Politics and Foreign Policy

There is a growing body of literature that draws our attention to how Islamophobia is both shaping and being shaped by US domestic and foreign policy. With a particular focus on US politics following the September 11 attacks, a wide range of scholars have interrogated the politics of fear around Islam that has occupied the nation. These works focus on connecting anti-Muslim rhetoric in politics within a broader history of colonialism and anti-Muslim foreign policy decisions. A majority of the readings listed draw on the War on Terror and violent interventions in Muslim-majority countries, as well as support for regimes hostile towards Muslims such as the militarist Israeli government, as an extension of Islamophobic policies. In the context of the War on Terror, many scholars highlight how Islamophobic politics have been implemented in efforts to counter radicalization via “Countering Violent Extremism” (CVE) programs, which further discriminate against Muslims. Finally, key works trace the impact of anti-Muslim politics on general anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, and anti-Muslim attitudes around the US.  


Frequently cited

Kundnani, Arun. The Muslims are coming!: Islamophobia, extremism, and the domestic war on terror. Verso Books (2014).

Arun Kundnani brings forth his expertise on racial capitalism, Islamophobia, surveillance, and political violence in this book, based on three years of research in the US and UK. His commentary on the expanding domestic efforts of the War on Terror in both nations provides a powerful critique of the Islamophobic motives of anti-radicalization and counter-terrorism models in both contexts. He emphasizes that these models have been the primary lens through which Western societies have viewed Muslim populations by the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century. Within the book’s nine chapters, he highlights that on both ends of the political spectrum, Islam and Muslims have been framed as the enemy who are blamed for extremism and radicalization. Accordingly, he brings our attention to how the West has failed to account for political and social circumstances at the root of radicalization while ignoring the ways in which Western states themselves have been involved in the radicalization process. This book situates Islamophobia as a form of structural racism, and as a fundamental tool for shaping the practices of the War on Terror, particularly discriminatory national security policies towards racialized Muslim communities. Kundnani provides an insightful analysis on the consequences of the political activities of the War on Terror on intensifying Islamophobia in the West. This includes the way the War on Terror has been used to not only violate the rights of Muslims, but also to demonize any actions taken to remedy these violations (such as political activism). Finally, the book highlights the way the War on Terror has been utilized to justify the ongoing surveillance, discrimination, and violence against Muslims in the United States.

Critical Insight

Kumar, Deepa. Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire. Haymarket Books (2012).

Deepa Kumar, an Associate Professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University, captures the critical political context of colonialism in how Islamophobia manifests in the West. Building on Edward Said’s Orientalism, Kumar traces the historical development of Islamophobia as a vital part of Western empire-building from the Middle Ages to the recent War on Terror. The first section of the book describes the historical context of anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe among political and religious elites who established the foundations of racism, Orientalism, and what is now Islamophobia. The book then explores the capture of Muslim lands during European colonialism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which Kumar emphasizes was later replaced by American domination following World War II. Kumar argues that this colonial domination has continued to racialize Islam and Muslims, as a political tool to maintain authority over Muslim lands. Kumar therefore situates the politicization of Islam as a recent phenomenon that coincided with the decline of the Soviet empire, which translated into recent periods of US foreign policy, namely the War on Terror. The third key section of the book draws attention to how these ideological discourses of Islamophobia have been institutionalized in the American domestic context. In particular, Kumar stresses that the War on Terror justified the expansion of the military industrial complex, and interventionist foreign policy in the Middle East. She argues that the maintenance of fear around Islam has justified the violation of Muslim, and particularly Arab/Asian American, freedoms. Kumar’s fundamental political analysis highlights how a long history of racist and anti-Muslim ideologies have been used to sustain colonial and neo-imperial domination of Muslims. This is both across the globe through both foreign and domestic policy, and within the US via the post- 9/11 “Islamophobia network”—a global network that coordinates anti-Muslim activities and provides financial and intellectual support to members across national boundaries. This network has terrorized Arabs and Muslims as the “enemy within” via efforts such as “Stop the Islamization of America.” This is a fundamental reading for understanding the connections between colonialism, the War on Terror, and Islamophobia.

Recent Perspectives

Nagel, Caroline. "Southern Hospitality? Islamophobia and the Politicization of Refugees in South Carolina During the 2016 Election Season." Southeastern Geographer 56, no. 3 (2016): 283-90 (2016).

Caroline Nagel, Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of South Carolina, draws links between anti-Muslim sentiment and widespread southern opposition to refugee immigration in the lead up to the 2016 presidential election. Specifically, this essay outlines Republican opposition to the resettlement plan for 10,000 refugees by the Obama Administration. She points out that conservative politicians gained momentum and support in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, as well as the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. The paper begins by arguing that the federal government’s efforts to depoliticize refugee settlement since the 1990s was overtaken by rising Islamophobia after the 9/11 attacks. She then outlines how anti-refugee, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant sentiment has gained particular traction among white conservative voters in the South who perceive numerous threats to the country’s social, economic, and moral order. Although Nagel acknowledges that anti-refugee sentiment is not restricted to this particular region, she emphasizes the particular vulnerability of the South to Islamophobic and anti-refugee political rhetoric. She also brings attention to the lack of advocacy for refugees or religious tolerance in the region that could counter anti-Muslim and anti-refugee sentiment. This article highlights the impact of Islamophobic politics on anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim sentiment, reflected in the proposals of anti-Sharia laws across the majority of US state legislatures, as well as with every Republican governor in the US opposing refugee settlement in 2015. Overall, this is an important piece that emphasizes the need to understand the dialectic relationship between Islamophobia and anti-refugee sentiment in the US. Further, it reveals the influence of politicians on potentially limiting resettlement of people from the Middle East due to Islamophobia and fear of terrorism.

Reading list