Date of Award
Before beginning, it is critical that I establish the scope of this thesis. In an attempt to make this thesis as rewarding and substantive as possible, I have attempted to narrowly construct boundaries for my writing by asking two primary research questions: How and why does Islamophobia manifest in contemporary America? It should be noted that the "How" is the primary focus of this work, while the "Why" is more of a supplementary addition. This was purposefully done because of the sheer magnitude and more objective nature of the first section. I am hesitant to devote too much time or effort to explaining why Islamophobia manifests because the arguments are almost entirely subjective. It is not as if one could poll the individuals discussed in this thesis so as to determine their reasoning.
Whereas I only aim to address the "How" and the "Why," I will not attempt to engage in a discussion of Islamophobia's consequences, implications, or solutions. That is not to say that these matters are not important-quite the opposite actually. It is because they are so important that I must refrain from including them. Volumes upon volumes could be written on those topics and attempting to undertake such a burden in this thesis would prove detrimental, as no topic could be addressed with any depth. Despite the fact that much has already been written over these topics, it is imperative that these concepts be investigated even further. I fully acknowledge that others may critique this thesis as not going far enough, but I remain convinced that my narrow scope was merited.
Additionally, my discussion of Islamophobia will be limited to significant manifestations in the United States that occurred between 2008 and 2011. These years coincide with the beginning of both the 2010 midterm election campaigns and the 2012 general election campaigns respectively. This limited range of examples will further work to make my thesis as substantive as possible.
It is also important to address the two major challenges associated with undertaking this particular thesis. The first is differentiating between legitimate criticism/prudent suspicion/informed critique and Islamophobia. The Runnymede Report echoes this concern by noting, "It is not intrinsically phobic or prejudiced, of course, to disagree with or to disapprove of Muslim beliefs, laws, or practices."l In a liberal democracy, it must be recognized that such criticism and debate is both healthy and productive. How then does one attempt to differentiate between these two types of argumentation? This will be particularly challenging because the successful completion of my thesis depends upon my being able to distinguish between legitimate criticism and Islamophobia. Unfortunately, there is no perfect, fully-agreed-upon way to clearly and objectively make this distinction. Whereas some manifestations of Islamophobia are almost universally agreed upon, others clearly are not. As an example, most would probably agree that "Burn a Qur'an Day" exemplifies Islamophobia, but everyone might not agree that the controversy surrounding "The 99" does. Consequently, I recognize that the manifestations of Islamophobia that I list hereafter will not be agreed upon by all. There is a certain degree of subjectivity involved in this project that simply cannot be avoided. However, this is precisely why my primary methodology for this thesis will be rhetorical analysis. In other words, I am generally less interested in the actions taken and more interested the language used to justify those actions. I admit that these actions in and of themselves do not always constitute Islamophobia. To be sure, investigating extremism within a particular religious community is not necessarily discriminatory. It is through language that politicians, community leaders, and other outspoken individuals reveal their xenophobic motivations. This is why a since focus on language is so critical. It is by analyzing the rhetoric that I am able to show that an example is indeed a manifestation of Islamophobia. I shall return to this topic when I offer a definition for the term.
The second major challenge that I face is avoiding judgment based upon my personal beliefs about the merit of the claims expressed in manifestations of Islamophobia. It is not within the scope of this thesis to evaluate whether these concerns are founded, and I will earnestly try to not approach this topic due to its enormity and problematic nature. Instead, as an objective scholar, I will only draw tentative conclusions about the extent to which the fears that are expressed by politicians, the American public, and others are based on a truthful, informed understanding of Islam and the American political process. In other words, Iwill be critical of claims that are not based in fact and cannot be supported with evidence, but even then I will not go so far as to assert that these concerns are not warranted.
Miller, Matthew Bryce, "Islamophobia in Contemporary America" (2012). Undergraduate Honors Thesis Collection. 186.