For my RBA, I will be exploring how islamophobia is a new form of McCarthyism, as the discrimination against Muslims and Arabs and the divergence in culture and ideology that emerged after 9/11 is reminiscent of the Red Scare. I will connect this to the overarching idea that a New Cold War has emerged, this time opposing terrorism and Western civilizations. Here is my road map:
After 9/11, the rising intolerance towards Muslim communities and the clash between different types of faith are examples of scapegoating that illustrate the reminiscence of Cold War ideologies and McCarthyism. This topic is relevant since Islamophobia has become a bigger issue today, after the terrorist attacks around the world.
Authors I have read so far explain the scapegoating of Muslims, and the discrimination that the government makes in anti-terrorists programs. Most of the sources explore the exclusion of Muslim communities and the denial of their civil and religious rights. Scholars show this denial of rights through discriminatory arrest programs FBI-led. For instance, the PENTTBOM (Pentagon Twin Towers Bombings) or the PATRIOT Act allowed the FBI to conduct arrests based on the origin and appearance of a given “suspect.” Moreover, these sources show the “us” versus “them” mentality of the post 9/11 American public, and more importantly the rise in paranoia and fear of Muslims as potential terrorists. Indeed, after 9/11, public issues regarding religious freedom arose, such as the controversy about the Burqa or the Burkini this summer in France. The population, seeing in these sign of Islam a terrorist threat, fears an aggression by “infiltrated enemy combatants.”
Throughout my research, I intend to talk about what these trends have become today, after the different terrorists attacks around the world and the War in Syria. More importantly, I intend to compare Islamophobia and McCarthyism, as both movement have similar traits, and it seems like some officials and personalities are trying to gain influence and audience inducing a fear of Muslims.
Thomas, Jeffrey L. Scapegoating Islam: Intolerance, Security, and the American Muslim. , 2015. Print. Chapter 2: “9/11 and the New Homeland Security paradigm”
Cesari, Jocelyne. Muslims in the West After 9/11: Religion, Politics, and Law. London: Routledge, 2010. Print. (Chapter 8 and 9)
Tamney, Joseph B. American Views of Islam, Post 9/11. Islamabad, Pakistan: Islamic Research Institute, International Islamic University, 2004. Print. (pages 1-19)
Often depicting elements of the real world, fiction is a powerful tool to criticize society. In “Cold War Pop Culture and the Image of U.S. Foreign Policy: The Perspective of the Original Star Trek Series,” Sarantakes discusses Star Trek episodes and their similarity to Cold War events. For instance, Sarantakes mentions The Doomsday Machine, an episode of the original series which aired on 20 October 1967.
As the episode begins, the Enterprise is answering the call of the USS Constellation. Kirk and his crew board the vessel. Commodore Matt Decker, the commandant of the ship, informs Kirk that the USS Constellation has just lost a battle to a destructive machine, “The Doomsday Machine.” When it returns, Kirk decides to detonate the Constellation near the machine in order to destroy it.
While this episode is one of adventure, it draws a clear parallel with the ongoing arms race. Indeed, the episode “ ends with an exchange between Kirk and Spock about nuclear weapons: “Ironic isn’t it. Way back in the Twentieth Century, the H-Bomb was the ultimate weapon—their dooms-day machine. And we used something like it to destroy another doomsday machine. Probably the first time such a weapon has ever been used for constructive purposes.”” This quote directly criticizes the destructive power of the nuclear weapons used during the Cold War, claiming that these warheads would only bring destruction when used. Overall, the episode is intended to warn the viewers of the dangers of the arms race, as all eyes focused on the War in Vietnam.
Overall, science fiction is able to challenge ideologies without necessarily be seen as a political piece thanks to its setting. As most science fiction pieces are set in the future, the characters seem to be able to look back at what happened and draw conclusions and lessons that the society does yet not understand or plan. Moreover, the fictional story and characters can be used to portray real life characters without being “fixed” to a certain character. For instance, in the last Star Trek movie the character of Kirk was inspired from Nixon, but Kirk is not a realistic representation of the President, but the character is rather used to denunciate one aspect of Nixon’s presidency. Fictional pieces can criticize one specific aspect of the country’s ideology without necessarily portraying all of it.
Another example of criticism through fiction is the Terminator sequel. In the movies, humans are oppressed by the machines that they created. Their robots turned against them, and launched a nuclear war that almost completely wiped out the human race. Attempting to show the danger of the arms race and the insecurity that new technologies bring about, Terminator is an efficient critic of Cold War (and even present-day) ideologies. The evil portrayal of the killer-machines and the description of the harsh living conditions of the humans arouse pity and fear among the audience, and the viewers are supposed to take action to prevent such disasters from happening.
