Islamophobia in America. The psychology of creating an “other”. Islamophobia in the media. What is Islamophobia ?. Theory of alienation Marx and modern production. A political motivation. Works Cited. The use of Christianity. Image List.
The psychology of
creating an “other”
Islamophobia in the media
What is Islamophobia?
A political motivation
The use of Christianity
According to Marx, alienation of the worker begins with his alienation from the products of his labor within the Capitalist Mode of Production. The perceived alienation from other human beings by the capitalist mode of production as outlined by Marx has increased along with the efficiency of this production mode. Marx outlines his theory of Entfremdung, or estrangement, in his Manuscripts of 1844. He states that
the object which labor produces – labor’s product – confronts it as something alien, as a power independent of the producer. The product of labor is labor which has been embodied in an object, which has become material: it is the objectification of labor. Labor’s realization is its objectification. Under these economic conditions this realization of labor appears as loss of realization for the workers; objectification as loss of the object and bondage to it; appropriation as estrangement, as alienation.
Most professions today are involved with production. Even when no physical production of commodity is involved, the current system interprets the career as having a product. One example of this is the current attitude toward education, through which classroom curricula are geared toward obtaining concrete test scores, and schools are focused on generating a concrete profit. For instance, at Texas A&M, the income each professor makes for the school “is calculated by adding tuition paid by students—larger classes generate more tuition dollars—and factors in the weighted value for semester credit hours of different types and levels of courses.” (Mangan) Furthermore, the advent of new technologies since Marx’s time has further distanced workers not only from the product they are making but from the other people involved in the process of making it. A company can have people designing hardware in one country, another set of people actually manufacturing the hardware in another country, and have the technical support for the hardware outsourced to yet a third country.
Not only is there an imposed distance between worker and worker or worker and product, but the capitalist system lauds production work as the most important, minimizing the importance of other active functions such as work within the household and “ his own active functions, his life activity.” (Marx) This estrangement “makes individual life in its abstract form the purpose of the life of the species, likewise in its abstract and estranged form.” The education example again comes into play here – the students at Texas A&M are treated as consumers of a product, and their consumption, not their human experience, is what defines the work of the professors. How much each individual can consume and produce is what is measured, and this, rather than some factor of human connection, becomes the “abstract purpose” for which human beings are meant to exist.
One particularly vivid illustration of this type of alienation in the modern world comes in the form of a film by Godfrey Reggio entitled “Koyaanisquaatsi”. The title comes from a Hopi word meaning “life out of balance.” The following sequence from the film depicts footage from large cities such as New York and San Francisco, as well as work in an Oscar Meyer factory. The section of the film entitled “The Grid” depicts human functioning and interaction with technology as highly mechanical. There is a heavy focus on individual parts of the body interacting with machinery, such as the hands purchasing and inserting tickets to and from machines to power a system of mass human transportation, presumably to or from work. At 1:12 in this video, a mother moves her baby’s outstretched hands inward so that he can fit through the mechanized gate. Even at a young age, the child is learning in a literal sense how to function within a streamlined system designed for efficiency, getting as many people at one time from one place to another as possible so as to increase their production efficiency and boost the city’s economy. In the factory scene beginning at 3:20, the camera focuses on the object being manufactured, with the human limbs only entering to intervene on the object. The product is the center of the lives of these workers.
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Another scene in the film focuses on individuals within the fast-paced system, slowing down the speed and taking multi-second shots of only people’s faces. Some of them are focused on within the crowd, some of them are isolated from the crowd but with the mechanical workings of the human-transportation system still working quickly in the background, such as the women in the shot at 2:10. This part of the film focuses on the individuality of a few of the people within the larger scenes, drawing our attention to the fact that we do not acknowledge the majority of these people in the same way we acknowledge the individuality of these few. Despite the proximity to one another of these human experiences, the efficiency of production and transportation causes them to interact with one another as parts of a system rather than human beings, a type of interaction depicted in the earlier segments. Humans as depicted in the first segment, speeding towards something, are defined by their destination and their product. It is not until we as an audience are forced to confront their humanity in a long, face-on shot that we choose to do so.
