2. Islamophobia in American post-9/11 Literature
a. “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” by Mohsin Hamid
b. “How Does it Feel to Be a Problem?” by Moustafa Bayoumi
3. Islamophobia in American post-9/11 Culture
a. The Role of the Media
b. The Role of the Bush Administration
c. The Role of the Legislation
4. The Two Faces of America
5. Why Do They Hate Us
America is undoubtedly one of the biggest players in international politics and foreign affairs. Its military involvement in the Fight for Freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan has cost America much international reputation though. In a poll, conducted by The BBC in 2007, America was ranked fourth in the list of the most unpopular countries in the world, with worldviews continuing to worsen. Only Israel, Iran and North Korea turned out to have an even worse reputation in the public eye. But how come? America has always pictured itself as the pioneer of freedom, the beacon of human rights and the figurehead of righteousness and humanity in the fight against al-Qaida. However, this freedom and the human rights that America proclaims to stand for have slowly been falling apart since 9/11. The image of the American dream or the city upon a hill is crumbling under the weight of America’s foreign policies, post-9/11 law enforcement and public scaremongering of people perceived Arab. These circumstances raise a significant question: Where does America’s fear and hatred toward Islam (Islamophobia) come from? As a matter of fact, after 9/11, America faced an increasing trend towards Islamophobia and otherization of Muslim and Arab American, which is still ongoing. Statics show that in the months following 9/11 hate crimes against Muslims and people perceived to be Arab increased to 40 times their pre-9/11 number. Public and workplace discrimination against Muslims had already quadrupled a year after 9/11. The scaremongering of Arabs as the “terrorist among us” was also greatly fueled by media representations and new laws, such as the USA PATRIOT ACT that legalized interventions with civil law of alleged Arabs and Arab-Americans and thus legitimized public racism. The fear of Islam led to discrimination, otherization a random detentions and deportations of many Arabs and Muslims. This public hysteria, fueled by propagandist media representation, increased the already pre-existing negative stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims. On this basis I argue, that Arabs and Muslims have become the new American “folk devil” through hyper-Orientalized media representation and elite-engineered moral panic, which primed hostile and retaliatory public attitudes that legitimized random law enforcement, such as police surveillance, random profiling as well as public hostility and harassment, which were guised by the Bush administration as measures to assure “national security.” I will prove this by analyzing both American post-9/11 literature and culture. First, I will stress on the way how the authors of “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” and “How Does it Feel to be a Problem?” use both plot and narration style to mirror post-9/11 Islamophobia to the reader. Second, I will illuminate the role of the American news media, legislation and Bush administration, in the rise of Islamophobia after the 9/11 attacks. Last, I will take a critical look at America’s foreign policies that can be considered the root of Islamophobia, by summarizing “The Two Faces of America,” by J. William Fulbright and “Why do they hate us?” by Mohsin Hamid.
Mohsin Hamid’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” has become one of the major literary works in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. It holds a magnifying glass up to America and views the repercussions of racial discrimination to the reader. In doing so, the novel dismantles the Western religious biases and helps effacing stereotypes toward Islam and the Muslim world at large. However, due to its ambiguity, it is controversy discussed as somewhat anti-American. Hamid’s great narration strength lies in connecting his developing human characters with symbolism. Hamid narrates the novel through the eyes of Changez, the main character of the story, who addresses his story in form of a dramatic monologue to a person only referred to as “the American,” who, despite his infrequent interruptions, remains a silent listener. By narrating the story in form of a one-sided conversation between an Arab and an American, Hamid accomplishes two things: First, he symbolically makes America “hear the other side of the story.” Second, Hamid puts the reader into the shoes of the American. In so doing, he forces the reader to decide on their own what to make with the story. The reader is thus also left to decide whether the American is harmless or an undercover agent and whether Changez is a fundamentalist terrorist or just a normal person. Thus American, as well as the reader’s stereotypes, prejudices and clichés of Arabs and Muslims are mirrored to the reader: The reader can reflect and evaluate their own stance on Islamophobia. Hamid plays with stereotypical images in the novel, but often dismantles them to counter Western biases: Changez ethnicity and his beard stereotype him as a religious extremist. However, Changez is neither religious nor an extremist. He is a secular person and an academic. The American on the other side, as a personification of America’s post-9/11 paranoia, distrusts Changez and the other Arabs. He sits with his back to a wall, is likely to carry a weapon and watches his surrounding carefully. Thus, Hamid turns the American to a “reluctant fundamentalist” himself, by characterizing him as fundamentally western in his biases and believes. Even though it remains open what is really going in the story, Hamid certainly creates an atmosphere of self-reflection. In so doing, he invites the reader to evaluate their own political correctness and racial stereotypes.
Unlike Hamid, Bayoumi chose a completely different form and style of narration to mirror the Islamophobic grievances in America to the readership. In “How Does it Feel to Be a Problem?“ Moustafa Bayoumi reflects in many ways the different sides of the everyday struggle of young Muslim and Arab Americans. Instead of narrating a fictitious story, Bayoumi portrays seven real life stories, which are all fundamentally different, but share the same core, namely some form of Islamophobia. In a nutshell, Bayoumi presents the story of how young Arab and Muslim Americans undergo discrimination and harassment in a country that mistakes them for the enemy. Bayoumi does so by taking the readers directly into the lifes of the characters. The stories are told through a mix of detailed minute interviews as well as authentic narrations by the author and his impression on the topics. Thus the stories become very intimate and personal, the reader inevitably gets the feeling of knowing the characters. By humanizing the stories this way, Bayoumi challenges the racist notion that anyone who traces heritage to the broader Muslim world must be either a completely assimilated or fanatical. He moves beyond common stereotypes and clichés about Arabs and Muslims to reveal their often unseen struggles to the reader: For Example, when an American couple accuses a pregnant Muslim woman of holding a bomb under her jacket. Thus, everyday biases and hostile attitudes are mirrored to the reader. Each character reveals another side of Islamophobia to the reader: A whole family is thrown into detention for eighty day because of being suspected of having connections to terrorism, a young Arab college graduate cannot find employment due to his Arab references, and an Arab American soldier is discriminated while fighting in Iraq by American soldiers. Bayoumi enforces the individual Islamophobic events by using rich ethnographic data to examine the effects of discrimination and hate crimes in whole America. As a whole, “How Does it Feel to Be a Problem” is very powerful in pointing out the grievances of Islamophobia to the reader and breaks common prejudices towards the Muslim world, by showing that Arabs and Americans are very much alike. Furthermore, Bayoumi sensitizes the reader toward Islamophobia.
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