Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for the Anthropology of Religion
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Inclusivity
Secondary Theme: Violence
The War on Terror resulted in the deployment of, not only guns, tanks, and drones but of a global narrative about Islam. It is a narrative about a diffuse, hidden enemy, hatching secret plots to hurt innocents and subvert liberal democracy. There are different versions of this narrative. According to one narrative, among a majority of “good Muslims” there are a few bad apples that deviate from the norms of the faith. While this narrative presents a sympathetic view of Islam writ-large, it still locates Islam as the hiding place of the enemy. Mosques, hijabs, and thobes do not reveal the location of terrorists per se but provide signposts and approximations. They justify surveillance and require Muslims to constantly prove they are one of the good ones. There are also more blatantly Islamophobic narratives that are becoming more normative. One might say, for example, that the majority of Muslims follow a watered-down version of their faith, but there are some who are real followers of Islam, who really adhere to the Quran: these are the “terrorists.” For those who subscribe to this narrative, the imagined minority of "true Muslims" can easily slip into imagined majorities, as every Muslim who seems to take their faith seriously becomes suspect, and even not-so-pious Muslims are seen as terrorists in embryo. There is also the question of how self-described jihadists imagine themselves, and how global narratives about extremist Islam feed into and contradict the self-understanding of Muslims who are sympathetic to organizations like ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Generally, any narrative that paints an act of war as about religious extremism has a tendency to obscure the conditions that make the “extremist" iterations of a religion sensible to large numbers of people. It also has detrimental domestic effects outside of war zones. The ideal type of the extremist-Muslim-other not only populates the geopolitical imaginaries of power holders, it populates the social imaginaries of not so powerful Christians and Muslims in places like Ethiopia, Egypt, Norway, Denmark, and Syria, who live their everyday lives with Muslims, or as Muslims. This panel will focus on ethnographic descriptions of how “Islamic extremism” is imagined in different locales and explore the effects of these imaginaries on the experience of living with Muslim and non-Muslim others.