Banned: Racialization of the Middle East and its Diasporas in U.S. Culture

Banned: Racialization of the Middle East and its Diasporas in U.S. Culture


PROFESSOR KALICK:
In particular, we hope that this event will allow
the Brown community to dig deeper into the problematics
of new policies, such as the immigration ban, in
order to advance understanding of the dangers of the
conflation and visual marking that brown
bodies undergo. I’ve been asked to make just
a couple of brief remarks to sort of maybe frame the
conversation, which doing it before the event and
not in consultation with the speakers is,
kind of, a gamble, but I’m going to do it anyway. I think about this
issue in relation to a course I’m teaching this
semester on radical Islam and more generally in
relation to the courses I teach on contemporary
Islam, one of which is a course on Islam in America. And I’ve been
thinking a lot lately about reframing the phenomenon
of Islamophobia, which we’ve all probably heard of by
now, as anti-Muslim racism or even more broadly as
anti-Middle Eastern racism to more accurately reflect
the intersection of race and religion as a phenomenon
relevant to structural inequality, legal disability,
and violence, all of which are rooted in the long
history of the United States and European
empire building. Understanding the
racialization of religion at large and the
commandant proliferation of deeply racialized
sentiments in public and in the political
sphere helps us see how anti-Middle Eastern
racism is not a new problem. But it’s connected to
historical forms of dominance from white supremacy
to settler colonialism to policies of mass surveillance
to the military misadventures in– of the United States
and its allies and to neo-imperialism
just to name a few things that Middle Eastern
racism is connected to. Because of where we
are we tend to think of anti-Middle East racism
as having a primary site of function in the US. At the same time,
it’s difficult not to imagine that American
policy over the last 70 years or so is connected
to orientalist racism as a global problem. In both cases, national or
international, anti-Middle East racism potentially
overlaps and intersects with, while not
being identical to, the exclusion of other
marginalized groups. By reframing Islamophobia
as anti-Middle East racism and by extension by exploring
the commandant racialization of religion, we can challenge–
we can challenge the idea that the problem is
one of individual bias and that simply knowing more
about Islam or the region will necessarily lead to
a decrease in this racism. Instead it suggests that
learning more about how structures of violence,
inequality, and war have produced racism
and discrimination will, in turn, help
us in assessing the wide ranging impact
of those structures and policies on the
communities that they affect. So I’m going to leave it to
the conference organizers to introduce our
distinguished guests. And just thank you
for your attention and for your attendance. Sorry an oversight. I failed to mention the
co-sponsor of this event, AND I want to thank
on behalf of CSREA the departments of History
and Religious Studies, the Middle East Studies
Program, the Department of American Studies, the Cogut
Institute for the Humanities, and the Pembroke Center for
Teaching and Research on Women. Without their co-sponsorship,
events like this would not be possible. Thank you. SPEAKER 1: Thank you so
much, Professor Kalek, and thank you once
again to the CSREA for helping us
organize this event. We would like to
reiterate our thanks to the various co-sponsors
that Professor Kalick mentioned for their crucial
financial support that was necessary to
bring this together. We are extremely excited to
introduce the scholars that will be producing–
that excuse me, participating in this event. SPEAKER 2: Evelyn Alsultany is
the Arthur F Thurnau professor and associate professor in the
Department of American Culture and the Director of Arab
and Muslim American Studies at the University of
Michigan, Ann Arbor. She is a leading expert
on the representations of Arabs and Muslims
in the US media and on forms of anti-Arab
and anti-Muslim racism. She is also the author of
Arabs and Muslims in the Media, Race and Representation
After 9/11. Alongside her
research projects, she leads the Islamophobia
working group on her campus, a
group of faculty, staff, and students who
work together and advise the administration on how to
create a more inclusive campus environment for students
impacted by Islamophobia. SPEAKER 3: Melanie McAllister
is associate professor of American Studies
and International Affairs at the George
Washington University. She also received her PhD
in American civilization from Brown University, and we’re
excited to welcome her back. In her writing and
teaching, she focuses on the intersections between
cultural and political history and on the role of
religion and culture in shaping US relations with
other parts of the world. She’s the author of epic
encounters, culture media, and US interests in the
Middle East since 1945 and co-editor of
Religion and Politics in the Contemporary
United States. SPEAKER 1: She is also author of a
forthcoming book The Kingdom of God Has No Borders,
a global history of American evangelicals. Her new book examines
how evangelical Americans have understood their own
international interests focusing in particular
on the Middle East and Africa in
response to changing political circumstances in those
regions from the 1960s onward. SPEAKER 1: Our moderator
for this conversation is Bob Lee, an associate
professor of American Studies here at Brown and a fellow at
the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities. Bob studies Asian America– Asian-American and Trans
Pacific history and is the author of
Orientals, Asian-Americans, and the Popular Discourse
of Race in America. Alongside his
scholarly work, he has been active in developing
American studies in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Please join us in
welcoming professors Alsultany, McAllister, and Lee. [APPLAUSE] BOB LEE: So I have– thank you for that very– those
very generous introductions. I’d like to start– I want to– we had– we had hoped to have this
more of a conversation than kind of traditional
presentation. So I want to start
with a few questions, and then open obviously
to our panelists, but also hope that
you as an audience also participate with your
own questions and insights. So I want to start
with, kind of, how you came to write
the books that you have. What inspired you? And what, kind of– how did these ideas come about? EVELYN ALSULTANY: I think
that you should go first. MELANI MCALLISTER:
Yes, thank you. And it’s great to
be here really. And I’m so glad to
get to go first, because the first
thing I get to say is to Bob, actually,
this is all your fault. So Bob was one of the
directors of my dissertation, but even before that when I
first came to graduate school and some time ago, it was
a very post-modern moment, and I actually came
to graduate school with the intent to write about
post-modern performance art. And I had been a political
organizer around the Middle East for three or four years
before I started grad school, and I was done– done with that. And then we were
going to a conference on the way in California,
and we had a long car ride. And Bob’s, kind of, like what’s
your dissertation going to be? And I’m like, it’s going to be
about women who smear chocolate over their bodies,
naked in a performance, and he’s like I think maybe you
should write about the Middle East since you did
that political work. I’m like, no, I’m definitely not
