Summit Learning Outcomes Addressed:
1. Communicate effectively through writing and speaking, especially across cultural or linguistic differences
2. Analyze human behavior or social relations
Political Science SLO Addressed:
1. Be not only familiar but also competent in working with the major broad approaches used in the discipline, including behavioralism, critical theory, comparative analysis, and discourse analysis
By 2016, approximately 62 percent of United States Americans had never met and/or developed a personal relationship with a practicing Muslim 1. So, upon hearing the word “Muslim”, it is not difficult to understand why many Americans to conjure the image of a dangerous man or woman of Middle Eastern descent. This is not an accident. Because of their limited contact with Muslims, many Americans rely heavily on the media to give them an understanding of the religion and the people who practice it. The association established between the Middle East, terrorism, and Islam has been one that American media has worked tirelessly to establish since the dawn of the age of cinema. Even though approximately 30% of American Muslims are White*, 23% are black, 19% are of mixed race, and 6% are Latino2, American Muslims are most often represented in the media as Arab or South Asian immigrants. Furthermore, the assumption is made (at least subconsciously) that Muslims either are in cahoots with or sympathetic towards terrorist networks that exist in foreign nations, and that the majority of terroristic acts are carried out by non-Muslims 2.
1 Lipka, Michael. “Muslims and Islam: Key Findings in the U.S. and around the World.” Pew Research Center.
2“Muslim Americans.” Pew Research Center. N.p., 27 Feb. 2017. Web. 09 May 2017
So if the data suggests otherwise, then why is it so imperative that the media regularly ingrain into the American psyche the idea that virtually Muslims are homogenous and dangerous? The othering of Muslims is a narrative that has been carefully crafted and continually constructed, particularly after the September 11th attacks of 2001. By disassociating Islam from the rest of America’s culture, the United States creates an easy target that it’s citizens will have consciously less issue with attacking. But with the rapid growth in the presence of the American born Muslim, a new question arises: what new method can the United States use continue to create an other out of something that has become a part of
itself. This is what my paper focuses on. My thesis is that American media has used isolated incidents of terrorism committed by those who fit the constructed “Muslim” profile, combined with mis or omission of information to create a dehumanized, easily marginalized group, justifying any action against them. I will examine my thesis through the lenses of two schools. First will be the school of fantasy, which includes Pease, Rose, and Pullman. It will be used to examine the relationship between the fantasy of Muslims being a foreign evil infiltrating American soil in sudden bursts and the implications that has on state power. The second will be the school of aesthetic, which includes Mann, Benjamin, and Eagleton. It will examine how the Muslim-terror aesthetic created during isolated incidents serves as a self justification for U.S. action.
The World of Make Believe: Fantasy in Media Politics
The traditional definition of a fantasy is ‘the faculty or activity of imaging things, especially things that are impossible, or improbable; to imagine the occurrence of’. As Pease explains, this definition of fantasy would seriously dampen its chances of being taken seriously in the context of United States foreign policy. But Pease aligns himself with Rose’s belief that ultimately “The fantasy […] plays a major, constitutive role in the modern world of states and nations” 3. So while some political theorists are dismissive of the idea a concept so lacking in “seriousness” could ever influence our nation’s operation, they are quickly shut down by the reality that the fantasy is used to accomplish what fact was never able to do alone: gain the virtually blind trust of the citizen 4. In this context, Fantasy is therefore best explained by Pullman, who describes political fantasies as “secondary spaces” 5 that can be extensions of reality suiting certain political agendas. Take the reporting of the Pulse Nightclub shooting as an example of a secondary space and extension of reality used to suit the U.S’ needs. As media outlets scrambled to become the first to report on and sensationalize the attack, fantasy was used as a placeholder for fact. The shooter was assigned the Islamic-sounding name “Siddique Mir” by both Fox and CNN (later retracted), and it spread like wildfire. In the 3 days following the shooting, the hashtag #pulsenightclub made 52,359 impressions on Twitter alone, before the shooter’s given name (Omar Mateen) could even be released.
