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Muslim Studies Program Annual Conference



Muslim Studies Program 14th Annual Conference

Michigan State University, International Center, East Lansing, MI, USA

April 8-9, 2021

Global Islamophobia and the News Media, Entertainment Media, and Social Media

Michigan State University is hosting an international conference on Global Islamophobia  and the News Media, Entertainment Media, and Social Media.  This conference will present work related to Muslim portrayals in the media (e.g., news, entertainment, social media) and evaluate how Islamophobia manifests on these platforms. 

Significance of theme: The media is an important conduit for conveying messages to the public, shaping public attitudes, influencing the national discourse, and generating stereotypes. Past research suggests the ways in which outgroups are represented in the media impacts the public’s perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors toward them, as well as shaping support for policies that harm members of these outgroups. Scholarship is only now beginning to extend this line of research to Muslims, and to specifically explore how the media is shaping discrimination against Muslims globally.

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Thursday, April 8

8:15am-8:30am EDT Welcome

8:30am-10:00am EDT Panel 1

Imed Ben Labidi—Eternally Unwelcomed: Race, Representation, and Transnational Sanctioning of Racism
Nofret Berenice Hernández Vilchis—Facing Islamophobia before It Existed? The Case of Palestinian Journalists
M. Mohibul Haque and Abdullah Khan —Mapping Islamophobia: The Indian Media Environment
Giuliano Bifolchi—Islamophobia in Russia: The Role of the Media in Presenting Islam and the Muslim Community

10:15am-11:45am EDT Conversation with Khaled Beydoun and Nazita Lajevardi

12:45pm-2:15pm EDT Panel 2
Muniba Saleem —How Media Representations of Muslims Affect American-Muslim Intergroup Relations
Michael Bevers —Valorizing the Self: Islamophobia’s Inverse Function
Samaah Jaffer —Before ‘Creeping Shari‘a’: From Shari‘aas the Court to Shari‘aas the Story
Marta Panighel—Gendered Islamophobia in Italy: The Silvia Romano Case

Friday, April 9

8:00am-9:30am EDT Panel 3
Brian Van Wyck—Competing Islamophobias in Media Depictions of Qur’anic Education in West Germany, 1975-1984
Sana Aziz —The Iraq War in Hollywood War Films
Mohammed Reza John Vedadipour—Does Hollywood’s Representation of Iranian Identity from 1979 to 2019 Reflect U.S. Foreign Policy?
Angeliki Koletsou—Views of Iran in the American Film Industry and Television Series, from 2001 to the Present

9:45am-11:15am EDT Panel 4
Russell Lucas —(Mis)representing Arab Public Opinion: Polls or Phobias?
Nazita Lajevardi and Caleb Lucas —Shifts in Group Salience and Target Substitution by Far-Right Extremists Explain a Contemporaneous Fall and Rise in Hate Crimes
Sabah Firoz Uddin —British Muslim Self-Making on Social Media: Responding to Islamophobia in Britain
Felipe Freitas de Souza —Islam on the Brazilian Timeline: Islamophobia in a Social Network

11:15am-12:00pm EDT Open Conversation and Closing Remarks

Organized by the Muslim Studies Program and cosponsored by the African Studies Center, Asian Studies Center, College of Arts and Letters, College of Social Science, Department of Religious Studies, Department of Political Science, Global Studies in the Arts and Humanities, James Madison College, Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, and Peace and Justice Studies.