writing about the Middle East. I am– that’s the one thing
I’m not writing about. And so six hours later, I had– BOB LEE: It was
a closed highway. MELANI MCALLISTER: It
was a long highway. –I had a different
dissertation topic. So I was convinced by our
conversation that it was– there was something to be
said about the relationship between culture and
foreign policy that was not as common then as it
is now to think about, and certainly as a political
organizer, I had known that. And it was clear that when
you’re dealing with people– it actually comes
to what you were saying when you’re
dealing with people and you try to just
prevent– present them with new information
as if that will do it, more facts will help
change people’s minds. You begin to realize
there’s a lot more going on in terms of frameworks
and effective investments than information can
always challenge. And so I got interested
in those questions, and that’s really
important to me. I’m very interested
in US foreign policy. I mean, my political work
was around US foreign policy. But I had this sense that we
needed to be addressing things at a different level, to
be thinking about effect and frameworks in some, kind
of, the things that happen behind your back kind of way. And so that was what led
me to write the book. I will say that sometimes
this stuff is just in the air, because while I was writing
that dissertation at Yale, Tina Klein was writing her
dissertation, which finished– she finished the same
year about images of Asia and popular culture and US
foreign policy vis-a-vis Asia, so it was kind of a
moment when I think people were ready
to begin having a certain kind of
conversation about culture and foreign policy
that up to that point I really think had been
much more common in thinking about European empire
and almost very uncommon in thinking about US empire. And I will say just– I’ll come back to
this later I hope– but after writing
Epic Encounters, I got interested in thinking
about the role of religion and I talk about religion
in that book sum. I try to look at how
Americans imagined the Middle East from a range of
different perspectives, including both dominant and
non-dominant discourses. And I was interested
in Christian Zionism and in the Nation of Islam. But I wasn’t as
interested in what I think of in highly
technical terms as the religioniness
of religion, as I became interested in later. And so now with the
book I just finished The Kingdom of God
Has No Borders, it’s really a history of how
American evangelicals have engaged their ideas
about the world, focusing mostly but not entirely
on the Middle East and Africa and trying to think about
the ways in which their sense of religious practice, their
sense of religious identity gets constructed through these
global kind of frameworks. And so I look at, for
example, in that book a lot at the discourse about
the persecution of Christians, the global persecution
of Christians, and the ways in which
that gets taken up in evangelical culture. Not just as– very much as a
way or a part of a, kind of, anti-Muslim discourse. Muslims are presented as
the primary persecutors of Christians, and therefore,
that plays a central role. But also a way of
American evangelicals imagining themselves and seeing
themselves as in solidarity with evangelicals in
other parts of the world. So it’s also bizarrely,
yet completely, an anti-racist discourse
at the same time. Like, we are part of
a global community, and we care a lot
about what’s happening to Africans and people in the
Middle East and elsewhere. So I got interested
in some of the ways that these
representations play out at, kind of, multiple levels
for religious identity in that second– in that second book. BOB LEE: Yeah, and
Evelyn, your work focuses more on Arab and Muslim
representations in the post 9/11 moment and particularly
around visuality and so forth. So perhaps you can comment on– EVELYN ALSULTANY: Yes. BOB LEE: — on where
you are working on it. EVELYN ALSULTANY:
So before I start, I just want to thank Nancy
and Bob for participating in our visit, and Ida, Maggie,
and Elizabeth for inviting us and Caitlin, Stephanie,
Christina for organizing everything for us. And I also want to mention that
when I graduated from the PhD program, it was around 2005,
I had read Epic Encounters by Melanie McAllister. And I saw her in the bathroom
of the American Studies Association Conference. And I freaked out and I said,
oh my God, I love your book. If my book could be
anything like your book. I just wish my book could be
something like your book one day. And I was very fortunate
that she was my reader at my anonymous
reader at NYU press when my book went
into publication, and that I had her feedback. She came to Michigan to give
me comments on my manuscript, and now we’re here together. So it’s a wonderful thing. So in terms of what
inspired my book project was watching
television after 9/11. And I was surprised
by a number of things. I was surprised that
there was an increase in sympathetic or quote,
unquote positive representations of Arabs and Muslims after 9/11. That’s not to say that the
terrorist image is reduced, but rather that alongside
the terroristic images there are some positive
images being inserted in many different ways. So President Bush at
the time, for example, would often make
statements to remember that our many Arab and
Muslim friends and neighbors that they’re not– that
they’re not all bad. Or on TV dramas, a
trend emerged where if there was a TV drama
with a terroristic theme, it seemed like writers
and producers were trying to insert a positive character,
usually a patriotic Arab or Muslim American
or a victimized Arab or Muslim American that
would tear your heartstrings to defuse a stereotype. So I was noticing a trend
across many different kinds of media and
discourses where there was a sympathetic portrayal
of Arabs and Muslims, and I was surprised
for many, many reasons. One reason is a
very long history of representations
of Arabs and Muslims in very stereotypical
and negative ways. And I brought a clip that I’ll
show later on to illustrate that, but I was also
surprised because it’s common, historically, to demonize the
enemy during times of war. So I started to wonder why now? Why after 9/11 where I would
expect more demonization– and there was– why would
there also be this– these positive
representations popping up? And so I was really started
to look at this paradox where on the one hand, we
were starting a war on terror, going to war in Afghanistan,
going to war in Iraq, passing a USA Patriot Act,
opening Guantanamo Bay Prison, Arab Muslim
men being detained and deported in large numbers. So this is happening
on the one hand, and on the other hand television
is telling us the story that we’re a very tolerant
and diverse society. And I started hearing people
in forums like this say, but we’re at a new
place after 9/11. We don’t do what we
used to do anymore. We’re not going to do to
Arabs and Muslims what we did to Japanese-Americans. And I noticed that people
felt comforted by this. I felt comforted
watching these images, but I started to wonder
what are they doing? So my argument in
the book is that these positive
representations were operating not intentionally. It’s not as if writers
and producers are plotting or conspiring in some way, but
that the images were working to create a form of post
race, racism where it’s a form of racism that
appears like we’re at this new moment that’s very
diverse and multicultural, while all of these
oppressive policies are still being enacted. But it feels better, because