3 Rose, Jacqueline. “States of Fantasy.” Oxford University Press. N.p., 06 May 2017. Web. 09 May 2017.
4 Pease, Donald E. The New American Exceptionalism. Minneapolis, Minn.: U of Minnesota, 2010. Print.
5 Pullman. “Fantasy, Politics, Postmodernity.” Google Books.
Pulse Nightclub Shooting, Twitter Data Analysis (nights 1-3)6
Many of these tweets were calling for then- President Obama to immediately come forward and declare this an act of “radical Islamic terrorism” based on assumption. The assumption that this was an act of terror by a foreign Islamic power infiltrating the U.S. is best explained by Pease when he says “myths normally do the work of incorporating events into recognizable national narratives”. In this case, the
narrative is that an isolated incident, not even done in the “name of Islam” can be seen as unquestionably
representative of the “Muslim agenda” in the United States. Pease’s idea that fantasies serve as “unacknowledged legislators”, whose purpose is to legitimize the state’s agenda by presenting new evidence to their constituents (the citizens of the U.S.) can be used to understand why they are such crucial actors in sustaining the othering of Islam.
Another part of the power of fantasy is the creation of a more favorable image for the party driving the narrative (in this case, the United States). In the case of the Pulse Nightclub shooting, ______________________________________________________________________________
6 Twitter Reach Report Results for #pulsenightclub | TweetReach.
the United States was able to simultaneously perpetuate the idea that Muslims are barbaric and intolerant, while continuing the message that America is tolerant, nay, accepting in nature towards gender non-conformity, even though the nation’s history suggests otherwise. Despite the fact that members of the LGBTQ community suffer over 150 attacks from non-Muslims per million adults 7, the under-reporting and misnaming of these acts of terror allows citizens to very rarely confront the country’s own issues with intolerance, and pretend that a foreign power is driving the hatred.
In the days after the shooting, U.S. Americans on social media were encouraged to change their profile pictures by adding a rainbow filter overlay to them as shown below, indicative of solidarity with and open acceptance of the LGBTQ community. In this way, citizens were doing the work of news media for them; they were creating a common enemy in Islam, making it the evil force to blame all intolerance on, and combating it with their show of unwavering support of the oppressed/victimized party. ___________________________________________________________________________
7 Mykhyalyshyn, Haeyoun Park and Iaryna. “L.G.B.T. People Are More Likely to Be Targets of Hate Crimes Than Any Other Minority Group.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 16 June 2016.
Image sourced from The Independent, Rainbow Filter Overlay 8
In this context, the question posed by Rose “When and why do men obey?” can therefore be answered. When do they obey? When a convincing enough conflation of fact and fantasy is made. And why? Because they are able to interpret the fantasy they’ve been fed to mean that United States action is ultimately morally driven, with power and monetary gain being happy accidental rewards reaped, only side effects and never indicative of the true motive.
All About Aesthetics
As we see on the two Benjamin’s original concept of the aestheticization of politics says that through aestheticization, “Politics are in turn viewed as artistic, and structured like an art form which reciprocates
the artistic conception of life being seen as art”.9 Mann explains that aesthetic values operate both above
and beneath the political, both removed […] and embedded.11 In the context of othering Islam through _____________________________________________________________________________
8 The Independent, Rainbow Filter https://twitter.com/Independent/status/742598705455333377
isolated incidents, this does not work the same way that fantasy does, although it is similar. For example, in “A Letter from America”, while the writers try to project an aesthetic suggestive of a cool, level-headed American male, ready to charge into war for the sake of morality, they in turn create an aesthetic to project upon the “Muslim World” they address. Here are the principals that they claim to be fighting for 10:
By asserting that these are the principles that America are fighting for, the writers make a conscious effort to create a Muslim aesthetic in which adherents to Islam fundamentally disagree with these principles. They go on to use September 11th specifically as all the justification needed to incorporate into the aesthetic that the ‘Muslim world’ “despise[s] not just our government, but our overall society, _________________________________________________________________________
9 Osborne, Peter, and Matthew Charles. “Walter Benjamin.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University, 18 Jan. 2011. Web. 10 May 2017.