So purpose and inter-human interaction become two separate entities. However, humans live socially, and each piece of the system affects the next. Humans have a desire to interact as more than a part of a system of production, as evidenced by the efforts of Reggio and any filmmaker who has focused on an individual’s value beyond that mode of production. Unfortunately, many of the ways that individuals attempt to connect with one another are inherently exclusive. And here is where this alienation leads to Islamophobic rhetoric and action – when this alienation is merged with amanipulated ideology of Christianity promotion, the political motivation to depict Muslims as inferior, the inherent tendency of humans to form social groups through the ostracizing of others, and the subsequent propagation of anti-Islam sensationalism by the media, many Americans create a sense of community by emphasizing the exclusion of people from that community, and creating a rhetoric in which they are placed “against” those outsiders. In this specific historical instance, those “outsiders” are those who practice Islam, as well as anyone who is suspected of doing so based on stereotypes.
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The Christian Bible includes a theme of service and salvation which, when manipulated to do so, can present the American Christian identity as the redeemer of other, purportedly less legitimate religions. Christianity itself contains a narrative of redemption and self-sacrifice, with a god-prophet who died to save mankind from its sins and the ability to be redeemed in the eyes of God. Several passages in the Bible reference the sacrifice of God and Jesus, including John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (King James Bible) According to the Christian religion, the potential for eternal life is contingent upon this sacrifice. The Bible also calls upon individuals to follow in Jesus’s footsteps through self-sacrifice and service. Romans 12:1 states, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, [which is] your reasonable service.” The “living sacrifice” of God’s followers is meant to parallel but not equal Jesus’ sacrifice of his life, as the sacrifice presented by followers is one of service to God.
One of the aspects of this service is spreading the word of God, and increasing his following while saving the souls of nonbelievers from damnation. Mark 16:15-16:16 state: “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Not only, then, does the Bible require the spread of Christianity for Christians themselves, but as a necessary factor in keeping nonbelievers from a deplorable fate. Through this dogma, Christians are destined to save the nonbelievers. Furthermore, these Christians are being observed by God and the world as examples. As put in Matthew 5:14-16, "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure, but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house.” This passage was used by John Winthrop in the early days of the colonies and is still used in modern political speeches.
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This Biblical theme has both motivated and served as a justification for missionary activity throughout American history. White Americans’ actions toward Native Americans are one example of this phenomenon. Contemporaneous with the forced relocation of Native Americans to reservations in the nineteenth century was the widespread effort by Protestants to convert Native Americans to Christianity, including several contracts in 1865 between the United States government and missionaries funded by the Civilization Fund Act of 1819. (Guyutt 986-1011) The name of the Act implies that Christianity and civilization are equivalent, and by extension that non-Christian religions are uncivilized. In the 20th century, evangelical missionaries sent groups to countries throughout the global south for the purpose of conversion. American leaders have a history upon which to draw, a history of saving nonbelievers from their religions.
This mentality has been used both by politicians and the media to justify the exclusion of Islam from a Christian, and subsequently an American in-group. The manipulated narrative of Christians-as-saviors posits that Christians have a responsibility to help these people and give them salvation from Islam (as recent bus ads in New York have offered to do).
To be clear, I am not attempting to argue that there is something inherent about Christianity that leads to Islamophobia. The Christian narrative of self-sacrifice and service is used by all ends of the political spectrum, including but not limited to Che Guevara, who states regarding members of a revolution: “Our freedom and its daily sustenance are the colour of blood and swollen with sacrifice. Our sacrifice is a conscious one; it is in payment for the freedom we are building.” (Guevara 1965) ] Due to these same themes, many resistance movements during the Holocaust centered around Christian churches and pastors, such as the movement to hide persecuted individuals in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. André Trocmé, the pastor in charge of this movement, stated that “the responsibility of Christians is to resist the violence that will be brought to bear on their consciences through the weapons of the spirit.” (http://www.chambon.org/weapons_en.htm)
It should go without saying, although I felt I should say it anyway, that Christianity is not intrinsically tied to any one movement, just as Islam is not intrinsically tied to any one movement.