we’re not doing to them what we’re doing
to other people, but that actually is in fact
what is still happening. So the one concept
that I develop in the book, which academics
love to create concepts and I’m not sure if
this one will stick, but I really wanted to
create a term that captured the phenomenon that
I was watching, which is terrorist storyline
insert positive representation. You see we don’t
stereotype all of them and this being repeated over
and over again in the news, in TV dramas, and in other
kinds of popular culture. So the term I came
up with is simplified complex representations,
and that basically refers to story lines
and TV dramas that appear really complex. They’re really
interesting characters and really interesting story
lines in all of these twists. But if you watch a lot of them
as I did to write this book, you get to really identify a
few ways, a few tropes that are repeated over and
over and over again. So it becomes very simplistic. And I become the kind
of person that you don’t want to watch
television with, because I’m going to tell you in
advance what’s going to happen. I’m going to say the white guy’s
going to be the terrorists. I bet you anything
it’s going to be him. And that’s usually what happens. So that’s my book in a nutshell BOB LEE: I think it’s worthwhile
to go back to a distinction that Nancy made and why we
might want to use Islamophobia instead of anti-Muslim racism,
the distinction between those two categories and what do– how we ought to be thinking
about those categories of analysis. MELANI MCALLISTER: You
didn’t show your clip. EVELYN ALSULTANY: No. MELANI MCALLISTER: Would
you like to show that clip? EVELYN ALSULTANY: I would. OK, let her show her clip,
and then I have a clip. So that’s why I want her– BOB LEE: OK. MELANI MCALLISTER: OK. EVELYN ALSULTANY: OK. So I brought– I’m going to play 2 and
1/2 minutes of a video made by Jackie Saloon who’s a
Palestinian American filmmaker. It’s actually a
nine minute video, but we’ll watch just
the very beginning. And she actually did it when
she was in graduate school, and since then she’s
produced other movies. But she read a book
written by Jack Shaheen who passed away over the summer. She was inspired by
his work, and so she created basically
a montage of clips from Hollywood
movies and television to show up, show us,
hold up a mirror these are the kinds of images that
we’ve been consuming of Arabs and Muslims in the media. So I’m going to show 2 and
1/2 minutes just to give us a sense, and then I’m
going to ask all of you according to this film, how
have Arabs and Muslims been portrayed? What are they like? OK. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [MUSIC PLAYING] – [INAUDIBLE] does it say
what God’s command is? – Do good Americans. – So that will [INAUDIBLE]. It’s a white house. One day I will go there, I will
drive a truck, and [INAUDIBLE].. – You have killed our
women and our children and our cities from
afar like cowards and you dare to
call us terrorists. [MUSIC PLAYING] – Are you Amanda
White’s boyfriend? – Husband. Yeah, I was. – 10: You didn’t hear? She was in Paris showing
a fall collection. She got hit by a
[INAUDIBLE] terrorist cross fire Palestinians,
French Police. – Oh my God. They found me. I don’t know how they found. Run for it, Marty. – Who? Who? – Who do you think? They’re Indians. – Holy Shit. [MUSIC PLAYING] – Attacking. Nobody move. Attacking. Nobody move. – There’s no
borders, no customs. They can go anywhere in the US. There’s nothing to stop them. – [INAUDIBLE] – Do you understand
what I’m saying? [INAUDIBLE] – Before we start
drilling, where she would park the camels? [END PLAYBACK] EVELYN ALSULTANY: All right,
I’m going to stop it there. So how would you describe Arabs
and Muslims in those images? What are they like? AUDIENCE: Sinister. EVELYN ALSULTANY: Sinister. What else? AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]
as terrorists. [INAUDIBLE] EVELYN ALSULTANY: That
they’re terrorists, and they’re threatening. Anything else? Yes? AUDIENCE: And more
often than not they gave them more like
traditional clothing. EVELYN ALSULTANY: Yes, so
they’re– they have different kinds of non-western
clothing usually. So we have there– yes? BOB LEE: There’s this box. That orange box up in the air. So that’s a speak–
that’s a mic I guess. So if [INAUDIBLE] as you
ask your questions or make a comment could you– EVELYN ALSULTANY:
Yeah, sorry about that. BOB LEE: –you can
throw the mic around. That’s what I’m told. Don’t throw it too hard. So just speak into the
little black circle. AUDIENCE: Should I
repeat my question? BOB LEE: What? AUDIENCE: Should I
just repeat my answer. BOB LEE: Yeah, OK. AUDIENCE: Yeah, they
were like depicting more like non-western,
like, non-western, like more what we would consider
like traditional clothing. EVELYN ALSULTANY: Thank you. So non-western. Did anyone else want
to add something? So, Nancy? AUDIENCE: They’re
also really dumb. They’re not
particularly smart even though they’re really scary. EVELYN ALSULTANY: Yeah,
so they lack intelligence. They’re scary. They’re threatening. They hate America. In other parts of the
video, they hate Jews. So they’re very
threatening people. And so Jack Shaheen wrote
this book, Real Bad Arabs, How Hollywood Vilifies A
People, and in the book he reviews almost 1,000 movies
produced since the early days of Hollywood in the late 1800s. And he shows that Arabs
and Muslims historically have been portrayed
as haram girls, belly dancers in the early days, and
then increasingly as terrorists and threats to the
United States, which actually Melanie’s
book outlines as well. And in Jack Shaheen’s
book he says that out of the over 900 movies
that he watched– and he did watch all of them. I asked him– that he
classifies 12 as positive. And he said 50 or even handed. But that 900, he would
characterize as negative. So one of the questions that
I know the grad students who invited us wanted to think
through is why the visual? Why are we– why are we
talking about visual images? And part of that
reason is that if we’re thinking about something
like the recent quote, unquote Muslim
ban, it’s not just because President
Trump believes that it will make the nation safer. But it’s influenced by so many
other factors, one of which is a history of meaning making
about Arabs and Muslims, which I think this clip
really portrays. So it’s not as if this is
9/11 happened, and then all of a sudden people
developed an opinion, but rather that there is
a very long history that has led to what people
assume and believe Arabs and Muslims are. And along those
lines, I should say that since I am very much
influenced by Melanie’s work that one of the things that– I teach her book in
one of my classes– and I try to explain to students
when we’re looking at movies and criticizing them that
it’s not about one movie. It’s not about one policy. It’s one TV show. But rather as her
book shows, it’s about how all of these
various cultural products come together and
produce meaning. So It’s not about that
one movie or that one TV show that was stereotypical,
but rather how it’s producing meaning alongside
all these other sites that are producing meaning. And so that’s one of the reasons
that I think visual culture is particularly important. MELANIE MCALISTER: Can I just
say something about that. I agree with that, and I also
think that one of the reasons that I find thinking
about visual culture– but really not just
visual culture. I’m particularly
interested in things that are visual, narrative, and
have music often like TV shows and films and even TV news– that it– those kinds