Conference papers selected: 

  • Russell Lucas (MSU) —(Mis)representing Arab Public Opinion: Polls or Phobias?
    One of the key venues for assessing the “hearts and minds” of Muslims in the “Global War on Terror” has been the increasing use of polling from the Middle East. The Arab Spring only accelerated this trend. A variety of organizations have conducted these surveys – from some of the best-known names in American polling such as Gallup to local firms and institutes in a variety of Middle Eastern states.
    This project explores how polling performed by influential think tanks – such as Pew Research Center, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and the Arab Center (Washington DC) – have been reported upon in the media. The project also explores the coverage of academic polling such as the World Values Survey and the Arab Barometer. In reviewing this coverage of polling, the project builds on the notion that the numbers do not just speak for themselves. Rather, the media reports the results of surveys through common narratives frames of the Middle East – often using tropes of Orientalism and Islamophobia.
    This reporting filters polling results in four ways. First, some results are highlighted over others – often on more sensationalist or salacious questions – while other more mundane results are ignored. Second, headlines can simplify variation in results in misleading ways. Third, reporting may ignore questions of survey sources, sponsorship, and sampling frameworks that may influence both results and limit readers’ ability to judge a poll’s reliability. Finally, media coverage may not interrogate issues of question wording and non-response that often limit a survey’s utility. Thus, this paper identifies how seemingly objective sources promote stereotypes and misinformation by comparing reporting on different polls across similar topics, such as support for ISIS, and contrasting media coverage with original survey source data.
  • Giuliano Bifolchi (University of Rome Tor Vergata) Islamophobia in Russia: the role of the media in presenting Islam and the Muslim community
    Islam is the nation’s second most widely professed religion in the Russian Federation. According to official data and the nationwide survey, the number of Muslims in Russia is approximately 20 million people. The Russian president Vladimir Putin stated that Russia is a Muslim country which sits as an Observer State in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and traditional Islam is an essential part of the country’s spiritual life. Although the Kremlin highlights the significant role of traditional Islam and describes Russia as a multiconfessional country where any religion is protected by the central authority and the federal law, international experts and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) denounce human rights abuses and the latent feelings of Islamophobia which opposes the Orthodox ethnic Russians against the Muslim non-ethnic Russians and the new migrants from Muslim post-Soviet states such as Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan. The purpose of this paper is to analyse how the Russian media report information regarding Islam contextualising the religion and its peculiarities in an era characterised by international terrorism and radicalisation. Actually, since the 1990s the Russian Federation has experienced terrorist attacks and Islamic fundamentalist which have nourished negative feelings as Islamophobia, Kavkazophobia (fear of the Caucasian people) and xenophobia. Considering the significant importance of Islam in Russia and the rise of Muslim believers in the country, the Russian central authority uses media and official communication channels to describe Islam as a fundamental element of the Russian society even though social media, newspapers and different media agencies present negatively the Islamic faith stressing the threats coming from the radicalisation process, jihadist propaganda in the Russian language, and terrorist attacks.
  • Nofret Berenice Hernández Vilchis (Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey) — Facing Islamophobia before it existed? A study of case: Palestinian journalists
    Palestinians and Palestinian journalists are aware of what it means to face discrimination and stigmatization just for belonging to an ethnic or religious group. The whole history of Palestinian journalism is built up in constant attacks against their credibility. First, Palestinian journalists were considered too biased to do a professional job, too nationalists to be professional. Afterwards, they were suspected for supporting terrorism and even being one of them. Nowadays, they are still asked to be less activist and more objective. In sum, they have been Orientalized in order to overshadow their view of the conflict.
    Maybe the term Islamophobia appears back in the late 1990s, but Palestinian journalists have been struggling against discrimination since the early twentieth century. Islamophobia is a new term and because of that is a contested term. Not everybody agrees in the term because it is more linked to religion than to ethnic belonging. And the truth is that non-Muslim Arabs are also targeted by Islamophobia in a lesser way.
