The discourse on identity of the researcher is largely centered on epistemological concerns of representation, power, and positionality in the anthropological realm. In educational research, in the context of a complex field such as school, this has raised pertinent questions about the dynamic interplay of forces when researchers are in the field, including the problems with the traditional categories of insider and outsider. A vast range of scholarly works on ethnographic methodology, Muslim identity in South Asia, feminist research, and ethnographies on schools point out that the dichotomy of insider and outsider is insufficient in engaging with the nuances of field and representation. While nativity obscures the process of identity negotiation and legitimacy, tropes of representation can hardly ever be simplified through a shared ethnic, gendered, religious, and class background in anthropological practice. The need is to expand the boundaries of reflexivity in educational research, thereby treading beyond the polarities of insider and outsider and take into account the fluidity in between the two. In negotiating with identities and boundaries, researchers often end up occupying an in-between threshold space in the field. It is by taking into account flexibility and malleability of identities that ethnographers can deliberate on the efficacy of piercing intimate relationships in fields such as schools and other educational institutions. For ethnographers unraveling the complexities of educational processes, the creation of a fresh vantage point can therefore help make meaning of the everyday life from the lens of participants.
Islamophobia is a term used to describe society’s phobic reaction to a certain religious or ideological group. Historically, the coined word Islamophobia has been manipulated into various constructs, which pose a microcosm-macrocosm challenge for educators over whether or not the education system can act as a platform for better understanding what is currently transpiring in the world. It is in the classroom that educators and students can grapple with the sociophobic situation and pull apart the two sides of Islam and phobia. In the classroom there are learning opportunities that can foster critical new understandings about why social phobias exist and challenge, through an antiphobic curriculum, the fear and indifference of otherness. New and higher levels of immigration in the Western world, rising tensions in non-Muslim populations, and the baggage of history have brought us to a critical turning point. Educators can respond positively and constructively to this challenge and opportunity and help to steer the course. Although Islamophobia is present in many countries worldwide, assimilationist policies vary from country to country. Nonetheless, individual countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Australia, and in those in Western Europe, have their own takes on Islamophobia. Since 9/11 there has been significant agreement among scholars that societal changes can be constructed through the systematic employment of specific curricular initiatives. These initiatives call into question the traditional trajectory of how the sentiments of Islamophobia can be successfully countered in the classroom to reduce sociophobic tensions and increase cultural and linguistic awareness. This can happen through culturally sustaining pedagogy, whose primary objective is to embrace literate, linguistic, and cultural pluralism in the school system. Education has tremendous power to challenge phobic perspectives and move beyond the traditional realm of what has historically been the norm in the classroom.
Liberal democracies have convinced themselves that persistent attempts to regulate the dress codes of Muslim women are driven by a democratic imperative toward their “emancipation.” They have convinced themselves that the imposition of integration is in the best interest of a democratic society. As a result, Muslim women, or more specifically, their dress codes, have become the reluctant centerpieces of a debate that has much less to do with democratic preservation than it has to do with an overt, systemic discrimination against a particular group. By taking into account the ensuing tensions and controversies that perceivably exist between liberal democracies and Muslim women, there are certain questions worth considering. On the one hand, is the concern of Muslim women, who are seemingly viewed and treated as a homogenous group. Who are they? What informs their Muslim identities and practices? On the other hand, is the matter of liberal democracies, which, through their actions of trying to regulate the dress code of Muslim women in the public sphere, have brought into contestation notions of democratic principles and practices. Why have liberal democracies chosen to respond to Muslim women in the way that they have? What is it about the dress code of Muslim women, which presents such an aversion or undermining of liberal democracies? It would seem, and as will be discussed in this article, that what liberal democracies perceivably know about Muslim women might in fact not be how they (Muslim women) conceive of themselves. That is, unlike the perceptions created by liberal democracies, Muslim women might not necessarily interpret their particular dress codes as being irreconcilable with what it means to be and act in a democracy. In turn, while the interest of the ensuing discussion is on the treatment of Muslim women by liberal democracies, the implications of this discussion might not be limited to one group identity; instead, there are necessary questions and concerns about how liberal democracies respond to and reconcile with pluralist forms of being.