of things operate on us at very many different levels. And I think thinking through
media in that way helps us get rid of what I
think of– what I– in the quiet corners
of my life, I think of the historian problem,
which some of my best friends are historians and all. But historians often look
for the declamatory moment in a movie or a TV show. Like, when does
somebody stand up and say I hate Muslims, because
in my childhood something bad happened. Or I hate Muslims, because– or some moment to sort of
read for the truth of what the show is really saying. But I think one of the
things that Evelyn’s work shows what this notion
of simplified complex representations and
also just in terms of reading that we have to
read for how films give us and affect. How they give us–
or television shows– how they give us a set of
complex intersecting meanings that cannot be read simply off
characters statements about their politics, because
sometimes characters have statements that are not the
politics of the film overall or itself. And also, because
sometimes what’s going on and what we’re invited to
feel is not said so directly. So one of the things I think
is important about the kind of media studies approach
is that it forces us to look at things
as having kind of multiple spheres of meaning
and intersecting meaning. And so one of the things
in my book that I– where I think this is kind of
clearing and easy to explain is like in Epic Encounters I
talk about biblical epic movies as having a politics about
post-col– or anti-colonialism and post-colonialism. And one of the ways I
think those films work is by the use of
color, how they show what the nationalist spaces
that we’re supposed to be allied with and what are
the imperial spaces we’re supposed to be opposed to. And those spaces are it’s
shockingly across a huge genre, a number of films
are differentiated by lighting and color. And so nobody ever
says you should like these people,
because they’re shot in warm, sunny colors,
and browns and Reds. And you should not
like these people, because they’re shot in harsh
light and white and stark blue. But it’s clear from the
movie how the movie works, so– how all of
these movies work. So that’s one of the
reasons I think it’s– that media studies has
something specific to offer about thinking about
representation that you don’t just get from the news or– but we didn’t get to
the Islamophobia one. EVELYN ALSULTANY: Yeah. MELANI MCALISTER: So do we want
to– do you want to– can we– EVELYN ALSULTANY: Yeah,
let’s back to that. MELANI MCALISTER: OK EVELYN ALSULTANY: OK. MELANI MCALISTER: Do
you want to do that? EVELYN ALSULTANY: Sure. MELANI MCALISTER: OK. EVELYN ALSULTANY: So I teach
a course on Islamophobia, and in the course,
we read this report that was written in 1997 by
the Runnymede Trust, which is an organization
in England that wrote a report
about Islamophobia and basically coined
the term in a way that it’s being used today. And their report has
been heavily criticized. They meant very well,
but it’s been criticized because they created model
where you are not Islamophobic if you have open views. And you are Islamophobic
if you have closed views. So it’s very much
focused on the individual and whether the individual
is open to Muslims or closed to Muslims. So a lot of people
responded and said, it’s not just about
the individual. This phenomenon is
much more complicated and we have to look at systems
and institutions and policies and so on. So there is a debate within the
larger field around which term to use. Melanie and I were
chatting about it earlier, and we both are coming
at it differently. So I think it will be
interesting to think about these multiple dimensions. But when I think about
Islamophobia as the term that we’re using, I think about
the history of representations and how that’s influencing,
for example, the Muslim ban. I think about ongoing
nativist movements that we see today
with this increase in explicit white supremacy. I think about policies
past and present, whether it’s the Patriot Act
or the current Muslim ban. I think about how
there is a real crisis in how we understand
terrorism in this country and how that is influencing
our understanding of Islam. Broadly speaking, I think about
a growing Islamophobia industry where people are
literally making a living creating quote,
unquote knowledge about Islam and feeding this racism. So the term Islamophobia
tends to focus on an individual
having a phobia, like, you’re scared of
bugs or you’re scared of being closed in an elevator. And then the idea
as Nancy said is that if you learn more about
Islam, you’ll get over it. Meanwhile, it’s a much more
complicated phenomenon. So I’m part of this
growing camp of people who want to say anti-Muslim
racism instead of Islamophobia. And many say why are
you using racism? We’re talking about religion. We’re not talking about race. This is a different
kind of phenomenon. So there’s a lot of
factors to parse through in trying to make
that kind of argument. So most people do think
about racism as related to one’s physical appearance. And I would say that in movies,
a look has been created. Most people say Muslims, you
can be of any background. You could be Chinese. You could be Arab. You could be South Asian. There’s a long history of
African-American Muslims in the United States who get
left out of conversations about Islamophobia. So racialization doesn’t
seem to make sense, because there isn’t one look. But Hollywood has
created a look. So there is an appearance that
people have in their mind when you say Muslim. It’s usually a brown
person, South Asian or Arab. And interestingly,
in a lot of these TV shows that I look
at the Muslim actor is not played by
an Arab or Muslim. It’s usually Arab and
Muslim are conflated, so no one knows a difference. | don’t know if it fits an Arab
character or a Muslim character on television. And then it’s often played
by a Latino character. South African, there’s a
South African character that gets a lot of roles. MELANI MCALISTER: Actor. EVELYN ALSULTANY: Actor. Yes. What did I say? MELANI MCALISTER: Character. EVELYN ALSULTANY:
Character, thank you. Actor, that gets a lot of roles. It’s rarely an Arab or
Muslim playing these roles. So one thing is there is a
look that has been produced, and the other is that there
are particular markers that have been linked with meaning. So whether it’s a
Muslim man in his beard and coofy or the
non-western clothing or a woman who wears the hijab. So there is something there
in terms of physical features and physical marking. But I would say that
racialization across the board isn’t only physical. That it starts with
physical, and then it gets– it goes in different directions. So if we’re thinking
about racialization of African-Americans
or Latinos as lazy or as any kind of
derogatory term, an ideology is created that
starts with the physical, but then it gets complicated and
is not always only about that. So I think the challenge
in using anti-Muslim racism is that like with other forms
of intersectionality matters, it’s not the same for everybody. I was telling Melanie
earlier that Michael Muhammad Knight recently came to
the University of Michigan to give a talk. He’s a white convert to Islam
who’s written a dozen books. And he was challenging this
idea of anti-Muslim racism. He said, I don’t agree
with it, because I’m a white Muslim convert, and
I don’t experience racism. Yes, I get profiled at airports,
but I have white privilege. So he was saying that as a white
male aware of his privilege, he doesn’t associate with
the term anti-Muslim racism. And so I thought that
