The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Hatred of Muslims

The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Hatred of Muslims

by Nathan Lean

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780745337166
Publisher: Pluto Press
Publication date: 11/15/2017
Edition description: Second edition
Pages: 274
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 9.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Nathan Lean is the director of research at Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative editor-in-chief of Aslan Media and a contributing writer at PolicyMic. He is the co-author of Iran, Israel, and the United States: Regime Security vs. Political Legitimacy.

Read an Excerpt


A History of American Monster Making

A Kalashnikov assault rifle rested against one of the parched shale rock formations that twisted through the remote mountains of Afghanistan. The brittle, chalky sediment, forming what appeared to be a cave-like structure, provided a contrasting backdrop for the lanky, dark figure that sat cross-legged, staring into the camera. His beard, once shiny and black, was now unkempt and splotched with white. It crept downward into the large camouflage jacket that draped his broad shoulders, shielding him from the biting autumn winds.

Appearances like this were rare. For more than 20 years, he had lurked behind the rough terrain of his landlocked, south-central Asian lair. Occasionally, however, he appeared before the world in pre-recorded messages, emerging from the secret alcoves of the Tora Bora cave complex to deliver gloomy warnings of apocalyptic destruction with a prescience normally displayed by soothsayers and prophets. October 7, 2001 was one such occasion.

His charcoal eyes peered out from shadowy depressions that laid above his sharp cheekbones, exposing the malice that brewed inside him. Swatting the trail of his yellowish turban, dancing in the wind before him, his weighty hands came to rest on a microphone in his lap. Picking it up, he spoke with a strange softness that was inconsistent with his grim message. "America has been filled with terror from north to south and from east to west, praise and blessings go to God," he said. "I swear by God Almighty Who raised the heavens without effort that neither America nor anyone who lives there will enjoy safety until safety becomes a reality for us." From the wilderness of a secluded village, 8,000 miles away from the smoldering subterranean bowels of Ground Zero, Osama bin Laden became America's most sought-after monster.

By the time the second plane hit the south tower at 9.03am, an overwhelming plume of smoke hovered above the streets of midtown Manhattan, dwarfing frantic onlookers in a bestial display of fury. If not for the sudden swarm of news crews reporting the crash of a passenger jet, one could easily have imagined that the carnage resulted from the work of a fire-breathing, leviathan-like creature sent from the borders of our imaginations to wreak temporary havoc on our nervous systems. Such gore was the stuff of motion pictures, not reality. "If you were watching this in a movie theater, you would think this was totally unreal," said Lyn Brown of WNYW News, reporting the events as they unfolded. "This is some horror film or some disaster film that, unfortunately for us, is not a film. It's the real thing," Brown's co-anchor, Jim Ryan, replied.

The attacks stunned Americans, who, in a desperate search for the meaning of such butchery, could only describe the senseless violence as barbaric; there was nothing human about transforming a packed commercial airplane into a precision-guided, 150-ton missile aimed at New York City skyscrapers. "This is an enemy who hides in the shadows and has no regard for human life," President George W. Bush said on September 12, 2001, one day after the attacks. Tallie Shahak of the Jerusalem Post asked, "What is it that makes that particular chain of awful terrorist attacks such an immense monster?"

If anything is monstrous, the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 were monstrous. For those directly affected by the tragedy, the 19 hijackers were true monsters — as well as those indirectly affected but nonetheless horrified. Given the magnitude of destruction and horror, the epithet only seems appropriate.

In the days and weeks that followed, many writers and politicians suggested that the perpetrators of the massacre had abdicated their human status. "[The] World Must Stand Together to Defeat These Monsters," a September 13, 2001 headline in The Express newspaper read. "We Must Kill the Monster of Terrorism," Allison Little, a reporter at the paper, wrote five days later. Even the usually cautious Saudi diplomat, Ghazi al-Gosaibi, the country's veteran ambassador to Great Britain, commented on the suspected mastermind, Osama bin Laden, saying, "I have no doubt he is a terrorist because I have been listening to what he says and I honestly think of him as a human monster." Soon, however, that "human monster" was morphed into a Lernaean Hydra — a serpent-like water beast in ancient Greek mythology, known for its multiple heads and poisonous breath. "Slaying the Hydra: Eliminating Bin Laden Cuts Off One Al-Qaeda Head But Not All," read a November 2001 Wall Street Journal headline. The nine heads of the legendary ophidian were few in comparison to those of the Saudi terrorist ringleader: "Monster Grows a Thousand Heads," The Courier Mail wrote in September of 2006, tracing the tentacles of al-Qaeda to the 2004 Madrid train bombing and the 2005 London subway attacks. Bin Laden's extended global reach was also noted by the Combat Studies Institute in a report titled "Combating a Modern Hydra: Al Qaeda and the Global War on Terrorism." The monograph highlighted al-Qaeda's "flexibility, resiliency, and adaptability" to American military tactics. Like the fifth-century water monster that grew two heads for every one that was cut off, bin Laden's terrorist network replicated, making them increasingly difficult to conquer.