10 “IAV | Brief: What We’re Fighting For: A Letter from America.” 2001
our entire way of living”. Eagleton explains the power of mourning and violence in creating aesthetics when he states that “its ideological function was, and remains, entirely necessary: to furnish us with that protected enclave, that range of accessible imagery and archetypes, which we could point to when somebody asked us—not the least at times of political crisis and upheaval—what really, in the end, do you live by?” If the aesthetic can be projected that Muslims, American born or not, fundamentally disagree on the principals the rest of the world agrees to live by, then their aesthetic is solidified as that of a barbarous, inhumane, irrational, and uncompromising power that those possessing the ideal “American” aesthetic have the right to obliterate.
Image from Huffington Post11
The image above exemplifies the creation and establishment of racial aesthetics in relation to predisposition to violence. It shows that a consistent pattern in media portrayal plays an important role in the establishment of aesthetic. The accompanying article published by the Huffington Post comments on the aesthetic White terrorism is given in the media as opposed to terroristic acts committed by Muslims, according to a study they reviewed from Pew Research Center:
“For every non-Muslim shooting suspect, the media never mentioned their religion. Moreover, in nearly every case, it was claimed that the mass shooters were suffering from some sort of mental instability. These suspects were often reported to be ostracized from both society and family, deeply depressed and suicidal. People thusly afflicted, given easy access to guns, sometimes kill people, lots of them. Then they either turn the gun on themselves or perish in a hail of anticipated bullets.” 12
By July 31, 2015 there had been 207 mass shootings committed in the United States. Of those, only one was committed by a Muslim (Chattanooga, July 16th, 2015)13. But but because of the pattern of reporting on the other 206, an aesthetic emerged that allowed sympathy for acts of terror committed White or Christian people, allowing the focus to be on combatting the ‘radical Islamic’ kind only.
The reporting of acts of terror by Muslims also follows pattern. First, the name of the attacker(s) is/are released, and the shooter/ attacker is confirmed to be Muslim. Next, news outlets
scramble to link the action to a larger network of terrorists, to ensure that it is not seen as the action of a lone wolf (unlike reports regarding Caucasian mass shooters (by whom the vast majority of mass __________________________________________________________________________
11Alnatour, Omar. “Muslims Are Not Terrorists: A Factual Look at Terrorism and Islam.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 09 Dec. 2015
12 Clark, Kelly James. “Muslims, Mass Shootings and the Media.” The Huffington Post.
larger cause or linked to their religion). shootings in America are committed 13), which are reported as singular incidents, never indicative of a Once there is confirmation, there is a demand for action on the
part of the president of the time to publicly declare this the action of our enemies: radical Islamic terrorists. So despite the fact that more than 94 percent of terrorist attacks carried out in the United States have been by non-Muslims, 46 percent of United States Americans believe that all/the majority of terrorist attacks are carried out by Muslims 14.
A study by the Washington Post last year further examined the role of aesthetic in coverage. They examined 89 attacks that resulted in similar levels of casualties in the Global Terrorism Database between the years 2011 and 2015, and analyzed what the distribution of coverage was. Here were their results:
13 Ford, Dana. “Who Commits Mass Shootings?” CNN. Cable News Network, 24 July 2015
14 “Non-Muslims Carried Out More than 90% of All Terrorist Attacks in America.” Global Research Center, 28 Jan. 2017.
This breakdown serves as proof that the distribution of reporting based on religion and race are directly correlated. Despite the fact that non-Muslim attacks in this study accounted for 88 percent, they only represented 56 percent of total reporting, a whopping 32 percent difference 15.