was an interesting point, and so I was trying to
think about it further. And I think the larger point is
that intersectionality matters. So if you are a woman
wearing a hijab, it’s very different than
me as a Muslim woman who’s not recognizable as a Muslim. Or if you’re a recent
immigrant and you don’t speak the
English language, you don’t have
access to lawyers. It’s a different experience. It really depends on your
social location in terms of how you experience it. But I did bring one slide
that I wanted to show on the question of whiteness. So one of the
chapters in my book looks at John Walker Lindh who
is a white convert to Islam, and he’s now serving a
20 year prison sentence. And he was captured by
US forces in Afghanistan. He was fighting with al-Qaeda,
not against the United States, but against the
Northern Alliance. And I was looking at how
his path to terrorism was described by news media. And I would say that even though
he is a white man that he did go through a
racialization process. So– and you can see it
partly visually here. The story is
basically that he was born in Marin
County, California, a very liberal town. His parents let him
create his own curricula, so there’s this hidden agenda
about how liberal education is really bad, because it took
him off on a very bad path. He read Malcolm X’s novel
and his autobiography. It inspired him to
convert to Islam. So all these red
flags along the way. He ends up going to
Yemen to study Arabic. He then goes to Pakistan,
because he wants a more rigorous education. And then– sorry– there are all this
narrative about him sleeping on the
floor on rope beds, forgoing luxuries, embracing
an uncivilized lifestyle, sleeping next to a man who
he’s potentially in love with. So there’s all
this coded language around him not necessarily
being gay, but asexual, losing interest in girls,
perhaps loving a man, perhaps having a
homosexual relationship. It snuck in there that
his father is gay. So there’s this strange
querying of him along the way. And you see what basically– how he’s pictured
at the very end. His story is very different
from other stories that I also look at. Jose Padilla is a
Latino man who converted to Islam who had a very similar
outcome, and in his case the story’s very different. He didn’t start off
with a bright future that was ruined horribly
through his conversion to Islam. But rather Jose
Padilla is described as a Latino man who had
no future to begin with, and so obviously he’d be
attracted to a negative path. But this is when I started to
thinking about when Michael Muhammad Knight raised
the question of whiteness and how to think about it, and
I’d say yes it’s different. We have to think that
intersectionality. But it’s not as if something– it’s not as if this is
a neutral narrative. MELANI MCALISTER: So Evelyn
and I have decided we wanted to talk about this differently
to have as each talk about the question of thinking
about Islamophobia or anti– or anti-Muslim racism or what
a little bit differently. And that for me comes
from my own discomfort with the question of when we
talk about anti-Muslim racism, what does that not include? And by that, I
don’t mean so much the question of that there is a
racial diversity among Muslims in the US and, of course,
globally, although that’s definitely true, but about
an experience I have, which is in another
part of my life I go to a whole
bunch of workshops where people talk
about secularism. And religious studies
scholars, this is a big thing in religious
studies these days. And I go to a number of
different contexts in which people talk in quite detailed
ways about the politics of secularism in the
United States. in Europe, and ultimately in other
parts of the world as well. And that talks a lot
about the marginalization of Islam in very different
terms than we usually talk about it when we talk
about anti-Muslim racism. So I just wanted to lay out
what that conversation looks like and see if there’s ways
for us to think about how that we might have
these things together. Now first, I’ll
just mention in case you didn’t know that the
Pew Center for the Study of Religion does research
polling quite frequently about how people view Muslims
versus other religious groups. So again that question
of who they’re putting– they don’t do polls
as far as I know about how people view the Arabs
versus other racial groups. But the Center for
the Study of Religion does Muslims versus
other religious groups. And for a long time Muslims
were barely coming in as they were second
to bottom in terms of how people viewed
religious groups with atheists as the most– a group most– viewed
most hostilely. But in the last five
years, it’s reversed. And so now people view
Muslims more coolly than they do atheist. Although both are
viewed better than they were five years
ago or 10 years ago. So everybody has warmer
feelings towards both atheist and Muslims. Both of those are the two
bottom groups nonetheless compared to how you might–
how the population overall views evangelicals or catholics
or Jews or anybody else. So there’s a clear meter
that talks about the warming sentiment in certain ways
towards Muslims, which is very counter-intuitive, right. I think that’s something that
is both true and not true. Probably says as much about
polling as anything else. But I wanted to take seriously
in thinking about how people view Muslims, to take
seriously what I’m going to call anti-islamic discourse. I don’t think that’s ever going
to make it to the Time Magazine cover, but I’m very unhappy
with the term Islamophobia because not only for the
sophisticated reasons that Evelyn mentioned, but
also because it’s, kind of– I don’t believe it’s a phobia. I don’t believe
people are afraid. I think that’s not
the right word. But I also am
uncomfortable with thinking about anti-Muslim racism,
because I don’t think it takes fully account how
Islam and other non-protestant religions are marginalized
in the construction of modern secular states
or modern secularism. And this is something
that you’ve probably– I’ll talk about where i
get to that in a minute, but I’ll give you an example. So about five years ago– no seven years ago
now, Jerry Boykin who was the former US
Undersecurity of Defense for Intelligence in the George– George W Bush
administration was speaking on Sept– in September 2010 when
he is explaining why Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to build
a mosque in wherever they were trying to stop a mosque
from being built. It was a common phenomenon
back about five or six years ago to really organize
against people’s request to build mosque. And he explains that Muslims
don’t actually have– should not have protection
from the first– by the First Amendment
and he explains why. “we need to realize that
Islam itself is not simply a religion. It’s a totalitarian way of life. It’s a legal system,
the law of Sharia. It’s a financial system. It’s a moral code. It’s a political system. It’s a military system. Islam should not be protected by
the First Amendment, especially when one knows that those who
obey the dicta of the Koran are duty bound to destroy
our constitution an to play– and replace
it with Sharia law.” This statement that Islam
is not actually a religion and therefore not eligible for
First Amendment publication is something that people
say a shocking amount, and they say it almost
always in these terms by arguing the anti-Islamic
discourse industry. Says it by arguing that
Islam is not a religion, because it’s a way of life. It’s a total system. It has a statement
about government. So what is it that
allows somebody to say with a straight face