Whether a Hollywood leviathan, a swamp-dwelling hydra, or a terror-plotting cave dweller, monsters have long haunted the peripheries of human, civilized space. The unifying characteristic of monsters, no matter their build or their circuit, is their foreignness. They are of another domain — one where chaos and danger triumph over order and security, where uncharted waters bleed into a dark horizon line that promises impending doom.

The Lenox Globe, a hollow copper sphere that dates back to the early 1500s, used the phrase hic sunt dracones, Latin for "here be dragons," to delineate unexplored, and thus seemingly monster-ridden, territories. Haunting the waters off the eastern coast of China, called East India on the globe, the creatures "feasted upon the dead and picked their bones," wrote B.F. Da Costa.

The enormous size of the monsters on the map undoubtedly added to the terrors of the deep but it was not simply their presence in the dark, mysterious waters that drove fear into the hearts of seafarers. As Richard Kearney notes in Strangers, Gods, and Monsters, monsters defy borders: "Monsters are liminal creatures who can go where we can't go," he writes.

They can travel with undiplomatic immunity to those undiscovered countries from whose bourne no human travelers — only monsters — return. Transgressing the conventional frontiers separating good from evil, human from inhuman, monsters scare the hell out of us and remind us that we don't know who we are.

They also remind us that we are vulnerable and that at any moment, the miscreants, lying in wait just beyond our field of view, will appear and drag us into the obscurity of their wicked world. Societal order will succumb to the chaos of the dark beyond.

If there is one good thing about monsters, it is their ability to unite the threatened. Though they promise to unleash great fury, their menacing presence often produces a cathartic response — one that reaffirms a sense of security and decency among the fearful. "This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace," President Bush said on the evening of the September 11th attacks. "America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time."

The frightening reality for many was that humans — albeit brainwashed, twisted souls — committed the unthinkable acts. Labeling bin Laden and his al-Qaeda cohorts as "monsters" (though they were hardly creatures of the imagination) relieved humankind of the responsibility for such flagitious displays of violence. Unbelievable human evils were projected onto a larger-than-life behemoth, giving a face to an omnipresent sense of incipient disaster. Strangely enough, in the wake of the horror, Americans developed an insatiable appetite for monster stories. The theologian Timothy Beal has remarked on the renewed appeal for fictional thrillers, noting a widespread enthusiasm for Universal's "Classic Monster Collection," adaptations of the famed Dracula story, and a slew of multi-million dollar box-office thrillers such as Blood and Gold, Thirteen Ghosts, From Hell, and in a more playful mood, Monsters Inc., Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and The Lord of the Rings.

Beal suggests that because monsters are "undead," they keep coming back; September 11, 2001 was a jarring reminder of that. One of the ways in which many Americans coped with the post-9/11 world was to watch their worst fears play out before their eyes — to confront reality from the safety of a living room recliner or movie theater where the horror could easily be stopped by pressing the pause button or heading for the exits. For those who chose to endure the frightening scenes, however, there was a great sense of relief: the enemy would be conquered and for a brief moment, until the credits rolled and the house lights came up, order would be restored. "The typical Hollywood monster movie serves as a vehicle for a public rite of exorcism in which our looming sense of unease is projected in the form of a monster and then blown away," Beal writes. "Although there will be some collateral damage before the battle is over, in the end the monster will be vanquished and the nation will be safe once again."

Fictional ghouls and goblins were not the only motion-picture monsters. There were also portrayals of more realistic nemeses. They represented, as most monsters do, the fears of a specific era and in the turbulent aftermath of 9/11, the Arab terrorist was considered to be among the most revolting and dangerous of creatures. Films like Black Hawk Down, Syriana, Body of Lies, and The Kingdom, all of which depicted Middle Eastern villains defeated by covert operatives of the American government, enjoyed great success and reminded viewers that eradicating the terrorist threat was only a matter of time; the United States, the good guys, would eventually triumph over the evil arch-enemy. There was no other possible narrative. Philosopher Stephen Asma point outs, "Hercules slays the Hydra, George slays the dragon, medicine slays the alien virus, the stake and crucifix slay the vampire." As it had always been, so too would it be this time: the monsters would die.

Whether real or imagined, in box-office sensations or evening news stories, monsters are sustained by narratives of fear. In order to maintain their affective quality, monsters must continually remain emergent. Thus, tales of their forthcoming wrath are the breath that gives them life and awakens society to the threat of their never-ending, always-lurking presence. For monsters, narratives are, in a sense, nothing less than life support. Without them, they do not bear the purpose of their design.

As expressions of human experience, narratives give meaning to and make sense of the world that exists beyond the idealism of our imaginations — a world that is often rife with inexplicable tragedy and senseless acts of violence. The destructive actions of humankind demand some explanation, some logical assessment that places seemingly inhuman behaviors within a story that reaffirms human goodness and separates the sacred human from the savage beast.