It is, however, important that this theme exists and, just as many religions can be, is used ideologically for political purposes.
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For the purposes of this project, I will use the term “Islamophobia” to refer to prejudice against or fear of Muslim individuals, or individuals thought to be Muslim based on prevalent stereotypes.
In their book on the topic, entitled Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy, Peter Gottschalk and Gabriel Greenberg illustrate the manifestation of Islamophobia in the day-to-day lives of Americans:
“If you are skeptical about the notion of "Islamophobia", get a piece of paper and brainstorm. Write down, with as little thought and as much honesty as possible, all the words that come to mind when you think of the words "Islam" or "Muslim". What names, places, ideas, practices, and objects do you associate with these terms.
Most Americans who we have asked to do this exercise have given an almost routine set of answers. The names and events they think of tend to be associated with violence...oppression...and the places limited to the Middle East...When asked about their answers, many Americans respond that, unfortunate as such associations may be, Muslims and Islam feature prominently in many of the world's conflicts and injustices. And this, they often conclude, reflects something inherent about the religion and its associated cultures." (Gottschalk & Greenberg 3)
So why and how do Americans make this error in judgment? This project attempts to explore this question from multiple angles – the current political rhetoric regarding Islam and the potential rationale for this rhetoric, depictions of Islam in the media, and the social psychology of creating an “other”. In particular, I will attempt to illustrate the way in which alienation in modern society, as outlined by Marx and exacerbated by more recent developments in technology, can impact each of these factors.
To see the links between the topics, click on the underlined, light blue phrases, which will lead you to the page relevant to that phrase.
The media acts upon the alienation from human purpose described by Marx by using this ideology to give alienated people the ability to identify with an “us” group of Christian Americans and evade feelings of alienation, the feeling of superiority over the “them” group of Middle-Eastern Muslims, and a sense of purpose in the capacity to save these people from their inferior practices.
The media depiction of Islam as something to be feared extends into popular news networks. On November 14th, 2010, if one were to plug first “Islam” and then “Islam AND terrorist” into the search engines for CNN, ABC News and Fox News one would find that somewhere between ¼ and ½ of all results that contain “Islam” also contain “terrorist”. For ABC News, there are 1,141 “Islam terrorist” results and 4,897 “Islam” results. On Fox News, there are 5,324 “Islam” results, and 1,458 of them are “Islam terrorist” results. The ratio of terrorist articles to non-terrorist articles was the highest, with 5,563 out of 12,259 articles that contain “Islam” also containing “terrorist”. It is also worth noting that this is the first day of the Hajj, the most important pilgrimage for Muslims, and the ratio for the daily news is similar to that of the total news stories. The percentage of coverage of radical, violent acts by Muslims in comparison to coverage of other new regarding Muslims is extremely disproportionate to the number of radical Muslims compared to the number of Muslims in the world overall. However, because of the political rhetoric surrounding Islam and the current wars, the violence of Islam is disproportionately represented. Islam is being represented as a religion whose members are frequently violent.
In May 2010, Christian conservative blogger Pamela Geller bought 30 bus-ads for one month which directed viewers to the website RefugefromIslam.com (italics on advertisement). The advertisements read: “Leaving Islam? Fatwa on your head? Is your family or community threatening you? Got questions? Get answers!” The background is a sun shining brightly over a green field. (Hajela) The question regarding leaving Islam, as well as the implication that a fatwa would be “on the head” of anyone attempting to convert, implies that Islam is dangerous. Members of Islam, according to this advertisement, are capable of threatening even those closest to them on behalf of this dangerous religion. It is something to be feared. This is not only a message to Muslims, it is a message to all Americans about Islam. The url that the “RefugefromIslam” transforms to on the internet includes the phrase “freedomdefense” – as in the defense of freedom from Islam. Non-Muslims who see the advertisements absorb the message not only that Islam is dangerous, but that in America there is a support network to save Muslims from that danger, and bring them to the freedom that is mutually exclusive from their former religion.
