Missing: Youth, Citizenship, and Empire after 9/11

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In Missing, Sunaina Marr Maira explores how young South Asian Muslim immigrants living in the United States experienced and understood national belonging (or exclusion) at a particular moment in the history of U.S. imperialism: in the years immediately following September 11, 2001. Drawing on ethnographic research in a New England high school, Maira investigates the cultural dimensions of citizenship for South Asian Muslim students and their relationship to the state in the everyday contexts of education, labor, leisure, dissent, betrayal, and loss. The narratives of the mostly working-class youth she focuses on demonstrate how cultural citizenship is produced in school, at home, at work, and in popular culture. Maira examines how young South Asian Muslims made sense of the political and historical forces shaping their lives and developed their own forms of political critique and modes of dissent, which she links both to their experiences following September 11, 2001, and to a longer history of regimes of surveillance and repression in the United States.

Bringing grounded ethnographic analysis to the critique of U.S. empire, Maira teases out the ways that imperial power affects the everyday lives of young immigrants in the United States. She illuminates the paradoxes of national belonging, exclusion, alienation, and political expression facing a generation of Muslim youth coming of age at this particular moment. She also sheds new light on larger questions about civil rights, globalization, and U.S. foreign policy. Maira demonstrates that a particular subjectivity, the “imperial feeling” of the present historical moment, is linked not just to issues of war and terrorism but also to migration and work, popular culture and global media, family and belonging.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“There are no easy answers in Missing, but Maira offers a nuanced language for understanding what citizenship and dissent mean to these young people during the War on Terror. . . . Missing is impressive for the depth of its analysis of the lives of South Asian Muslim immigrant youth. . . .” - Matt Delmont, American Quarterly

“Basing her analysis on ethnographic research, the author captures the sense of disappointment and bewilderment of her informants caught in a double bind while trying to construct an identity that would make them feel secure in the turmoil of this post-911 world. Maira interprets individual representations in light of policy and macro analysis of empire. She shows how nation-state policies influence individual lives in a way that contributes much to the confusion about status and rights experienced by South Asian immigrant Muslim youth.” - Ibrahim G. Aoudé, Teachers College Record

“[Missing] provides rich mining grounds to scholars from fields as wide as postcolonialism, cultural studies, sociology and history. In that sense, despite its socio-anthropologically empirical structure, it is a trans-disciplinary book. . . . This is a brave, honest and necessary study.”
- Tabish Khair, South Asian Diaspora

Missing: Youth, Citizenship, and Empire after 9/11 is a timely and important contribution to study of life in the post–9/11 United States for Muslim, South Asian, and Arab communities, in general, and for Muslim immigrant youth in a New England high school, in particular. Engaging deeply and comprehensively with theories of empire, race, and cultural citizenship, the author uses richly textured ethnographic material drawn from school, work, home, and protests to chart the different practices and meaning of cultural citizenship in the everyday lives of young people here and in the countries their parents left behind.” - Susan Terrio, American Anthropologist

“Maira’s book Missing is a beautifully written analysis, dense with theory and facts. . . . I predict that Maira’s unique study will come to influence many researchers in their ethnic studies.“ - Hedvig Ekerwald, Ethnic and Racial Studies

“How is national belonging experienced by South Asian teenagers in post-9/11 America? In a deeply thoughtful and compassionate ethnography, Sunaina Marr Maira explores this question, providing one of the most compelling analyses of citizenship in contemporary America. She introduces us to young people who worry about deportation, racism, and the challenges of schooling in another language, but who also possess an acute analysis of imperialism and are capable of forging a transnational community united as much by Bollywood as by their sudden elevation to Public Enemy Number 1. Maira’s stunning achievement is to give vivid content to state power, providing an up close and personal look at how it is lived and resisted by those whom we relentless evict from political community.”—Sherene H. Razack, author of Casting Out: The Eviction of Muslims from Western Law and Politics

“Sunaina Marr Maira has authored one of the most important books of our time. Missing is a carefully researched and beautifully written account of the experiences, ideas, and opinions of South Asian Muslim immigrant children in the United States who find themselves deemed enemies of the state through no fault of their own in the aftermath of 9/11. Through a deft blend of ethnography and cultural critique, Maira demonstrates how the expanding reach and power of the nation-state overseas leads to new forms of disciplinary control at home: in schools, workplaces, media imagery, and immigration law.”—George Lipsitz, author of Footsteps in the Dark: The Hidden Histories of Popular Music

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822344094
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Sunaina Marr Maira is Associate Professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Davis. She is the author of Desis in the House: Indian American Culture in New York City and a co-editor of Youthscapes: The Popular, the National, the Global.

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Read an Excerpt


By Sunaina Marr Maira

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2009 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4409-4

Chapter One

Imperial Feelings: U.S. Empire and the War on Terror

The country was up in arms, the war was on, / in every breast / burned the holy fire of patriotism; ... a fluttering wilderness of flags / flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched / down the wide avenue / ... and the half-dozen rash spirits / that ventured to disapprove of the war / and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern / and angry warning that for their personal safety's sake / they quickly shrank out of sight And offended no more in that way.

When you have prayed for victory / you have prayed for many unmentioned results / which follow victory-must follow it. MARK TWAIN, The War Prayer (2000 [1923])


"I came to Wellford when I was thirteen years old; it's been four years now. I used to live in Pakistan before. My family comes from Karachi in Pakistani. Yes, we're Sindhi. My father was living in America for fifteen years before we could come over. He was in Malden, and he also moved around and lived in different places. When I first came here, I lived in Malden for, like, two or three months. Then we moved to Wellford when we got an apartment there. Why did we move here? Because there are a lot of people from Pakistan. There are people from Karachi living here too-in Wellford, Revere, Brighton. There are many Pakistanis in Prospect Square, where I live. There's a mosque there; the people are mostly Middle Eastern. I go there sometimes, and for Eid [Muslim festival] we go to Sharon or Wayland Mosque. I think that Wellford is better than other cities, but I've only seen Malden and New York, when we first came to America.

"I was very excited when I first came here. I knew about America from my relatives who went abroad. I have an uncle in Sweden and another uncle in Canada. But my uncle from Sweden came here because he found the language difficult; now he lives in Prospect Square too. After I got here, I started to miss Pakistan. I missed seeing my relatives and friends everyday. I went back two years ago and when we had to come back, I didn't feel like coming home. I still talk to my friends in Karachi. I call them and sometimes I e-mail them, but mainly I just chat with them on the phone. With the time difference, it's hard, though; they're very far away. I don't know when I'll see them again. I'm waiting to get an American passport; then I can go back when I want.

"I went to an English-medium school in Karachi. It was also boys-and-girls, but it's pretty different from the school here. I like the school, but I think it's a lot easier here than in Pakistan. The work was much more in my school in Karachi; the subjects were much tougher. The only thing here is the MCAS [state high school graduation test]. It's hard! You have to take English and math, and if you fail, you can take it four or five times, I think. But if you don't pass it in the eleventh grade, you cannot go to the twelfth. I hope I pass it next time. I did okay on math, but I failed in English the first time. The teachers are good, though; they think I'll pass when my English gets better. They say that I might even be put in "standard" [curriculum] next year and I won't have to be in the bilingual program. Let's see.

"There are no Indians or Pakistanis in my class. There's just one kid-he's from Afghanistan. I'm friends with him, and I also know a lot of people in the school now. So after the first year it was much better. Kids in the school mostly hang out with people from their own country. Yes, it's true that all the Indian and Pakistani kids sit on one table in the cafeteria. They don't speak English so well, so they like to talk to each other in Urdu, or Gujarati or whatever.

"After September 11, no one said anything to me in the school. No, not even in Wellford. The teachers were telling us we should be careful, because of what was happening to Muslims, but I didn't really follow that. What will happen will happen; I'm not afraid of that. My mother and sisters didn't go out for a few days, but that was it. What do I think about what happened on September 11? I think it was crazy. I was very shocked when I heard about it. What do I think about the U.S. attacking Afghanistan? I can't talk about that. But I think that's what the people wanted the government to do, 'cos they were scared that there might be another attack. I don't know how I feel about that. It's kinda hard ... I think they're both right: the people of Afghanistan who don't want to be attacked, and the people here that's scared. One of my friends was against the war, he's American-yes, white. I think plenty of people just don't care about the war. But I don't really talk to other people about this. It's just something you don't want to talk about it. That's what my father says too.

"My father drives a cab in Wellford, for City Cab. He doesn't have his own hack license; he gets it from the garage in Wellford. I don't see him much in the evenings, because he's working. I don't know if anything happened to him after September 11. He didn't say anything to us, but I know he stuck a big American flag on the cab. His friend, who's Sikh, took off his turban and shaved his beard. My father told him not to do it, but some men who took his cab shouted at him about trying to kill Osama's brother, so he was scared. We felt bad for him about that. There are many Punjabi cab drivers, also African, Haitian.

"I had a job last year at the mayor's office. After school, I used to work two hours every day, ten to twenty hours a week. I was dealing with papers, typing, that kind of thing. Before that, I was working in the police station in Prospect Square. I got the job because of Maria, in the internship office; you know her, right? It wasn't anything exciting, just doing paperwork. Yes, maybe I was working there if you came to the police station in the summer, but I was in the back. You can apply to the internship if you are a bilingual student; you just have to speak two languages. There's a lot of people who speak Spanish-Spanish people, Portuguese, Indians, in the program. I am trying to get another job right now-I would like a computer job. I was not interested in computers in Karachi, but I got into it here and I like it a lot. I am going to take a web design class this year, so let's see. I would like to do computer programming after I finish high school. My parents want me to do that too. I may go to a community college first, then try to get into another college for four years. My big sister got into the University of Massachusetts. She is studying biology, I think. She got in right away-she's very smart!

"I go out sometimes with my friends, now that I'm not working. We go to the mall, sometimes we watch movies at my house. I like action movies, Hindi movies; I like the Hindi film music too. I get the music from the web. You don't know how to download music? I'll show you; it's easy! I used to play basketball, but I haven't played for, like, three or four months. I just don't like it anymore, and now I'm playing cricket. I go to Revere with the other Pakistani boys; we've been playing for three or four months. Yes, I saw the movie Lagaan. It's good how they showed the Indians playing cricket against the English. I don't know why it didn't get the prize for foreign movies; I think that they probably didn't want that here. There's a lot of good movies out now; I like Devdas. It has good music. My parents like the old movies because they like the older singers. Sometimes I watch those with them too, when my father has a few hours off."


"I came to the U.S. on January 17, 1999. I remember the date, because it was the first time I saw snow. It was very cold when we first came to Wellford. My father had been here for twelve or thirteen years; he was in New York for a few months, then he came to Wellford. He liked it here because it is not so crowded, and he thought the schools are better for us. My uncle has been here in Wellford since I was a little girl. He went to New York first too. He drove a taxi there for a few years, then he moved here. He works at the Taj Mahal restaurant. My father works at the Passage to India restaurant. He's been there a while, so now he's the manager. I hope you can visit the restaurant sometime and he can give you a taste of the food-will you come? My mother works in a Store 24 close to Prospect Square.

"We're from Bangladesh-from Sylhet, a city there. My grandparents' house is in a village nearby. There are many people from Sylhet in America, in New York and also here. Shamita, the girl who just joined the school, her family is also from Sylhet [which became part of Bangladesh after the war with (West) Pakistan in 1971] but she lived in India. She's Hindu; her family is in India and also in Bangladesh. [Bengal was partitioned between predominantly Hindu India and predominantly Muslim East Pakistan in 1947.] I can speak Bengali to her, which is really nice. When I came here, it was the first time that I met people from India and Pakistan. I had never met them before. My best friend is from India: Samira. She speaks Gujarati, but her culture is not that different from mine. She comes to my house sometime. She likes the food my mother makes!

"I have four sisters and three brothers. My brothers are all older than me, and I have one older sister, so I am kind of in the middle. I came here with all of them, except my oldest sister who was over twenty-one. She couldn't get the papers to come with us, so I don't know if she'll be able to come here. Yes, America is pretty much what I expected it to be like. We saw it on the news, and read about it in the newspapers when we were in Bangladesh. My father also told me what New York and Wellford are like, and he said it's good to study here. One thing is that in my country, I didn't have to work, but here I do. It's not really hard, and my family doesn't really care if I work or not. But I always give my check to my parents. I think work gives me some experience, and I meet different people. If I go to college, my brother is going to help me pay for it. He works in a hotel in the city, and the older one used to work there too but he kinda got laid off after September 11.

"I used to work in a dental clinic last summer; I was there thirty-five hours a week. They knew my father at the clinic, and I liked the job-I got to do different things. I had to help the doctor do the suction thing, clean up after the patient leaves, answer the phone, and play with the dog. Yes, if you want to work there, you have to love the dog! Now that I'm in my senior year, I have a lot of work so I may try to get a job in the school office, like my younger sister who works in the library. After I graduate from high school, I'm not sure what I want to do. I used to say that I want to work in a bank, but when I started working in the school bank downstairs, I read the rules and became afraid of all the risk. But I think I still want to work in a bank, maybe. I'm not sure what kind of job my parents want me to have; they wouldn't force me to do anything. My father went to college, and when he was in Sylhet he used to teach my aunties at home because he really wanted women to have an education. My mother told me that my father also taught her. She finished tenth standard, but my father wanted her to go to college. She never went, even though my mother's mother was a teacher. So women in Bangladesh are not like what people here think.

"After 9/11, I felt very, very sad about what happened. The last time I went to New York was just two months before it happened, and I went to the World Trade Center with my family. I was also sad about the war in Afghanistan because they were killing poor people who did not have anything to do with 9/11. My friends in school also felt the same thing about 9/11. I was scared for the first week after 9/11, because I was wearing my salwar kameez and people always looked at me funny, even before 9/11 happened. Then one day, some students were talking in class about why Muslims hate the U.S. and Ms. Scott said that just because a few Muslims did the attacks, it doesn't mean all of them think that way. If some African Americans did something, you wouldn't bomb all African Americans, would you? We talked about it a lot in Mrs. Scott's class and I told them that not all Muslims are fundamentalist or hate women or whatever.

"I think of myself as Bangladeshi. After 9/11, I don't really go around telling people I am Muslim, but if people ask me what religion I am, I say I'm Muslim. Because I really want to see what their reaction will be. Most of the people just say, 'Okay, okay'; they don't say anything about it. Some people are ignorant: they don't know a lot about Muslims or about Afghanistan or Iraq. I didn't know much about it myself but ever since 9/11, I started watching the news and now I have so much stuff in my head, I don't know.... I mean, America thought that bin Laden was hiding in Afghanistan, so they attacked them but I don't understand why they were sending him arms and food before. And now what's happening with Saddam-it's just hitting my head. Basically, the first question I have is that a group of people did a wrong thing on September 11, and they are terrorists because they attacked the country. So how does America go after a country? How does a group of people destroying something in America lead America to have a war with a whole country? Because the terrorists who killed all those people on 9/11, they were from Saudi Arabia, but I heard in the news that Saudi Arabia has the most oil. So Americans may hate Saudi Arabians, but they still have to keep in touch with them because of oil. And so one guy on the news said that Iraq has the second-most oil so if America takes over, they don't have to worry.

"But my friend also said that Saddam tried to kill Bush's father, and I was just like, if somebody tried to kill my father, personally I would try to kill them too! But then my friend said, Bush is the president and he is putting his own personal problems before that of the whole country; the whole country depends on him and he is putting them in danger. So I think Bush got a little carried away and brought other excuses about going to war with Iraq. I don't know why Saddam tried to kill Bush's father, but I was watching MSNBC and Hardball and what's his name, Donohue? And they were saying that Saddam was friends with America before and they used him to fight Iran, and Iran hates America. But after that, Saddam wanted to lead his own country because he loved it, but I guess somehow Bush wanted a part of it too. Well, this is what I'm guessing. I heard that Saddam let America search his house, search through his stuff, but America still started the war. I don't talk about politics with many people, but if the subject comes up, I can't stop talking. I was never interested in politics before, but my history teacher is really good and he can teach very well. It's fun, because he gets me into it. Like, why does America have soldiers all over the world? And why don't wars happen in America, but they happen all over the world? Because nobody wants to fight America; that's what I think.

"I'm already a U.S. citizen and so is my father, so I'm not so worried about him. I became a citizen when I was sixteen years old, and my sisters are all citizens too but not my brothers, because they are over eighteen so they have to wait. My mother was also sponsored by my father, but she failed her English test the first time. For me, citizenship is not that different from having a green card, but I heard it's better if you want to go to college, because you get financial aid. But the laws keep changing so I hope I can stay here. The reason people came here is because of the laws and the rights they get, and they like the way they live. But things are changing, and the laws are changing. If the rights are gone, then what's the point of living here?"


Excerpted from Missing by Sunaina Marr Maira Copyright © 2009 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction South Asian Muslim Youth in the United States after 9/11 1

1 Imperial Feelings: U.S. Empire and the War on Terror 37

2 Cultural Citizenship 76

3 Transnational Citizenship: Flexibility and Control 95

4 Economies of Citizenship: Work, Play, and Polyculturalism 128

5 Dissenting Citizenship: Orientalisms, Feminisms, and Dissenting Feelings 190

6 Missing: Fear, Complicity, and Solidarity 258

Appendix A Note on Methods 291

Notes 293

Bibliography 305

Index 329

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