H. Porter Abbot notes, however, that narratives are also rhetorical mechanisms for exploitation. They can be used to deliver false information and pull us back into the darkness where our rational fears are fed upon by individuals who seek to benefit from increased societal angst. For some, narrating the steady march of an invading enemy, one bent on ravaging national freedoms, results in victorious elections and political capital; promising that ever-lurking threats will be crushed with the weight of a ready military wins multiple terms in office. For others, saber rattling is financially fruitful. There is much to gain from a society that is enthralled with monsters but there is more to gain from one that finds security in monster stories. America, in particular, has long been fascinated with monsters. And for good reason. Since the Stars and Stripes were first woven into existence, villainous bogeymen have lurked behind the parchment of the nation's founding documents, occasionally creeping out to remind us of their presence. When they do, there is, as history has shown us, a cottage industry of radicals waiting to seize on the fear they instill.

Charlestown, Boston was the site of one such monster scare in the late 1790s. The quaint Massachusetts town, which sat just north of Boston proper, was situated on a peninsula that split the Charles and Mystic rivers and was known for being the starting-point of Paul Revere's "Midnight Ride" in 1775. Twenty-three years later, the neighborhood broke out in panic over the allegedly subversive activities of a group called the Bavarian Illuminati. The Illuminati was an Enlightenment-era secret society formed by Adam Weishaupt, a German-born Freemason that hoped to topple monarchial governments and state religions in Europe and its colonies. Emphasizing principles of Enlightenment rationalism and anti-clericalism, the group gained steady influence in Masonic lodges throughout Germany.

John Robinson, a well-known Scottish physicist, mathematician, and ironically, the inventor of the siren, was among the first to sound the alarm about the Illuminati's allegedly conspiratorial plans to dismantle European powers. Robinson believed that the association was formed "for the express purpose of rooting out all the religious establishments, and overturning all the existing governments of Europe." The most active leaders of the ongoing French Revolution, he proposed, were now part of the secret society which had become "one great and wicked project fermenting all over Europe" and soon, he concluded, they would export their evil designs elsewhere, endangering Christianity.

Robinson postulated that members of the group had plans to brew tea that caused abortions and were capable of producing a secret substance that "blinds or kills when spurted in the face." He elaborated these claims in a book called Proofs of Conspiracy Against All the Religions and Governments of Europe Carried on in the Secret Meetings of Free Masons, Illuminati, and Reading Societies — a text that eventually made its way to America. During the summer of 1798, G.W. Snyder, a Lutheran minister, wrote a letter of warning to George Washington that included a copy of Robinson's book. Snyder expressed concern that the Illuminati would infiltrate America through Masonic lodges. Washington responded to Snyder in a letter dated September 25, 1798, saying, "I have heard much about the nefarious and dangerous plan and doctrines of the Illuminati." He went on to suggest, however, that he did not believe the group was actively involved in Masonic lodges. Pressed by Robinson to explain his comments, Washington replied again in late October of that year, writing, "It was not my intention to doubt that the doctrines of the Illuminati and the principles of Jacobinism had not spread in the United States. On the contrary, no one is more satisfied of this fact than I am." Though it is not known if members, or initiates, of the Illuminati ever came to America, their presence in Europe was felt, and warnings of their pending conquest imbued public discourse.

On November 29, 1798, Reverend Jedidiah Morse, pastor of the First Congregational Church of Charlestown, delivered the second of three public sermons on the threat of the Illuminati. After reading Robinson's book, Morse became convinced that the United States was the victim of a sinister plot to spread religious infidelity, encourage the authority of reason, and promote Jeffersonian democracy. A revered Federalist whose popularity in Charlestown was largely the result of public disenchantment with the revolution in France, Morse stepped up to the pulpit of the white-washed meetinghouse and made it clear that America's beloved Christian values were in jeopardy:

Secret and systematic means have been adopted and pursued, with zeal and activity, by wicked and artful men, in foreign countries, to undermine the foundations of this religion [Christianity] and to overthrow its Altars, and thus to deprive the world of its benign influence on society ... These impious conspirators and philosophists have completely effected their purposes in a large portion of Europe, and boast of their means of accomplishing their plans in all parts of Christendom, glory in the certainty of their success, and set opposition at defiance.


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements x

Author's Note xiii

Foreword to the First Edition John L. Esposito xiv

Foreword to the Second Edition Jack G. Shaheen xix

Introduction: Islamophobia from the War on Terror to the Age of Trump 1

1 A History of American Monster Making 21

2 Hate on the Internet 52

3 Inside the Mainstream Media Echo Chamber 84

4 The Christian Right's Battle for Muslim Souls 102

5 The Influence of the Pro-Israel Right 140

6 The Rise of Liberal Islamophobia 163

7 Politicizing and Legislating Fear of Muslims 179

8 Islam as the Enemy of European Populism 208

Conclusion 246

Notes 251

Bibliography 290

Index 296

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