Counter-Narratives and Strategies

Over the last decade there has been increased interest in employing strategies and approaches to countering Islamophobia across a range of contexts. The following articles provide commentaries, case studies, and recommendations for various anti-Islamophobia efforts that can work against the structural and everyday discrimination faced by Muslim-American communities. The following list of readings specifies strategies for countering Islamophobia in areas like social media, legislative lobbying, intergroup contact, interfaith dialogue, social activism, as well as in various institutional contexts. Such settings may include education, the workplace, and in therapeutic practice. These perspectives also draw on a range of strategies employed by Muslim individuals who provide counter-narratives to the Islamophobic stereotypes they are subjected to. Examples covered in the following readings include the use of comedy, poetry, self-representation, and insisting on inclusion in the American polity and social life through appropriation of what signifies ”the mainstream”. This area of research is in its preliminary stage, and would benefit from deeper engagements and practical solutions for implementation across a range of settings.


Frequently cited

Love, Erik. "Confronting Islamophobia in the United States: Framing Civil Rights Activism among Middle Eastern Americans." Patterns of Prejudice 43, no. 3/4 (2009): 401-25.

In this article, Erik Love, a PhD Candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara, suggests three likely avenues for advocacy organizations to confront Islamophobia. The article firstly introduces “racial formation” as a conceptual framework for understanding Islamophobia in the US. This is supported by an overview of the racialized history of American communities with ancestry in North Africa, Southwest Asia, and the Middle East, followed by a discussion on the roots of Islamophobic discourses in the US, such as pop culture stereotypes, discriminatory state actions, and bigotry. In doing so, the article discusses anti-Islamophobia civil rights activism within the historical context of organizational responses to other forms of racialized discrimination in the United States. Love traces the way several organizations have worked to confront the problem of Islamophobia at the national level since the early 1980s, engaging in political lobbying and electoral activism, providing legal assistance, and publishing research detailing trends in hate crimes and discrimination. This article suggests three possible models for the organizations to counter Islamophobia in the US. The first model is based on African American civils rights organizations of the 1950s to 1960s, characterized by civil disobedience and large-scale, visible protest actions. The second possibility proposed is to form coalitions based on pan-ethnic identities. The last model is the most realistic option that has already been implemented by existing Muslim rights organizations. It is focused on legal activism, cooperation with law enforcement, and legislative lobbying, without claiming access to remedies that target particular racial groups. In critiquing the effectiveness of all three models, the article highlights the need for further research on countering Islamophobia, particularly on the complex and interconnected role of Middle Eastern American identity, the role of the state in post-civil rights movement America, and the fluctuating social dynamics of Islamophobia.

Critical Insight

McGinty, Anna Mansson. "The 'Mainstream Muslim' Opposing Islamophobia: Self-Representations of American Muslims." Environment & Planning A 44, no. 12 (2012): 2957-2973.

Anna Mansson McGinty, Associate Professor of Geography and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Milwaukee, critically engages in how self-representations of the “mainstream Muslim” and “American Islam” have been employed by Muslim Americans to resist Islamophobic discourses. The notion of “mainstream Muslim” as a counter-narrative serves a twofold purpose, firstly to challenge stereotypes and Islamophobic claims as well as to insist on inclusion within the American polity and social life through the appropriation of powerful notions of what signifies “the mainstream.” The paper’s analysis is based on a series of seminars within a collaboration project between the University of Milwaukee and a Muslim women’s organization in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The article is organized in three parts. First, it provides a description of the “combating Islamophobia project” and a discussion on the politics of representations of Islam and Muslims in the West. The second part explores Muslim self-representations as counter-narratives via the identity of “mainstream/moderate Muslims”’ and “American Islam” that stress the compatibility and reconciliation of Muslims with American political and social life, rather than symbolic links to foreign Muslim populations or organizations. The final section reflects on the possibilities and limitations of the “mainstream Muslim” identity as a counter-narrative to combat Islamophobia and critiques how scholars themselves participate in the production of certain representations that frame Muslims as the “other.” As expressed by the leaders in this collaboration project, “American Islam” can be connected the dominant conception of “mainstream American values” like equality, mutual respect, tolerance, and freedom of belief. Overall, this article highlights the way counter-narratives are used to challenge the polarization of Muslims in the US through focusing on a politics of belonging and integration.

Recent Perspectives

Beck, Elizabeth, Moon Charania, Ferdoos Abed-Rabo Al-Issa, and Stéphanie Wahab. "Undoing Islamophobia: Awareness of Orientalism in Social Work." Journal of Progressive Human Services 28, no. 2 (2017): 58-72.

In this article, social work researchers in Atlanta, Bethlehem, and Portland explore the need for health service providers and educators to decolonize their practice by “undoing” and countering Islamophobia. In advocating the use of the term “Islamo-racism,” the authors urge social workers to more explicitly acknowledge the relationships between colonization, imperialism, empire, whiteness, othering, and structural violence. The term Islamo-racism brings attention to the distinct traceable history that demonizes people of color through Orientalist imagery, while being a process built on hegemonic views of race and religion that serves imperialism and white supremacy. Social workers are thus encouraged to consider the impacts of these historical and structural processes on lives of Arab/Muslim/brown people, while bringing attention to the intersections of ethnic and religious oppression within Orientalism. Arguing that a social worker’s ability to interrupt Islamophobia is strengthened by an understanding of the historical record and theoretical tenets of Orientalism, the authors offer linkages between Orientalism and Islamophobia. The article provides a literature review that situates the contributions of the social work discipline to literature related to Arabs, Arab descendants, and Muslims, pointing to examples of Orientalism within this body of work. The final parts of the article then move to a discussion of “undoing Islamophobia”. Three guidelines are provided for undoing Islamophobia in social work practice. First, the authors provide ideas to help identify Orientalism because of its “ubiquitous, obscure, normalized nature” (p. 67). Second, they emphasize the need to explore linkages between Orientalism and hegemony because it is not enough to remediate racism without rejecting the processes that strengthen it. Last, they provide strategies associated with postcolonial studies to provide a framework for resisting and challenging Islamophobia, based on a rejection of hegemony and whiteness. This perspective draws attention to the way in which theories around Islamophobia, namely Said’s Orientalism, can be applied by service providers or educators in their professional practice to confront, “undo,” and counter Islamo-racism.

Reading List