Messages such as these imply that Americans are a part of the “saving” group, and Muslims (American or not) are part of the group to be “saved”. This seems on the surface to be a noble purpose, the saving of a life from a dangerous threat, and a purpose over which it is worth bonding with other individuals, albeit individuals with the same mission as one’s own. Consequently, many Americans feel united through this issue, although it frequently comes at the expense of religious tolerance.
Rather than solving the problem of alienation, the distinction made between membership and non-membership communities creates a new estrangement between the two socially defined groups. According to the work of social psychologists such as Philip Zimbardo and Solomon Asch, who have conducted extensive research on the way that humans behave within group dynamics, people who are presented or raised with certain social expectations tend to take them on as their own identity. These expectations in turn inform their behavior. Therefore, the larger and more defined the two groups become, the stronger the individual members identify with the groups, particularly for the privileged or majority group. (Elliott) Through a phenomenon known as cognitive dissonance, studied by Leon Festinger and James M. Carlsmith, people who commit to a belief can tend toward maintaining that belief in the face of evidence to the contrary, so as to combat the dissonance between what they believed about themselves before and after the new evidence was introduced.
The alienation described by Marx results in the recognition of and adherence to the ideologies propagated by the media; however, cognitive dissonance and the tendencies toward in-group conformity prevents people from recognizing whether the ideologies they adhere to are always based in truth. Thus Muslims become seen as an other, a force to be feared and combated. What makes “them” different from the “us” that necessitates their saving, and therefore the thing that the “we” are combating is their religion, and so this religion becomes the enemy. This synergistic effect allows Islamophobia to become increasingly acceptable, and to reach the point it has today.
To presume that I could adequately address the politics behind Islamophobia in America in one brief segment of one project would be quite absurd. Nonetheless, it seems equally absurd to discuss Islamophobia in America without acknowledging that its origins are, in large part, politically motivated. The media’s depiction of Islam both fuels and is fueled by the desires and fears of American majorities, and these desires and fears are directly linked to the current political climate.
I will not spend much time here explaining the milestones of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for the purposes of this project I will assume a basic knowledge of these recent events in history. I will, however, touch upon the fact that these wars are widely thought to be economically motivated.
I refer the reader to the following articles, not to attempt to indoctrinate to my particular view on these wars but to point out something that is important to keep in mind when discussing Islamophobia: that while ideology may be an important part of the mentality surrounding America’s relationship with countries with Muslim majorities, there is a persistent economic and political force behind them.
Lest a reader come away from my project thinking that I am attempting to convince them that America is on a purely ideological crusade, I present the work of individuals who have done a far more thorough job than I could in a small space of discussing potential economic motivations for these wars.This article outlines the reasons for which many believe that the war in Afghanistan was economically motivated: (http://www.counterpunch.org/monbiot2.html) Noam Chomsky has also written in some length on this subject, both regarding Afghanistan and Iraq. (http://www.chomsky.info/articles/20080708.htm)
By the rationale of these arguments, the otherizing of Muslims and media propagation of fear is a means to an end. The wars, America’s role in them, and the rhetoric surrounding them explains why Muslims in particular are the current object of American ostracizing and fear.