In a clip by Fusion entitled “Dear Politicians: I’m a Muslim American and not a Terrorist”16, a young Muslim woman spoke on the burdens of being in a country that expects persons such as herself to shoulder responsibility for the actions of those claiming to share the same faith, even if they are worlds apart in proximity, age and nationality. She opens the video with snippets of press conferences and/or debates held by prominent political figures. Hillary Clinton is quoted as saying “We need American Muslims to be part of our eyes and ears on our front lines”. Former President Barack Obama says “there is a real problem that Muslims must confront without excuse”. And Donald Trump’s response is that he wants “surveillance of certain Mosques”. These three quotes serve to
15Kearns, Erin M., Allison Betus, and Anthony Lemieux. “Analysis | Yes, the Media Do Underreport Some Terrorist Attacks. Just Not the Ones Most People Think Of.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 13 Mar. 2017.
16Thisisfusion. “Dear Politicians: I’m a Muslim American and Not a Terrorist.” YouTube. YouTube, 26 Oct. 2016. Web.
prove that even across party lines, there is an understanding that politicians must play into media depictions which suggest that all Muslims are (at least on a basal level) interconnected. This clip makes also makes two more things very clear regarding both fantasy and aesthetic.
The fantasy that isolated incidents such as the San Bernardino attack Donald Trump mentions are representative of Islam do work as justification for action like surveillance, extra screening at the airport, and even the public turning a blind eye to 337 attacks a year on their Muslim counterparts.
Aesthetic is a valuable tool. In order to counter the stereotypical image of a dangerous Muslim, Fusion had to use a pretty, smiling, slim young woman to deliver the information in the clip in a non-threatening way. She can be seens as a “good” Muslim, or a “trustworthy” Muslim, a person who is palatable enough for them to listen to. And as she points out, her appearance does not give her or any other Muslim immunity from being asked by politicians and media outlets to acknowledge the “problem” in the community, and to come forward with valuable information they do not have.
The combination of fantasy and aesthetic play a powerful role in the othering of Islam. Despite the fact 257 attacks against Muslims occurred in 2016, the number is overshadowed by the 13 attacks the United States linked to terrorist organizations claiming to represent Islam. The 257 attacks are seen as isolated incidents, while the 13 are proof that there is a larger issue. Because thanks to the powers of aesthetic and fantasy, as long as the narrative continues that Muslims are fundamentally un-American and dangerous, 13 attacks is all the United States needs to maintain its enemy.
The Benefits of Othering Islam
“All empires, at least most empires, rely on some form of othering in order to justify wars, in order to justify taxation, in order to justify conscription and so on and so forth.”17 This quote best explains the purpose of enemy creation in the United States. After the World Wars ended, there was a document published called National Security Report 68, which essentially explained how the United States would use military dominance to rise from the ashes of war as the world’s superpower. Part of the tactics outlined included ensuring that America have control of valuable resources, such as oil/ “postwar petroleum” 18. As explained by Media Roots, for the United States “the Middle East [had/has] many geostrategic interests, [such as] rivalry with the Russia, but oil certainly is a part of the story”18. The Middle East is a critical region for the United States to either control or dominate, as those who have free control over the flow of oil control the flow of the global economy.
When we understand these motives, it becomes very clear why the United States needed to find a way to infiltrate and gain control of the Middle East. But waging war simply for economic gain was not feasible; there needed to be a way to make it palatable for the average U.S. American. The best way to do this was through the demonization of Arabs to justify the nation’s actions. And the easiest way to do that was by attacking their religion, making it an enemy of the state. News and popular media were the tools used to perpetuate the idea that Middle Easterners, and ultimately Muslims themselves were the “boogie men” so to speak, always lurking and trying to strip the United States of its freedom and peace through their outdated barbarism. Thus, the conflation of race, religion, and violence began. And it was
17 “A Deeper Look at Islamophobia in America.” MEDIA ROOTS – Reporting From Outside Party Lines.
