Islamophobia, literature and culture

ERI 224
Tuesday 5 December 2017 (14:00-16:00)

Centre for Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies Seminar Series 2017/18

 Tuesday 5 December 2017, 14:00-16:00 in ERI 224. All welcome!


This paper aims to trace the ways in which contemporary global fiction has responded to fears about Islam stoked in the aftermath of 9/11. More than ever, attitudes about Islam and Muslims remain a flashpoint in public discourse, routinely circumscribing ideas about cultural difference in the media, art, diplomacy, policy and politics. Yet, few studies have considered how literary and aesthetic imaginaries of the West mostly extend, and only rarely refute assumptions that Islam is incompatible with the values of modernity, and indeed, of humanism.

While literary responses to the supposed ‘clash of civilizations’ have been nuanced and sometimes highly critical, they rarely manage to escape the framing discursive expectations placed on them by publishers, reviewers and critics. I suggest that an anthropological demand that these texts tell ‘us’ something about alien Muslim ways, produces a ‘market for the Muslim’ that circumscribes what can be said. In order to trace the deep-rooted view that the West enshrines secularism, reason and modernity, while Islam embodies backward, irrational and violent tendencies, we need to consider those traditions of criticism by which literature came to be seen as the embodiment of modern individualism, choice and autonomy, but also recognize that they rely on a partial and selective reading of the historical development of cultures, put to the service of exclusivist ideas of Western difference and superiority.

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