that the second largest religion in the world is not a religion? And I think it has to do with
what the anthropologist Talal Asad has talked about in
terms of the construction of the idea of secularism. And by– secularism aside
doesn’t mean non-religion. He means specifically
the ways in which modern states organize
what things are religion and what things are not. And it’s very important. All the US government
in its secular stateness always has to make
all sorts of decisions about what is a
religion in order to decide what it’s not
going to interfere with. So if the US– for example, in
California the courts had to decide if yoga could be
taught in the public schools or not. You can’t teach religion
in the public schools, so they have to decide
is yoga a religion. And this has to happen
over and over again. What is– who is eligible for
protection for free exercise. It has to do with whether
or not it’s a religion. So this is something
that Assad argues that the problem
happens, not that states have to make decisions. States have to make
decisions all the time. But the states consistently
in the US and Europe both consistently make
decisions about what is a religion based on
protestant criteria. And that is it’s a
religion if you really believe it in your heart. And that Assad argues quite
compellingly, I think, that this notion that religion
is a matter of what you believe in your heart is a peculiarly
protestant notion of what religion is. That’s it– that’s
how protestants under their religion, but– and the Supreme Court
understands it that way too. You’re eligible for protection
if you have honestly held belief. But that, in fact, that’s
not how all religions work. So while most religions
are matters of– almost every religion
has some matters that are more than just
individual conscience, some practices that are communal
and public that you need to participate in order to be in
good standing in the religion, go to church on Sunday or
to pray at night in bed. I guess that’s more private,
but to go to church on Sunday or to do certain kinds
of public activities. There are a number
of Religions for whom public activities, the
process of creating a community, of being
in public together is central to how
people understand their participation in that
religion or that community. So a group might occupy spaces
that they see as sacred. So for some Native
American traditions would do that, or perhaps
their daily practices occupy a shared sound scape as
with the Muslim call to prayer. Or a friend of
mine, [INAUDIBLE],, is writing a book on the
Quran And she calls it– I think her title is going
to be The Quran A Good Book? But she argues that
actually people keep talking about the Quran
as something that you read, but for many Muslims the Quran
is something that you hear. And so we need to think about
it in a somewhat different way. So anyway that these practices
that help create communities then understand themselves
as grouped together, living in public spaces in some
way organized around practices rather than just your
sincerely held private belief, that those religions are very
hard for modern secular states to understand. That that’s why Native
American religions are so often not given the protections that
other groups are because those don’t look like religions. Peyote use doesn’t look
like a really serious religious behavior that needs
to be protected precisely because– or land claims by Native
Americans even more so, because these are don’t fit
in with a kind of unstated but very, very real definition
of what counts as religion. Oh, and I’ll just mention that
one beautiful book by Tessa Winger on the Pueblo ghost
dancers in the 19th century captures this beautifully. The title of her book is Yes,
We Have A Religion, which is a quote from people
trying to explain what they were doing at the time. So of course, race
has a factor here. I’m not saying that–
it’s becomes easier to dismiss a group as
having no religion, if they can also be racialized. But the category of no
religion or not enough religion or the wrong kind
of religion happens in terms that are very
common in the US and Europe and some other states
that claim to be secular that have a
definition of religion that makes certain behaviors
acceptable or good religion and certain behaviors not. So I want to show how then
the kind of reverse of that is that people can get– can try to make a claim for
a group as being worthy, good Muslim, good
person, and should be included in the category
of acceptable humans and may be part of the
community in the case I’m going to show you. Not part of the US
community, because it’s an international film. But part of the community
based on proving themselves to be like Protestants or being
shown as being like Protestant. So the clip I’m going to
show you is from The Kingdom, and it’s one of these
good Muslim images. Has anybody seen The Kingdom? How’s Jamie Foxx’s career going? OK, not that great. So this is a film from
2008, and in this film, Jamie Fox leads a– he’s an FBI agent who’s leading
a group to go to Saudi Arabia to investigate a
terrorist attack there. And it’s a very
typical action movie. You They search for clues. They find some clues. They find some bad guys. They have fire
fights, car chases, and then they
succeed in the end. But– I hope it didn’t
ruin it for you. But the scene I’m
going to show you is a scene where
Jamie Foxx who– and there’s a whole set of
things to say about the fact that Jamie Foxx is represented
as the good American. As a African-American
lead character, he represents the
good side of America. And the film itself really
tells his own liberalism around Islam. I mean, of course,
it has a terrorist, and the terrorist
is a bad Muslim. But this guy who’s helping
them with the investigation is a good Muslim. And we know he’s a good
Muslim, because, A, he doesn’t care about hearing
about any terrorists that– this is the declamatory moment. I don’t want care
what terrorists think. I don’t want to know
anything about them. I just want to see them dead. And then it also
shows him as being a good Muslim for a different
reason, which is how he prays. So I want to show
you this scene, and I actually think it– are you going to able to
get the light, oh, good. I want you to look at
the color, and hopefully just get a sense of how
the terms under which he’s presented as a good Muslim. Oops, I’m turning it off. This is just a a
lead up to the scene. So this is him, our guy. This is his kids. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [MUSIC PLAYING] [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] – Hey buddy, how are you doing? I’m in Saudi Arabia. You remember where I
showed you on the map? [END PLAYBACK] MELANI MCALLISTER:
So it’s not too hard to see the ways in which
the music, the lighting, the color, the fact
that women are shown praying in home, which
you almost never have seen such Muslims. When they are show
praying, it’s almost shot in a big group
of mostly all men. And the fact that they show him
as you know good to his father, good to his kids, you
just love this guy. And so I mad that
I feel, still I feel grateful everytime
I see that gentleman. That we’re so– we get so little
good images of Muslims that we’re, sort of,
inclined to feel– I’m inclined to feel happy
that there’s something decent. And at the same time arguing
that the only way that he’s acceptable as a Muslim
is to be praying at home, to be a person who makes no
claims about what religion should mean politically. It’s just about
loving your family. It’s just about
what you believe. It’s just about the