Politicians who are in support of the wars have been quick to use the propensity of people to unite against an other to their political advantage. Probably the most salient example of such a politician is George W. Bush. In his 2004 State of the Union Address, he stated that
“We also hear doubts that democracy is a realistic goal for the greater Middle East, where freedom is rare…I believe that God has planted in every human heart the desire to live in freedom…So America is pursuing a strategy of freedom in the greater Middle East. “
Bush sends the message to every American watching the State of the Union Address that “We” (America) are going to the Middle East, a place lacking in the God-implanted value of freedom, and bringing it there. Furthermore, according to Bush, the Iraqi people need civilization as well as freedom and democracy. “In Iraq a dictator is building and hiding weapons that could enable him to dominate the Middle East and intimidate the civilized world – and we will not allow it.” (Bush 2003) The use of the terms “the civilized world” and “the Middle East” as two separate entities clearly illustrate an attitude of superiority and fear toward Middle Easterners. It calls to mind the Civilization Fund Act of 1819, an act that allotted federal money toward the “civilization” of Native Americans by missionaries. Centuries later, politicians still use the idea of “civilization” to categorize a people as inferior and needing to be saved from their uncivilized ways of life.
It is also important to note the use of September 11th, 2001 to justify American invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. On September 20th, 2001, Bush stated that “On September the 11th, enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country.” He acknowledges that the war is not against “our many Arab friends,” but states that terrorists are trying to “hijack Islam” – as though to say that Islam itself is in danger of being completely overtaken. (Bush http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/gwbush911jointsessionspeech.htm)
The events of September 11th caused a feeling of unity among those impacted. As Rudy Guiliani put it in October of 2001, New York’s “spirit of unity, amid all (its) diversity, has never, ever been stronger.” http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/rudygiuliani911unitednations.htm
American identity was strengthened because of a common sense of being under attack by an outside force. Fear and sadness are basic human emotions, and these emotions bound Americans together in a meaningful way. This alleviated detachment from the human experience, but also ostracized Muslims both within and outside of America from that sense of community, as has occurred throughout these conflicts.
"Address to a Joint Session of Congress Following 9/11 Attacks." American Rhetoric. N.p., 20 Sep 2001. Web. 15 Nov 2010.<http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/gwbush911jointsessionspeech.htm>.
Chow, Rey. The Protestant Ethnic and the Spirit of Capitalism. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. Print.
Cohen, Jere. Protestantism and Capitalism: The Mechanisms of Influence. New York: Walter de Gruyter, Inc, 2002. Print.
Elliott, Gregory. "Social Psychology." Brown University. Providence, RI. 13 Nov 2008. Lecture.
Gottschalk, Peter, and Gabriel Greenberg. Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy. Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2008. Print.
Guevara, Ernesto Che. "Socialism and Man in Cuba." Ocean Books. Ocean Press, 12 Mar 1965. Web. 13 Nov 2010. <http://www.marxists.org/archive/guevara/1965/03/man-socialism.htm>.
Guyutt, Nicholas. "'The Outskirts of Our Happiness': Race and the Lure of Colonization in the Early Republic." Journal of American History. 95.4 (2009): 986-1011. Print.
Hajela, Deepti. "Pamela Geller's 'Leaving Islam?' Ads Cause Controversy." Huffington Post (2010): n. pag. Web. 22 Oct 2010. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/26/pamela-gellers-leaving- is_n_591112.html>.
Jackson, Richard. Writing the war on terrorism: language, politics and counter-terrorism. New York: Manchester University Press, 2005. Print.
Mangan, Katherine. "Texas A&M's Bottom-Line Ratings of Professors Find That Most Are Cost-Effective."Chronicle of Higher Education. (2010): Print.
Marx, Karl. "Economic & Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844." Translated to English by Martin Mulligan.Karl Marx Works. Progress Publishers, 2009. Web. 22 Oct 2010.
Smith, Ben, and Maggie Haberman. "GOP Takes Harsher Stance Toward Islam." Politico (2010): n. pag. Web. 22 Oct 2010. <http://dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid=73970F80-18FE-70B2- A80D70412CF038CB>.
"Text of President Bush's 2004 State of the Union Address." Washington Post 20 Jan 2004, Print.
"Weapons of the Spirit." Chambon Foundation. Chambon Institute, 20 May 2009. Web. 15 Nov 2010. <http://www.chambon.org/weapons_en.htm>.