    This paper intends to explain the way stigmatizing Palestinians set part of the basis for the Islamophobia phenomenon we are witnessing today. Impeding Palestinian journalists to tell their story by Orientalizing them, was a way to overshadow the Palestinian society, their memory and identity. Back in the 1960s Palestinians and their supporters were conceived simply as terrorist. Understanding the historical process of professionalization among Palestinian journalists will allow us to track the beginnings of Islamophobia.
    Stigma is not just built up for what is being told, of a certain group. It is also built by how it is being told and by what it is not being told. A stigmatized group will fight for access to tell their “side of the story” in local media, mainstream media or social networks.
  • Sana Aziz — Iraq War in Hollywood War Films
    The American media, alongside their intelligence brethren, embarked upon a quest in the aftermath of the unfortunate events of September 11 to look for an enemy and avenge the communal pain. The nineteen hijackers who had brought violence at their doorsteps had little in common save for their allegiance to a puritanical form of Islam. Thus, began a media inquisition against Islam while the Allied forces hunted terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Hollywood portrayal of the 2003 invasion aligns itself into films that provide an account of the lives of the war veteran dealing with PTSD or, more recently, question the legitimacy of the decision. Another related subgenre narrates the struggles of the whistleblowers within the intelligence services. The stories of how the survivors fought to uphold democracy and the rule of law while dealing with the blowback for unearthing the truth behind the false accounts. These films, with the exception of a few, reinforce the West against the Rest imagery with former under constant attack by the latter most notably by the adherents of a certain faith group.
    The portrayal of Islam in these films quintessentially advances the idea of a backward religion struggling to cope with the contemporary demands of life. This backwardness of religion and all its adherents, by extension, poses a threat to the western (read American) life deserving invasive scrutiny and denial of human rights by the authorities as well as the wholesale hatred and suspicion by the American public. The paper aims to explore these underlying anti-Islamic themes in the mainstream big-budgeted movies covering the Iraq Invasion and analyse their impact. The essay argues that the entertainment media helped the state, if inadvertently, in the application of its securitisation policies against a certain religion and race to further their undemocratic interests in the name of national security.
  • Brian Van Wyck (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) — Competing Islamophobias in Media Depictions of Qur’anic Education in West Germany, 1975-1984
    Scholarship on migration from Turkey to West Germany has largely presented a similar story, describing how, in the eyes of the majority German society, migrants from Turkey have progressively and irrevocably gone from “guest workers to Muslims;” that is, from being defined by class or nationality to being understood and discriminated against predominantly in Islamophobic terms. In this paper, I argue that this association of Turkishness with Islam and Islam with problems of integration and internal security is a far more recent, contested, contingent, and contextual development than is commonly assumed. I highlight the contingency and the specificities of the emergence of the Islamophobic racialization of Turkish citizens in West Germany in the 1970s and 1980s. To do so, I trace different constructions of the threat of Turkish Islamic practice, as deployed in newspaper representations of Islamic education in West German Qur’an schools in the 1970s and 1980s. I take up what Asiye Kaya refers to as the “politics of labelling,” by considering the different ways the category of “Turkish Muslim” worked in West Germany, both over time and as used by various Germans and Turks consulted as experts on Qur’an schools in news coverage, ranging from Turkish teachers in West German schools to German converts to Islam and Christian theologians.
    Following Rogers Brubaker, this paper traces the “competing reifications” of Islam in West Germany, focusing on the changing ways the category “Turkish Muslim” worked, in terms of its saliency, relationship to global developments in the imagined “Muslim world”, and its interaction – always selective and never wholesale – with longer-standing, Orientalist notions of Islam. By doing this, I address why and how the category of “Turkish Muslim” acquired its particular form in West German media discourse and trace the particularities of its contemporary Islamophobic valence, drawing attention to the underrecognized influence of competing and even contradictory essentializations held by a variety of actors, both German and Turkish, on this development. By focusing on this process of making Turkish difference, and on those who drove it, this paper seeks to restore to the history of Islamophobia in Europe the contingency, context, and agency that it all too often lacks.

