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  • The Islamophobia Industry and the Demonization of Palestine:Implications for American Studies
  • Hatem Bazian (bio)

The field of American studies must more aggressively tackle the spread of Islamophobia because it has become an overtly acceptable racist discourse that is saturating civil society in the United States and Western societies in general.1 Certainly, when racism toward a group is tolerated in public discourse, then in due time racist groups and individuals end up capturing society’s political agenda and directing their racism at all marginalized communities. The current debate on immigration and crime is a case in point. The “othering” of Islam and Muslims has become an acceptable norm. The Muslim subject is problematized at the university, where the study of Muslims’ lived experiences are relegated to religious studies or Middle/Near Eastern studies and included in other disciplines as a problem.2 Islamophobia is narrowly approached without interconnectedness to existing and historical otherness in race, gender, immigration, and diaspora, transnational, and “post-colonial” studies.3 American studies more than any other field should account for Islamophobia as a new signpost for overt racism, which, I argue, created a new rationale for more intense violent racism toward African Americans, Latinos, and minorities in general. When President Barack Obama was attacked for his supposed Muslim background, which was used by racists as a signpost for his blackness, the emphatic insistence that he is not should have been recognized as inherently racist.4 While work on Islamophobia in the media, US Empire, and restrictions imposed on Muslims is already under way, one critical blind spot in research is the explicit link between pro-Israeli groups and organizations and the effort at demonization and otherization of Islam and Muslims in the United States and Europe with a focus on maintaining and consolidating support for Israel.

I do maintain that pro-Israel groups in the United States are the primary funders, producers, organizers, and distributors of Islamophobic content, which is dominating political and public discourses in Western societies. Critically, [End Page 1057] the entanglement of pro-Israel organizations and groups in Islamophobia and the demonization of Palestine and Palestinians continues to reinforce academic distance from the subject because of existing fear of being targeted for writing or highlighting Israeli links. Though this brings up a host of issues about Islamophobia, this essay focuses on a particular segment of Islamophobia Industry that is linked directly to the pro-Israel agenda, that is, the groups and organizations entangled in promoting the otherization of Muslims but whose central concern is to undermine the possibilities of Palestinian advocacy. In particular, this essay attempts to respond to the following questions: Who are the groups that are producing Islamophobia, what are their links to those involved in defending Israel politics, and how should American studies research approach it in the coming years? How are these organizations connected to academic discourses? How is Islamophobia used to garner further support for Israel, and how successful has it been in the post-9/11 era? What has been the response of the US academy in general and American studies in particular to Islamophobia and/or support for Israel?

An Islamophobic, Orientalist, and Racist Ad Campaign

In spring 2012 the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), an organization established by Pamela Geller, a leading figure in the Islamophobic global network,5 produced a series of national advertisements for buses, train stations, and billboards with the accompanying message: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel, Defeat Jihad.” Compared with earlier Islamophobic campaigns, these ads made an explicit connection with Israel, the “war on Jihad,” support for Israel, and the racist framing of Palestinians to whom the ads explicitly refer to as “savages.” The ads appeared across the United States, and in a few cities, including San Francisco and New York, cultural artists mounted a visual and resistance campaign by painting over the ads and contesting the appearance of racism in public space. According to Geller’s website, these ads were in response to two ad campaigns. The first, by the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), featured “My Jihad” as a theme, to challenge essentialist and racist...