privacy of your home. And he’s a person who over
and over again makes clear that he has no time for any
kind of political claims that terrorists or anybody
else wants to make. He’s known through privacy. So anyway I just
wanted to show this to have a way of
saying that I feel like this secularist logic about
religion is really important, and that it needs to be
brought together with thinking about the racism– the racialization,
but I don’t think it works on exactly
the same terms that we think of
racialization working. So how can we bring these
conversations together? The one book– the one
book that is out there on race and secularism describes
the secularist racializing not. And so I think maybe trying
to think through that not as something
that would be useful, and I don’t have any
big answers for it. But I think that
there’s a conversation among two kinds of scholars, two
groups of scholars that haven’t come together very much. EVELYN ALSULTANY: I agree. BOB LEE: Well, that get’s
us to this broader question about, kind of,
what the current– where the current
research flows are and what kind of debates
that are going on about Islam, about religion
more generally perhaps. And what conversations
are being productive and what are, perhaps, limiting? EVELYN ALSULTANY:
So this question gives me the opportunity to
talk about some new research I’m doing about Real
Time with Bill Maher. Has anyone watched the show? Which is one of the places
where Bill Maher who is a self-professed
liberal tends to promote anti-Muslim
views on his show, and I actually brought a clip
to give a bit of context to it. And I think that
one of the larger points I would want
to make here is that we tend to assume
that the right is responsible for spreading
ideas that are against Islam and anti-Muslim, but
it’s not a phenomenon that is unique to the right. And I think Bill Maher is
a very good example of how the left can also propagate it. And the argument that you
were just talking about, I was actually getting
my hair the other day and the hair salons– her husband was there,
and he’s this liberal guy who was defending Colin
Kaepernick while we were talking. And at the next
moment he said I’m all for freedom of
religion, except when it comes to Muslims. So I think it’s a more common
point of view than we think, including among people who would
identify as lefty, liberal, and even radical. So I want to show this clip. So this is an episode
from October 3rd, 2014. It included Sam Harris
who’s an author known as part of the new
atheism movement, and Bill Maher invites
him on his show often, because they share
similar points of views. But Sam Harris is
a scholar, so he has a lot of data to back up
what Bill Maher wants to say. It also included
Michael Steele who used to be the head of
the Republican National Convention, Ben Affleck,
and Pulitzer Prize journalist, Christoph. OK, so I’m just going to
play three minutes of it, and then make a few comments. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] – So the other thing we want
to talk about, of course, is that you and I have been
trying to make the case, I think, anyway, that
liberals need to stand up for liberal principles. This is what I said
on last weeks show. Obviously, I got a
lot of hate for it. But all I’m saying is that
liberal principles like freedom of speech, freedom to
practice any religion you want without fear
of violence, freedom to leave a religion,
equality for women, equality for minorities
including homosexuals. These are liberal principles
that liberals applaud for, but then when you say
in the Muslim world this is what’s lacking,
then they get upset. – Yeah. Yeah, well liberals
have really failed on the topic of the opposite. They’ll criticize
white the opposite. They’ll criticize
the Christians. They’ll still get agitated
over the abortion clinic bombing that happened in 1984. But when you want to talk
about the treatment of women and homosexuals and freethinkers
and public intellectuals in the Muslim
world, I would argue that liberals are failing us. And the crucial
point of confusion. [APPLAUSE] Thank you. – Thank god you’re here. – The crucial point
of confusion is that we have been sold
this meme of Islamophobia where every criticism
of the doctrine of Islam gets conflated with bigotry
towards Muslims as people. – Right. – That’s intellectually
ridiculous. – So even if– so hold on. Are you the person that
understands the officially codified doctrine of Islam? [INAUDIBLE] – I’m actually
well-educated on this topic. – I’m asking you. So you’re saying
that if I criticize the– you’re saying
that Islamophobia is not a real thing. That if you’re
critical of something– – Well, it’s not a real
thing when we do it. It really isn’t. – I’m not denying that
certain people are bigoted against Muslims as people. That’s a problem. – Yes, bigoted. – But the– but why are
you so hostile about it? – It’s gross. It’s racist. – It’s not– but it’s so not. – It’s like saying,
you’re a shifty Jew. – You’re not listening
to what we are saying. – You guys are saying if
you’re, being liberals, believing in the
principles, like freedom of speech, like, we are
endowed by our forefathers with inalienable rights. All men are created equal. – No. – Ben, we have to be able to
criticize bad ideas, and– – Well, of course, we do. No liberal doesn’t want
to criticize a bad idea. – But Islamophobia is the
motherlode of bad ideas. – Jesus Christ. – That’s just a fact. It is a– – It’s an ugly concept. – [INAUDIBLE] – Well, let me unpack it. Let me unpack it. – But not for intolerance. – Of course not. But the picture you are
painting is to some extent true, but is hugely incomplete. It is certainly true that
plenty of fanatics and jihadis are Muslim. But the people who are standing
up to them, Malala, Muhammad Ali, [INAUDIBLE]
in Iran in prison for nine years for speaking for
Christians A friend that I had in Pakistan who
was shot this year, Rashid Rehman, for defending
people accused of apostasy. – How about the more
than a billion people who aren’t fanatical, who
don’t punish [INAUDIBLE],, who just want to go to school. – Wait a second. Wait a second. [SHOUTING] – You’re stereotyping. – Wait. [END PLAYBACK] EVELYN ALSULTANY: OK,
so you get the idea. MELANI MCALISTER: I
hope you get a big raise for watching that one. EVELYN ALSULTANY: What’s
particularly interest is Ben Affleck is
the hero in this, and he produced
Argo, which promotes anti-Muslim and
anti-Iranian sentiment, but that’s for a
different paper. So obviously one
of the big issues here is that Bill Maher
is promoting an argument that Muslims are not compatible
with liberal principles, that Muslims, all
1.6 billion of them, don’t believe in women’s rights,
don’t believe in gay rights, don’t believe in
freedom of speech, and so the first obvious problem
is the monolithic conversation all Muslims. We also have the very typical
conversations of Islam as something that’s foreign. It’s not part of
the United States. It should stay outside
of the United States, and also it’s portrayed as if
the United States is resolved all of its problems, as
if everyone in the US is a 100% gay friendly
and trans-friendly and so on and so forth. But one of the things that
I’m particularly interested in is this concept of what
makes a Muslim good? So what are the limits and
what allows for inclusion into liberal multiculturalism. So Melanie showed
us that Muslims practicing their religion in
a protestant for is one way. My book looks at
many different ways. Two of them are
the frequent image of the patriotic Muslim who’s
willing to fight and die for the United States. So many, many