  • Marta Panighel (University of Genoa Italy)  — Gendered Islamophobia in Italy: the Silvia Romano Case
    This paper aims to investigate gendered Islamophobia in Italy through the analysis of a significant case study: the hate campaign that affected Silvia Romano, a 24-year-old Italian aid worker kidnapped in Kenya by a group linked to the Shabab, which chose to convert to Islam.
    On May 10, 2020 Silvia Romano, after 18 months of detention in Somalia, landed in Rome wearing a light green jilbab. After the initial joy for her release, very violent Islamophobic and misogynist insults have followed, especially by right-wing parties and newspapers: she has been accused to be “ungrateful”, a “terrorist”, a traitor of the nation; her conversion has been compared to “a Jew coming back from a concentration camp dressed as a Nazi”. At the same time, she has been attacked also by some feminists, influential left-wing journalists and opinion leaders, claiming, between other things, that she looked like “a smiling woman in a green recycling bag” or picturing her like the ‘white savior’ “betrayed by the same village she wanted to save”.
    In this paper we would like to carry out a discourse analysis on the debate about Silvia Romano conversion to Islam, focusing on some pivotal aspects: the contemporary discourse on Muslims and Islam in Italy, with particular attention to gendered islamophobia; the recurrence of Eurocentric universalism in the discussion on women's emancipation; the media role in reproducing stereotypes and discrimination; the political convergence between very different actors (nationalist right-wing journalists, feminists, right wing opinion leaders). Through the lens of Intersectional Feminism and Postcolonial Critique we will try to answer these questions.

