Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
When US-citizen Muslims narrate their stories about immigrating to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the early 1990s, they emphasize their efforts to seek safety from their ‘home’ country, while incidentally contributing to security mechanisms in their ‘host’ country. Muslim Americans, and especially converts, were sponsored to live in the UAE by royalty to perform da’wah (invitation to practice Islam). Their particular performance of da’wah assists in deterring ‘cultural threats’ to national identity. Although they can never obtain Emirati citizenship, and the country is criticized as an unsafe place for many of its residents, my research participants feel safe and as if they belong. In fact, they have formed a community of like-minded, safety-seeking individuals. Safety, for them, is personal and mostly subjective because it foregrounds the everyday risks to their overall well-being and sense of belonging. This contrasts with security, a concept associated with state-level protection from risks, harm, or even terror. Discussing their lives in terms of safety as opposed to security disrupts the current trend to frame Muslims within the discourse of state-level security, even if they inadvertently participate in UAE security mechanisms. Despite their labor as dua’a (inviters to Islam), interlocutors have recently been compelled to re-immigrate to the US due to the changing UAE economy and policies. Yet, they continue to aspire to live in one of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Viewing safety and security as scalar mechanisms accentuates the everyday navigation of state-level belonging, citizenship, and other forms of affective belonging.