“Every city is a potential battleground, every citizen a target.”(Farish, Disaster and decentralization: American cities and the Cold War). After WWII, an attack on the American population seemed very likely. Indeed, in 1941, Pearl Harbor was the first attack on US soil since the War of 1812, and the destruction in Hiroshima and Nagasaki showed the power of nuclear weapons. As the quote reads, everyone became a target. Living under a constant fear of being attacked by the USSR, Americans were afraid of living in cities, and started to leave densely populated areas in order to go to suburbs, “safer” areas. According to Farish, “Suburbs embodied order.” Indeed, the latter argues that cities as a concentration of people and industrial activities were perfect targets for enemy strikes. Farish demonstrates that the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were very impactful. In fact, the dropping of these bombs raised domestic awareness on the power of these weapons, and when the USSR accomplished their first successful testing of a nuclear warhead, American fear was increased. People were anxious to live in cities. Those who could afford it moved to suburbs, while the poorer populations had to stay in the “dangerous” cities. Because of that fear, several theories of regional planning emerged, all of them trying to implement an urban development that would reduce the density of population around “inviting targets” such as New York or Washington D.C. Some advocated for the establishment of buffer zones around the districts of one cities, which would limit the damage caused by a nuclear attack. These new theorists argued that such an organization does not hinder the development of a city, as the telegraph and the car make communication easier and more convenient.
Similarly, such a fear arose after the 9/11 attacks. When the Cold War ended and the USSR collapsed, the danger seemed to have vanished. War once again had become something that was happening outside the country, and American citizens were feeling safe. The US led military interventions in the Middle East for example, but a domestic aggression seemed very unlikely. After seeing the Twin Towers fall, however, Americans realized that they were not as safe as they believed. Showing the vulnerability of big buildings and cities in general, but more importantly illustrating the lack of control the government possessed, the terrorists attacks triggered paranoia among the population. Once again, any citizen was a target, and nobody seemed safe. As a result, some Americans tried to exclude of their lives anything that was deemed “Un-American,” thus “unsafe,” and blamed the attacks on minorities, such as Muslims or the LGBTQ community. Even today, one experiences fear when watching the horrifying videos of the Twin Towers collapsing, as the terrorist threat has not vanished, as recent attacks illustrate.
In “G.W. Bush Administration Narratives of Threat and Containment”, Lugo explores the categorizations of Americans after the 9/11 through the lens of sexual orientation. Discussing how the fear of being spied on led to a strict codification of Americans depending on their sexual orientation, Lugo shows how the gay and lesbian communities were excluded, and portrayed as devils within the nation. Seen as “domestic terrorists”, these Americans seemed to pose a threat to the American stability and wellness, and therefore would lead to the collapse of the entire country. This ideology goes beyond simply blaming homosexual Americans for problems abroad, as Lugo mentions that at that time, the mass was convinced that sanctioning homosexual behavior caused deaths in Uganda. While this seem absurd to us now, this belief clearly points out that paranoia deprives America of the ability to think clearly.
This passage about deaths in Uganda is in my opinion very important and thought provoking, as it provides a clear example of lack of logic in the rhetoric of containment, but also because it illustrates how most Americans at that time made assumptions without proofs. Are the lesbian and gay communities endangering national and global security? If so, in what ways? Although te first question was widely answered by a “yes”, the second seems to have never been asked.
After 9/11, containment culture re-emerged in the American society. Although Cold War ideology flourished in many different ways, political figures lead the trend. On August 4th, 2002, President Bush gave an informal interview on his golf course. Expressing his distress after the Israel suicide bombings, President Bush establishes the United States as a protector of the free world, as he claims “[the United States] must stop this terror (…) for the sake of humanity”. The United States, as leaders of the free world, must lead the war against terror, just like it conducted a war against communism. Repeating the verb “must” three times, President Bush shows that America has the burden to contain and fight terrorists who have altered the world peace the United States had established. Bush’s speech is similar to Truman’s 1947 address to congress in which the latter urges congress to take action to support Greece and Turkey. Truman claims that “the free people of the world look to [the US] for support”. The possibility of a terrorist attack since 9/11 thus revived the containment culture and the belief that the United States should lead the war to save the world.
When leaving the journalists, President Bush says “see you at church”. This sentence is another example of the resurgence of Cold War ideology. Religion should play a key part in the life of a “typical” American, who has to go to church once a week. During both the Cold War and the War on terror, religion sharply opposes the two sides: while Soviet Russia banned religion, the terrorists claim they follow Islam. Reinstalling religion as a pillar of the American culture allows Bush to categorize who is “with the US” and who is “against it”.
Bush’s interview is however most famous for its last sentence: “Now watch this drive”. Seemingly displaced, as President Bush should be too preoccupied with the ongoing issues to play golf, this sentence conveys President Bush’s will to celebrate the American way of life; Americans practice sports, thus have a more complete and fulfilling life. President Bush again attempts to show the American moral supremacy, by showing that the “private sphere”, making the American way of life more diverse than that of the terrorists, is as important as the “public sphere”. A healthy lifestyle leaves time for personal activities.
Although informal, this interview is deeply tied with the ideology of the Cold War, and shows the cause of the US’ various interventions: spiritual superiority implying heavy responsibilities.
Truman’s 1947 address: http://www.history.com/speeches/the-truman-doctrine
Bush’s “Now watch this drive”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HZ3Tjohwqo