  • Felipe Freitas de Souza (São Paulo State University) - Islam on the Brazilian timeline: Islamophobia in a social network
    Despite the existence of few studies on Islamophobia in Brazil, there are reports of attacks against members of Brazilian Muslim communities. It is noticeable that social agents propagate negative representations about Islam and its followers via social networks. Such representations are organized in speeches that manifest the foundations of Islamophobia, being disseminated with each publication on social networks that reduce the discussion about Islam to a stance of "us against them", using stereotypes. It is common for Muslims to be portrayed as a group without variations and as savages, barbarians, misogynists and enemies of Modernity. We are interested in investigating these representations and how they are presented on a social network. As a strategy, we start by looking at publications close to trigger events, which are negative events involving Muslims and which are followed by publications about Islam and Muslims - mainly events involving the actions of Muslim extremists. Trigger events have proved fruitful in the observation of Islamophobic publications: when an international event occurs, which has repercussions on social networks beyond national and linguistic borders, hundreds of Brazilian accounts on the observed social network, Twitter, manifest themselves in a negative way on Islam and Muslims. It can be said that events involving the international Muslim community have local impacts in Brazil, mainly on social networks and occasionally in attacks on practitioners of the faith, mainly women. It is noticeable the presence of social agents from the political spectrum of the right and extreme right, identified as Christians and nationalists. Muslims are characterized in a similar way to Giorgio Agamben's homo sacer: individuals unworthy of being considered as human beings. Orientalist representations of a xenophobic nature were also apprehended in profusion in a process that we identified as Islamophobia by cultural translation.
  • Imed Ben Labidi (Doha Institute for Graduate Studies) — Eternally Unwelcomed: Race and Transnational Sanctionings of Anti-Muslim Racism
    At least three discourses have converged in European and U.S. media coverage of the immigration debate since the racist Trump presidency and its political aftershock began: the criminalization of refugees, the degradation of Mexican-Americans, and the institutionalization of anti-Muslim racism that emboldened the “normality” of already existing discriminatory practices confirmed by the recent executive order to ban Muslims from entering the United States which was signed by President Trump in 2017 and upheld by the Supreme Court. In Europe, unprecedent xenophobic media reports coupled with new discriminatory immigration laws targeting refugees have contributed to the erosion of asylum seekers’ rights and enabled their dehumanization and treatment as criminals and border transgressors deserving less recognition and protection. Within the context of this transnational environment of hostility against the wretched of the earth, this paper critically examines how western media respond to such political, discursive, and legislative attacks on racialized and minoritized ethnicities in the United States and Europe and downplay the real roots of the racial crisis and the growing threat of nationalist extremism which is also taking a transitional character. While some leftist media reactions ridicule this hostility and dismiss it as meaningless rhetoric, the paper argues that these responses displace the urgency for a deep analysis of the compromised rights of immigrants and minoritized citizens and the dangerous racial turmoil sweeping throughout the western world particularly after the occurrence of many incidents of mass shootings targeting Brown and racialized communities. Hence, the paper interrogates the complicated and dangerous ways through which anti-Muslim racism works in tandem with other racial logics in Europe and the United States to produce new technologies of targeting, policing, surveilling and banning Muslims as threatening and unwelcomed subject citizens.
  • Sabah Firoz Uddin, PhD (Bowie State University) - British Muslim Self-Making on Social Media: Responding to Islamophobia in Britain 
    According to the Office of National Statistics, the most current census shows that approximately 50% of the UK’s Muslim population was born in the UK. And yet, in post-Brexit Britain when addressing the perceived “Muslim Problem,” where the spectacle of young Muslims joining ISIS as foot soldiers or as “Jihadi” brides continues to foreground the collective British memory, British Muslims continue to face accusations of unsatisfactorily responding to questions of identity, home and belonging. The public discursive terrain continues to spread moral panic about Muslims as “hard to integrate” by painting Muslims in one-dimensional, reductive strokes whereby men are defiant terrorists and women are acquiescent to patriarchy. This research reflects on this notion of failing to “fit-in” with Britishness, and instead, explores how young British Muslims are choosing to rebuke the monocultural state approach to diversity. I will look at how second and third generation Muslims in Britain are more vocal, and uncompromising. Moreover, I will look at how this group of young Muslims, resist calls to become “normal” good Muslims and are less willing to respond to accusations of “clashing civilizations,” and instead seek to unapologetically assert their particularized racial and religious difference through cultural expressions of dissatisfaction.
    Specifically, I will analyze forms of British Muslim cultural production, including visual art, fashion, music, and poetry including a focus on forms particularly expressed on digital platforms. Social media, for example, offers a new discursive landscape where British Muslims are actively using aesthetic driven communities to produce self-expressed visual content. I will look at how these forms of sub-cultural expression function as sites of contestation, where Muslim minorities reframe their experiences, challenge dominant messages about their group identity, problematize the essentialism of Muslims, and construct a counter-public – a distinct British Muslim public discourse and cultural narrative specific to Muslims in Britain.
