Issue 44: Identity and the State (9/25/2014)

This issue of SAMAR explores identity and the state . Considering two specific locales, Sri Lanka and the US, the pieces in this issue look at state repression and policing  of citizens, and the practice of identity and identification. Although narratives of social and political progress mark each site—a decades-long civil war ends in Sri Lanka and the U.S. opens to black political leadership in its highest office—minority communities are increasingly terrorized and patrolled via state-backing and strategic blind-eye.


Nimmi Gowrinathan and fathima Cader bring us close to the fire in Sri Lanka, where anti-Muslim state violence is becoming frequent.  Stateside, Priya Kandaswamy reports on Urban Shield, a weapons expo sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security and aimed at the militarization of local police forces. In her review of a web project documenting Sri Lankan elder’s stories,  Ahalya Satkunaratnam considers how their tales of everyday struggle complicate the state’s own narrative framing of conflict. Finally, the poetry of Deepa Panchang and Noor Hassan offers a perspective on South Asian American identity from the U.S. midwest and south.


Articles in this Issue

Nimmi Gowrinathan and Fathima Cader expose the intensity with which patriarchy upholds a religious nationalism that has Sri Lanka's women, and Muslim women in particular, cornered with little recourse. 

birds echo and a tentative sun
retreats to darkness, knowing
far away news about to flood
our transplant hearts.

days, it’s been rising

seeking the jagged cracks in
facades of cheery every-day.
SWAT teams lockdown
“please…not…a muslim…brown…”
one brown man after another flashed across the screen
we prayed
fearing marines neighborhood shellings on the screen
fearing our brothers pushed in front of a New York subway
fearing fear bursting into lives

Deepa Panchang

Ahalya Satkunaratnam reflects on how the stories of elders in the website, assist in complicating identity in Sri Lanka and how this site provides a discussion of national history and personal belonging that circumvents hostility that often accompanies web-based discussions of identity, the nation and the war.


On the morning of my sixth or seventh Eid,
My mother dressed me in white Pakistani robes,

Holding my hand gently
As we walked through the bright wooden gates
Of the Islamic Community Center by our house.
I had not yet learned how to pray.

But my mother taught me how to bow in sajda,
The devotion of pressing one’s forehead
To the ground to feel smaller than God
has made you,
to feel as grounded
as feet.

As I lifted my forehead
from the carpeted floor of the mosque,

Noor Hasan

If there is anything that Urban Shield and the racist history of policing in the U.S. teaches us, it is that the police and military are two faces of the same system of global repression and racism. 

Priya Kandaswamy