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Latent and manifest Islamophobia: An inception of ideas

Has the Islamophobia industry used fear to lull our intellect to sleep and implant racist ideas about Muslims?

Last updated: 15 Apr 2014 10:12
Hatem Bazian

Dr Hatem Bazian is co-editor and founder of the Islamophobia Studies Journal and director of the Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project, and a senior lecturer in the Departments of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at Berkeley.
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Data shows that attitudes towards Muslims in the US have grown increasingly more negative, writes Bazian [Reuters]

Christopher Nolan's 2010 movie "Inception" engaged the world of dreams and the complexity around the sources and materials that produce feelings and experiences in the mind. The lead character, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), is a master at penetrating the inner human subconscious, the dream world, and mining it for valuable ideas that are available for purchase by corporate powers.

He is hired by a powerful corporate interest and tasked not to steal something already present in the mind, but to work at originating an idea in the mind by inducing a dream sequence. He utilises his skill on the corporate rival to cause him to break-up and surrender his father's recently inherited financial empire. The task requires a skilled "architect" to help undertake "the art of controlling dreams and navigating through them" so as to make it possible for the subject to adopt the implanted idea as his own without suspicion.  

I am utilising the concepts developed in "Inception" to argue that the Islamophobia industry has successfully used fear and hate-mongering to lull our intellect to sleep and has implanted negative and racist ideas about Muslims and Islam in our collective consciousness. The "architect" and the professional Cobb in this real case is a few dozen organisations. According to a report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations' s 2013 report, "The US-based Islamophobia network's inner core is currently comprised of at least 37 groups whose primary purpose is to promote prejudice against or hatred of Islam and Muslims."

Islamophobic professionals and their fear-inducing architects use and repeat any set of domestic and global events involving Muslims to originate and re-introduce racism and bigotry in the public mind and pass it off as facts and objective and sound analysis of the "civilisational threat" confronting society.

Listening Post - Fear incorporated

The Islamophobia industry's strategy is centred on cross-referencing and citing each other's works through a web of yellow journalistic outfits, funded "liberal" Muslim voices, websites and research centres to create the facade of impartiality and objectivity.

Latent and manifest Orientalism

In a recent article analysing Pew survey results since 2001, Professor Charles Kurzman concludes that the data illustrates how "American attitudes towards Muslim Americans have grown more negative" and "a growing segment of the… population is willing to express negative views about Muslim Americans in recent years". More alarming, the data shows a larger percentage of Americans responding unfavourably when asked about Muslims in general - a steady increase since 2006. The survey results and Kurzman's analysis raise important questions as to the causes of this steady shift, the forces behind it and how best to reverse it.

One way to understand the survey data is to extend Edward Said's idea of latent and manifest Orientalism. The data brings into focus the link between what I refer to as latent and manifest Islamophobia. Latent Islamophobia is founded upon an unquestionable certitude conceived through an inception process utilising films, news reports, media talking heads, publishing books with problematic Muslim subjects, exclusive emphasis on Islam as a violent, backward and oppressive religion, and on Muslims' despotism and supposed lack of progress.

In Orientalism, Said argued that Muslim subjects are constructed and "judged in terms of, and in comparison to, the West, so they are always the Other, the conquerable, and the inferior". Latent Islamophobia is ever present by utilisation of Muslim otherness as the trope through which literature, entertainment, art, and culture production are entangled.

Even when the representation is made with positive images, it nevertheless assists in consolidating the Muslim negative characteristic since latent Islamophobia is the operative field through which "Muslimness" is measured. Since 9/11, politics and economics have been oriented around the "war on terror" and the Muslim as the feared global other. Current latent Islamophobia builds upon the existing rich and complex historical field of Orientalism that structurally otherised Arabs and Muslims.

Manifest Islamophobia "is what is spoken and acted upon". The obsessive pre-occupation of everything related to Islam and Muslims, congressional and parliamentary hearings criminalising Muslims and violations of their civil and human rights, surveillance programmes, extra-judicial use of force, military campaigns, torture, use of drones, and policies rationalising their use, are, in essence, what we see and bear witness towards the Muslim subject. The data from the surveys demonstrates the link between spending $119,662,719 by the Islamophobia inception industry and the steady negative shift in public opinion.

Head to Head - What is wrong with Islam today?

The Islamophobia spokespeople will point to Muslim terrorism as the cause; however, such an argument is very shallow considering public opinion data from 2001-2006, a high period of violent events in the Muslim world, which illustrate the lack of such a spike due to reported events. The shift is produced by the Islamophobia industry's financial investment in fomenting religious bigotry and otherisation of Muslims.  

The materiality of Islamophobic inception

"Inception" deals with implanting ideas in the mind of individuals leading to major decisions effecting corporate power and control of markets. More importantly, the construction of an imagined and staged world rooted in the mind ends up costing the life of Cobb's wife who could not distinguish reality from dreams. Exactly the same effect, I assert, is the outcome of the Islamophobic industry, which implants false and erroneous notions about Muslims and Islam within our collective consciousness with the intent of causing us to act negatively and violently at the mere mention of the religion and its followers. In this context, the inception has materially led to real policies causing securitisation of society, fear, racism, and violence.

The materiality of Islamophobic discourse produces firmness in the mind about everything Muslim regardless of facts, research or circumstances, the negative and otherness is certain, deeply rooted and untouchable. As Said pointed out, Orientalism is not a set of lies that if truth or facts about it were provided, then all can be cleared and a change of perspective will ensue.

What is in the mind is, at present, beyond reach and is informed by an Islamophobic inception carried out by well-funded machinery. The Islamophobes target our minds not to steal ideas, but to plant otherisation and differentiated treatment towards Muslims so as to push their distorted, exclusionary and militarised worldview.

In sum, the Islamophobic inception has all the tools needed to implant in our minds a hatred for everything Muslim and then commit ourselves to a "civilisational" war that financially and strategically benefits the same cast of characters pushing this campaign. 

Dr Hatem Bazian is co-editor and founder of the Islamophobia Studies Journal and director of the Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project, and a senior lecturer in the Departments of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at Berkeley.

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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