  • Angeliki Koletsou (Ionian University Greece)  — Views of Iran by the American film industry and television series; from 2001 until today
    In the MA thesis “Views of Iran by the American film industry and television series; from 2001 until today’’ fifteen Hollywood or American (co-) sponsored films and four American television series, which were released between 2003-2019, have been analysed with the theoretical tools of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA). This essay observes the way dominant ideology, orientalism, the ideology of “War on Terror” and American soft power is dispersed throughout film dialogues, music, directing techniques and language representation following Teun A. van Dijk’s paradigm, which is adapted to cinematic analysis. Our findings suggest that cinematic and television representations of Iran are in line, not only with the decisions taken by the Iranian and American political leadership, but also with the events that have shaped the political landscape of the Middle Eastern region the last two decades. Overall, Iran is represented as a backward, fanatic, Islamic society that represses human rights and the climax of Iran’s negative representation took place during 2005-2015. However, there has been a certain number of films that presented a more neutral depiction of Iran and the research conducted suggest that those films not only tended to portray several cultural or linguistic aspects of Iran, but they were also produced when the relations between Iran and America were improved following the 2015 Nuclear Deal between the U.S., European Union and Iran.
  • M. Mohibul Haque (Aligarh Muslim University) & Abdullah Khan (Amiry University) — Mapping Islamophobia: The Indian Media Environment 
    India's diverse and complex media environment reflects the wide range of linguistic, social, political, and economic differences encompassed by the country's large population. A recent Islamophobic trend in Indian media environment -- the spread of factually inaccurate news and incendiary narratives in online media against Muslims -- has led to both social and political polarization and occasional violence. It seems that Islamophobia is holding sway in the entire country and a certain mentality has grown. Even, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has also expressed concerns over Islamophobia in India.
    The history of attacks against Muslims in country is not new but after Narendra Modi becoming the Prime Minister in the India, while on the one hand, the wave of Islamophobia has greatly intensified; on the other hand, the radical Hindu groups have got emboldened. Hindu nationalist narratives appear widely on social media and other online platforms. Indian media have reported multiple incidents of rightwing "trolls" criticizing Muslims and other minorities and disparaging those, including mainstream journalists, whom they perceive to be acting against Hindu interests. Right-leaning websites criticize opposition parties for allegedly appeasing Muslims and counter reporting critical of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. Media have time and again reported BJP politicians as making public comments that Indian Muslims are a threat to the country's social and political fabric and must be viewed with suspicion. While campaigning for state elections in 2017, Prime Minister Modi himself accused other political parties of catering to Muslim voters at the expense of Hindu voters. Media have also reported instances of leaders from Hindu nationalist organizations, such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP's parent organization, articulating communally divisive and incendiary remarks. For example, in March 2017, an RSS leader boasted that Hindus had "sent 2000 [Muslims] to the graveyard" during the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat state. Very recently, a Muslim missionary group Tableeghi jamaat was also blamed for spread of coronavirus in the country.
    If we analyze the Indian society today, it will emerge that every section of the society is in the grip of Islamophobia. In Germany, the character assassination of the Jews was done through movies, radio and newspapers and the same methods are being adopted for character assassination of Muslims in India now. The dissemination of Islamophobic information in media, particularly on social media, in many cases by political actors or their supporters to further particular political interests, has recently emerged as a significant challenge. This paper will examine the Islamophobic media coverage in India, the dissemination of factually inaccurate narrative, some of the signs of Islamophobia, and government's stance.
  • Nazita Lajevardi & Caleb Lucas (MSU) — Shifts in Group Salience and Target Substitution by Far-Right Extremists Explain a Contemporaneous Fall and Rise in Hate Crimes
    Reported hate crimes in the United States surged at several points
    during and after the 2016 US presidential election. Observers argue
    that hate crimes increased due to inflammatory rhetoric, but increased
    group and hate crime salience may lead to both increased
    hate crime incidents (a negative outcome) and more complete hate
    crime reporting (a positive outcome). Here, we provide new evidence
    for evaluating these possibilities by studying a sudden decline in
    group salience. Using seven data sources on online discussions
    (4chan, Gab, Reddit), media coverage (texts of US newspapers), and
    hate crime and bias incident reports (ADL, CAIR, FBI), we show that a
    mid-2017 decline in discussion of Muslims in the media and in online
    communities was associated with a large and sustained drop in anti-
    Muslim hate crimes and bias incidents. At the same time as these