characters in TV dramas take this form,
victimized Arab Muslim that I mentioned earlier. But other figures are
the moderate Muslim who’s also someone who– someone who knows that
you practice religion at home in the
privacy of your home and you don’t bring
it outside of the home and who’s willing to collaborate
with the government in any kind of means and who sees– really promotes– Feisal
Rauf comes to mind. He’s the imam who is behind the
ground zero mosque controversy. He was trying to create
this multicultural center in New York City. And he was considered
the ideal moderate Muslim until this controversy, and
then he lost his stature. We have native informants. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is there. She was born in Somalia. She has a tragic
story of having gone through female
genital mutilation. She left Islam, and she has
been a very outspoken critic of Islam writ large,
and so she serves this role of native
informant confirming the most horrible
stories about Islam as if they are the
only ones about Islam. But in this clip, we
also have the emergence of the heroic Muslim as
Nicholas Kristoff is speaking, so the good Muslim is someone
who is fighting the bad Muslims and who dies. And I don’t know how many– it’s
a very extraordinary position to think about Malala story
and the other stories that he names. And then the new figure that
comes up later on in this clip is the nominal Muslim. So at one point Ben
Affleck in frustration says, well, what’s the solution? And Bill Maher
and Sam Harris say the West needs to prop
up the nominal Muslim. The nominal Muslim
is someone who is culturally Muslim,
but not religious. Prop up the cultural
Muslim, the nominal Muslim to reform the faith. So that’s their solution. It has of this
colonial echo to it that the West has to prop
up these certain individuals to reform the face, and they’re
not even religious anymore. So part of the
question I’m asking is what are these
terms of inclusion and how are they limiting? One of the– I’ll end with this and
pass it over to Melanie. One of the challenges
in writing about this is really thinking through
the problematic of liberalism. I feel like it’s so normalized. Even for me when I started
thinking about it, of course, I’m for freedom of speech and
for equality for women and LGBT and so on and so forth. But then I read a few books that
really helped me dig into it. Lisa Lowe’s book and also
Falguni Sheth has a book. And both of them talk about
how liberalism and the ideology of liberalism has become
normalized to the point that we can’t think
outside of it, but that liberalism is
very much in concert with colonialism, the
rise of the empire. That it’s actually
not the exception, but the rule for within
liberalism for people to be excluded, while
presenting to the public that it is completely equal. So I think I might. One of the points, which I
think you would appreciate given your last comments
that Sheth makes is that the position of
Muslims as incompatible with liberal principles
is not new in the sense that Catholics, Jews, atheists,
and other religious minorities have also been
historically excluded from notions of Americaness. So I think the
larger thing that I’m trying to grapple with is
this notion of liberalism and how taken for granted it is. That even when I started this
research, it was hard for me to think through it
and think around it, but it actually is
an ideology that has been created alongside all
sorts of forms of inequality. MELANI MCALISTER: I’m– one of– I guess one of the
things Bob asked is, sort of, what’s
going on that makes you a little crazy and– of problematic in terms
of the conversation of the scholarly or public
conversation, and then Sam Harris shows up. And I will say– I don’t always say this, but I
will say that I am an atheist. And so I nonetheless
find Sam Harris to be one of the most
annoying human beings that God did not make. Like, I just– I don’t know even
know what to say, except that he makes
a classic mistake. And I want to be clear that in
critiquing what he does wrong, I’m not trying to
find a good Muslim. Although it does, kind of,
sound like that I fear. So I’m– and it’s not my goal. But I do this in my
work on Evangelicals is that is that he makes
this argument that when he– whenever he wants to
critique any religion, he just looked at the
texts and he reads it and he says here’s Sam Harris’
interpretation of Genesis or any story of the Quran. And the text is something I can
read and tell you what it means and therefore you know
what the religion says. And one of the many
things wrong with that is that religious studies
scholarship for 30 years has done nothing but
try to teach people to look at religions
as practiced and lived, not simply as textual-based. It’s not that– I mean, evangelicals who I just
wrote a book about are paragons of doctrine clarification. I mean, they care
about their text, but nonetheless they don’t–
they live their religion in ways that are not drawn
directly from any direct relationship to text
as everyone does. So one of the–
just as an aside, but I think it’s related is
one of my favorite facts about evangelicals– American evangelicals. I do a lot of stuff about
evangelicals overseas too, but American evangelicals– 80 percent of American
evangelicals believe in hell. And you’re like, yeah. What about the 20%? I mean, this is a religion
that I grew up in, and I’m pretty sure
is heavy into hell. Like, that seems important
from most preaching I’ve heard. But that it’s pretty
clear that those 20% find other things
other than the doctrine that they a major
part of the doctrine that they do not agree with. I don’t believe there’s hell,
but I really like my church and I like the
preaching and I like how he talks about raising
your kids and how hard that is. And I like my friends, and I
like the music and whatever. I mean, people find reasons to
engage their religious faith. And the same is true of any
religion, including Islam that people live it as an
experience, as a practice, and a set of many different
practices around the world. And when people talk in the
US, often the only time anybody talks about practices
is to say, wait, this person eats sandwiches. I like that one. They must be OK. And that’s not what
I’m suggesting. I’m not suggesting looking for
people who have good practices, as opposed to their texts,
but actually recognizing that people– the reason it makes
sense for Ben Affleck to get upset about the 1 billion
Muslims or actually more than that– I think it’s 1.7– is that people are living
in so many different ways the experience of
their religion. And those experiences
are all the religion. They’re all the–
they all count. And so if you had to say
explain to us what Islam is, then people have to
have some awareness that it’s not based
in any religion based on just interpreting somebody’s
reading of a set of given text. I would say that when
I was in Egypt one time talking about evangelicals,
a group of Coptic scholars were there, and they
just looked at me and they were, like,
oh, you don’t understand those are not Christians. And I was like, I’m
pretty sure they are. And they’re like, no, no, see
we can point to you the Bible verses that they
get wrong, right, and so they’re not
Christians at all. But the reality
is that they are, and a lot of different Muslims
are Muslims in different ways, some of which are suit liberals
and some of which don’t. But thinking about practice
and thinking seriously about practice seems
to me to be something that is missing a lot in the
US discourse about Islam. So.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *