik Love, Contexts

“Rana’s meticulously researched book is an excellent and timely addition to existing conversations in Asian American, South Asian, and critical race studies.” — Dashini Jeyathurai, Contemporary South Asia

“An important and timely intervention in the literature on the ‘war on terror,’ Terrifying Muslims shows the complexity of the migrant experience both historically and in the Islamophobic climate since 9/11 when US priorities began to revolve around defeating terror and controlling migration…The book is a compelling and gripping read that combines ethnography, theory, and visual and textual analyses of race, religion, migration, and labor.” — Pardis Mahdavi, Labor

"Terrifying Muslims makes a valuable contribution to the growing literature on race and religion.... In sum, this is an excellent book and would be of interest to scholars across a number of disciplines." — Beesan Sarrouh, Journal of International Migration and Integration

"Theoretically, the work engages with ideas about neoliberal­ism, feminism, gender, and critical race theory, and stresses the intersectionality of theoretical currents. . . . The book is strikingly innovative." — Amitava Chowdhury, Labour/Le Travail

“This book is an important, innovative, and much-needed intervention into current debates about migration, globalization, the War on Terror, Muslim identities, racialization, and labor. It offers a transnational analysis connecting South Asia, the Middle East, and the United States, as well as an astute framework linking questions of religion, race, class, sovereignty, and gender. In addition, it fills a glaring gap in Asian American and South Asian studies, where there has been little research on the Pakistani diaspora.” — Sunaina Marr Maira, author of Missing: Youth, Citizenship, and Empire after 9/11

Terrifying Muslims is a timely and necessary project, one that makes important interventions into both U.S. ethnic studies and South Asian studies. Junaid Rana persuasively shows that the current War on Terror and the Islamophobia that buttresses it can only be understood through a long historical view that situates current migrations in relation to colonial forms of labor exploitation such as slavery and indentureship.” — Gayatri Gopinath, author of Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures

“Junaid Rana’s Terrifying Muslims is a road map against Islamophobia. Muslim migrants do not travel to erect minarets alone. They come because their homelands are wrecked by transnational capital, they come in search of work and dignity; their presence signals only this, and not some cataclysmic story of the clash of civilizations. Rana rehabilitates the ordinariness of migration in the context of forces that insist on making the migrant extraordinary. Crucial reading for terrible times.” — Vijay Prashad, author of The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World


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Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Junaid Rana is Associate Professor of Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii
Introduction. Migrants in a Neoliberal World 1
Part I. Racializing Muslims
1. Islam and Racism 25
2. Racial Panic, Islamic Peril, and Terror 50
3. Imperial Targets 74
Part II. Globalizing Labor
4. Labor Diaspora and the Global Racial System 97
5. Migration, Illegality, and the Security State 134
6. The Muslim Body 153
Conclusion. Racial Feelings in the Post-9/11 World 174
Notes 181
References 203
Index 221
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4911-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4888-7
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