    shifts, however, we observe elevated anti-Jewish bias incidents persisting
    well after the 2016 election and evidence suggestive of an increase
    in particularly violent hate crimes committed against Jewish
    Americans. Platform-level and within-individual analyses of online
    social media users suggest that increased anti-Jewish speech was
    driven by far-right communities and extremists who previously promoted
    anti-Muslim speech.
  • Mohammed Reza John Vedadipour (Loughborough University London) — Does Hollywood’s representation of Iranian identity from 1979 until 2019 Reflect U.S. foreign policy?
    Most film audiences outside of Iran will not have met or become familiar with the Iranian people or their culture, other than what they view through the lens of media outlets. One of the most influential global media outlets is the Hollywood movie industry, distributed across the world on cinema screens, DVDs, streaming platforms and television broadcasting.
    As an Iranian raised in London, I have come to view my own identity and culture through these Hollywood films. I find that many of the representations are inaccurate or misleading. As an Iranian, I possess other point of references and can dispel these misrepresentations, but those viewers who do not possess a reference framework for Iranian history, culture and identity will have their context influenced by the Hollywood films.
    There has been a paucity of research conducted on Hollywood’s representation of the Iranian identity. In this paper, I will examine films produced by American cinema that have depicted the Iranian identity since 1979, a significant turning point of the political and economic relationship between the United States and Iranian government.
    By using the Gramsci’s concept of common sense (senso commune) theory, I will critically analyse several films that feature Iranian or Persian characters and storylines . I will answer the question;
    • Does American cinema perpetuate the outdated orientalist perspective of the Iranian and Persian identity?
    • Does American cinema illustrate the U.S. government foreign policy towards the Iranian government, people and culture?
  • Michael Bevers, PhD — Valorizing the Self: Islamaphobia's Inverse Function
    The general disorder of Islamaphobia at its core is an irrational fear of Islam and how this fear is directed towards Muslims in a variety of forms that include but is not limited to hate crimes, hate speech, political, social and economic discrimination and a general disenfranchisement within much of Western society. The central act of Islamaphobia revolves around the construction of a narrative which Islam and Muslims are demonized playing the role of villain in a multiplicity of guises savage, barbaric, terrorist, oil sheik, religious fanatic among others. However these speech acts also have an inverse function. The demonizing of the Arab simultaneously casts the non-Muslim in Western discourse as the Heroic Victim - the demons opposite. This paper will outline and analyze the presidential rhetoric directly following the events 9-11 by George W. Bush in society where these simultaneously functions of the demonizing speech act recreates a nationalist narrative of us versus them "hard" binary which then allows for the subsequent material actions of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Samaah Jaffer (New York University) Before ‘creeping shari‘a’: From shari‘a as the court to shari‘a as the story
    Drawing upon Edward Said’s observation in Covering Islam, that Islam largely entered the American public consciousness in the 1970s, this essay looks at the representation of Islam and shari‘a in twentieth-century American newspapers. It explores the politics of definition that arise from the untranslatability of shari‘a in the English language, as it appears in Arabic romanization alongside instances of definition, contextualization, or entirely on its own. This essay interrogates and historicizes the word shari‘a as a metonym for Islam in popular imaginaries. Moreover, it identifies a critical shift in the discourse from ‘shari’a as the court,’ in which Islamic legal systems are a peripheral detail, to ‘shari‘a as the story,’ in which the term becomes central to news stories and think pieces, often implying the incompatibility of Islam and modernity.
    Reading shari‘a in American newspapers, and the shifting definitions and contexts in which it was invoked over the second half of the twentieth century presents a narrative of politicization—including the materialization of anxieties, fears, and genuine attempts at understanding Islam—that is non-linear, yet informed by the events being reported. While earlier instances featured simple, synonymous, parenthetical, or translation-style definitions, more detailed and historically contextualized definitions appear in the later decades alongside political commentary and a number of tropes indicative of moral panics regarding the Muslim world. This includes a fascination with hudud, debates on the strict or flexible nature of shari‘a, and an emphasis on the incompatibility of an ancient, pre-modern legal system (and, by extension, religion) in the modern world. This essay argues that the overall shifts in definition correspond with the politicization of Islam in the American popular imaginary.
    The late twentieth century was not the first time shari‘a entered the English language or American public discourse; however, this period is relevant due to the concentration of geopolitical events that thrust Islam into the limelight. While events such as the Iranian Revolution and 9/11 are often seen as moments of rupture, catalyzing Islamophobic discourse, this essay looks at shari‘a in the news coverage of lesser-emphasized moments, before and after 1979. By looking at descriptions of shari‘a prior to 9/11, this essay presents the prequel to the contemporary phenomenon of “creeping shari‘a.”
  • Muniba Saleem (University of Michigan) How Media Representations of Muslims Affect American-Muslim Intergroup Relations

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