This dissertation examines the changes in political, civic, and social behavior among American Muslims following the attacks in New York City and Washington DC on September 11, 2001. In particular, the dissertation examines the evolution of Muslim self-image in light of the perception of increased hostility and rejection from non-Muslim elements of the American public and even the American government. By examining the transformation of a community from an ethnically fragmented and politically divided collective into an increasingly coherent political and civic actor, this dissertation both examines the interconnection between the concepts of race and religion and how these concepts
can become fused when the distinctions fade or are never recognized by majority populations. The transformation of the importance and meaning of Muslim identity among those outside the group has lead to both social and political realignments within the Muslim community. By focusing on this transformation and the predictors that explain it, this dissertation tests hypotheses that link the perception of external threat to the way people process political information and allow it to shape their political behavior and belief systems.
This dissertation relies both on national survey samples of Muslim-Americans as well as interviews, participant observation, and localized surveys administered to Muslims throughout the state of Indiana to test the relationship between the perception of threat and the salience of ethnic and religious identity. This dissertation finds that the perception of people that fall outside the in-group play an important role in shaping the salience of a given identity, and that the needs of in-group authenticity and the need for out-group political alliances compete to shape the value systems of individuals who opt in to the identity group. At the same time, the perception of threat simultaneously increases the level of political engagement while discouraging other forms of civic and social contact with the broader community.