Beyond Orientalism and Islamophobia: 9/11, Anti-Arab Racism, and the Mythos of National Pride
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CR: The New Centennial Review 6.2 (2006) 245-266

Beyond Orientalism and Islamophobia
9/11, Anti-Arab Racism, and the Mythos of National Pride
Steven Salaita
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg

Since 9/11, Arab Americans have evolved from what Nadine Naber once described as an invisible group in the United States into a highly visible community that either directly or indirectly affects the United States' so-called culture wars, foreign policy, presidential elections, and legislative tradition. Although diverse religiously, culturally, geographically, economically, and politically, Arab Americans generally have been homogenized in various American discourses as an unstable Southern/Third World (i.e., foreign) presence. In this article, I will summarize the evolution of the Arab image in American media since Ronald Stockton's seminal 1994 analysis, with emphasis on the role of 9/11, and advance the usage of the term anti-Arab racism as a more accurate replacement for the traditional descriptors Orientalism and Islamophobia in relation to the negative portrayal of Arabs in the United States. Although much needs to be said about the complexities inherent in constructing images (sometimes positive but usually negative) of the Arab, I will remain limited here to a discussion of how media images inform definitional imperatives and how, in turn, those definitional imperatives inform the dissemination of media images. [End Page 245]

This article will be broken into three parts: The first part will justify my disprivileging of the terms Orientalism and Islamophobia and outline the features of anti-Arab racism according to the intensive research of corporate American media I conducted during production of my book Anti-Arab Racism in the USA: Where It Comes from and What It Means for Politics Today (2006); the second part will examine the way anti-Arab racism is interpolated across cultural, religious, and linguistic institutions in the United States and reinvents itself continually based on the peculiarities of American history and the United States' geopolitical relationship with the Arab World; the third part will assess some of the syncretic dimensions of American racism in general, and anti-Arab racism in particular, drawing from, among other theoretical writings, Vincent Leitch's analysis of postmodern disaggregation and Kwame Anthony Appiah's categories of intrinsic and extrinsic racism. Following Anouar Majid's lead (2000), I have difficulty totalizing Arabs as a singular ethnic group when no evidence suggests that such a totalization is viable. In this spirit, I make little distinction between Arabs and Arab Americans, conceptualizing Arabs instead as a globalized ethnic group manufactured into ostensible unity by purveyors of racial or religious dogma, a group that in reality has no binding feature other than an intercontinental geographical origin, itself too vast to facilitate unity realistically. While this article, therefore, is concerned primarily with Arab Americans, it is in a broader sense focused on anti-Arab racism as it affects the globalized Arab and as it is facilitated—indeed, sometimes inspired—by the existence of an Arab community in the United States.

The Mythos of National Pride

Since 9/11, patriotism in the United States has been defined in the public sphere as acquiescence to geopolitical interests masquerading as moral imperatives. In turn, most Americans who would consider themselves patriotic formulate the mores of their national identification in opposition to the sanctified mirage of Arab barbarity. The Arab is an ethnic icon manufactured painstakingly in the United States since the nineteenth century, an icon that was expedited into political eminence after 9/11. The Arab thus [End Page 246] exists both consciously and unconsciously in the philosophical contradictions evident in notions of American exceptionalism and its exclusionary reality. Likewise, Arabs in the United States have inherited a peculiar history of exclusionary self-imaging developed during hundreds of years of dispossession and ethnic cleansing in North America that gathered further momentum from within the institutions of slavery, segregation, and an especially resilient anti-immigration mentality.

In theorizing anti-Arab racism as something...


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