“Islamic medicine,” Lapham’s Quarterly 2 (4) (Autumn, 2009). Read it here.
“War without End? One-Thousand Years of Anti-Islam Discourse.” PhD Dissertation, Monash University, April 2010
from the Introduction…
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath are just the latest reminder of the West’s complete and enduring failure to engage in any meaningful and productive way with the world of Islam. For almost ten centuries, attempts at understanding have been held hostage to a grand, totalizing Western narrative that shapes what can – and, more importantly, what cannot – be said and thought about Islam and the Muslims. This is no less true today, from the political arena to the counter-terrorism think tanks, from the Academy to the Internet “blogosphere,” than it was in the medieval halls of the Roman Curia and the courts of the European Crusaders.
Not surprisingly, this same narrative, which reflects what I call the anti-Islam discourse, exercises a profound and corrosive effects on a range of issues across the contemporary social sciences, including sociology, politics, the history of ideas, law, theology, international relations, human rights, and security studies. It dominates every aspect of the way social scientists think, and write, and speak about Islam and the Muslims. It shapes how they listen to what it is that Muslims say and interpret what it is they do. And it guides their research programmes, their private advice to governments, and their statements to the press and the public at large. This in turn has left Western societies both intellectually unprepared and politically unable to respond successfully to some of the most significant challenges of the early twenty-first century – the global rise of Islamist political power, the more narrow emergence of Islam-inspired terrorism, clashes between established social values and multi-cultural rights on the part of growing Muslim immigrant populations, and so on.
Properly unpacked, the anti-Islam discourse can be shown to provide more than just the context and imagery that surrounds the war on terrorism, the present wave of Islamophobia, or the broader cultural project advanced by adherents of Huntington’s coming civilisational clash, first advanced in 1993. While it is a relatively simple matter to “connect the dots” between this discourse and the present state of tensions between Occident and Orient, to stop there would be to overlook the profound nature of a discourse that has silently shaped one thousand years of shared history – and one that seems destined to shape the future as well. Its powers extend well beyond the war on terrorism – and explain a whole host of subtle but important derivative effects, without which the clash of civilizations thesis that underpins this war would be literally unthinkable.
“The Prophet and the Pope:
Why the West Doesn’t ‘Get’ Islam”
A paper delivered before the
Society for the Scientific Study of Religion
October 19, 2008
ABSTRACT: Pope Benedict XVI’s recent assertion that the use of force in religion is in keeping with the Muslim conception of a God whose omnipotence transcends rationality put on global display a narrative with roots in the earliest popular images of Islam, essentially Church propaganda from the First Crusade. This paper applies the “archaeology” of Michel Foucault to explain the creation of this anti-Islam discourse and argues that Benedict was “misled” not by errant facts or misinterpretations but by a discourse that allows for no other statements about Muslims but that they are prone to violence and irrational to boot. There was literally nothing else the pope could say. It then locates the persistence of this unchanging discourse, a phenomenon for which Foucault cannot account, in a succession of Western social groups that have benefited from its survival until today. This shifts the question away from intellectual history toward a classic problem for sociological inquiry – cui bono?