Saher Selod, "Forever Suspect: Racialized Surveillance of Muslim Americans in the War on Terror" (Rutgers UP, 2018)

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How does a specific American religious identity acquire racial meaning? What happens when we move beyond phenotypes and include clothing, names, and behaviors to the characteristics that inform ethnoracial categorization? Forever Suspect, Racialized Surveillance of Muslim Americans in the War on Terror (Rutgers University Press, 2018) provides a nuanced portrayal of the experiences of South Asian and Arab Muslims in post 9/11 America and the role of racialized state and private citizen surveillance in shaping Muslim lived experiences.

Saher Selod, an Associate Professor of Sociology at Simmons University, shares with us her story of growing up in Kansas and Texas and how writing this book helped her reclaim her own racialized experiences as the children of Pakistani immigrants to the US. Saher first began this project as a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin. As she returned to the dissertation to craft it into a book, she realized that beyond just race, racism and racialization, surveillance was a key recurring theme for the interview respondents.

In today’s conversation, we explore the nuances of gender, race and surveillance, what it means to “Fly while Muslim”, and the harmful consequences of institutional surveillance laws like “Countering Violent Extremism” (CVE) that came about during the Obama Administration. We also touch on limitations of the book, including the exclusion of Black Muslims from this specific project. Saher’s openness with which she shares how her thinking has evolved over the years since this project first began leads us to discuss the ways in which non-Black Muslim immigrants and American born Muslims enact and maintain white supremacist structures.

Forever Suspect provides an important and eye opening lens for us to consider how racialized surveillance, in all dimensions and forms, the War on Terror and U.S. Empire building continues to impact Muslim communities in the U.S.

Nafeesa Andrabi is a 4th year Sociology PhD student at UNC-Chapel Hill, a Biosocial Fellow at Carolina Population Center and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow.

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