Where time & style collide: the Muslim in U.S. discourse




Bahrainwala, Lamiyah Zulfiqar

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This dissertation explores how the “Muslim problem” is constructed as uniquely urgent and hidden in the United States. The idea of impending Muslim attacks and the stealthy radicalization of Muslims are very real fears in the U.S. today. Sustaining these fears requires the exercise of considerable rhetorical ingenuity, and studying it requires looking beyond explicit anti-Muslim discourse to understand the momentum of this fear. I advocate the use of two new methods to understand this dual construction of “Muslim terrorism” as both urgent and concealed. I develop a temporal framework and a style-based lens to interrogate this construction. Scholarship acknowledges that counterterrorism discourse presents “Muslim terrorism” as urgent enough to justify preemptive measures. This language of urgency and preemption is deeply temporal, but there is little scholarship on the temporal component of anti-Muslim discourse. I apply my temporal framework to examine the coverage of the 2012 Sikh Temple Shooting to understand how temporal language can incite fear of Muslim in discourse completely unrelated to Muslims and Islam. Meanwhile, I apply a stylistic lens to explore the construction of the “moderate” Muslim, who acts as a foil to the hidden, non-American “Muslim terrorist.” The “moderate” Muslim discourse is produced by the status quo rather than U.S. Muslims themselves, and compels particular performances of citizenship from U.S. Muslims. Style mediates these performances of citizenship, and thus I apply my style-based lens to examine three examples of “moderate Muslims.” I examine the 2014 Miss America controversy; the stand-up comedy of Muslim comedian Azhar Usman; and the preaching style of Suhaib Webb, a renowned “moderate” American imam. By considering three case studies, I am able to present a rich analysis of the many performances of Muslim “moderation” and its role in bolstering American exceptionalism. Thus, taken together, my temporal and stylistic approaches explain the momentum of fear towards Muslims in the U.S. and their role in bolstering American national identity.


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