18 “Postwar Petroleum Order.” Postwar Petroleum Order | EGEE 120: Oil: International Evolution D7
successful. One such example is the Gulf War. Despite the war being justified under the guise of liberation, Dick Cheney himself said
“We’re there because the fact of the matter is that part of the world controls the world supply of oil, and whoever controls that supply of oil, especially if it were a man like Saddam Hussein, with a large army and sophisticated weapons, would have a stranglehold on the American economy and on—indeed the world economy” 19
Both schools can be used to show how fear mongering and othering benefit the United States. The school of fantasy shows so long as the narrative that Islam is a dangerous power is carried out in the nation’s media conversation, lone wolf terror attacks are more likely to be seen as indicative of a flaw in the religion itself, and not the people who commit these acts alone. And the way the school of fantasy is able to thrive is by the creation of the violent Muslims aesthetic. Benjamin’s proclamation that through aestheticization “Politics are in turn viewed as artistic, and structured like an art form which reciprocates the artistic conception of life being seen as art” can now be made sense of. The artist (the United States) drives the narrative, and the finished piece is a war torn region created for political gain. The combination of both schools is how Muslims, though they have become a part of the United States’ identity, are still able to be othered as inhuman and deserving of hatred they receive from their fellow citizens. Furthermore, it is how U.S. Americans can live with the attacks on those both in other countries and who walk among them every day.
19Koppel, Ted. “Will Fight for Oil.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 24 Feb. 2006.
Alnatour, Omar. “Muslims Are Not Terrorists: A Factual Look at Terrorism and Islam.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 09 Dec. 2015. Web. 10 May 2017.
Brown, Pamela, Evan Perez, and Adam Levine. “Widow of Orlando Nightclub Shooter Arrested.” CNN. Cable News Network, 17 Jan. 2017. Web. 09 May 2017.
Clark, Kelly James. “Muslims, Mass Shootings and the Media.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 31 July 2015. Web. 10 May 2017.
“A Deeper Look at Islamophobia in America.” MEDIA ROOTS – Reporting From Outside Party Lines. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 May 2017.
FBI. “Terrorism 2002/2005.” FBI. FBI, 21 May 2010. Web. 09 May 2017.
FBI. “Terrorism 2002/2005.” FBI. FBI, 21 May 2010. Web. 10 May 2017.
Ford, Dana. “Who Commits Mass Shootings?” CNN. Cable News Network, 24 July 2015. Web. 10 May 2017.
“IAV | Brief: What We’re Fighting For: A Letter from America.” N.p., n.d. Web. 10 May 2017.
Kearns, Erin M., Allison Betus, and Anthony Lemieux. “Analysis | Yes, the Media Do Underreport Some Terrorist Attacks. Just Not the Ones Most People Think Of.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 13 Mar. 2017. Web. 10 May 2017.
Koppel, Ted. “Will Fight for Oil.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 24 Feb. 2006. Web. 10 May 2017.
Lipka, Michael. “Muslims and Islam: Key Findings in the U.S. and around the World.” Pew Research Center. N.p., 27 Feb. 2017. Web. 09 May 2017.
“Looks like We Didn’t Find Any More Tweets.” Twitter Reach Report Results for #pulsenightclub | TweetReach. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 May 2017.
“Muslim Americans.” Pew Research Center. N.p., 27 Feb. 2017. Web. 09 May 2017.
Mykhyalyshyn, Haeyoun Park and Iaryna. “L.G.B.T. People Are More Likely to Be Targets of Hate Crimes Than Any Other Minority Group.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 16 June 2016. Web. 10 May 2017.
“Non-Muslims Carried Out More than 90% of All Terrorist Attacks in America.” Global Research Center, 28 Jan. 2017. Web.
Osborne, Peter, and Matthew Charles. “Walter Benjamin.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University, 18 Jan. 2011. Web. 10 May 2017.
Pease, Donald E. The New American Exceptionalism. Minneapolis, Minn.: U of Minnesota, 2010. Print.
“Postwar Petroleum Order.” Postwar Petroleum Order | EGEE 120: Oil: International Evolution D7. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 May 2017.
Pullman. “Fantasy, Politics, Postmodernity.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 May 2017.
Rose, Jacqueline. “States of Fantasy.” Oxford University Press. N.p., 06 May 2017. Web. 09 May 2017.
Thisisfusion. “Dear Politicians: I’m a Muslim American and Not a Terrorist.” YouTube. YouTube, 26 Oct. 2016. Web. 10 May 2017.