Book Reviews

Book Review – Black Star, Crescent Moon

BLACK STAR, CRESCENT MOON: The Muslim International and Black Freedom beyond America. By Sohail Daulatzai. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press. 2012.

Baulatzai coverBlack Star, Crescent Moon offers a provocative interrogation of the interlocking processes that have entangled and conjoined African American and Muslim communities in the U.S. from the 1960s to the 1990s through literature, film, sports, Hip-Hop culture, and the prison industrial complex.  In this transdisciplinary work containing five distinctly themed chapters, an introduction and epilogue, Sohail Daulatzai engages the meaning of Muslim identity and traces the political reach of Islam’s diaspora throughout the U.S. and beyond, forming what he calls the Muslim International. As he argues, the presence of Muslims and their perception as quintessentially both non- and anti-American at key points in U.S. political history intersects with the racialization and criminalization of African Americans, resulting in mutually reinforcing discourses and practices of marginalization.

Popular culture, especially in the forms of film and Hip-Hop, is one of the central sites of contestation defining Muslim identities. While the U.S. government, influential pundits, and conservative think tanks have conspired to stigmatize Muslims as perpetual suspects of terrorist activity, argues Daulatzai, through Hip-Hop culture and the resurgent interest in Malcolm X, African Americans and Muslims have formed a counter-public through an embrace of Islamic cosmology and tradition woven into song and verse.

The author offers original, critical readings of novels, films, music, and shifting political geographies since the Cold War in revealing the machinery that has relegated black and Muslim identities to the margins while simultaneously claiming multicultural inclusiveness. Only by appealing for inclusion under the cloak of what Daulatzai calls “Imperial Multiculturalism,” can these groups claim citizenship.

According to Daulatzai, the War on Drugs and War on Terror have locked African Americans and Muslims in a politics of non-inclusiveness. The New Right’s post-Cold War logic has marshaled the exclusionary politics employed during the Cold War. In this instance, anti-Muslim rhetoric has replaced anticommunist hysteria. Daulatzai argues persuasively that the sharp edge of this campaign consists of reimagining Americanness and democracy as naturally aligned with nativist discourses of whiteness.  Such logic, still in operation today, reads that to be black is to be deviant and to be Muslim is to be a terrorist threat, and to be black and Muslim is to be branded un-American.

Black Star, Crescent Moon finds affinity with numerous recent studies that investigate the politics and stakes of global solidarity since the 1960s. Students, scholars, and activists interested in black radical traditions that linked Islam with social justice and the legacy of Third World alliances across race, class and regional lines will be especially drawn to this work. However, the study would have benefitted from an engagement with the politics of gender and radical feminist constructions of the Muslim International. This gap notwithstanding, Daulatzai’s argument concerning the wholesale framing of Muslims and African Americans as noncitizens and criminals is as urgent as it is compelling.

Christopher M. Tinson, Hampshire College

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