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Islamophobia in America: The Anatomy of Intolerance

This edited volume is a collection of essays dealing with the issue of Islamophobia in the United States from various perspectives, such as race relations, gender, state, and history. There are five chapters preceded by an introduction by Ernst, welcoming the reader and briefly mentioning each chapter’s lined up.


This edited volume is a collection of essays dealing with the issue of Islamophobia in the United States from various perspectives, such as race relations, gender, state, and history. There are five chapters preceded by an introduction by Ernst, welcoming the reader and briefly mentioning each chapter’s lined up.In Chapter 1, Gottschalk and Greenberg follow traces of Anglo-American Islamophobia by exploring the literature that was produced in both geographies between the late 17th and mid-20th centuries. The authors underline the role of imperial Britain spreading the seeds of Islamophobia to the United States and examine both the similarities and differences between these two versions. Drawing on works by Prideaux, Voltaire, and Locke, they indicate that representations of Islam as violent and fraud was actually used by social commentators to criticize and warn about internal issues unrelated to Islam. Feelings of fear and threat from Islam, as a competitor to Christianity, also contributed to Anglo-American Islamophobia.

Chapter 2, written by Ghanea Bassiri, explores the reasons why the attacks of 9/11 were framed as religious violence by the U.S. media, many political elites, and the American public. He argues that while the media tends to simplify issues when explaining them, the state gains from this association by expanding its authority over U.S. citizens. The author indicates that the historical role of religion in the construction of American national identity explicates why Americans resort to religious differences in times of political crisis. Acknowledging religion’s strong influence on assimilation that has worked for Jews and Catholics in the past, GhaneaBassiri is skeptical when it comes to Muslims, as their integration is complicated by their ethnic and racial characteristics. He also criticizes the narrow definition of Islamophobia as fear of Islam, which he asserts does not capture the racial and political processes on which it is based.

In Chapter 3, Curtis provides a racial and historical perspective on the rise of Islamophobia in the United States within the context of the emergence of the Nation of Islam (NOI) and the pan-African political movement in the 1930s. The adoption of Islam by many African Americans, as part of their struggle against white supremacy, renders state institutions, such as the FBI suspicious of their real intentions and puts them under the government radar. Curtis indicates that the making of Islamophobia in the U.S. coincides with state policies put into practice to deal with the perceived Muslim threat in the early-to-mid 20th century. While not challenging the notion of Islamophobia as social anxiety, Curtis extends this definition by emphasizing state’s role in its production through the measures of control, discipline, and punishment of Muslims.

Chapter 4 by Hammer introduces gender as an analytical category back into the debate of Islamophobia. Rejecting the notion of Islamophobia, as merely fear of Islam, Hammer defines it as a complicated social construct with various levels and processes at interplay with each other. Since different combinations of these levels are at work in diverse settings, a case specific rather than a holistic approach is required for analysis. She discusses two different aspects of gendered Islamophobia when it comes to Muslim women: First, women become objects of hate crimes and discrimination due to the visibility of their Muslim identity through their hijab, and second, they become objects of anti-Islamic discourse by being portrayed as victims of Muslim men and repressive culture. Hammer underlines this double standard, where alleged victimhood of Muslim women becomes a concern for the Western world, whereas the hate crimes and discrimination they experience at the hands of their Western counterparts never do.

In the final chapter of the book, Chapter 5, Shryock dismisses the idea that Islamophobia is based on fear or hatred of Islam alone. He asserts that Islamophobia is rather based on the widespread belief that Islam is essentially different and therefore can never be part of the American culture. Shryock warns his readers about the dangers of Islamophilia, which he sees as the opposite of Islamophobia and defines as “generalized affection for Islam and Muslims” (p. 161). Elaborating on the case of Detroit, he asserts that Islamophilia paves the way for the emergence of good vs. bad Muslim dichotomy, where good Muslims are invited to join the American society through the mechanisms of which he describes as disciplinary inclusion. As being critical of the processes of incorporation of Muslims in Detroit and elsewhere, Shryock offers a more dialectical relationship through mutual respect as an alternative.

This edited volume presents a vibrant debate on the issue of Islamophobia in the United States and makes the reader realize that there is no singular, comprehensive description of the term Islamophobia. The authors seem not to be satisfied with the definition of the term as fear of Islam and hence offer their alternative, complicated understandings of it. What I believe is missing in this volume is a conclusion chapter that debates these different definitions of Islamophobia and maybe questions the widespread use of the term in academia and in other outlets. If the term can employ different meanings in different settings, should we stick to using it? Should we come up with new terminologies that are case specific and therefore more nuanced? Aside from this issue, the book offers readers engaging articles on Islamophobia from historical, racial, and gendered perspectives. It would be quite useful for students, academics, and activists working in the field and/or on questions regarding Islamophobia to better understand the complicated nature of the issue they are dealing with.

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