The Registration of Religious Identity
Parallels between the United States' (Proposed) Muslim Registry and Apartheid South Africa's Population Registration Act
This article explores aspects of the disciplinary documentation of religious, and by extension, racial identity within the context of post-9/11 United States. Using Donald Trump’s proposal for a Muslim registry as both a framing device and a point of departure, this article provides a comparative documentary analysis illuminating the chilling parallels between the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) program in the United States and the Population Registration Act (PRA) of Apartheid South Africa. In both cases, documentation was used to control and discipline individuals according to particular aspects or features of their identity. In post-9/11 United States, the particular aspects or features of an individual’s identity of concern are their Islamic religious identity; meanwhile, in Apartheid South Africa, the aspects or features of identity that were of paramount significance were one’s race and ethnicity.
This article helps provide some conceptual tools for scholars interested in the classification, registration, and documentation of diverse kinds of identities. It presents a documentary analysis of the racial registration strategies of Apartheid South Africa to help historicize and problematize the United States’ previous and proposed religious registry programs. Its aim is to draw lessons from South Africa’s painful past to provide an urgent warning of the oppressive implications of identity registrations like the NSEERS program and the worrying possibility of another misguided and counterproductive Muslim registry.
Pre-print first published online 03/03/2019
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