Key words: liminality, identity, positionality, reflexivity
As of March 15, 2018, Syria entered into its eighth year of civil war. An estimate of 470,000 people were killed, including around 55,000 children (Barnard 2016). The war produced dire humanitarian situations as thousands of people were arrested, killed, tortured, injured, or displaced. One major disaster became known as the Syrian Refugee Crisis. Displaced Syrians flooded into neighboring Arab countries and Europe to escape the war.
The United States resettled a total of 18,007 Syrian refugees between October of 2011
and December of 2016 (Zong and Batalova 2017). After the election of President Donald Trump, the numbers of admitted Syrian refugees dwindled and then became suspended indefinitely (Krogstad and Radford 2017). The current administration’s negative rhetoric linking Syrian refugees to terrorism or the Islamic States of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and their anti-refugee and anti-migrant discourse frightened newly resettled Syrian refugees (Whittaker 2016). Particularly after the Paris attacks, refugees were afraid to leave their apartments because they were confronted with anti-muslim rhetoric (Whittaker 2016).
Between 2015 and 2016, assaults and hate crime on Muslims in the United States increased significantly—there were 127 reported cases of aggravated or simple assault on Muslims (Kishi 2017). Around two-thirds of Muslim Americans at that time expressed dissatisfaction with the current United States political environment, with nearly three-quarters stating that Donald Trump was unfriendly towards Muslims (Pew Research Center 2017). Being singled out by airport security or other law officials and getting physically attacked and called offensive names in addition to Trump’s policies and attitude toward them has made it more difficult to be a Muslim in America (Pew Research Center 2017).
Since this political administration began, many Syrian refugees reported increasing
xenophobic occurrences in the United States (Whittaker 2016). Exposure to xenophobia and discrimination can lead to physical, emotional, and social problems in refugees (Doner, Ozkara, and Kahveci 2013; Koca 2016). These incidents (Doner, Ozkara, and Kahveci 2013; Koca 2016) may also cause problems for identity formation and change. Issues of identity and self-personhood became an interest to me as I volunteered with Syrian refugees in the United States.
Therefore, I conducted my thesis research with Syrian refugees in Austin, Texas, to understand their experiences with identity loss and change. I was interested in examining the concept of liminality because it was a principal reference in refugee research (Eyles and Dam 2012; Siganporia 2016). Liminality, developed by Arnold van Gennep (1960) and used by anthropologists, such as Victor Turner (1969), originally marked an intermediate stage in a culture’s rites of passage ceremony (Szakolczai 2009; Thomassen 2014). Later studies on liminality highlighted the experiences of refugees or migrants living in a state of uncertainty or in “limbo” (Malkki 1995; Turton 2004). As liminal persons living in an uncertain state, refugees can experience problems with their identity (Beneduce 2008).
I also focused on identity because refugees usually experience displacement and loss of social structure and personhood (Smith 2013). Within a liminal existence, refugees or migrants become individuals or groups that struggle to maintain their native identity markers as they attempt to recreate themselves in new places (Eyles and Dam 2012; Siganporia 2016). Although identity can be constantly changing, liminality can also become a space for persons to redefine themselves with the expectation that society will reincorporate them (El-Shaarawi 2015).
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