LAW 677

Muslims, Race and Law

Critical Race Studies, Public Interest Law

This course will undertake a systematic study of the role of law in constructing, defining, and negotiating the Muslim “other” in the American legal system. Since the commencement of the war on terror, intellectuals and scholars have coined the expression ‘Islamophobia’ to describe the social and political animus of hate, dread, and fear of Islam and Islamism rising in the West and the United States. The term ‘Islamophobia’ describes social and structural narratives and dynamics that treat Islam and Muslims as presumptively inassimilable, inherently violent and antagonistic, irrational, and fundamentally threatening. So, for instance, since 9/11 more than forty states have deemed it necessary to pass what is known as anti-Sharia legislation to guard against the encroachment of Sharia law upon American life. More than twenty books and a hundred articles have wrestled with the manifestations of the socio-political phenomenon of Islamophobia as a persistent ideological trope facilitating and empowering the war on terror. However, long before the war on terror, at least since the 17th century, there has been a sustained narrative in the West that casts Islam and Muslims as the antithesis, and often also as the nemesis, of the Christian West. In this narrative, Islam and Muslims have been consistently portrayed as the embodiment of everything that the West is not, as inherently despotic, misogynistic and irrational, and as an existential threat to proper Christian and secular humanistic values. Accordingly, Islam and Muslims were said to represent values that are fundamentally at odds with the very idea of citizenship or the principles of inclusion in Western societies. In this Western discourse, religion has been consistently conflated and intermixed with constructions of race, otherness, and alienation, and so for instance, Muslims have been referred to as Saracens, Moors, Arabs, Turks, Mohammedans, and so on. Historically, Muslims have been seen as outsiders, and as a repugnant race at odds with the rooted principles of civility, rationality, and reasonableness that are at the core of Western identity. The construction of Islam and Muslim as the alien other played a critical role in serving imperial and colonial projects in the Muslim world and in facilitating the power dynamics of subordination and domination. With the end of colonialism, however, a new challenge began with the influx of migrants from the formerly colonized populations to the West. With this influx arose complex questions as to identity, assimilation, the performance of Whiteness, and intersectionality between race, ethnicity, religion, and power dynamics.

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