Gender, Martyrdom, and the Management of Stigmatized Identities among Devout Muslims in the U.S.
Naderi, Pooya Shawn Darius
University of Kansas
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This dissertation explores the role of gender in contemporary Islam and the daily lives of Muslim minorities. Specifically, I examine how social constructions of masculinity and femininity are manifest in militant jihad, and how young Muslims in America manage the stigma placed on them as a result of jihadists’ beliefs and actions. I asked how jihadists frame acts of martyrdom and mass violence, and how young Muslims in America handle the associated and ensuing stigma in daily life? To address these questions, I analyzed statements from militant jihadists and conducted in-depth interviews with twenty-six young and devout Muslims living in the Midwestern United States. Using grounded methods, I found that martyrdom acts, which include suicide attacks, were framed as self-defense, restorative rituals, and honor displays. These frames indicate that such violence—directed at others and the self—enables aggrieved men to resist foreign domination, elicit deference from others, and claim gender-based rewards. Integrating Symbolic Interactionist and pure sociological perspectives, I argue that martyrdom is a form of masculine self-help: a gender-signifying act that expresses a grievance through self-sacrificial and embodied aggression. In addition, I found that young Muslim men and women cope with collective stigmatization by defining and doing gender in culturally normative ways, especially when interacting with non-Muslim publics. Drawing on dramaturgical and identity theories, I conceptualize these stigma management strategies as allaying embodiment, benign accommodation, claiming normality, embracing stigma, communicating commitment, and claiming exceptionality. These strategies suggest that gender displays are integral to the stigma process and may be strategically deployed to protect the self in mixed-contact situations. This research also indicates that the stigma process can lead to greater commitment to religious role-identities and increased self-esteem based on the subjective interpretation and social context of traumatic events.
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